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Easthampton church seeks to build congregation in ex-mill

  • Sharon Frankel of Envision Easthampton in their new space in the Paragon Building Friday.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS
  • Sharon Frankel of Envision Easthampton in their new space in the Paragon Building Friday.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

But the newest tenant of the former mill building doesn’t fit into either the arts or industry category: It’s a church.

Envision Easthampton, a new evangelical Pentecostal church, holds services every Sunday in a first-floor suite, sandwiched in between a bicycle repair shop and gym.

Pastor Sharon Frankel said having a church in a former mill building may seem unorthodox to some, but it makes perfect sense to her.

“A church isn’t a building, it’s a meeting of people,” she said. “I think it’s more common today to see churches meeting in different places.”

Frankel, who was a staff minister at the Pioneer Assembly of God in Huntington until she established Envision Easthampton, said the Easthampton location is a daughter church of the mother assembly in Huntington.

“It’s called a plant church,” she said. “The idea is it will sprout and grow.”

Frankel said that while driving through the city in 2007, she sensed it needed an Assembly of God church. In the years after, she said, God directed her to create and head that church.

While looking for a space, she held monthly services at various rented meeting halls and offered weekly prayer at McDonald’s on Northampton Street.

Finding a permanent location wasn’t easy. She said some landlords worry that the church music will disturb residential tenants, while others just don’t seem to want to rent to a church.

“It took us a long time to find a space that wanted us and that we could afford, and we’re excited that this building was open to us,” she said.

Envision Easthampton rented the suite in March, and started holding services there when renovations were completed three months later. The space resembles a miniature church sanctuary; The 1,000-square-foot-space has a small stage with a pulpit and a cross in one corner with rows of chairs facing it.

“We really like being here and being part of the Paragon community,” she said. “There’s a really nice spirit of cooperation; we all help each other out.”

She said there is more to building a church than creating a physical space, though.

The congregation numbers about 10, but Frankel is working to attract new members. “In the South, people would say, ‘Oh, a new church? Let’s go,’” she said. “I think in New England, it’s harder. People don’t always have a positive view of Christianity.”

Frankel, who is Jewish, said she did not find evangelical Pentecostalism until she was 41 years old. She is looking for people with similar stories for Envision Easthampton.

“My vision is not for people to come from other churches. We want to reach people who don’t know Jesus,” she said.

Envision Easthampton has services every Sunday at 3 p.m., Bible study every Thursday at 7 p.m. and offers “free prayer” at McDonald’s every Friday from noon to 1 p.m.

“We’re not very traditional, we don’t have hymnals and we don’t have a lot of ritual,” she said of the services.

In fact, technology plays a big role in the services. Frankel uses a PowerPoint presentation projected on the wall to organize her sermon, projecting bits of scripture as well as lyrics and inspiring images during worship songs.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Frankel has lived in the area for 40 years. She moved to Easthampton this year, as part of her mission to build the “plant church” in the city’s former industrial area.

“It’s been a lot of hard work, but it’s been the best thing I’ve ever done,” she said. “There isn’t anything else I’d rather do.”

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

According to Pastor Frankel herself, this church does not support marriage equality. I am saddened that an organization teaching hate and intolerance thinks it has a foothold in my adopted hometown. I hope that others of my neighbors will join me in not supporting them.

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