S. Deerfield Congo Church to close

ervices to stop by end of year

  • Rick Parker is the co-moderator of the Congregational Church of South Deerfield. RECORDER STAFF/PAUL FRANZ

  • Rick Parker, co-moderator of the Congregational Church of South Deerfield. RECORDER STAFF/PAUL FRANZ

  • Congregational Church of South Deerfield. RECORDER STAFF/PAUL FRANZ

For the Gazette
Published: 4/25/2016 11:42:08 PM

SOUTH DEERFIELD — A nearly 200-year-old church in South Deerfield will close by year’s end.

Rick Parker, the co-moderator of the Congregational Church of South Deerfield, said the church’s members took a formal vote during a meeting Sunday to end the church’s regular services by the end of 2016.

“Along with many other churches, the Congregational Church of South Deerfield has experienced declining membership and shrinking financial resources over the last several years. This has led members to a common understanding that theirs was a congregation with an uncertain future. The church is ‘mighty in spirit but small in numbers,’” read a statement released by the church.

The statement continued, “Because of this, members made a decision nearly two years ago to enter a period of prayer and loving discussions, guided by Pastor Roger Daly, to find clarity about the current realities and the future direction of the church.”

Lengthy discussions led the members to realize that the church could not maintain both its building and a professional pastoral ministry, and that the energy of its membership, many of whom are aging, could not be sustained.

“South Deerfield Congregational Church members have made a decision that is not so much about an ending but about choosing a future. They agree that continuing to spend down the resources of the church is a poor option,” the statement read.

Instead, Parker said, the church will become a “legacy church,” where the remaining resources will be directed toward other charitable works or activities that are consistent with the church’s values and mission. Parker said the church has not yet determined what will be done with the property, or where the members could alternatively attend services.

“That has yet to be figured out. We made the decision about closing at the end of the year, so that allows six or seven months to allow us to find the answers to those things.”

Daly, the church’s pastor, said the situation the church has found itself in has become more common in recent years, as interest in churchgoing or worship among the younger generation wanes. Daly said much of his professional career since he was ordained in the 1970s has been consisted of going to struggling churches and trying to find ways to help them survive or figure out the proper course of action.

“It’s sort of difficult to quantify, but for me, one of the most compelling and powerful reasons (behind the trend) is the culture,” Daly said. “That source of solace or support and encouragement is not, in any cultural way, to be found in the church — it’s elsewhere now. There’s lots of goodness, but it’s not being associated with the church like it was in the ’50s and ’60s.”

Specifically in smaller villages in rural areas, like South Deerfield, many churches don’t have the critical mass they need to continue on as new, younger membership declines.

“They’re not unwelcome — they’re treasured,” he said of those younger members. “But churches are having difficulty changing how they see the way the church works.”

The United Church of Christ isn’t the only church that’s been struggling with similar issues in recent years. The Diocese of Springfield, which oversees western Massachusetts’ Roman Catholic churches has seen a decline in attendance lately, too, which spokesman Michael Dupont attributed in part to economic forces.

“Within the last 10 years the Diocese of Springfield has undertaken extensive pastoral planning, a careful but painful process which led to the closing of a number of churches, including a handful in Franklin County,” Dupont said. “There is little doubt the decline in our region’s economy and loss of our industrial base has had an impact on membership in all faith communities. Our people need to re-locate where there are jobs. Nonetheless we have a number of vibrant Catholic parishes which continue to serve the people of Franklin County.”

Dupont noted, however, that the Diocese has seen a marked increase in the number of Latino and Spanish-speaking members.

Parker said a special service of worship will be held to “celebrate the history and significance of the church and the continuing presence of God in the lives of its members and in the surrounding community.”

Daly said he’s sad to see the church take such a step.

“I think of this congregation as incredibly faithful, and they’re very good at what churches are designed to be — a place where people go and they’re loved, cared for, accepted, and respected,” he said.

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