WILLIAMSTOWN -- Priscilla Northup sat in the sanctuary of the First United Methodist Church on Sunday, listening to organ music as she prepared to say good-bye to a church she joined in 1947.
The church, which will officially be purchased by the Williamstown Community Preschool on Friday, was deconsecrated Sunday by its new congregation, New Hope United Methodist Church.
"I was 22 years old when I got married and joined my husband's church," Northup said. "A lot has happened here since that time. At one point, we had a dream that we would build an education building because we had 100 children attending class in a single room. Many people said we didn't have the money to do it, but we did. That dream came true.
"We also had a dream that a much needed day care would move into the building and not leave the building empty during the week. That dream came true. Now we have a dream that the Holy Spirit will guide us to continue doing the glory of God. I'm not upset by this. I've thought that it was the right thing to do since the beginning."
New Hope, which is temporarily worshipping at the Williamstown Youth Center until a new church is built, is the result of a merger of the congregations of the First United Methodist Church in Williamstown and in North Adams in January 2011.
Pastor Kim Kie said the congregation performed a "leave taking" ceremony a year ago, but chose not to reduce the church to secular until the
"Now we're releasing this building to its new purpose, which is really a continued purpose," she said. "The Williamstown Community Pre school began its partnership with the church 40 years ago."
During the hour-long service, Kie spoke about the history of the church, which was built in and consecrated as the First Methodist Episcopal Church in 1872 and asked for the congregation to share memories as part of the Service of Thanksgiving and Deconsecration.
Barbara Kourajian, who once served as organist and choir director for the church, shared a story of an Easter "miracle."
"I don't remember the year, but one Maundy Thursday I came in to practice and found that several of the keys on the organ were depressed. This was the year that a raccoon got into the organ pipes," she said.
The raccoon damaged the wooden structures inside of the organ, breaking the connections to the keys. An emergency call was made to several organ repair shops.
"On Good Friday, our organ had died," Kourajian said. "Several parishioners stood watch in the night while the repairs were made. On Easter Sunday, we had the organ, with all this beautiful music."
Prior to carrying out the congregation's sacred items -- altar candles and a bible recording the congregation members' births, marriages and deaths -- Lay Leader Corrine Case shared a letter from Julia Munemo, co-president of the Williamstown Community Preschool, detailing the center's plans for the church, which will purchase the building with funds from the Williamstown Community Preservation fund.
"In the coming months the preschool will expand our use of the building in two important ways," Munemo wrote. "The first change will be to the choir room, with its wonderful light and open space, which will be turned into a classroom for toddlers. The most transformative change will be to the sanctuary. We will remove many of the pews to open it up to our children during the day for what we call ‘gross motor activities,' such as dance class and gymnastics. At night and on weekends, the space will be open to the community as a meeting place. The sanctuary will continue to thrive with life and activity."
The letter also stated the sanctuary's stained glass windows will be preserved, covered in Lexan plastic donated by Sabic in Pittsfield, on both the inside and outside of the building.
Kie said the congregation still owns the First United Methodist Church in North Adams, which is for sale. That church will be deconsecrated in the same fashion once a buyer is found.
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