WILLIAMSTOWN -- Ten members came together and formed the First Congrega tional Church In 1836, but it was a couple years later, in 1838, that 51 people came together and re-formed the Second Congregational Church. It is that milestone event 175 years ago that is being celebrated later this month at the Second Congregational Church.
The church is led by Rev. Penny Rich Smith, now serving in her 19th year as pastor, and she will preside over the 175th anniversary celebrations on the weekend of Saturday, Sept. 29 and Sunday, Sept. 30.
"There will be a Saturday evening program and a Sunday worship celebration," Smith said. "The Saturday evening event is at 5:30 and begins with a potluck supper. Certainly the whole community is invited; this is open to the whole community. The program is still being developed, but will be basically some sharing of historical moments ... we'll have kind of a looping slideshow -- pictures of church events and activities over the years -- an ongoing video people can watch."
Other festivities include some special music and dance presentations, and a raffle at the evening program of a painting by Ed Scofield, a local artist. Scofield has created a painting of the church and the pastoral scene around the church. Tickets will be sold ahead of time, as well as on the evening when the painting will be raffled off.
Also sold at the event will be ‘Cat's Meow' wooden churches. "They make little prototypes
There will also be a historical timeline handout available, a sheet with highlights of the church and its activities over the past 175 years. These include when lightning struck the steeple in 1927, as well as the installation of a pipe organ in 1931 (which was later replaced with an electronic organ in 1998).
Some of the historical traditions have continued to this day, Smith said. "The church was completed and dedicated in 1875, and the ladies aid society -- ‘Dorcas Society' -- raised money for it," she said. "We still have a strong and active Dorcas Society. And the Easter Sunrise service started in 1941, and we still have them on Mount Hope. We have 75 people who attend that."
The Sunday worship will be an extension of the celebration, with special music and guests at service. "I think the children will put on a little skit of some historical story," said Smith. "Then there will be a special coffee hour post-worship."
According to Smith, Second Congregational has continued to thrive in spite of the larger downturn in church attendance. "Membership has grown pretty consistently," she said. "We're kind of known in the community as a thriving church (not financially, but in terms of activity and strong spirit), which is a little unusual right now. One of our highlights is the Sunday school program; we've had a really consistent 20 to 25 kids, ongoing enthusiasm, and a youth group. A lot of families and children are involved, and a great music program we're very proud of, with our Music Director Susan Matsui -- she's done a great job."
In short, says Smith, morale is high. "A key factor is keeping the young people interested and involved; we've been good over the long haul at keeping young people integrated into the life of the church. They come back, they assist with teaching Sunday school ... it's not like they disappear, they want to stay involved. Also, we just have great teamwork, with all the lay workers in the church. Everyone works together and shares the responsibilities."
Smith also believes her focus on outreach is appreciated. "I've thought that one of my high priorities was pastoral care, reaching out, and people seem to like that. The congregation has done very well, we've grown in recent years; I'm actually the longest-serving pastor in the church's whole history. We certainly do have hopes for it to grow and strengthen in mission and ministry and numbers. We're always looking for newcomers and new people to become part of our ministry together."