WILLIAMSTOWN -- Sam Humes IV, moderator of the First Congregational Church for the past three years, will end his term Sunday, Feb. 3, bringing to a close a term that saw the church undergo a successful self-assessment.
However, Humes is not only a longtime member of the church; he is also part of a rare lineage: Five generations of his family have attended Williams College.
"My grandmother was a Williamstown girl, and she married my grandfather when he graduated from Williams," said Humes. "Her ancestors had come up a couple generations earlier. My grandfather, Samuel Humes, graduated from [Williams] in 1891, and then married my grandmother, who was a farmer's daughter living in town. My father came here, my brothers and I came here, my sons came here, and now my grandson is starting here. So I feel really attached to the church."
Although Mr. Humes' time as moderator was not always smooth sailing, he is proud of the changes he has helped to foment at the church.
"A major accomplishment was doing a self-assessment of the church and figuring out where we wanted to go," said Humes. "I think we have to look at what the challenges are facing the church of today. As you know, most churches are losing membership rapidly, and we have to figure out what to do. Do we accept the fact that churches are going to go downhill, or do we try to find out what people want?
In answering that question, the weekly "Second Hour," a lecture and discussion program after the church service, may be what Humes considers his greatest triumph.
"The Second Hour is attracting almost as many people as go to the church service, and even bringing in people who aren't church attenders," he said. "In an academic community like Williamstown, that kind of engagement is thrilling, and a lot of us enjoy that mental stimulation.
"We bring in people to talk about emerging issues, including the evolution of Christianity, Islam, other faiths ... it's all mentally stimulating, and fun to listen to, even more than the service of worship. That was the best."
The program has had a wide variety of speakers, on a wide variety of topics, and is open to the public.
"As you know, there are many different kinds of people in this world, so trying to figure out how to meet the different needs is tricky" Humes said. "Many people appreciate the traditional church service, some appreciate youthfulness. Many people find church a community activity; they're there to meet friends as much as church itself."
While the Second Hour may have strengthened the social and community bonds of the church, Humes made a few more behind-the-scenes changes as well.
"We re-did our by-laws, strengthening the organization," he said. "The one thing important to me was that the deacons had been sort of submerged, and I wanted to bring the deacons up, so there's the council, and four major bodies. There used to be three: one for outreach, one for the church itself, one for stewardship. Now we have education and fellowship, and a separate one for the deacons, which is important as the deacons do the major job of arranging for ministry now that [Pastor Carrie Bail] has left."
Humes also has continued to maintain the church's focus on community service.
"Where we give money for outreach we wanted to be personally involved, and not just hand money out," Humes said. "As you know, the church has been very involved in helping support a school in Khartoum [in Sudan] where people in South Sudan had fled because of the war, and we've been supporting that for 12 years. That has been important. We've also taken the church building, and some basement space not being used, and we've encouraged nonprofits with a mission in the community to move in and share the costs of operating the church, and that's been very successful. The Hoosic River Watershed Organization, a counseling service, ABC -- which does the bake sale and supports students from underprivileged communities -- they are all now in the church, which is trying to be a social activism church as well as spiritually active."
And after all of this, Humes has no qualms about stepping down.
"My departure won't effect the church at all," he said. "My term was three years, and the three years is up. A person I've been working with very closely will be elected on Sunday and take over, and will do an excellent job.
"I'm hoping to be active in the education committee of the church, and pushing that along. I'll be supporting my successor -- she's been nominated for some time. I don't think that'll have any negative effect. As a matter of fact, I think it may even help. We're seen as having the same goals -- many people would think I put her up for the job. I didn't -- someone else did -- but I supported it. She works very well with people, I've worked very closely with her, and I am completely supportive. Most people in the church feel the two of us would be a continuation."