First Congregational Church of Ashfield

First Congregational Church of Ashfield

 Recorded Interview:

 

Initial (Transcribed) Interview:

Over the last 18 months or so, our nation has faced two pandemics—the health pandemic of COVID 19 and the pandemic of continuous Racial Injustice. As you think about these two pandemics:

1. How did they impact your mission and ministry activities?

[Our Church] is in the foothills of the Berkshires. There are a lot of vibrant churches and leading edge churches that are becoming more inclusive. Demographics are still relatively white. Before the pandemic, we were engaged in siloed groups about racial injustice. The murder of G. Floyd acted as a catalyst. Then the pandemic came about… nightly vigils, weekly vigils continued, but the pandemic got in the way of us thinking beyond the vigils. This is an aging community and there's a sense that things are on pause.

The [Faith in our Future Together] grant gave us the opportunity to reengage and think about what would come next as it stretches on. We are looking for opportunities to act now... Local ecumenical council has engaged in racial justice and there was a mix of voices between POC and white folks. A number of congregants participated. We also partnered with St. John’s in a program of “Sacred Ground.” 

2. How did your church continue to be engaged in innovative, creative and unfamiliar ways during the COVID-19 shutdown? 

The most pressing challenge was creating a meaningful worship service while not in the sanctuary. An opportunity to re-think how we are accessible to all, including those who were not able to come to church pre-COVID. We installed a camera and a way to record music. We have an enormous choir: 50% of regular church attenders. Used software to record voices and mix them together. We engaged younger people with the A/V as well. Separate video with a children’s message. Lots of screen-fatigue with our younger families. The Missions committee worked to expand the Pastor’s Discretionary fund to beyond its traditional uses. 500% increase in the Discretionary Fund. That has made its way out into the wider community. Stewardship video campaign – dressed in costumes – satirical skit about using Zoom for church.

3. What were the low points, failures, or frustrations?

In hindsight, the staff took on too much. Harder to keep an eye on self-care of staff while away from each other. We sometimes failed to communicate all the nuances of the new work that needed to happen in this new environment. Time has been warped in a strange way. There’s a placelessness and a timelessness to having all our meetings online and. Having to make decisions and make “asks” online.

4. What were the high points and successes?

The Stewardship Campaign was a high point and it was a success. Finding out that the hard work for this grant was a highpoint. We established a prayer circle. Being surrounded by nature and being able to be outside with the community has been a highlight; snow shoeing, farming camp, etc. An opportunity to see nature in a new way. Hilltown Churches Food Pantry – more resources available during the pandemic. We’ve become much more connected to that mission through the church. David has joined the Board of the Pantry. Overall:

5. What lessons, learnings or changes will your congregation carry into the future?

Church should be accessible to all, whether or not you can get to the church or not. This has also made church leadership more accessible. A deeper sense of vulnerability has made us aware of how others have always been vulnerable and that it behooves us to be engaged in the conversation. It’s in our self-interest to seek justice for others. 

Photos from 2020:

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