HUNTINGTON — Congregants of the First Congregational Church of Huntington, United Church of Christ, on Norwich Hill, 6 Searle Rd., announced that after 245 years, they have voted to complete their ministry and become a “legacy church” of the United Church of Christ. The church will close this month.
The Rev. Carol B. Smith, who has served the Norwich Hill church as pastor for nearly 10 years, said she hopes that everyone who has visited or has fond memories of the church will join the congregation for a final legacy and communion service on Nov. 26 at 3 p.m. Everyone in the Western Massachusetts community is invited to attend.
“We often think of a legacy as something you leave behind when you die. Yet your legacy is what you have done during your living time, that is your legacy to the people who come after you. A legacy is something living — the way you’ve chosen to live as good and kind and loving people — that’s your legacy, that lasts forever and speaks,” she said.
Smith said the congregation has been working for the past year on the decision to complete its ministry with the help of the United Church of Christ. She said the decision was a difficult one for the congregation to make, but members could not afford to keep the church building open.
“To continue to be good stewards of their blessings, this was the wise and right thing to do,” she said, adding that she is so proud of them for taking what she termed a brave and judicious step of faith.
While the congregation was first established in 1778, the current church is the third meetinghouse dedicated in 1842 in a service preached by the Rev. E. Davis of Westfield. The “new” church was described, according to a history written by then pastor Henry Westcott for the church’s bicentennial celebration in 1978, as “modern in style, with steeple without and suitable means of heating within.”
“The congregation, with good judgement, had deemed it better to keep this in repair with due economy than to imitate more ambitious places and build a house ‘with all the modern improvements,’ including a mortgage,” Westcott wrote.
Smith said the “church on the hill,” as it is affectionately called, will now be sold.
“We are all hoping it will be kept as something for this rural community,” she said.
The Norwich Hill congregation will send all of the historical records, church ledgers and meeting books, the oldest dating back to 1837, to the Congregational Library on Beacon Street in Boston. Smith said the library keeps the records for all of the Congregational churches, some of which are entered online at www.congregationallibrary.org for historical research.
The Norwich Hill congregation has a long and generous history of supporting mission work. Its outreach has been broad and diverse to the Huntington Food Pantry; the Cot Shelter in Northampton; Hilltown Holiday Help; It Takes a Village; CROP Walks; the Heifer Project; Alice Lloyd College, in Kentucky; Elkhorn UCC in Little Eagle, South Dakota; collections for Syria, Ukraine and for local victims of fires; along with the disaster relief ministries of the UCC, and many more.
On Dec. 18, 2014, the congregation fulfilled a longtime goal in becoming an “Open and Affirming Church” of the United Church of Christ, welcoming all, including LGBTQIA+ persons and all gender identities, expressions and sexual orientations, into the full life and fellowship of their congregation as members and friends.
Over the years, the church has shared hosting the World Day of Prayer with local sister churches in the UCC, welcoming all to join the celebration at North Hall. The congregation also worked with the faith initiative of the Southern Hilltowns Domestic Violence Task Force to bring area faith leaders together to hold annual vigils for awareness and support.
Smith said there have been many weddings and funerals at the church for people in the wider community. Many people have visited the Christmas bazaars at the church, notable for their pies and hand-crafted goods, attended the “Pie in the Sky” dinners, the Men’s Club, Art and Craft Exhibition and Sale, Christmas Singalong Concerts with the Fanfare Brass Choir, and have looked forward to hearing the church bell ring at Christmas, Easter, and every Sunday morning for services.
Smith said at the legacy service on Nov. 26, the pastor and the congregation will release each other from their covenants to each other. The service will close with an exhortation — “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” to the sanctuary that has served them since 1841, she said.