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South Deerfield Congregational Church celebrates for final time

  • Members of the South Deerfield Congregational Church follow along with a hymn during the church's final service Sunday, January 8, 2017. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • The Rev. Roger Daly, of the South Deerfield Congregational Church delivers a meditation during the sermon at the final service Sunday. RECORDER STAFF/MATT BURKHARTT

  • Bette Schmitt, a member of the South Deerfield Congregational Church listens to the sermon during the final service Sunday, January 8, 2017. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Sandra Mastaliz, a lifetime member of the South Deerfield Congregational Church listens to the sermon during the church's final service Sunday, January 8, 2017. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Reverend Roger Daly, of the South Deerfield Congregational Church, shares an embrace with Reverend David Neil of the United Church of Bernardston after the Liturgy of Leave Taking at South Deerfield Congregational Church's final service on Jan. 8. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Members of the South Deerfield Congregational Church listen to the sermon during the final service Sunday, January 8, 2017. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Members of the South Deerfield Congregational Church follow along with a hymn during the church's final service Sunday, January 8, 2017. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Members of the South Deerfield Congregational Church listen to the sermon during the final service Sunday, January 8, 2017. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Members of the South Deerfield Congregational Church listen to the sermon during the final service Sunday, January 8, 2017. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Members of the South Deerfield Congregational Church partake in communion during the church's final service Sunday, January 8, 2017. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt



For the Bulletin
Thursday, January 12, 2017

SOUTH DEERFIELD — At the end of what would be his last address to the members of South Deerfield Congregational Church, Rev. Richard Daly had a simple message.

“So go forth and love extravagantly,” he said and then paused. “Amen.”

Those who packed into the historic church Sunday afternoon did so for the last time, as the church held one last service to disband its congregation before becoming a legacy church.

The 198-year-old church had a two-year road to its closing. Church leaders cited a shrinking membership and the changing culture of modern America for reasons why.

The church is an affiliate of the United Church of Christ, and its possessions will go to other UCC churches in Massachusetts. Several ministers from the Massachusetts conference of UCC were there to formally disband the congregation and release Daly of his duties as pastor.

The church started looking at the possible closure about two years ago, and decided to close last May.

Jack Cooper, co-moderator of the church, said the closure of the church can be compared to the loss of a loved one.

“Some of the difficulties have been softened though,” he said. “Because even though we’ve never done this before, we are all familiar with the passage of people that we love. We care for them and we love them even more in their last days. And then when they pass we gather together to celebrate what their life has meant to us.”

He said there are two prevailing emotions about the closure of the church: sorrow for the closing, and gratitude for the time the church has had.

“Our faith in God and our Christian values have allowed us to approach this with the same kind of love and the same sense of gratitude,” he said. “Gratitude for the time, the season we have been given to walk, and work, and love together. All by the grace of God.”

The last service was filled with emotional moments that spoke to the bonds of those who have attended and worked for the church through the years.

After the sermon, Daly spoke of the “little bits” that would go onto other churches and continue to spread the message of South Deerfield Congregational Church. He asked those there from other churches to raise their hands if they were getting something from South Deerfield Congrational Church; more than half the room raised their hands.

Daly became choked up as he handed off a green box with a blue lid and a slit cut out of the top to the pastor of a Whately church.

For about 15 years church members would be asked to think of what had made them happy and brought them peace that week. Then, several members would put a couple dollars in the box and share their stories that week. The tradition will continue on at the Whately church.

The church was one of the first in South Deerfield, formed in 1818. It has been at its current location on Main Street since 1848.

There was a reception at the church following the service. The church has yet to announce plans for the building itself. During the last hymn of the service, the afternoon sun broke through the clouds and streamed into the church through the lower windows as those in attendance sang “Let us break bread together” one final time.

It was one last moment in a nearly 200-year history where everyone in the room had accepted the fate, dealt with the sorrow and began thinking about what would be next.