Church to Leave Place Used for Worship Since 1795

Post a Comment » Written on January 9th, 2008     
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GREENFIELD, NH (January 9, 2008) – Greenfield Congregational Covenant Church has met in the upstairs of the Town Hall since 1795, when the four-year-old congregation joined with the community to construct the building.

“It was pretty common in this part of the country that the church and town would build a building together and use it as a common space,” says pastor Dan Osgood. The first pastors were even paid with taxes levied on local residents.

Town HallBut, of course, the times have changed. In the 1830’s the community stopped paying the pastor’s salary. Last December, the Greenfield congregation purchased property after a small group of residents and a national organization threatened a lawsuit if the town renewed the church’s lease.

Osgood says that in the long run, the situation will prove best for the church, which was adopted into the Evangelical Covenant Church in 2001.

In 1959, the town signed a 50-year-lease with the church that required no rent payment by the congregation. Still, the church has made donations to the community and used separate heating and electrical systems, says Osgood.

The church meets in the upstairs of the building, which has sanctuary seating, an altar and stained glass windows. It is able to use the downstairs of the building during its coffee hour following the Sunday worship service.

Osgood knew the terms of the arrangement would have to change when discussions began on renewal of the lease, which is to end in 2009. Because the lease would run longer than three years, the community had to authorize the Board of Selectmen to approve the agreement. The people did so overwhelmingly at the 2006 annual town meeting, with only about 10 of the 150 attendees opposed. Many of the supporters didn’t even attend the church.

The opposition, however, enlisted the help of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which suggested the possibility of legal action. But the church did not want to put the town through a protracted lawsuit.

The current site seems idyllic. “It’s everyone’s image of New England on the town square, surrounded by maple trees,” says Osgood, adding that the building is a historic landmark. But in reality, the building also needs repairs that exceed what the city or church can afford. The church also had to be very careful not to allow any Bibles or other religious literature to be accidentally left behind when it used the downstairs for coffee hour each Sunday.

In December 2006, the Greenfield congregation approved a decision to seek new property. Last month, they closed on a 16-acre parcel of land located just one-quarter-mile from the current meeting place. “It’s an amazing piece of property,” Osgood says. “It has a pond and a brook.”

The church hopes to have a new building constructed when the lease expires. The town has no plans for the space used by the church. “It will in many ways be a vacant building. There are just a few activities in it now,” Osgood says. City offices are located in another building.

Osgood says many of the townspeople supported leasing to the church because it always has been part of the community and is the only church in town. Being the only congregation in town also has meant that Osgood, who has served the church for 20 years, ministers differently than might some pastors in other communities.

“You are essentially chaplain to the town,” Osgood says. People who never attend the church often turn to him first for dealing with crises. That is something he is sure will not change.

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