GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. -- After a nearly 20-year nomadic existence, a Great Barrington-based religious group has a permanent home.
Unitarian Universalist Meeting of South Berkshire held its first service Sunday morning, June 15, at the former Housatonic Congregational Church, which the Unitarians recently bought for $225,000.
Since UUMSB was formed in 1995, they have rented or used five locations in Great Barrington, last sharing space with Congregational Ahavath Sholom before the 64-member church moved into a building it could call its own, according to UUMSB officials.
"The ability to have our space is a resource to expand our programs," said pastor, The Rev. Carol Allman-Morton. "Being a ‘homeowner’ will put the accelerator for growth."
"We like the idea of helping save a historic building ... and keeping it [active] in the community," added Dianna Downing, president of the UUMSB board of trustees.
Built in 1893, the Housatonic Congregational Church put its home up for sale in February, prompting UUMSB to immediately begin negotiations with Housatonic church leaders. UUMSB immediately launched a capital campaign and the funds raised, along with loans and investment savings through the Berkshire-Taconic Foundation, allowed the Unitarians to purchase the only active church building in Housatonic. Church officials said enough money was raised or pledged to set aside funds for repairs and upgrades to a building listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The transaction was bittersweet for the 121-year-old Housatonic Congregational Church, which held its final service June 8. Pastor, the Rev. Belle Fox-Martin was pleased her church quickly found a buyer, but having gradually declined to just 15 active members, the Congregationalists had no choice but to dissolve.
"It was just about a miracle it happened -- perfect timing," she said. "We disbanded for several reasons including financial and that our mission was completed."
For the Unitarians, they expect their mission to expand thanks to the permanent location next to Ramsdall Library. Church leaders said a home-base will benefit the children’s religious programs, allow for more community engagement and expanded membership -- the church seats 250 people.
"Unitarian churches have traditionally been places for folk music concerts, and at some point we want to start that tradition," Downing said. "A permanent home means our members can have weddings and funerals here."
Fox-Martin noted with Congregationalists and Unitarians similar in their missions, she’s glad UUMSB will be serving the village and beyond.
"The purpose [of Housatonic] wasn’t to serve ourselves but do community outreach and charitable works -- that’s the life blood of a church," she said.