PITTSFIELD, MASS. >> In spite of adversity and racism, the Second Congregational Church United Church of Christ (UCC) remains 170 years strong, a strength the faithful must continue as one.
Rev. Leonard Comithier Jr. delivering the inspirational message that capped Sunday's nearly two-hour celebration to mark the church's founding on Feb. 20, 1846. The guest preacher from Macedonia Baptist Church in Albany, N.Y. and former pastor of Second Congregational Church (1981-86) urged the congregants to stand firm and steady in guiding the second oldest UCC affiliated church in the state.
"The message for you and me is not to be a disappointment to God," he said. "You don't need to be wobbly from wine, you can be wobbly from preoccupation with oneself."
In song and verse, the 45-member house of worship on Onota Street recalled how seven members of Pittsfield's First Congregational Church (UCC), feeling persecuted, broke away to form their own church. A candle was lit in memory of the African-American founders: John L. Brown, Morris Potter, Wuilliam Potter, David S. Thomas, Catherine Fields, Delilah Potter and Mary Richards.
"Many, many blessings this day [as] we remember your storied past," said Rev. Jill Graham, pastor of Old Parish Church in Sheffield.
Second Congregational Church member Catherine Rickard also paid homage to the four church elders: Rachel Bownes, Emma Kennedy, Wilbert Stockton and Grace Hunt.
"They have given so much to our church," she said. "Continue to pray for use and pray for them."
The highest tribute was bestowed on the church's first and most famous pastor, Rev. Samuel Harrison, best known as chaplain of the famed Massachusetts 54th Regiment, the first all-black infantry to fight in the Civil War.
Blayne Whitfield told of how his great-great grandfather was borne into slavery, found his way north to become educated and be ordained a minister. Harrison arrived in Pittsfield in 1850 to lead the second Congregational Church until 1862 when he resigned from the church and worked for the National Freedman's Relief Society during the Civil War.
In 1863 Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew called upon the reverend to comfort the 54th after the regiment suffered heavy losses against the Confederacy at Fort Wagner, S.C. Harrison was eventually commissioned as chaplain of the 54th, but discharged a year later for health reasons.
After the war, he ministered at several churches in the Northeast before returning in 1872 to again shepherd the Second Congregational Church until his death in 1900.
Harrison felt Pittsfield was always home.
"I think a man rarely loses interest in his first charge," Whitfield said, recalling what Harrison once wrote.
Throughout the celebration, the Macedonia Baptist Church men's choir lifted every voice, bringing the gathering to its feet.
In closing, Second Congregational Church Deaconess Rosalie Honlah echoed Comithier's call for the church members to keep the faith.
"We are, what we are by the grace of God," she said. "It's for us to continue to be strong."
Contact Dick Lindsay at 413 496-6233.