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Growing in Love by Gathering Together

Christmas Eve at Taft Farms Greenhouse
For where two or three are gathered in my name,
I am there among them.
Matthew 18:20

You, dear Priest, and Grace Church find ourselves at the beginning of the third millennium of the revelation of life transformed by the in-breaking of Love. When we gather at Grace to worship, to study scripture, to reflect on what we see in the world, and to enjoy the company of each other, we are learning about this Love that knows no limits. With the Spirit, we are learning to see ourselves and others through the eyes of God, through the eyes of Jesus—through the eyes of Love.

When we come to know that we are loved just as we are, Love lights us up and shines through us. Yet, as the hymn goes, “we make God’s love too narrow by false limits of our own.” Our hope lies in gathering together to love one another into God’s glory of human beings that are fully alive. Are you interested in gathering with us creatively, guiding us as well as growing with us?

Below is a list of the ways we gather. Our weekly newsletter, Tuesday’s Child, has current information about times of meetings. To learn more about how each group met during 2020, before and after the pandemic, please read the 2020 Annual Report.

Choir rehearsal for Sunday morning worship at Crissey Farm, September 22, 2019. The choir later performed this with members of Mr. Clark’s Mt. Everett High School Chorus at the 50th Anniversary of the Dedication of the W.E.B. Du Bois Boyhood Homesite in Great Barrington

Sunday Morning Worship—pre-COVID. A little before nine o’clock on Sunday mornings, at the Crissey Farm banquet hall, members of the choir and musicians arrive and prepare for rehearsal. A short time later, the altar guild comes in and begins its part in the transformation of the room into a sacred space. The Eucharistic Table is carefully and lovingly set up with linens, flowers, cross and other necessities all taken from plastic storage boxes. Greeters set up their Welcome Table near the entrance and remain there to provide visitors and congregants with a warm welcome, a name tag, and a bulletin. The service bulletin contains everything necessary for the service; hymns with words and music, prayers, readings, liturgy, and the weekly announcements. The atmosphere is lively and there are many conversations as the congregation trickles in, many at the last moment. When the priest is seated for the service, a Tibetan singing bowl is rung to indicate the start of our liturgy. The people become quiet, gather and seat themselves. The service begins with a musical prelude followed by an opening hymn.

Our liturgy and music vary with the season, but there is always carefully chosen music performed with spirit and skill in spite of variable resources from week to week. The choir may range from only four to eight or more but, regardless, we strive to sing God’s word with beauty and vigor. Our music may be traditional, modern, ancient or eclectic but we aim for authenticity of expression and appropriateness to the liturgical season and the lectionary.

The rector has shared her pulpit with many guest preachers over the years—representatives of our community partners, seminarians, and our lay preacher. Announcements follow the Peace. Parishioners may visit the Healing Team during distribution of Holy Communion. Coffee Hour is a spirited time of fellowship, conversation with visitors, as well as celebrations of special occasions such as birthdays, including Grace Church’s, January 6.

Gwendolyn Van Sant, CEO of Multicultural Bridge, with The Rev. Dr. Janet Zimmerman and Senior Warden Kathy Clausen after speaking to Grace during worship

Outdoor Services. Each year, one or two Sunday morning services take place in a tent at Gideon’s Garden, sometimes followed with a cookout meal. After March 15, 2020, our only in-person service took place outdoors in October, 2020, in the tent at the garden with state-mandated safety measures in place. The rooster and two hens vocalized loudly and often, both with and without the 2-voice choir that morning.

Holy Week services have been traditionally shared among St. Paul’s, Christ Trinity, Grace, and more recently in 2019, Easter Vigil at Trinity Lenox with Bishop Fisher. Musicians and clergy from all four churches participate.

Sunday Worship During COVID. Once again in our life as a bunch of folks who are part of the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement, we found ourselves in a boat that was headed into uncharted waters in early 2020. Our resiliency and flexibility, developed in the years between 2008 and 2013, has become a part of who we are together and through trial and creative errors we found a way to make Zoom our new Worship Space. With newly acquired technical skills, Google Slides are run by a kind of digital Altar Guild. Through the miracle of electronic mixing, a 3-voice choir sings many parts to lead our hymns during Zoom worship. We have also continued our Gratitude Moment, begun several years ago as part of a stewardship season. These sharings have always been joyous and poignant, but during this increasingly prolonged season of physical separation and loss, we are becoming attuned to seeing God at work in our lives in new ways.

Church School for Grace’s children uses the Beulah Land Curriculum, which tells stories with felt figures, followed by wondering questions and an activity. One to six children regularly participate on Sundays from fall through spring. In the summer of 2020 children and teachers gathered on Zoom for a wonderful 5-week Vacation Bible School — enjoyed by the adults and children alike, and filled with amazing questions and conversations. A virtual Christmas Pageant was organized and performed by the teachers and students, and presented on Christmas Eve in place of our traditional service at Taft Farms, to the delight of everyone. The charming video is posted on this website here. We are blessed with three gifted and dedicated teachers.

Mid-Week Eucharist, which met at noon on Thursdays in the Grace Chapel, had been a long-time practice for a small, core group of parishioners pre-pandemic. These services have been suspended until in-person services are both safe and allowed by the diocese and state.

Centering Prayer, the ancient Christian practice which allows us to rest in the stillness and love of God, convened every Thursday at 5:00 p.m. at the Grace Chapel before the pandemic. Since March 2020 it has continued to meet by Zoom, and now includes more people, including the former parishioner now living in Mexico who helped to begin this group. A local UCC pastor, the former director of Construct, is also a regular practitioner. In this time we pray, reflect on our spiritual practice, and share our challenges and joys in deepening our relationship with God. 

The Grace Church Vestry meets every month, to work on realizing a vision of what the parish could become. Beyond the typical budget review and voting on the last meeting’s minutes, the hopes, the dreams and the realities of Grace Church are born and developed. The Vestry is led by the Rector and the Senior and Junior Wardens and supported by the other elected Vestry members. The Vestry members represent the diverse backgrounds of the members of Grace Church. Each person brings with them their own body of knowledge and experiences. The gifts of these Vestry members are dispersed by their participation in various committees that help develop our community missions. The Vestry is empowered by prayerful decisions and the desire to do God’s work for Grace Church in the surrounding community and other parts of the world.

The Wisdom Group (Wisdom Outreach Committee) began to form several years ago as a group that continued to prayerfully discern community need even as our two congregations were discerning their ecclesial future together without their buildings. More recently, the group has focused on the need for Gideon’s Garden to grow into a staffed and budgeted ministry. Their mission to be the light of Christ’s love here in Berkshire County guides how they navigate all the bumps in the road and where they see God doing a new thing. Be sure to read their 2020 Annual Report. (See download button above.)

Tuesday Bible Study met pre-COVID at the Grace Church Chapel 7-8:30pm for lectionary study or, more recently, a study of a Gospel, a book from the Hebrew Scriptures, or a Lenten or Advent study, often in conjunction with priests and parishioners from St. Paul’s and Christ Trinity. Usually led by clergy, attendance varies with interest in the topic and schedule availability. During the years of on-going lectionary study together, attendance was consistent and strong fellowship bonds grew among the group. On the other hand, friendship in Christ now has a chance to grow in brief spurts in the tri-church studies.

Education for Ministry (EfM) started up again in 2020 with a group from Christ Trinity. It quickly moved online in March. One Grace member began the 4-year program in 2020 and another Grace member has joined to begin her first year in 2021. When the wall fell at St. James in 2008, a group co-mentored by a member of St. James and the rector of then Christ Church in Sheffield was about to begin its second year of meetings. One member of the group was a local Lutheran who had joined to complete her studies begun in another state. When the group began meeting at Christ Church full-time because St. James could not be occupied, the idea of the new Lutheran congregation sharing space (and eventually communion) with Christ Church led to their eventual combined status. God works in mysterious ways!

Sacred Ground Dialogue Circle. From August through December 2020, the Rev. Libby Wade (who is also Grace’s interim rector) facilitated 10 sessions of “Sacred Ground,” a film- and readings-based dialogue series on race and grounded in faith developed by The Episcopal Church. The sessions were full of surprising information and deep reflections on our personal and ethnic histories. All were called to further action to address existing racist policies and to find ways to repair the injustices of the past, especially those committed in the name of the church. Two members of Grace participated with members of St. Paul’s and Trinity Lenox, and two Lutherans from outside Boston. Two other members of Grace joined a group from St. John’s Williamstown this January. Another group sponsored by Grace Church may be organized after Easter.

The Men’s Group began early in 2002 when a small group of male parishioners began to meet monthly at the Barrington Brewery for lunch and conversation, and it continues today most often in members’ homes. It aims to provide fellowship and enrich the faith of all who participate. Members have shared their lives and their work in talks to the group, and friends from outside the group, often representing community non-profits have also given short programs after a well-organized shared dish dinner usually at the home of one of the participants.  Many have treasured memories of being together and are missing their time together until they can safely meet again.

Books & Bread has a long history with Grace Church. Founded in 1997 by The Rev. Jenni Matheson, the book group has continued uninterrupted as an integral ministry of the church, offering the opportunity for congregants to meet monthly for fellowship, shared meals and lively book discussions. At each meeting one person serves as “discussion leader” to offer questions and guide the conversation. In January we choose the book selections for the year — both fiction and non-fiction available in paperback and audio formats. This group is meeting on line now during the pandemic.

Third Sunday Suppers began as a way for the former members of St. George’s and St. James’ to get to know one another better socially, traveling to a “destination” eating place in Lee or Great Barrington. The monthly invitation to gather on a Sunday evening at a local restaurant for fellowship and dining has been issued both in Tuesday’s Child and during Sunday worship announcements. Since the first dinner at Sullivan Station in Lee on May 10, 2013, a group of about 10 on average has now gathered at 27 different local venues! When pandemic closures began, dinners continued virtually on Zoom. When these virtual dinners are included, there have so far been a total of 89 Sunday evenings where parishioners have enjoyed each other’s company at dinner. All meals begin with thanks for one another, for the food and the staff who has prepared it, and for every pair of hands that has made it possible to bring God’s good nourishment to the kitchen and table.

The Gideon’s Garden “family” from Taft Farms receives a blessing from Bishop Fisher in 2019.

Interested clergy contact the Diocese of Western Massachusetts Canon for Transitions, The Rev. Dr. Rich Simpson: rsimpson@diocesewma.org or 413-417-2415