Church to host final service in historic building
The boxes are packed, the stained glass window has been removed and the ministry year is winding down at the Roberts Congregational United Church of Christ Church.
It must be time to move.
The Roberts community fixture on West Warren Street has been part of the local landscape since 1884, when the congregation purchased a building from Hudson and moved it to its present location.
But the finishing touches are being completed on a new facility along Highway 12 on the northern edge of town, and preparations to occupy that space are moving quickly forward.
Of course, there are mixed feelings as long-time members begin to say goodbye to their beloved church building, where many have been baptized, brought up and married through the course of each generation.
The last official service in the church's old facility will be Sunday, June 8, at 10 a.m. It promises to be a festive and somber time, all tangled up in one.
"We're hoping to have a time to share stories and memories about the old church," said Mary Schmotzer, pastor of the local congregation for the past three years. "We'll get a rich feel for the depth and value of our history here. They will be things we haven't taken the time to voice in the recent past."
Schmotzer said she expects there will be a good crowd on hand for the last day. Several people in the community have asked when the last service will be and the gathering will be open to the general public, as usual.
The church must vacate its facility by June 11. That's when the new owners of the property close on the building.
The new owners plan to renovate the space into living quarters and business space. They operate a machine embroidery business.
"They want to be very intentional about keeping the historical feel of the building," Schmotzer said.
That's important, she said, because so many people in the community hold a strong attachment to the historic church.
"The majority of our members have been here their whole lives," Schmotzer said. "It's been a social center for the community and for our parishioners."
Many members have been recalling memories of Vacation Bible School on the front lawn of the church and special music performances in the sanctuary.
There have also been stories exchanged about the hard-working church ladies who've prepared meals in the kitchen, including the congregation's annual New England Dinner.
Schmotzer said the small things begin to take on new meaning as the congregation contemplates the inevitable move. She said once the stained glass window in the front of the sanctuary was moved to the new church, the old church seemed like a different place.
"You take things for granted, until it's time to say goodbye like this," Schmotzer said.
Vi Graham, who has been a member of the church since about 1945, said she has many memories of Christmas programs when her children, Suzanne (Fisher) and David Graham, were young.
Roberts Congregational has been her husband, Gardiner Graham's, home church since 1924.
"He has many more memories than me," she said. Gardiner was the church treasurer for many years, as was his father, Francis, for years before him.
"It's going to be different when we move," Vi said. "You leave a lot of memories behind ... but we'll have everything on one level in the new church, and that will be good."
The transition to the new space has been easier because the congregation has known about the move for many months, Schmotzer said.
But it doesn't completely remove the sense of loss.
"There's a sense of wondering what's going to happen," she said, "like the Isrealites during their time in the wilderness. But the anticipation also leaves you wondering in a different sort of way."
As for now, Schmotzer said everyone is working at a frantic pace to accomplish the eventual move.
The new building won't be completely finished as the congregation moves in, she admitted. The landscaping, kitchen, sound system and other details will have to be completed as money and time permit.
The goal is for the church to have a certificate of occupancy as soon as possible, so church services and activities won't be disrupted, Schmotzer said.
The congregation is excited about the many ministry opportunities the church will have with its new, expanded space, Schmotzer said. One major improvement is a new nursery area, where young families can participate in the service without worrying about loud kids.
The church will also enjoy extra fellowship and education space, as well as a more modern kitchen.
The new building also has an expanded space for the Roberts Food Pantry, which has been housed in the old church for the past 25 years. There will be a separate entrance for the new food pantry space as well.
That's good news, as the pantry has experienced an increase in activity in recent months. For the first four months of 2008, 174 families with a total of 667 individuals have been served 11,500 pounds of food.
With more space, the pantry will be able to accept more food from the new Hudson food collaborative.
Roberts Congregational Church is the oldest congregation in the community. The first organizational meeting for a church was in 1863 in the Town of Warren.
After the membership dropped to one, the congregation was inactive until 1876, when it moved to Roberts.
Services were held in Comstock Hall until the present building was purchased from Hudson Congregational Church, dismantled and rebuilt in Roberts.
The men held a "hauling bee" and teams of horses and wagons brought the structure to the Village.
In 1924, the basement was enlarged. In 1955, a large remodeling project was undertaken and services were held in the former Roberts High School gym for a time.
The congregation purchased land for a new building and paid off the debt in 2006. The construction process kicked off with a congregational meeting in May 2006.
The Church's centennial was celebrated in 1963. This year, 2008, marks the 145th anniversary of the congregation.