Closure of Worcester church gives life to others
WORCESTER, Mass.—The members of the Adams Square Congregational Church knew for some time that they would eventually have to shut the doors of their Burncoat Street house of worship.
The only question was when to do it.
The congregation, established in 1898 as a missionary church to serve residents in the Burncoat-Lincoln area, was never too big to begin with but it held its own until Interstate 290 was constructed in the 1960s cutting the neighborhood in two and dramatically scissoring the church's membership.
"After that, it really was only a matter of time," said the Rev. Karen L. M. Haringa, Adams Square's last pastor.
The church's younger families began moving to the suburbs and the remaining older congregants living on limited incomes found it tougher and tougher to support and maintain their spiritual home.
At the end of 2009, the congregation unanimously voted to call it quits.
There was no talk of merging with another church or of finding smaller, more affordable quarters.
"The burden (of operating the church) had fallen on a small group. We were just too few," Rev. Haringa said.
The church closed last January, with the last service held on Jan. 16, 2011. Farewells, some teary-eyed, were made at a brunch that followed at Maxwell-Silverman's Toolhouse.
There had been some talk that Adams Square might shut down a bit earlier but nobody wanted to shutter the church during the Christmas season.
Though the congregation is gone, its mission, members said, will miraculously continue.
That's because the 31 remaining congregants decided to distribute the church's dissolved assets -- about $390,000, including funds from the sale of the church property to a Hispanic group of Seventh Day Adventists -- to 30 area churches and nonprofit organizations.
The money must be used for neighborhood outreach programs.
The state attorney general's office approved of the disbursement plan last Dec. 20.
The beneficiaries, which include the Salvation Army Citadel Corp., seven Roman Catholic churches in Worcester and Shrewsbury and the United Church of Christ Massachusetts Conference, have expressed thanks for Adams Square's generosity.
For example, during Advent, Rev. Haringa, now retired, was invited to preach at Greendale People's Church.
That congregation gave Rev. Haringa a certificate of appreciation and promised to plant a tree on church grounds as a remembrance of Adams Square's gesture.
"It was just a wonderful thing for the Adams Square church to do," said Mary Ann Ritaco, the administrative assistant at Greendale People's Church.
Meanwhile, parishioners at Blessed Sacrament Roman Catholic Church plan on using some of the money they will receive to help the Interfaith Hospitality Network, an association of about 25 local churches that helps the area needy.
"We are humbled by your action and by your big heart, which will continue to beat through so many congregations in Worcester and beyond for years to come," said the Rev. Chester J. Misiewicz, Blessed Sacrament's pastor.
Rev. Haringa, who graduated from Andover Newton Theological School and who was ordained in 1977, said Adams Square had a membership of about 150 when she became pastor in 1978.
She said that Worcester once had 11 Congregational churches, each serving particular neighborhoods.
"I once was asked why we had closed and I responded by asking that person, Do you go to church?' The person was shocked by the question and, in response, I got that classic deer in the headlights look," said Rev. Haringa, a Webster native.