Ministers from across North County participate in Sunday's service.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — After a week filled with shock, heartbreak and anger, Sunday was a time to celebrate.
An ecumenical group of North County pastors joined to lead a "Prayer Service of Lament and Hope" on Sunday afternoon at the First Congregational Church in an effort to help heal the wounds left by last week's closure of North Adams Regional Hospital
The lament part of the day was easy to identify. The hope has been hard to come by.
The gratitude has been even more scarce.
"We're going to have a time of sharing, and we're intentionally framing this in terms of gratitude," the Rev. Mark Longhurst of Williamstown's First Congregational Church said. "The question is: As we focus on the hospital, what are we thankful for?
"When the Apostle Paul wrote, from behind prison walls, the letter to the Philippians, he wrote, 'Rejoice in the Lord, always, and again, I say, rejoice.' I know it may feel counter-intuitive to focus on gratitude and joy when we're mourning, when we're hurting, when we've lost our jobs and the hospital is closing and we don't know the way forward yet.
"But if Paul is right, then God is faithful to us even now, even in the midst of this uncertainty, this pain. That's why we want to give thanks to God, even now."
Longhurst was joined by his counterparts from North Adams' First Baptist Church, St. Elizabeth of Hungary and, of course, the host First Congregational Church, as well as Williamstown's Community Bible Church and Sts. Patrick and Raphael Parish. Rabbi Rachel Barenblat was out of the country and could not attend, as was the Rev. Daniel Boyle of Adams.
About 250 members of the community, including dozens of nurses and other employees let go when NARH closed, participated in the service.
The service included the use of several "prayer nets," on which the Rev. David Anderson of the First Baptist Church invited the faithful to tie small ribbons symbolic of their desire to "cast their prayers" to God.
Dozens of attendees participated in the contemplative prayer activity.
A smaller number accepted Longhurst's invitation to take the microphone and share their own reasons for being thankful during these trying times.
Several of the speakers choked back tears as they shared personal stories of the hospital's impact on their lives — either as caregivers, patients, family members of patients or all of the above.
Among the comments: "Thank God for giving me the opportunity for 20 years to work with 530 professional, caring people;" "I can't say enough about the place where we live. I wouldn't live anywhere else;" and "[At NARH] you're not just a number. They care."
Twenty-six-year NARH employee and union representative Cindy Bird spoke for many at the church and was quoted by subsequent speakers when she said, "That's a building. We are the community, and we can rebuild that."
Later, after the hourlong service, Bird talked about the impact of the event.
"It gave us a chance to come together as a faith community to pray for everyone who is working so tirelessly to get the word out that we need help," she said. "Our little community is in vital, desperate need of restoring our services.
"I'm overwhelmed by the people who have been here — new faces I've seen from over the past few days. I pray that we can all stay strong and the elected officials can do what they need to do to save the hospital."
Shortly after the service, several public officials took the opportunity to talk to the displaced workers.
State Sen. Benjamin Downing said events like Sunday's service confirm his hope in his constituents.
"It was a powerful and moving ceremony," he said. "I think one of the most impressive things about this community in my mind is its ability to be hopeful and thankful, even in the face of significant challenges.
"I think that's something we heard over and over again today. It reminds me how lucky I am to represent this area."