The organ is in pieces right now but soon it will be back together and sounding like new.
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — It was in 1765 when Lanesborough officially became a town. And soon after, a group of local farmers decided they needed a church.
St. Luke's Episcopal was founded in the living room of William Bradley's farmhouse on Oct. 2, 1767.
The congregation remains an integral part of the town will celebrate the milestone of 250 years on Sunday, June 25.
"We have planned a gala service," said Phil Allen, who is coordinating fundraising efforts. "The bishop is coming and we invited notables from all around and the town. It's going to be a big thing. We expect 200 or so people."
The bicenquinquagenary celebration starts at 10 a.m. and includes a baptism, confirmation, and reaffirmation. Then, after the ceremony, there will be refreshments on the lawn, a guest organ player showing off the restored instrument, and the choir has been practicing an anthem to sing.
As the church enters its next 250 years, it is preparing for the decades to come with the restoration of windows in the 181-year-old Old Stone Church and an 1862 Johnson organ that is currently being put back together after refurbishment.
St. Luke's has been saving money for a few years to do the two projects, each of which cost an estimated $70,000. The congregation is also seeking a state grant to help with the windows while at the same time launching a fundraising drive.
The organ was built for the church in 1862 and is one of the few hand-pumped organs remaining.
"It is one of three or four that are still hand pumped in churches. The others have all been either electrified so you don't have to pump them anymore or they've been changed and upgraded to more pipes so they are not in their original condition," Allen said. "This is one of the few that is in the original shape that it was built in."
The organ sits in pieces as it waits for Czelusniak et Dugal Inc. of Northampton, which has had the pieces all winter, to put it back together. The organ is expected to be like new again before the Old Stone Church is reopened for the summer. St. Luke's has already scheduled an array of concerts for the summer and the organ is expected to be in place within the next week or so.
The windows are the next in line, and the hope is to fix them next summer. A number of the small, diamond-shaped pieces need replacing, all of them need glazing and painting, and some of the window framings are in need of repairs.
Allen says he is applying for a grant from the Massachusetts Historical Commission to help with that cost. The church is looking for help for both projects. It will be sending out fundraising letters in the coming weeks, and has already asked the membership to chip in.
The church is listed on the Massachusetts Register of Historic Places and has a storied history. The congregation was formed in 1767 and the Rev. Am Andrews became the first rector. It was 18 years later when Bradley donated a piece of land, directly next to the Bradley Farm, and a wooden building was erected.
"Eventually, they built a building on this location that was wood and had balconies on three of the sides. They tore that down. They had Easter service in here and then tore it down the next day and by Christmas they had this building built. It has been here since 1836," Sally Allen, the congregation's clerk, said.
In 1831, S.B. Shaw became the rector and, on Easter Sunday 1836, the communicants left the service, returned the next day and tore down the original structure. On Christmas Day, the Old Stone Church was fully built and opened.
The church didn't have central heat -- still doesn't -- but it did have two wood stoves. Small barns were built out back for congregants to tie their horses up. Large stones that sit outside of the current structure were used for carriages, to let people in and out.
In 1858, lightning struck the church tower, causing an entire wall to bow out when it pulled away from the balcony. That bowing out remains today, unchanged.
"Back in those days you bought your pew. We still have one family, one of the original founders, and they can tell you exactly what pews are theirs," Sally Allen said.
In 1875, the Old Stone Church became the first one in New England to feature a Christmas tree inside, and somewhat of a tradition has continued on as the church puts on an annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony for the town every year.
The congregation replaced the bell in the 1880s. And that, too, became a tale. A severe storm had knocked the previous bell off, and it was never found. The congregation ordered a new one and it when it was set to be delivered, they all had gathered that afternoon to install it. But the train it was on didn't stop in Pittsfield as it should have.
The bell ended up in Springfield, and the group had to travel there to get it. When they returned, they started to lift the bell into place. Then the ropes snapped, the bell fell, and the horses ran home. The Allens say the farmers believed Friday evening was "the devil's playground" and put the project off until the next day. That bell is still the one that calls people to worship on a Sunday morning.
Sally Allen said at one point in history the land was a graveyard and the bodies were moved to another cemetery, which had led some parishioners to comment that the building could be haunted. Allen doesn't think so, though some of the stories could support that belief. It is said that in 1842 the rector's son, who had been the organist, died. Shortly after a bird flew into the church and found dead on the keys of the organ.
The church stopped being used full time in 1898. The Eddy family had built St. Luke's Parish Hall, farther south on Route 7. It had electricity, bathrooms and, maybe most importantly, heat. What started as a parish hall soon became the church. But, the Old Stone Church wasn't abandoned. Each summer, St. Luke's moves into the Old Stone Church for services and then goes back to the parish hall during the winter.
The congregation continues to maintain the historic Old Stone Church.
"Back in the '70s, the whole building went into disrepair and it wasn't able to be used," Phil Allen said.
There was a major renovation then to get it up to snuff. Later a stone mason repaired the exterior. And about a decade ago, the bell tower was restored.
"We have been working continually," Phil Allen said.
Now, the building is "pretty sound, really. Since it doesn't have heat it winters better than buildings with temperature changing up and down. It changes slowly in the winter instead of fluctuating fast," Phil Allen said.
But, the maintenance work never ends. The top of that to-do list is the windows and the organ.
"I'm amazed at how many parts are in the organ," Phil Allen said when looking over the various pieces before the contractor arrived to start putting it all together.
Those who originally incorporated the church were very involved with the town. So while many things have changed over the last 250 years, St. Luke's continues to follow in those footsteps.
"We are very much involved with the town. We marched in the Memorial Day parade. We every week contribute to the veteran's food pantry. We help with St. Stephen's table," Phil Allen said, with Sally adding that the congregation holds the tree lighting and special Masses for veterans and first responders, and runs a program to give children Christmas presents.
"We are very much into being a healing ministry, living up to our name of St. Luke who was the great physician. We are very much into healing," Sally Allen said.
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LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — Police Chief Timothy Sorrell will be retiring after serving five years in the position.
Sorrell was appointed chief in 2015 after serving in the Police Department for 28 years. He started full time in Lanesborough in 1987 as a patrolman. He served as sergeant for 12 years and was a finalist for the chief's position when the town decided to hire Mark Bashara. He then served as an investigator for twelve years under Bashara before getting the spot spot upon his retirement in 2015.
When asked for comment on Sorrell's departure on Monday, the Board of Selectmen said almost in unison, "he will be missed" and they all wished him luck along with Town Manager Kelli Robbins.
The process of finding his replacement was started immediately as the board wasted no time in forming a search committee.
Last month's 26-6 win over Essex County, N.J., qualified the Berkshire County champions to face some of the top teams in the country in their age group at the home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. click for more