GREENWOODS COMMUNITY CHURCH HISTORY
In 1962, a group of people came together in Sheffield, Massachusetts, who believed there was a need in the border region of south Berkshire County Massachusetts and northwest Connecticut for a Bible believing church where Jesus Christ would be held in preeminence and His gospel of salvation would be made known. After some months seeking the Lord’s will, the group met officially for the first time on March 11, 1962. They first called themselves the “Independent Group”, and consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Carlton French, Mr. Henry Costanzo, Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Jones, Miss Bessie Golden, Theodore French, and Mr. and Mrs. Carl Brown. After an attempt to purchase the old Methodist Church in Sheffield failed, the group decided to find other quarters and named the new church, Grace Bible Church. The church met for worship services the first time on Sunday, June 3, 1962, in Dewey Memorial Hall, a community building in the center of Sheffield Massachusetts. The building was made available on a temporary basis by the directors of the Sheffield Friendly Union Library Association. There were two worship services that first Sunday: one in the morning and one in the evening. The first sermon was delivered by William Monroe of Berkshire Christian College, ‘Behold I go up to Jerusalem’… The Cross, Christ the propitiation for our sins, and the triumph of redeeming grace.
A series of guest preachers filled the pulpit through that first summer, but on October 14, 1962, Grace Bible Church called its first pastor, Dr. Howard W. Kiefer. Dr. Kiefer had just taken a position as chaplain and teacher at the Barrington School in nearby Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and was available to the church on a part-time basis. On October 18, the organizing committee met to vote on compensation for the pastor. However, notably, at this same meeting – even before there was a church constitution – it was decided to give at least 10% of the church’s income to missions. This strong emphasis on missions support is one of the characteristics that defines the church to this day.
On February 10, 1963, the Constitution was approved and the original corporate charter signed. A week later, on February 17, 1963, the first church officers were elected. The average attendance between October 20, 1962, and May 31, 1963, was 30 at the morning service, and 32 at the evening service. Understanding that the use of Dewey Hall could not continue indefinitely, at the first annual meeting of the church on July 11, 1963, it was voted to begin a church building fund. At the same meeting, it was decided to unite with the Bible Protestant Church. By that time, the church had a Sunday School up and running, and the Women’s Missionary Society had been organized. There was also an adult choir, mid-week prayer meetings, and a youth group which met before the evening service on Sundays.
In the fall of 1965, Dr. Kiefer resigned as pastor and a pulpit supply committee was chosen to provide speakers for Sunday services. For the next two years a series of guest preachers and speakers were scheduled by the pulpit supply committee, most notable of which was Glen Briggs of New England Keswick. Early in 1968, Rev. Harry Lewis of Averill Park, N.Y., was chosen to be the second pastor of the church. To provide housing for the new pastor, on August 1, 1968, the church purchased a six acre property located at 355 Clayton Road in Ashley Falls, Massachusetts. There was an old farm house suitable for a parsonage and plenty of room to expand in the future on the new property. In 1969, three bedrooms and a meeting room were added to the new parsonage.
In 1974, the owners of Dewey Hall asked the church to find new quarters. A sanctuary was built by skilled church members as an addition to the parsonage, and the church moved to its new building on the Clayton Road property in 1975. Just one year later, Pastor Lewis resigned, and a search committee again went to work looking for a pastor. A student from Berkshire Christian College, Earl Goss, was hired on a part-time basis, and he and his family moved into the parsonage on July 4, 1976. On May 4, 1978, Rev. Goss became the full-time pastor. That fall, the church ended its association with the Bible Protestant Church, and voted to fellowship with the Conservative Baptist Association of America. In November 1980, Pastor Goss purchased his own home, and the church took over the former parsonage for use as the Sunday School and nursery.
In 1985, with average Sunday morning attendance approaching 60, a building committee began to plan for a new sanctuary. Construction on the new sanctuary began in November 1988, and was completed ten months later. With the completion of the project, the church now included not only a spacious and modern sanctuary, but a fellowship hall, food serving area, kitchen, and classrooms in that part of the old building which had been used as a parsonage. Despite the great opportunity provided by the new sanctuary, the decision to build was a contentious issue within the congregation since the church now had the burden of large mortgage which was needed to pay for the addition.
As a result of increasing dissatisfaction with his leadership, Pastor Goss resigned in October 1994, taking a number of the church family with him. It was a difficult time, and the church suffered a significant loss in membership. Fortunately, the leadership of the church was able to find someone with great healing skills, Rev. Dan Lake, who was hired as an interim until a search committee could again find a full-time pastor. Under Pastor Lake’s leadership the church found a new sense of unity and an already warm fellowship was greatly strengthened. Sunday pot luck meals shared together by the members of the church after each Sunday service also helped to promote the bonds of fellowship between members, visitors and friends. These Sunday fellowship meals, which continue to this day, enable members to maintain regular personal contact with one another and help them welcome and get to know newer members and visitors.
The church body took advantage of this time of transition to prayerfully reassess everything it was about as a church: a possible denominational change, a change in the name of the church, even to reevaluate the need for a church constitution. With enormous changes under consideration, the church called the Rev. Edward M. Eastman, Jr. to be its pastor in March 1998 to help guide a church in transition into the 21st century. Within a year, the church had replaced the old constitution, which was perceived as too limiting and formal, and adopted a brief set of Constitutional Principles based on the New Testament model for the church. Shortly after that, the church voted to withdraw from the Conservative Baptist Association of America and became fully independent of any denomination. For some years a loose association was formed with Vision New England, which at that time was a resource to “equip and connect local church leaders in New England for disciple-making and evangelism in the 21st century.” When that expectation was not realized, the church discontinued this affiliation.
At the start of the new millennium, the church continued to seek to try to determine God’s purpose for His church in Ashley Falls, beginning with systematic corporate prayer. And He began to do great things: In 2002, an anonymous donor gave the money necessary to retire the church mortgage, payments on which had diverted a significant portion of the church’s income for more than 10 years. With the mortgage paid off, the church was now able to significantly increase the pastor’s compensation and substantially increase mission support. In 2003, the church voted to provide financial assistance to Pastor Eastman for the next three years as he pursued a Doctor of Ministry degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in “Reform and Revival.”
Also in 2003, the church began to examine a new paradigm for church renewal known as “The Purpose Driven Church”. An enthusiastic group of twelve people enlisted to go to what was being billed as the “Purpose Driven Church Super-Conference” on the campus of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. During the three-day conference, over 8,000 attendees from all over the East were schooled on the New Testament model for the church by Rick Warren, Pastor of Saddleback Community Church in California. Pastor Warren taught that all of the guidance in Scripture relating to God’s purposes for His church can be placed in five basic categories: Worship, Fellowship, Discipleship, Ministry, and Evangelism. For a church to fulfill His purposes, Pastor Warren taught, it needs to be balanced in those five areas.
The Purpose Driven paradigm made a deep impression on the group of twelve, and on their return from Lynchburg, the church, with God’s help, began to see great changes. The congregation shortly after embarked on its first spiritual growth campaign: “40 Days of Purpose”. Subsequently, the church reassessed its vision for the future based on the five purposes, and reevaluated everything it did in an effort to achieve a desired balance in God’s purposes for the church.
During the next year, the church saw ten new professions of faith, thirteen baptisms by immersion, the formation of three self-sustaining and permanent small groups, and the development of Purpose Driven children’s and youth ministries. Church attendance and involvement of the members in church ministries also increased significantly.
Fulfilling a long-term desire of the congregation, on November 14, 2004, the church voted to change its name from Grace Bible Church to Greenwoods Community Church. It was reasoned that the old name put the church in a spiritual niche and was a potential obstacle to seekers. The new name, Greenwoods, comes from the colonial era. At that time the area where the church is now located was called The Greenwoods because of the enormous trees and nearly impenetrable wilderness which presented an obstacle to settlement until the first part of the eighteenth century. A name for a great natural obstacle 300 years ago has now become an inviting feature to those in the greater community around Greenwoods Church.
After 2004, the church continued to experience the movement of God in its midst. A series of articles based on Rev. Eastman’s doctoral dissertation on the historic revival in the Housatonic Valley that occurred during the Second Great Awakening was printed in installments in a local newspaper, informing hundreds, if not thousands, of people outside the church of the rich spiritual history in our immediate area. The newspaper articles also brought significant attention to Greenwoods.
Convinced that the church needed to take a more personal role in The Great Commission, our members, for the first time, began to participate in short-term mission trips. Each year since 2008, groups of short-term missionaries have been sent out to work in some of the foreign missions supported by the church: first with Hearts of the Father to Ghana, then to Partners with Haiti in Port au Prince, and subsequently to El Rancho Del Rey Boys Home in Monterrey, Mexico. The results of the trips have been profound. Not only have the trips had a positive impact on the missions themselves, but also on the lives of those who have gone to serve in those places, as well as on the church as a whole. Since the short-term missions trips began, Greenwoods has followed a policy of concentrating its missions giving on missions in which the congregation is directly invested through missions trip participation.
For several years, the church participated in the Angel Food Ministry, providing low cost food to those in need; currently the church hosts a Celebrate Recovery ministry, a twelve-step program for those suffering from addictions, hurts and hang-ups; we have continued to host an annual presentation of Handel’s Messiah at Christmas time for the entire community; and although this year the program had to be suspended, we hope to again in the future offer our traditional, free, summer Bible camp for all local children known as Kids Klub.
Since 2006, the church’s pastor and some of its lay leaders have also participated with other believing pastors and leaders in bi-weekly regional prayer meetings for revival and awakening in our area. Out of this prayer group have come several events where churches have gathered together to worship and pray to God for revival in western New England. The pastor and lay leaders have also participated in local National Day of Prayer gatherings each year. Our passion is to see a spiritual awakening in New England, a place which once was a light to the world in the spreading of the Gospel. Because that light has slowly gone out, we have come to understand that New England is our primary mission field.
Recently, the church has begun collecting food for local food banks and has expanded its music ministry to a local nursing home. All of our ministries and local missions are our attempts to fill needs in our local community in order to reflect the face of Jesus to those immediately around us.
The church celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013, with two events that attracted more than 200 members, former members, pastors and friends from other local churches to celebrate what God has done here. One year later, on April 27, 2014, Pastor Eastman resigned, after sixteen years of productive ministry at Greenwoods, believing, as he put it in his letter of resignation, that God had made it clear to him and his wife, Lynn, that “different gifts and fresh leadership” were now needed to take Greenwoods into the next phase of God’s plan for the church.
With Pastor Eastman’s counsel and assistance, the Elders began the process of searching for his successor, and in July of 2014, the church contracted with Interim Pastor Ministries to provide the services of Rev. Richard H. Woodward as the church’s interim pastor. With Pastor Rich’s expert guidance, a Transition Team of ten people was chosen by the congregation. The Transition Team conducted studies and surveys, and developed a church profile so that candidates for pastor could compare their strengths to the needs of the church to determine whether or not they would be a good fit for us.
In the spring of 2016, after the church Profile was completed, the Transition Team continued on as the Pastoral Search Committee and began the search process for senior pastor. Over twenty candidates applied for the position, and seven finalists were then interviewed by the Committee. Believing that his gifts were perfectly matched to the work God is doing at Greenwoods Community Church, the Pastoral Search Committee unanimously recommended the Reverend Milton C. Weiler, III, affectionately known as “Trip,” to the congregation for consideration. On June 26, the congregation unanimously voted to extend a call to Reverend Weiler to be the next pastor of Greenwoods Community Church. Believing that God had prepared and led him to Greenwoods, Trip accepted the call. He and his wife, Micheline, and two daughters, Ceanna and Makenna, moved from Maryland to Sheffield, MA, in late July, and he began his ministry to us on August 1, 2016.
We are grateful to God for inspiring those who have gone before us to lay the groundwork for a church that believes in His Son, Jesus Christ, and His gospel message of salvation. We have seen God do great things here, and eagerly anticipate what He is going to do next at Greenwoods Community Church through the ministry of Pastor Weiler.