By Clarence Fanto, Eagle correspondent
Dec 15, 2020
STOCKBRIDGE — For “Father Sam,” as the rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is known, this season of pandemic gloom and anxiety calls for transformation into a time of prayerful hope.
To lift community spirits, the landmark 1884 church across from the Red Lion Inn on Norman Rockwell’s iconic Main Street, will host several public and virtual events, the Rev. Sam Smith explained by phone.
St. Paul’s Tree of Hope, planted in the churchyard, has already attracted nearly 50 uplifting messages now hanging on star-shaped ornaments. Since there are at least 100 stars, Smith pointed out, there’s space for more written contributions from the public, which can be left inside the church through Christmas Day.
The idea is to inspire “opportunities amid the hardship,” he said. “There is much to hope for this Christmas season. There is light at the end of the tunnel and light brings hope.”
Smith, who has led the faithful at the 80-member church since August 2015, ventured into the courtyard to read several of the messages left by the public so far this month:
• To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.
• Hope is everything and with love, we become one.
• Hope is a passion for the possible.
• Hope is a verb with its shirtsleeves rolled up.
Smith has planned several other events, public and virtual, in compliance with Gov. Charlie Baker’s COVID health and safety guidelines, revised this week, allowing St. Paul’s to have up to 18 people in the space at one time.
• On Saturday, the vocal duo Oakes & Smith will perform a free virtual concert at 7 p.m., accessible through the website holymomentconcert.oakesandsmith.net or www.stpaulsstockbridge.org. The performers, Robert Oakes and Katherine Smith, have been regulars at St. Paul’s concert events for the past two years, offering “soulful and spiritual music, drawing on many traditions,” Smith stated.
• From Monday, Dec. 21, through Saturday, Dec. 26, parishioners and the public can visit the interior splendor of the historic church, decorated with pine boughs, candles and special lighting. Sign-up visits will be limited to 15 minutes per person between 5 and 9 p.m., and a member of the vestry will be present each evening to ensure all safety measures, including required masks, are followed. “The church is decorated even more than we normally do,” Smith said. “It’s an activity for people and also a place for meditation and prayer.”
• On Christmas Eve, the church will premiere an original video recording of Lessons and Carols on You Tube and Facebook, featuring frequent performers at St. Paul’s, including organist Nancy King, harpist Teresa Mango of Stockbridge, guitarist Doug Schmolze and also Oakes and Smith. “This will be an opportunity to showcase the church and highlight its windows,” said Smith. The video will be available starting at 5 p.m., with links at stpaulsstockbridge.org. It will remain accessible through New Year’s Day.
“We’ve been thinking about how to use the online medium and not try to do what we have always done,” Smith said. “We can’t do elaborate videos, but we can showcase the church.”
The congregation, organized in 1834, first worshipped in a wooden church facing Pine Street on the grounds of the property. The Romanesque architectural style of the current church, consecrated 50 years later, was designed by architect Charles Follen McKim, later of the famed New York City firm McKim, Mead and White.
St. Paul’s is the first church for which McKim was listed as the architect of record, Smith noted. McKim later designed the Boston Public Library, New York’s Penn Station and Columbia University’s Morningside Heights campus.