April 27, 2017 | G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD – Two hundred years ago in 1817, the civilian superintendent of the Springfield Armory wanted to practice his Episcopal faith, but the nearest church was in Greenfield, 40 miles away.
He established a chapel in a building at the Armory and from that humble beginning grew the Episcopal presence in Springfield, eventually the seat of the Western Massachusetts diocese.
That diocese is celebrating its 200 anniversary with a series of events.
The Very Rev. Tom Callard, the dean of Christ Church Cathedral, the “mother church” of the diocese, explained to Reminder Publications there have been many changes in the denomination over the past two centuries, among them that priests can marry and that women can be priests.
Callard said the mission of the church remains the same in this anniversary year.
“We’re doing things Jesus himself established and ordained 2,000 years ago,” he said.
He added, “There is something essential about what we do that is eternal.”
According to the church’s official history by Ronald Holstead, “The original congregation of what was to become Christ Church Cathedral, the cathedral church of the Diocese of Western Massachusetts, was established by a resolute Episcopalian, surely inspired by the Holy Spirit, named Roswell Lee. Mr. Lee had been a colonel in the Army of the United States, but who served as the civilian Superintendent of the Armory, Springfield, from 1815 to his death in 1833. It was Col. Lee, as he continued to be called, who discerned the need for a room for ‘religious worship’ in a building on the federal property. A chapel for the use of the workers at the Armory and town’s people was established. Col. Lee prevailed upon the Rev. Titus Strong, Rector of St. James (Episcopal) Greenfield, Mass. to officiate at its dedication on May 13, 1817.”
Holstead continued, “The small congregation struggled for survival, but persevered and was blessed with growth. By 1838, Col. Lee’s own son, Henry, was called to be the first permanent rector of Christ Church. Within two years, the congregation had enabled sufficiently through the succor of God to build a small church and rectory on State Street between Dwight and Chestnut Streets. The congregation was growing so large that by 1874 a new larger church building was needed. The new Christ Church was built on the Chestnut Street hill overlooking the city of Springfield. That magnificent church was erected according to Norman architecture and made out of (East) Longmeadow brownstone. The cornerstone was laid on Nov. 10, 1875 and the first Service was held on May 21, 1876.”
Callard said the diocese was founded in 1901 and noted there was an argument concerning where the cathedral should be located – Springfield or Worcester.
There are a series of events to celebrate the bicentennial, including
• April 30, Organ Concert Interim Music Director Joseph O’Berry, organist. Music by living American Hollywood composer Dr. Craig Phillips. Concert at 3:30 p.m. Reception 3 p.m.
• May 19, Installation of The Very Reverend Tom Callard as the eighth Dean of Christ Church Cathedral.
• May 21, Organ Concert by Interim Music Director Joseph O’Berry. French masterworks by Franck, Messiaen, and Guilmant. Concert at 3:30. Reception 3 p.m.
• June 25, History Sunday. At 8 and 10 a.m. we will celebrate 1957 with worship from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer and commentary, followed at 11:30 a.m. by a panel discussion with those who were part of the community 60 years ago.
• Sept. 10, Homecoming Sunday with a joint service at 11 a.m. followed by a community picnic. It will be a special day to welcome back those who have been away, and welcome in new friends.
• Sept. 24, Hispanic and Latino Celebration Sunday. The Reverend Canon Anthony Guillen, Latino Missioner for The Episcopal Church, will preach and celebrate as part of National Hispanic Heritage month. The new Canon will be celebrated.
• Oct. 15, The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church The Most Reverend Michael Curry, will celebrate both in the morning and at an Evensong service. A luncheon reception with Bishop Curry will follow the morning’s service.
• Nov. 12, Special Sunday morning “Civic Service” for our elected officials with appreciation for the Cathedral’s history of civic engagement and a commitment to continue our presence in the future.
Callard said “People worry if Christianity is going to disappear, whether or not its relevant for kids. It’s about how to find eternal truths. We try to speak the truth that has been spoken for thousands of years. It’s a very difficult challenge but it still works.”