New Petersham minister sees community outreach as priority of his ministry

  • The Rev. Geoffrey Smith, new pastor of the Petersham Congregational Church. The 40-year-old clergyman joined the church in November. Contributed photo

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 2/16/2022 3:50:18 PM
Modified: 2/16/2022 3:48:20 PM

PETERSHAM — The Rev. Geoffrey Smith appears to be settling comfortably into his role as the new minister of Petersham Congregational Church. The 40-year-old Torrington, Conn. native arrived in November to assume his new responsibilities.

Smith told the Athol Daily News that he and his family were active in the church in his hometown, adding that it was his goal to join the ministry at an early age.

“Ever since I was a little kid, I went to a UCC (United Church of Christ) summer camp,” he explained, “and kind of had the calling there. They had something called a resident theologian, which was their fancy term for the camp chaplain. I just kind of had this feeling that that’s what I wanted to do.

“So, when I went through Boy Scouts, I got all of the religions badges that I was eligible for. So, I’ve always been active in the church.”

After high school, Smith moved to the Keystone State to continue his education, landing at an institution named one of the “Best Northeastern Schools” by the 2017 Princeton Review.

“I went to Albright College in Reading, Penn.,” he said, “to study religious studies, history and photography. The school encourages interdisciplinary education.

“My senior honors thesis was a combination of all three where I studied the theology of the Great Awakening, how it was reflected in congregational church architecture in Litchfield County, Conn., and I got a grant to go there and take photographs of all the congregational-built buildings in the county.”

After securing his bachelor’s degree in 2001, Smith returned to the Nutmeg State to attend Yale Divinity School, where he earned his master’s degree in 2004. His clinical pastoral education (CPE) was completed at Hartford Hospital. During seminary, he served his internship at North Guilford Congregational Church in Guilford, Conn.

Also during seminary, Smith served for two years in AmeriCorps in Worcester. In the morning, he worked as an early reading interventionist at Goddard School. Afternoons were spent leading photography programs at the Boys & Girls Club, first at the Ionic Avenue Clubouse, then at what has since been re-named the Francis A. and Jacquelyn H. Harrington Clubhouse, located on Tainter Street.

He also served on the staff of United Congregational Church in Worcester as the pastoral assistant.

In 2014, Smith was serving at Colbrook Congregational Church in Connecticut when, in 2018, he became seriously ill.

“I was hospitalized and ended up in a coma,” he said. “I fell severely ill, ended up in a coma, and I wasn’t able to stay there. Then I went to New Hampshire for physical therapy rehab; I had to learn how to walk again. That’s how long I was in a coma.”

Smith said he was working as “the pastoral equivalent of a substitute teacher, or pastor supply, for a church in Pittsfield, New Hampshire,” when he applied for the position he now holds in Petersham.

“When I was cleared to work full-time,” he continued, “it happened right before the lockdown for COVID started. So, I took the first year off. I had actually gotten COVID.

“Then, after a while, I said, ‘Alright, I need to get moving.’ I just went stir-crazy. I started interviewing and it just sort of worked out with Petersham.”

Smith followed interim pastor Rev. T.J. Sweeney to the pulpit of the church located at 21 North Main St.

As for his transition to Petersham, the Reverend, who is immunocompromised, said, “To be completely honest, it would be easier if we weren’t having a pandemic. That has hindered a lot. That has hindered me with meeting people.

“On the other hand, it has forced us to grapple with technology. So, we Zoom. All of our services are Zoomed. The deacons are going to meet in a couple of weeks, where we’re going to be discussing adult Christian education and how we can use either Facebook Live or Zoom to do it.”

Technology, Smith explained, can be a two-edged sword.

“Just speaking in general,” he continued, “I think technology would be very helpful, and can help reinvigorate attendance, even if it’s virtual — as long as we don’t lose who we are.

“My concern, though, is you have televangelists who are more charlatan than Christian, who kind of operate as thought it’s more entertainment than worship. I’m worried about that part of the spectrum.”

When discussing his role as leader of the local church, Smith said, “My ecclesiology is that Congregational pastors should be very active in the community. So, I’m here at the church seven days a week, essentially. I have public office hours and a sign out front says when I’m in, so people just stop by — many of them not even my congregants.”

Since moving to town, Smith has taken on the role as chaplain for the Petersham Fire Department.

“I feel that Congregational pastors aren’t just pastors of their congregation,” he said. “They have to be accessible to the whole town. In Congregational theology and spirituality, community service is at the core of it; meaning community service is Christian love and charity for others without expecting reward — doing whatever we can.”

Among other things, Smith said he hopes to join whatever local civic organizations he can. He also said he hopes to revive the chuch’s annual fair and to hold an annual blessing of the animals.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com


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