Sacred Places Winter 2019 - Page 13

Saint James Place partnered with the Great Barrington Historical Society to create a lecture series highlighting local history including Shays Rebellion and Elizabeth Freeman, a freed slave whose court case in Massachusetts was the catalyst for the abolition of slavery statewide.  In 1920 the organ was moved to another location in the building, prompting the addition of steel beams to reinforce the structural system in the sanctuary. However, ongoing structural problems resulted in the partial collapse of the rear chancel wall in 2008, compelling the congregation to worship elsewhere and consider demolition of the building. Sally Harris, a long-time seasonal resident and now a permanent resident of Great Barrington, who was also a member of the parish, envisioned a new life for the church. Sally and her husband Fred, driven by their love of the building and personal history with the space, embarked on a research project to find grant opportunities to support a new course for the church building. Through that research, they found Partners for Sacred Places and reached out to its president, Bob Jaeger. Jaeger conferred with the Harrises, encouraging their work to bring new life to the church, and was invited to speak to the Great Barrington community about how old sacred places can be repurposed for the city and region. Sally and Fred Harris saw that they “were not alone” in their efforts, and toured other examples of reused churches for inspiration and information. They founded SJP in 2010, began to gather a board of directors, and brought Partners back to study the needs and wants of the Berkshires cultural community. Partners led an Arts Market Study and helped generate interest in SJP, which in turn led the way to $500,000 in funding from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Performance by the Olga Dunn Dance Company Photo: Olga Dunn Dance Company and convinced me that this could be a game changer in the future.” Pignatelli’s district is the largest in the state, and one of the most rural, and thus he was eager to invest in SJP’s future as a cultural economic engine of the Berkshires. “This church right on Main Street had fallen into disrepair. They have helped not just the corner but the entire region because of the location.” He adds that SJP “is the economic hub of the South Berkshires,” expanding the traditional tourist season beyond the summer and shoulder months. “Saint James Place” says Chris Rembold, City Planner at the time of renovations, “...creates a great synergy with the Town Hall next door and the Mahaiwe Arts Center. It is a center of cultural and civic happening.” Local taxpayers agreed, voting to allocate To maximize support from the state, SJP connected with State Representative William “Smitty” Pignatelli, who recalls that “[Sally and Fred] got me there early in the process The Great Barrington Arts Market Holiday Sale Photo: The Great Barrington Arts Market Holiday Sale SACRED PLACES • WINTER 2019 13