The 'unchurched' flood into community parish
By Katelyn Gendron
Reminder Assistant Editor
SOUTHWICK In 2004, Barbara Campanella came across an article about Southwick Community Episcopal Church, a new "church for the 'unchurched.'" In December of that year, she attended the church's first service and has been a member of the parish ever since.
"I'll never forget the day because I myself had some difficulties with my own chosen religion [of Catholicism].I was disturbed by the priest abuses," she said in an interview with Reminder Publications. "[It] caused me to really question, 'What am I believing in here?'"
Since she walked into the doors of the church five years ago, the congregation's innovative weekly services have become standing room only under the leadership of Rev. Taylor Albright.
"From the minute you walk in the door, everything is different [from traditional houses of worship]," Campanella said. "I found sometimes when I entered a Catholic church they practiced being a community but you got a cold feeling when you entered the church. Here, people will greet you and hand you a cup of coffee and ask how you are. You feel that you are not being preached at but ministering each other."
Albright explained that in 2001 the Episcopal Diocese began researching the best way to reach out to those who no longer attended church; what they found was that those in the greater Southwick community have "a fairly traditional background but felt that church wasn't relevant in their lives," he added.
Albright explained that it took the Launch Team over a year to create a working model for the Southwick Community Episcopal Church before the parish could open its doors.
"I think it's wonderful that the Episcopal Diocese had the foresight to break the mold," Campanella said. "They do away with the pomp and circumstance and put in genuine contemporary celebration and hopefulness into your life and one another."
Albright noted that while the services are fairly traditional in structure they do not sing hymns but rather contemporary music; they don't have a choir but rather a band; and the service is put up on a screen with the use of various images and other visual aids.
"At a time when other churches are struggling, we're pushing upwards of 120 and 140 people every week," Campanella said.
She attributed the large numbers to the authentic community that has been formed among parishioners.
"I was practicing Catholicism [and] had sang in the choir for 17 years but it was all a ritual," Campanella said, adding that Southwick Community Episcopal Church "is just real."
Danielle Hale agreed.
"I had two young children [when my family and I first started attending the church]," she said. "I wanted them to grow up with a faith different than what I grew up with and I very much liked the warmth of the people there. Right away we were very much welcomed."
She added that since her husband's diagnosis with multiple sclerosis, the church community has come together for her family, far beyond her expectations.
"The outpouring of support and prayer has just been phenomenal," Hale said. "A lot of churches say they are there for you but this church actually is.It's made such a huge difference in our lives."
Campanella also noted that she has also found comfort within the church community. She explained that she had lost her husband to a heart attack in 2004 and has since then, with the help of this congregation, been able to reclaim her faith.
"[This church is] for people who are looking for something more in their lives," Campanella said. "This is not your mother's church anymore but it has all the reverence and respectfulness you'd expect in a church community."
For more information about the Southwick Community Episcopal Church, 660 College Highway, call 478-5367 or visit www.southwickchurch.com.