WESTFIELD-In 1981, two area couples who had a background in the Evangelical Free Church of America “felt the need” to start a new church in the city.
At the time, Pastor David Young and his new wife, Lisa, had been praying that God would lead them to a church, allowing them to “launch out a little bit” from their home in Lanse, Penn.
“Lanse is my wife’s hometown,” said Young, adding, “We were drawn to these couples who were so committed to starting this church.”
For 39 years, Young has seen the Westfield Evangelical Free Church (WEFC) grow from conducting Sunday services at the Westfield Woman’s Club for eight years, to the Southwick Road site that had seen an average of 450 attendees each week prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our attendance is about 170 now,” said Young. “We have resumed small group studies as well as youth groups, and our nursery is slowly being offered.”
As Young now approaches his 40th year leading the church and announcing his retirement at the end of May 2021, he will be ready for the next part of his journey – with Lisa.
“Our first impression of Westfield was what a great town,” said Young. “People were very nice to us and my wife found employment with the animal hospital in West Springfield. When we found this property it was a godsend because of its location. We received one little miracle after another over the years.”
As he looks back, Young said the church members over the years “have been fantastic.”
“This will be the last year for me at the church,” said Young. “I am trusting God for what is next.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic created a shutdown across the state earlier this year, Young and staff members quickly took action on several fronts.
“Our goals during the lockdown were to show the love of Christ by encouraging the people who were ‘on the front line’ during the lockdown and our neighbors, and generating income to some of the local businesses,” said Pastor Dave Weaver, who oversees the church life ministries.
“Everything we did was the result of God’s blessings through the giving of the people in our church,” said Weaver.
Early on during the pandemic, the church leaders partnered with Mama Cakes to provide cupcakes – “baby cakes” – for employees at Big Y, Price Rite, and Stop and Shop, as well as those employed at the Westfield Post Office, Westfield Police and Fire departments, and the Southwick police and fire departments.
“We partnered with Mama Cakes and Circuit Coffee to provide baby cakes and coffee for the Westfield State Police Barracks and the Russell State Police Barracks, and the second shift employees at Baystate Noble Hospital,” said Weaver.
Weaver added that the church also partnered with Mama Cakes, Circuit Coffee, the Two Rivers Burrito Company and Richard’s Grinders to provide lunch for employees of two of three nursing homes in Westfield.
“The Governor’s Center’s regulations wouldn’t allow them to accept anything from us, though they appreciated the offer,” said Weaver.
Weaver added that lunches were also delivered to Westfield City Hall employees, employees of local funeral homes, the volunteers of the Boys and Girls Club of America, and the third shift of weekend employees at Baystate Noble Hospital.
“We gave over 50 of the homes that neighbor our church property a box of five baby cakes from Mama Cakes and a $50 gift card to Gigi’s Pizza, Bella Roma Pizza, or The Hanger,” said Weaver.
Two church-wide projects were also undertaken so that church attendees could become involved in the “loving their neighbor” program.
“The first project was called ‘TP your neighbor,’” said Weaver. “We were able to purchase around 600 individual rolls of toilet paper and distribute three rolls to every family who attend WEFC. They were to keep one roll for themselves and give one roll to each neighbor with one of our compassion cards – a business card that simply says ‘You are Loved’ on one side.”
The second project involved purchasing small bottles of hand sanitizer and distributing two bottles to every family of WEFC for them to give a bottle to a neighbor or co-worker, along with a compassion card.
“Since the lockdown, we have continued to look for ways that we can be involved in our community, and as a result we have been able to do a couple of things,” said Weaver. “We were able to raise money to cover the cost of school supplies for a large refugee family, and we were able to provide 100 filled pencil cases and around 85 headphones for the students at Abner Gibbs Elementary School before the start of school.”
Weaver noted that “God has blessed us and shown us his faithfulness,” adding when the lockdown was initiated, the staff sat down to brainstorm ways to help the community.
“Our biggest question was the uncertainty of where the money would come from because we expected the giving to drop because of the fall out of the lockdown,” said Weaver. “Yet our giving never did drop, and many weeks it even increased. The only thing we can point to is God’s faithfulness through the faithful people of our church.”
Communication was also key for church leaders during the shutdown and they divided up calls each week to church members – especially seniors – to ensure everyone was ok.
Young noted that when the church reopened the second Sunday of July, he was overjoyed to see people in the church again.
“We deliberately did not put pressure on anyone to have to come so we just read the signs of our congregation and how people were responding,” said Young, adding, “We took the time to do the right thing.”
While the church can seat 600, due to government protocols at this time, Young said attendance hovers around 170.
“Our service on Sunday is at 10 a.m. and we have an overflow area if we need it,” said Young. “Weekly messages are live-streamed online. Those who wish to attend in person are able to do so but must follow the COVID guidelines.”
As Young slowly transitions to retirement plans, he said the church is financially stable and weekly offerings have met the church’s budget. At the present time, he and his staff members are focusing on how holiday plans can be accomplished at the church.
“We had to cancel our usual stuff for Christmas, including the choir,” said Young. “We will be celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve, and maybe Christmas Day. It is going to be a very different holiday season for sure.”
Editor’s note: This is the seventh in a series of stories highlighting the ways church leaders have adapted church life to the coronavirus pandemic. For church leaders who would like to share their story, email Westfield News Editor Hope Tremblay at [email protected].