SHIRLEY — Take the colors of autumn, along with a simple white meetinghouse, and you have the makings of a quintessential New England town.
I would like to introduce you, if you have never been there, to the Shirley Meeting House, located at 41 Brown Road on the historic Shirley Common. Since 1773, the Meeting House has opened its doors to the people of Shirley for municipal meetings, worship and community celebrations.
The house is maintained by the First Parish Meeting House Preservation Society of Shirley.
The society is an all-volunteer, charitable organization founded in 1946 for the sole purpose of preserving the historic structure.
“The Preservation Society is dedicated to maintaining the oldest public building in Shirley, built only 20 years after the town was founded,” begins Ron Banay, president of The Shirley Meeting House, a nonprofit charitable organization. “The society hopes the Meeting House — as a tangible reminder of the town’s past — will remain a presence in the community, both physically and in its collective imagination.”
Today, under the stewardship of the Preservation Society, the Shirley Meeting House continues to offer a welcoming venue for varied events contributing to the cultural enrichment of Shirley and the surrounding area.
“We open it to the town and the wider community as a gathering place for all manner of occasions — weddings, memorial services, concerts, lectures, storytelling and a host of cultural events,” Ron says.
Celebrating autumn and the Halloween season is especially fun for this small community, and the Preservation Society invites everyone to several upcoming events at the Meeting House, beginning with “Expressions of Light and Dark,” a musical performance by Ensemble Lyrae on Sunday, Oct. 21, at 4 p.m.
Inspired by the natural beauty and brilliance of the constellation Lyra, Ensemble Lyrae brings together four vocalists — sopranos Rachael Chagat and Samantha Dearborn, mezzo-sopranos Grace Allendorf and Michelle Deluise — and pianist Emily Murphy.
“Ensemble Lyrae brings together five uniquely and highly talented musicians,” says Holly Haase, event coordinator. “While each shines as a soloist, together these women form deep connections in performing duets, trios and quartets.”
Through works by Felix Mendelssohn, Zoltán Kodály, Gustav Holst, Adam Guettel, Ola Gjeilo and many more, those degrees of luminosity will evoke a sensational experience for audiences.
The suggested donation is $15, with proceeds supporting the ongoing preservation and restoration of the Meeting House and helping to pay for utilities, insurance, organ and piano tuning, and ongoing general maintenance.
“We raised approximately $120,000 through a capital campaign for extensive exterior restoration work, which was completed in 2016,” Ron says. “We have since received two Massachusetts Cultural Council grants to defray the expense of providing greater accessibility, which includes installing a bathroom and utility room, raising the portico, and regrading and granite work for universal access. Automated paddles for the doors, and partial redesign of aisles and pews will complete the accessibility project.
“This is all capital work and is being paid for by our generous members and business partners, and by grants and fundraisers.”
And to get in the Halloween spirit, a “not-so-spooky” community celebration is planned for Saturday, Oct. 27, starting at 6:30 p.m., with a family-fun gathering on the Common in Shirley Center.
Featured at the Meeting House will be magic by Stephanie Beach, with additional treats to delight young and old.
“The Halloween celebration has become a fun annual event,” Holly says. “We transform the Town Common into a Halloween town where visitors, dressed in costume, are guided through a ghost walk, listen to stories and enjoy a ghostly show.”
From there, little ghosts and goblins can visit the Center Town Hall’s Spooky Room, enjoy refreshments, then dance the night away.
“We keep it very kid-friendly,” Holly assures.
Admission for this special event sponsored by the Center Town Hall Committee is $5, free for children ages 3 and under, with proceeds going to the Center Town Hall Gift Fund.
“Just as we enrich our individual lives by being aware and grounded in our personal history and background, so can a community be the richer for understanding its history,” Ron says. “It was at the Meeting House that the citizens of Shirley discussed, debated and decided whether to fight for independence or not. Thus, the building both witnessed and participated in the very founding of the nation. In that sense, the Meeting House is a very significant part of the heritage of the country and the town.
“Our annual season of events, from April through December, is an invitation to all to use and enjoy everything it has to offer.”
For more information on the Shirley Meeting House, or the Preservation Society, visit www.shirleymeetinghouse.org.