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West Groton Christian Union Church looking to rebound from the pandemic

Carole Clark, Nena Radtke, Charlotte Cochran, Joan Denaro, and Brenda Blood gather on the church’s front portico. (JACOB VITALI/LOWELL SUN)
Carole Clark, Nena Radtke, Charlotte Cochran, Joan Denaro, and Brenda Blood gather on the church’s front portico. (JACOB VITALI/LOWELL SUN)
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GROTON — The West Groton Christian Union Church has launched a GoFundMe to make up for fundraisers members have been unable to host throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The church hopes to raise $50,000 to go toward sustaining the small faith community and repairing the historic structure, including painting the exterior.

Rev. Nena Radtke has been the pastor since 2018. (JACOB VITALI/LOWELL SUN)

“The church has made a very strong commitment to its ongoing vitality within the community but we also recognize that we’re dealing with certain financial constraints. COVID hit us like many faith communities,” Rev. Nena Radtke said. “Particularly in a small faith community, there’s this additional impact that can be felt.”

Worship moved online in March 2020 with Radtke leading services over Zoom. Parishioners log in from computers or tablets — some have even phoned in for Sunday service. She said that attendance has remained consistent since the move online and credits it to the church’s outreach efforts.

Radtke became the church’s pastor in 2018 and describes the church as being a place where everyone is welcome, regardless of their identity. The church is of the United Church of Christ, a social justice oriented, LGBTQ-affirming, denomination of protestant Christianity.

“When somebody is welcomed into the congregation, they’re actually welcomed by the whole congregation — which is something unique, I think, in our world at this point,” Radtke said. “I think we’ve become in some ways so busy and caught up in some of our activities that we need those places that just allow our spirits to rest.”

Traditionally the church’s most successful fundraisers have been their community suppers. An annual drive-up chicken barbecue sees cars lined up on West Main Street and the most recent one saw 300 sales in the first 45 minutes. Radtke said that some members of the community have attended for over 40 years.

“It basically extends God’s table beyond the church walls,” Radtke said. “Certainly it is a fundraiser for the church but theologically there is that incredible sense of sharing that meal with one another.”

Carole Clark, the church’s organist, had already done the shopping for the St. Patrick’s Day supper when COVID-19 restrictions began going into effect. She decided she would not allow the food to go to waste.

Clark cooked corn beef, cabbage, and potatoes and brought them to the homes of people who were depending on the meal and donated extra supplies to the nearby senior center.

Longtime parishioner Meredith Bissell said that suppers have been a staple of the church throughout its history.

Bissell started attending the church at the age of five after moving to Groton from the Berkshires. However, his family has roots back to the church’s beginning when the church was more akin to the 12 apostles, with no more than 14 people gathering informally. He said his grandfather was the treasurer in 1925.

The West Groton Christian Union Church hopes to raise $50,000 to make up for fundraisers they have been unable to host throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

For Bissell, the church has been an important place to come together. He served as a deacon for 50 years and dedicated 35 years to Sunday school. He recalls the church being a place people came together even when times were tough.

“When we would hear things such as the attacks on the twin towers in New York people would get together there and congregate in the middle of the week to get some aid and comfort from the people at the church,” Bissell said.

Togetherness is something Radtke believes is the church’s strongest asset.

“Within these smaller congregations, it’s actually good for the health of all of us. It’s one place that you can come and nurture your spirit and you can actually explore your own sense of faith,” Radtke said. “I think a huge part of it is a power to transcend the written word into an active spoken word and action.”

An internal task force has been established to review when it is safe to return to worship in person. The congregation has a high vaccination rate and churchgoers have been open with one another about receiving their shots. However, Radtke said it would be at least June before there is an in-person option.

If an in-person option is approved by the congregation, Radtke says they are committed to continuing a Zoom option. She added that the church is also continuing to seek ways they can better connect with the local community, including working with a nearby senior residence.

“Churches were never created to be self-containing,” Radtke said. “They were always meant to serve God’s ways within the world.”