Transformation in the works… The Florence Congregational Church in Florence MA is currently engaged in a dialogue with a newly formed non-profit, Bombyx negotiating the future of the church building and the congregation’s vision and desire to faithfully serve Christ. The leadership is working out the details with hopes that the transfer of the church property will take place early in 2022. Here is a short excerpt from the non-profit’s new Facebook page:
BOMBYX is a non-profit organization established to steward the property at 130 Pine Street, in Florence, Massachusetts – a historic gathering place founded by abolitionists who championed anti-slavery, gender equity, and religious tolerance. Carrying these values forward, we serve our community as a venue for transformative arts experiences, spiritual growth, and challenging conversations.
CENTER FOR ARTS & EQUITY
A BRIEF HISTORY
In 1842, a group of activists, farmers, and silk manufacturers banded together to form the Northampton Association of Education and Industry (NAEI). Founded on the principles of abolitionism, temperance, gender equity, and religious tolerance, the group established a silk mill and utopian community in the village now known as Florence, MA.
Members of the community and their invited guests would meet under a massive old growth pine to debate issues of the day and hold important meetings. While the community lasted just over four years before disbanding, members of the group went on to establish the Florence Congregational Church (FCC) in 1861, bringing their radical values with them.
The FCC sat in the middle of a rare multicultural community for its time. The original church body consisted of nine denominations and, from the outset, women had full voting membership. Founding members John Payson Williston and Moses Breck were outspoken abolitionists, openly employing both free blacks and fugitive enslaved people in the construction of the new building.
A VIBRANT FUTURE
Today, the descendants of that original 150 foot pine tree sway in the grove behind the sanctuary. The property is home not only to its original congregation but also the reform synagogue, Beit Ahavah. It is also a world class performance venue, art exhibition space, and community gathering place.
The name Bombyx references the silk moth (bombyx mori) imported to the region in the first half of the 19th century – a profound rejection of southern cotton and the global economic power of slavery.
Many local residents are unaware of the town’s activist history. Fredrick Douglas gave speeches under that original pine, as did William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillps. Sojourner Truth and David Ruggles lived within walking distance and were active in the region for many years.
We are excited to knit together our global music offerings with the town’s deep history, creating an incubator for challenging conversations, spiritual growth, and transformative arts experiences. Issues of equity span time and geography. Our work is the next chapter in an already long history of bold, creative thinking.
I have had the opportunity to meet and converse with the two Bombyx co-founders, Cassandra Holden and Kyle Homstead several times over the past month. I am extremely excited to learn of their love of the church building and it’s long history in Florence, as well as their desire to continue to serve the Florence community as a resource center and sacred religious space. More to come…
In His service,
Rev. Dr. Irven A. Gammon