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Closed for 17 years, St. Jude’s in Franklin opens for prayer

July 2, 2019

FRANKLIN, N.H. (AP) — When Barbara Burns plays the organ at St. Jude’s Church in Franklin, she thinks about her mother singing with the church’s choir 60 years ago.

“You can almost see your family up here, in the choir, teaching Sunday school,” said Burns, 81, sitting near the pulpit on her familiar cushioned seat at the organ during a recent Thursday service.

Burns, who began going to St. Jude’s as a child, played the organ at the Episcopal Church faithfully for 46 years before it closed in 2002. She said her family shared a love for the old hymns that were played there.

In the almost 17 years since then, Burns said she hasn’t found another faith community where she’s felt the same connection. Many of her family members have either died or moved away. She said she stopped going to church regularly.

“I tried to go other places, but they weren’t St. Jude’s,” Burns said, wiping tears from her eyes.

That’s why Burns was overjoyed when St. Jude’s opened its doors again in May.

“After all these years, it just feels like coming home,” she said.

Although the church has not reopened in the official sense, in that there isn’t a priest performing the Eucharist, the church has been open for prayer services on Thursdays at noon. Joe Rose, a long-time Episcopalian and retired businessman from Loudon, is filling in as a lay pastoral leader.

Communications Director for the Episcopal Church of New Hampshire David Deziel said he’s not sure what the Episcopal Church’s presence will look like in Franklin long-term, whether it will evolve to a congregation with a priest or not. He said it was important to Robert Hirschfeld, bishop of the diocese of New Hampshire, to have a spiritual presence back in Franklin.

“There’s a fairly large population there - it’s an area that is in some economic distress, there are a lot of people who have needs from a socioeconomic point of view but also spiritually,” he said. “There are a lot of people in the area looking for more meaning, more purpose and a place where they can go to explore that and to deepen that.”

Rose said the response from people who have returned to the church so far has been overwhelming.

“Three of them that were long-time parishioners of this church sat in the pew with tears running down their face,” Rose said of his first day in St. Jude’s. “They were tears of joy being back in their church. That told me that there was a need here and that God sent me here for a good reason.”

Connections

For many long-term Franklin residents like Burns, St. Jude’s is more than just a building. It’s a community gathering place where former parishioners have deep ties.

Barbara Emerson, 75, was sitting in the front pew Thursday, her hands clasped together on her lap.

“I was baptized here. I’ve been going here for 75 years,” she said. “It hurt when they closed it, and we just never thought we’d see the day when it would open back up again.”

Emerson’s daughter, Kelly Soboslai, said she was an acolyte there for more than 20 years. She put out the candles in the church on the day it closed. Her husband, Rob, proposed to her at the altar in the 1980s.

“It needs work, it’s just the way I remembered it,” looking up at the stained-glass window of saint Jude. “It’s fantastic, it brings back so many family memories.”

The nearest Episcopal Church to Franklin used to be Trinity Church in Tilton, but that church closed in 2015. With Episcopal churches missing in Franklin and Tilton, the next nearest options were in Laconia and Concord - a long commute for some.

Franklin resident Betty Arsenault said that was part of the reason why she stopped going to church.

“It’s a blessing, it really is,” she said of St. Jude’s reopening. “I just know that this community needs us. It’s a home for people who have no other place to go.”

For more than 10 years after St. Jude’s closed, it was the site of the Twin Rivers Food Pantry before the organization moved to its new location at 2 Central St.

The carpet got ripped during that time, and some wood in the church is rotting and needs to be replaced. It will also need a new roof down the road.

Rose said members of the congregation volunteered to do some painting and scraping at the church.

“We are going to do our best to make this a home for people again,” he said.

Online: https://bit.ly/2FJ1evm

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Information from: Concord Monitor, http://www.concordmonitor.com

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