Longtime pastor of South Congregational Church retires Central Berkshires


Rev. Joel Huntington, pastor of South Congregational Church, is retiring after three decades in the church.

PITTSFIELD — The Rev. Joel Huntington’s childhood was steeped in alcohol.

A Richmond, Indiana native, Huntington grew up with an alcoholic father, and his only true escape was when he and his mother went to St. Mary’s Catholic Church in town on Sunday mornings.

“Going to Mass was the only normal, safe thing my mom and I did,” he told The Eagle. “I had this experience with God and I decided that the clergy is my way forward.”

This path is coming to an end. Huntington is retiring after 32 years as pastor of South Congregational Church.

His ministry in Pittsfield — about the size of his hometown on the Ohio border — ends Jan. 30, when he will lead his final Sunday service at the South Street House of Worship. A farewell meeting will take place the day before at 1:00 p.m. in the parking lot behind the church

Monsignor Michael Shershanovich, pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church on North Street, said he admires and appreciates Huntington as a “great pastor.”

“To me, Joel is the man the prophet Micah writes about. He loves tenderly, acts justly, and walks humbly with his God. Joel is a role model for all clergy,” Shershanovich said.

Journey to Pittsfield

Huntington, 69, was raised Catholic and attended and graduated from Earlham College, a Quaker school in Richmond, Indiana, before attending two different seminary schools from 1977 to 1982. After graduating from Andover-Newton Theological School in Newton in 1982, he was ordained a minister and became an assistant pastor at a small church in Quincy. In 1989 he moved west to the Berkshires to take on the pastoral duties of the South Congregational Church.

Almost immediately, one of the church’s primary missions was to address food insecurity in the Pittsfield area. In 1990, South Church and St. Joseph established a shared kitchen, providing weekly meals to those in need. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the kitchen – which is now run exclusively by South Congregational Church – has been providing takeaway meals for 60 to 75 people a week.

This has resulted in Berkshire’s largest food distributor, The South Community Food Pantry, which Huntington says serves 600 to 650 homes each week. As a child, he knew all about limited dining options at home.


Rev. Joel Huntington, pastor of South Congregational Church, is retiring after three decades in the church.

“I have all these memories of mayo sandwiches on white bread. My whole ministry has been about feeding people’s souls and feeding people’s bodies,” he said. “I love ministering to the people and being in the pantry…where Jesus would be.”

South Congregational Church is best known as the distribution center for Thanksgiving Angels. On the Monday before the holiday, dozens of volunteers from more than 20 faith-based organizations will be distributing food collected over the past few weeks to nearly 1,500 households to prepare a home-made turkey dinner.

beware of others

In addition to Sunday worship, school and meal programs, nearly 20 church groups and community-based organizations met regularly at South Congregational Church before the pandemic.

In addition, in 1992 the Church began a pastoral student internship program for those in the area attending a seminary school. To date, Huntington said, 17 young men and women have used South Church as a training ground for their future ministry.

“They bring new ideas and new experiences to our church. We once had a transgender student who was from Georgia and the community learned to accept him as they got to know him as a person,” Huntington said.

Huntington has also worked closely with Rev. Jenny Gregg and the Cathedral of the Beloved outdoor worship community, which gathers on the lawn of St. Joseph Church on Sunday afternoons. This ministry provides meals, support and compassion for those homeless and struggling in Pittsfield.

Huntington has served on several collaborative groups, such as the board of the Pittsfield Council of Congregations. He is also the past president of Berkshire Interfaith Organizing and helped establish the Emergency Fuel Fund, which provides 100 gallons of heating oil or other essential heating energy to families in need.

Huntington’s 32-year ministry was also shaped by an understanding of the importance of Church upkeep. In the past decade, church leaders have conducted two fundraising campaigns totaling $335,000. The money was used to modernize the 172-year-old church and 87-year-old vicarage with a new roof and tower repairs. Other maintenance work included painting the exterior, installing 100 solar panels, and remodeling the kitchen, which provides meals for weekly community meals and other events.

Huntington also knew the importance of working with other pastors and their congregations. Right next to the South Church is the First Baptist Church. The pastor, Rev. Sheila D. Sholes-Ross, said she felt welcomed by Huntington when she came from North Carolina eight years ago.

“I have loved participating in various community/event programs with Joel. He was never afraid to say ‘Amen’ to messages I offered…this touched my heart so much,” Sholes-Ross wrote in an email.

Huntington said he will not follow a daily routine after he retires and plans to sleep and hike a lot over the next year while he and his wife Tora move to Richmond. He leaves with a heavy heart.

“I will miss all the relationships that have been woven into my heart,” he said. “This church is so open to the Spirit and willing to serve as they come together to listen and grow.”

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