Northfield Presbyterian Church celebrates 190 years

by Martin McConnell

The 190-year history of Northfield Presbyterian Church has been an exercise in perseverance. Through various hardships, consistent remodeling and a move to a new site, the church has stayed determined to spread its message.

The church’s Nov. 20 worship, led by Pastor Peter Lawson and his associates, was followed by a reception recognizing 190 years, complete with historical memorabilia, scrapbooks and refreshments in the form of an anniversary cake.

Perhaps the strangest story of the church’s history comes from October 1963, when the church was put on a set of wheels and physically moved from Northfield Center to its current location on South Boyden Road. An uncredited newspaper clipping entitled, “Church Moves Out Of Town” detailed the move, and was put on display during the anniversary celebration.

Through its many iterations, the church has been moved, federated with a local Methodist church, torn down to build a library, and even burned down once on a Sunday morning in 1889, according to the church’s “History of N.P.C.” memorabilia piece.

Lawson spoke of the church’s community in high regard, and noted that it took plenty of work from the whole of the community to get to this point.

“There were critical periods in the life of this congregation,” Lawson said. “They could’ve just shut things down, but they were determined to keep their ministries going, and determined to adapt. … That is what I think helped get the church through all those changes in all those years.”

During his 30 years of employment in the National Guard, Lawson felt a call to lead in the church, and took over the full-time job at Northfield Presbyterian in July 2020.

“Everybody has their own story on how they’re called into ministry,” Lawson said. “After I was deployed, I started active service. … This is my first time back in the church in thirteen years.”

Lawson noted that over the events of the church’s 190-year history, the congregation has become a tightly knit community. That feeling at Northfield Presbyterian is central to the group’s current message as a place of camaraderie and partnership.

“They have a way of taking care of each other,” Lawson said of the church’s members. “I think there’s a real compassionate side to a lot of the folks who are here, and you can see that.”

Gilbert Polcen is one of the longest-tenured members of the congregation at Northfield Presbyterian, and helps to count the church’s financial collection each week. He has been a member of the church since he was a child.

“My family has been in the area since the early 1900s,” Polcen said. “I have a card that I brought with me from 1948, I was born in ‘47, and it’s a card [from] my mother and father, welcoming me to the cradle guild from 1948.”

Polcen was married to his wife Trudy at Northfield Presbyterian in 1967. He explained that following the end of his tenure in the United States armed forces in 1970, he and his family became increasingly involved with the daily operations of the church.

“As time went on, I got involved in the session and as an elder,” Polcen said. “We’ve kind of had that association [ever since then]. It’s always been part of my memory.”

Looking towards the future, the church wants to become a stronghold of community and partnership in Sagamore and Northfield. Lawson said he wants to help Northfield Presbyterian Church continue to evolve and persevere, as it always has.

“During those times there were many challenges, and these churches were determined to step up,” Lawson said. “We need to do the same kind of thing. We have challenging times, too. Are we willing to adapt? Are we willing to change? Are we willing to think outside the box?” ∞

Associate pastor Rev. Wally Scofield (l) sits next to church
member Trudy Polcen at the anniversary reception. Photos
by Martin McConnell.
In October 1963, the church was physically moved from Northfield
Center to its current location on South Boyden Road.