There are several churches throughout the West Roxbury community, each with its own identity and following. Whether by tradition, faith or comfort level, how one connects with their parish is personal.
Ask Darra Slagle. Twelve years ago, she was new to West Roxbury. She visited several churches in various neighborhoods, only to find herself searching even more. Then she came across the .
“When I walked through the doors, I knew I was home,” said Slagle. “It just felt overwhelmingly right.”
Slagle never left. Today she serves as the Christian Education Superintendent and webmaster.
The now 111-year-old building has been a staple to the neighborhood, solidly situated on the corner of Stratford Street and Anawan Avenue. However, it was not always called The Stratford Street United Church. How it came to be involves a story of tragedy.
According to the church’s history, the building was originally The Stratford Street Baptist Church. It was designed by Calvin Kiessling and dedicated in 1910. A short distance away, on the corner of Centre and Mt. Vernon Streets, stood the West Roxbury Congregational Church, built just 19 years before. Disaster struck in 1973 when the building was destroyed by fire. Following the unfortunate incident, the Congregational members were kindly welcomed by the Baptist Church.
As the Congregationalists discussed rebuilding, so did talks of potentially merging with the Baptist church. In 1977, the members of the Congregationalist church deeded the land to the Trustees of the Boston Public Library, now home to the . The two congregations eventually became one, adopting the name The Stratford Street United Church.
“We’re in an area with a high concentration of Catholics and I believe we fit in pretty well,” said Slagle. “We may be small, but as a congregation, we’re committed to the church and one another.
There’s a diverse group of people from different industries, ranging from singers to doctors, as well as individuals from several ethnic and social backgrounds.
“Although I speak for myself, many would agree that we are a very special group,” said Slagle. "I feel like I’m in a Jamaica Plain church with several people from different towns and countries."
Calling the Stratford Street United Church “different” would be an understatement. The church's unconventionality is the cornerstone of the congregation’s identity and one of a kind in the community. It serves as a Baptist and Congregationalist church all in one, merging the traditions of each denomination into one service.
Even their interim pastor Robert Branch comes to the parish with a little twist of his own.
Branch began his career as a clergyman in the early 70’s. Upon his 20th anniversary with the United Church of Christ, the church suggested a fairly routine career assessment where they determine if men in the ministry are committed to the role. Branch decided to explore his options and ventured into journalism.
The veteran clergyman was no stranger to print. He was an avid writer and photographer for his high school and college newspapers. It didn’t take him long to begin on what would turn into a 16-year career in journalism.
“Oh I loved it,” said Branch. “No day was ever the same. I could be taking pictures of someone’s Valentine’s Day cake in the afternoon, covering a public library event later that day and a hockey game that evening.”
However, Branch is enjoying the calmer side of life. He retired from journalism around 2007 and finds his relationship with the Stratford Street United Church to be a rewarding experience.
“They’re very involved group of people who are committed to church,” said Branch. “In the meantime, I’m just keeping the place warm for the next pastor.”