Pastor leaves Northville church after 10 years

The Rev. Dianne Rodriguez (center) speaks with members of First Parish Church in Northville last week. (Credit: Cyndi Murray)
The Rev. Dianne Rodriguez (center) speaks with members of First Parish Church in Northville last week. (Credit: Cyndi Murray)

After 10 years serving as pastor at First Parish Church in Northville, the Rev. Dianne Rodriguez said goodbye to the congregation last Wednesday.

The farewell gathering at the historic Grange Hall on Sound Avenue was small, attended by four of the church’s 20 active members. Snow and icy weather conditions on Sunday canceled what would have been her final service.

Rev. Rodriguez and her husband, Lazaro, are preparing to move to Oregon to be closer to their son, his wife and brand-new twin grandsons. She has already been appointed pastor of a small United Church of Christ parish in Portland.

The congregation put down its roots in the 1950s, when about 50 members split from the Sound Avenue Congregational Church. Over time, however, membership has dwindled, though Rev. Rodriguez has been able to keep the church afloat by renting out its real estate, which includes the Grange Hall and the church building across the street, where First Parish held services until two years ago.

“[Rev. Rodriguez] enabled this small church to sustain itself financially,” said Georgeanne Packard, who has been a member of the church for about five years. “She helped save us. She is not just a pastor; she is a dynamic member of the community.”

In 2013, First Parish began leasing the church building to Community Baptist Church for its Sunday services. Last summer the parish also began leasing space on the first floor of the Grange for a market, called the Artisan Project, that features products from local crafters and food producers.

The Grange, however, is Long Island’s last surviving building that was originally a meetinghouse for the Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, a farmers’ fraternity organization that started in the 19th century. Over $150,000 in renovations are needed on the building, church members have said.

Moving forward, Rev. Rodriguez said she wanted to see First Parish Church run by collaborative leadership — something she’s wanted to see since she started on the job — meaning every member plays a very hands-on and equal role in the direction of the congregation.

Parishioners said last Wednesday it was an idea supported by the entire congregation. Moving forward, an interim pastor, Michael Raj, who studied under Rev. Rodriguez, will preside over two Sunday services per month. The other two will be led by church members or guest speakers.

“They are in a good place for this to happen,” said the pastor. “I think they are in a good position to evolve.”