| Sarah Heinonen
HAMPDEN – For 37 years, Dr. Brian MacLeod has served as senior pastor of Bethlehem Church, counseling people, working with youth and engaging with the town. In October, he will retire and say goodbye to the community he has spent nearly four decades bringing together.
MacLeod and his wife, Sue MacLeod, joined Bethlehem Church in 1973. At the time, the church was located in Springfield. After 10 years of serving as a lay leader, MacLeod became ordained as a pastor and began his ministry. The church grew out of it’s home in Springfield and moved to Hampden, first to 216 Allen St. in 1991, and again to its current home at 123 Allen St. in 2015.
MacLeod said many parishioners stuck with the church through its relocations. “We still have people coming from a pretty broad circle,” he said.
As senior pastor, MacLeod has been a part of many area residents’ weddings, funerals, baptisms and other special occasions. He has also created new traditions, such as “A Bethlehem Christmas,” when the church’s main central hallway is dressed to resemble “the culture [and] architecture of first century Bethlehem during the week that Jesus was born,” said Lori Cooney, director of connection and outreach at Bethlehem Church. MacLeod created the event to offer education and inspiration.
In fact, MacLeod had a hand in the design of the main hallway itself when the church was built and envisioned the “Main Street Cafe” that now acts as a place for church-goers to gather before and after services.
As far as what is next for MacLeod, he has some ideas. “Old pastors, I don’t know if they ever really retire. You can’t stay forever,” but MacLeod said he may find himself involved in a church again. It just won’t be in Hampden.
“We needed to move. When you’ve been a pastor for a long time, it can be hard for the new pastor to come in if the old one is still around,” MacLeod told Reminder Publishing. He and his wife are planning to move to Florida, but he said with a laugh, “God may change the plan. He has a way of doing that.”
MacLeod moved to Hampden four years after the church relocated there and has been involved in the community ever since. He has served on the Council on Aging and marched in the annual Memorial Day Parade. MacLeod has also opened the church to hosting town meetings in the main auditorium.
“It’s been a wonderful privilege serving this town. We’re going to miss the community,” MacLeod said of himself and his wife.
In October, MacLeod’s successor, Rev. Darrin Ray, and his family will be joining Bethlehem Church from Kansas. Before MacLeod leaves, however, the church will host a celebration of his time there. The event is scheduled for Sept. 20, at 10 a.m. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, attendance is limited. However, the event will be live streamed at BethlehemHampden.org/Live.