PITTSFIELD — Rev. Ralph Howe isn’t afraid to speak his mind. Blunt at times, he faces reality head on.
The pastor at the First United Methodist Church showed that mindset in his farewell sermon on Sunday that was both in-person and streamed live. The 67-year-old father of four children is retiring after nearly a decade as spiritual leader of the downtown Pittsfield house of worship.
Howe said his successor, native Brazilian Rev. Marcelo Gomes, will no doubt bring a change that will require a good period of adjustment.
“When a church gets a new pastor, there is necessarily some turmoil. The old ways are shaken up. The old patterns are left behind and new ways are tried. This is a good thing, though it can seem painful at times,” he said.
Since Howe arrived in Pittsfield in 2013 after a 20-year ministry in Vermont, he hasn’t been afraid to shake things up within the church and in the community.
The reverend felt it was his duty to address homelessness, hunger, racism and addiction.
“I practiced law for 12 years before my ministry,” he said in an Eagle interview. “I was a privileged white male with an identity that comes from the set of experiences I’ve had and recognized the good, the bad, and the ugly.”
Most recently, Howe has led the creation of a new 42-bed emergency homeless shelter that will open later this year in collaboration with ServiceNet. The compassionate minister has found many of those without a permanent roof over their head are addicts.
Howe told The Eagle in a letter three years ago the many addicts who attend the breakfasts and lunches at church needed needed a safe place to live, as they were troubled souls trying to “get out of the rat maze of addiction.”
As for the racial divide in Pittsfield and the country, in one of his Eagle editorial columns, Howe said racism “is a disease of the human heart and mind.”
He continued, “Only when we are willing to make a thorough examination of both the internal and external ways in which racism has formed us as persons, will we move forward away from racism.”
Howe has also made sure First United Methodist Church in Pittsfield is welcoming, growing the congregation by inviting many Methodists from Ghana, Ivory Coast, and the Republic of Congo now living in the Berkshires to join the church.
While Pittsfield has its issues, Howe is confident the community can resolve its social, economic and educational challenges.
“Pittsfield is a place of promise with so many people devoted to doing good. You have vibrant entrepreneurial venues,” he told The Eagle.
As Howe departs Pittsfield, he is planning a return to Vermont, becoming the part-time minister at the Brattleboro First United Methodist Church.
“I’ll miss the people of this church; they’re loving, committed people and I’ll miss the clergy of Pittsfield,” he said.
It may take time, but Howe is confident the church he is leaving will bond with his successor and to trust God to guide the transition.
“Trust that [Gomes’] background, education, skills and experience, his faith and zeal are just what this church needs, now,” Howe told the congregation on Sunday. “Trust that the changes he offers you are part of God’s plan for this church.”