Group Travel Articles

Think the Berkshires for Your Next Faith Based Itinerary

By Brian Butterworth

The Berkshires in western Massachusetts is a great – and perhaps undiscovered – destination for tour operators or group leaders planning travel for faith organizations.  Like much of the original colonies, the region has deep roots in faith. Stockbridge was settled by English missionaries, led by Rev. John Sergeant. The Mission House was relocated from its original setting and now stands in town as a small museum commemorating that era. Sergeant’s successor, the Rev. Jonathan Edwards was an important American theologian associated with the First Great Awakening, and wrote his great treatise on Freedom of the Will while serving in Stockbridge. His writing desk can be seen, along with other historic treasures at the Stockbridge Library Museum and Archives. Both men served the 1st Congregational Church, still an active part of the community.

The Shakers were a Christian sect formed in England and emigrated to America in 1774.  One of their first settlements was established in Hancock, MA, where as many as 300 souls lived until the mid 19th century.  The Shakers are well known today for their distinctive furniture and other crafts, but they were ahead of the time and “made important contributions to American culture,” according to the website of  Hancock Shaker Village, a living history museum maintained on the site of the original settlement. “The Shakers believed in racial and gender equality, simplicity and pacifism. As the Shakers grew in influence, they challenged the existing social and religious structure and economic order of the new nation.” In addition to learning more about their history, visitors can experience the Shaker lifestyle by visiting the buildings in which they worked and lived in the “City of Peace.” A highlight is a candle-lit Shaker Supper, served in the Believers’ Dining Room.

In the mid-20th century, the National Shrine of Divine Mercy was established on the site formerly occupied by the original Mission House of Stockbridge’s settlers. The beautiful sanctuary was created by woodworkers, stone masons and stained glass artists of the time and sits high above town with views of the Berkshire Hills in many directions.  “Thousands of pilgrims visit the National Shrine each year either on personal retreat or to join in the celebration of holy, ethnic or specialized days,” according to the organization’s web site. The spiritual aspect of pilgrimages is enhanced by access to walking paths on the expansive grounds. One highlight is a recently installed life-sized, bronze Stations of the Cross, installed along a pleasant walkway.

One or more of these destinations can be the start of a great itinerary that can be fleshed out to include visits to the Berkshires’ notable museums, historic sites and performing arts venues. Norman Rockwell Museum is popular with visitors, especially the “Four Freedoms” paintings, a collection of Saturday Evening Post covers and the work Rockwell did during the Civil Rights era.  Did you know that the Lincoln Memorial monument was created in Stockbridge? That’s right – sculptor Daniel Chester French designed the “Seated Lincoln” at his country home and studio at Chesterwood, also in Stockbridge. Visitors can view his working models created in preparation for the final work.  Chesterwood is a National Trust Historic Site and includes a beautiful woodland walk, outdoor sculpture, gardens and the home of French – a wonderful example of Gilded Age life.

Of course, anyone can also enjoy time spent in the small villages and cities, exploring shops, restaurants and galleries on safe, easy to get around streets. The village of Stockbridge – and The Red Lion Inn – is a wonderful spot for this type of activity anytime, but especially during the Christmas season, when everything is “decked out.” For those who would like to get a bit more exercise, the Berkshires offer many hiking, paddling, cycling and skiing opportunities with easy access – including the Appalachian Trail.

For more info on other Berkshires attractions, visit www.berkshires.org

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Brian Butterworth is VP of Sales for Main Street Hospitality Group based at The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, and oversees group, FIT and corporate market efforts for the Williams Inn, the Porches Inn at MASS MoCA and Hotel on North. He is especially active in the domestic and International tourism market, serving on the board of New England Inns & Resorts Association, chairing the Advocacy Committee for NTA and working with colleagues to grow group visitation to the Berkshires. The Red Lion Inn was the recipient of a Distinguished Dozen award from NTA in 2014.