[Diocese of Vermont] When asked to describe the Old Christ Church in Bethel, Vermont, two parishioners recently wrote, “just pulling in the driveway you get the sense that this is no ordinary building.” Built in 1823, the historic structure lacks electricity, heat and plumbing, which certainly contributes to its uniqueness. But there is something more, an indescribable energy that attracts people to the maple-lined drive off Route 12 for worship and respite.
Now the building that has been a source of spiritual restoration for so many is being prepped for a restoration of its own.
Planning is underway for a series of projects aimed at securing the foundation and repairing the steps, windows and clapboards. The members of neighboring Christ Episcopal Church, stewards of Old Christ Church, look forward to implementing the updates so that the historic building can continue to accommodate seasonal worship, weddings, funerals, special services, concerts, book discussions and community events.
The restoration, however, comes at a steep cost for the small congregation, which has embraced a model of ministry that relies on volunteer clergy, musicians and lay preachers and has no paid personnel. To date, Christ Episcopal Church has set aside $28,000 and won a $7,000 grant from the State of Vermont Division of Historic Preservation. Additionally, the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont has approved a $21,000 diocesan loan. While this only begins to cover the estimated expense of $56,000 to $109,000, church members remain hopeful that a combination of fundraising and competitive bids will enable them to bring their plans to fruition.
“At Christ Church Bethel, we continue to grow in faith and in our impact on the wider community,” said Nancy Wuttke, senior warden. And she gives numerous examples to back her claim.
“Our liturgical minister was recently ordained as transitional deacon. … Our Local Ministry Support Team has also received five new members, two of whom are called to pursue a path to ordination and service to our parish as priests, one of whom is called to pursue a path to ordination and service to our parish as deacon, one of whom is called to serve as preacher liaison and one of whom is called to serve as community liaison.”
With a view to ongoing formation, Christ Episcopal Church has recently launched an Education for Ministry study group. Such high levels of spiritual engagement serve to strengthen the ties between Christ Episcopal Church, the Old Christ Church building and the Bethel community.
For example, on the fourth Tuesday of each month, Christ Episcopal Church hosts the Bethel Bold Ideas Group—an interfaith discussion group started by the Rev. Shelie Richardson and other members of the Bethel community—that is well attended by parishioners and community members alike.
The church and community partners co-host the Community Meal, a popular local program that supports the Bethel Food Shelf, sources food from local farms, features great music and builds community.
“To date we have hosted six free and festive community events,” Wuttke said, “using the Wedding Feast at Cana to inspire our preparations: tablecloths, candles, live music, a sacramental feast … feeding about 150 people per event, whoever walks in the door, regardless of economic circumstance, and generating an average of $1,400 per event in free will donations, 100 percent of which goes to the Bethel Food Shelf.
“In addition, we provide free Winter Shares of vegetables for Food Shelf clients who meet with other community members to cook together, eat together and leave quarts of healthy, locally sourced food in the Food Shelf freezers. Many of our parishioners are active at the Food Shelf, as volunteers, and on the board.”
After a brief visit with the stewards of Old Christ Church it becomes clear: The energy that draws people here shows no signs of decreasing, which is why maintaining the building has become such a priority. As support for the restoration project grows, so does the Jesus Movement in Bethel, Vermont.
To learn more about the restoration of Old Christ Church, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Maurice Harris is communications minister for the Diocese of Vermont.