With Uries, Rowells, Kinseys, and Calderwoods surrounding us, one might assume we were in Scotland. But we were among the Scottish descendants of immigrants who had found in northern Vermont a rocky terrain that reminded them of home, I spent more time serving the East Craftsbury Presbyterian Church in Craftsbury, VT than in any other pastoral position. We were there nearly ten years, and what good years they were!

I’ll have many stories to tell about this congregation, but I begin with a ministry that was taking focus as I arrived, and which provided a significant mission opportunity right across the rural road that winds through the village. When Joan and I moved into the lovely manse next door to the brown-shingled church, conversations had begun about the need for an assisted living center in the town of Craftsbury (which includes what is called Craftsbury Village, Craftsbury Common, and East Craftsbury).

A young nurse with a vision for working in gerontology and serving the needs of the county’s elderly citizens was meeting with community members to design an affordable community care center. Within a short time of my coming to the East Craftsbury Church, I was invited to serve on the board of what was to become known informally as “the 4 C’s: the thirty-resident Craftsbury Community Care Center. The board, with only two exceptions, was made up of our church members. Thus, while the church didn’t “own and operate” the 4 C’s, it had a big stake in it, and some 20 years later still does.

Our board applied for and received a federally-funded Community Development Block Grant, and there was great celebration that the vision would provide housing and medical care for many local senior citizens. There is not space here to tell the whole story, but I want to connect that original vision to the foresight and compassion of the East Craftsbury Church. The fact is that without the church’s cooperation, the facility could not have been built on the land set aside for it by the Vermont Land Trust. The acreage wouldn’t perk.I’m not a hydrologist or an engineer (and I’ve never played either on TV), but unless the church had granted the Care Center permission to use a small part of its property for a septic field, of course the residential facility couldn’t have become a reality.

But the church helped with more than sewage! Knowing we had up to thirty new neighbors coming into our small village, and being the only church in the village, members of the congregation wanted to be as welcoming as possible, and that meant making the 1908 building accessible. We wanted to accomplish that before the care center opened, so a committee agreed on a plan to add a handicapped-accessible entrance and an elevator. With only 70 members, the majority of whom ran small family dairy farms, the financial challenge was a stretch. We learned that our denomination had a low-interest loan program to help churches with accessibility issues, but many folk were nervous about putting the church into debt.

Our church thrived on self-sufficiency and faithful stewardship. Some members tithed; others gave what they could week by week to support the church budget. I had heard that in previous years, when some exceptional financial need arose, someone put an empty Quaker Oats box on a table and people contributed what they could to meet the special need. The church wasn’t into selling things, charging for meals, or even indirectly asking non-church neighbors for financial support for ministries or obligations that were the sole responsibility of the congregation. But an exception was made when some church women hosted a rare (once in my pastorate) yard sale. At the end of the day, they had made a modest amount to go toward the elevator.

Now, about that “elevator.” Jack Morrill had been instrumental in securing a comparatively inexpensive lift for his previous church. He volunteered to do the same for us, and somehow he found a lift that had been built for another project (but returned to the manufacturer) and that would fill our need for a three-stop “elevette.” Basement rest rooms, entrance foyer, and sanctuary were on three levels, and this find was considered providential.

And about that entrance. Hollis Rowell was on the committee that sweated over how to add a handicapped-accessible door to the side of the church building, without disrupting the original architectural design of the church. On the Sunday morning we were about to show the final design to the congregation, Hollis took me aside and told me he had had another idea the night before. He said he really didn’t want to have a handicapped entrance. He had drawn up a new plan (unilaterally – not the Presbyterian way, you see)  and was going to share it during the congregational meeting. I was, let us say, chagrined. “Oh, Hollis; I don’t know…”  But when I heard his rationale, it made sense.

He told the church members, “I don;t think we should have a separate entrance for wheelchair-bound people. We should modify our entrance so that everyone can come into the church through the same door. His plan was adopted.

When we worried about how the front of this fairly historic church might look when the entrance was modified, our answer came when a long-time Craftsbury resident called me to ask if there had been some problem with the brown shingles on the front of the church. The modification was so perfectly executed, that all she had noticed was the slight difference in color between the old and new shingles around the front door.

Enough for today. Tomorrow I want to write of the ministry this small church extended to its new neighbors once the Care Center actually opened. Those neighbors included a Holocaust survivor whose stories I shall never forget.

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