In my previous entry I wrote of arriving in East Craftsbury, Vermont just in time to see the development and construction of an assisted living center across the road from our church. I mentioned that while the Craftsbury Community Care Center certainly wasn’t a church project, most of the first Board of Trustees were members of our church, and the church’s hospitality (read leech field or septic system) was instrumental in helping the vision of affordable housing and care for elderly residence become a reality.

Once the church had made its additional hospitality evident through modifications to our building, we found that accessibility to worship was only part of our ministry to the thirty or so Care Center residents. We provided a weekly Bible study, of course, but also visitation, a listening ear, and seasonal religious activities such as Lenten studies. One favorite group I resourced there was a gathering of residents (church folk were also welcome and did attend) to listen to short stories read aloud from the works of Raymond Carver, Flannery O’Connor, John O’Hara, and Martin Bell. The stories evoked significant connections with the lives of listeners, and conversations were rich.

Church members provided rides to medical appointments and stores, and that was an important service given the very rural nature of our village. (I haven’t mentioned it yet, but here are the services available while we were in East Craftsbury: a library, a bread and breakfast, a beauty/barber shop, and an auto mechanic. Hardwick and Morrisville were the nearest centers of commerce, though Greensboro had Willey’s Store, a solid general store that sold everything but tires, and Craftsbury Village had two general stores and a gas station. So you see why providing transportation was a valuable ministry.)

A favorite memory was watching the younger children from our church march across the road to parade through the Care Center showing off their costumes on Halloween night. (It was uncanny how that night seemed to bring the season’s first snowflakes!) And there were visits and some shared activities involving our church’s preschool too, a gift for both residents and those young visitors.

Of course, not all the residents there were Presbyterians. Many weren’t much interested in religious activities, though the short story group and informal visits suited their needs for companionship. One person who lived there a short time while I served the East Craftsbury Church was a Holocaust survivor. I regret that I can’t recall her name after all these years, but she made sure that everyone she spoke with would remember the atrocities of the Nazi concentration camps. She was so afraid that with her generation gone, so would be the horror. That fear was confirmed when she had to spend time in a nursing home, and when she mentioned to her ordeal to an attendant there, the young woman professed complete ignorance of the Holocaust. She had no idea…

Another resident whose name I do remember for some reason was another German, Anna Scharschmidt. She was happy to hear of my wife’s German heritage and was delighted when Joan made her a dinner of traditional German food (sauerbraten and apple strudel) which we ate together in the resident kitchen. Speaking of food, within a few years the Care Center’s main kitchen became the hub of Meals on Wheels in our area, and many of our church members signed up to deliver meals, even through snow drifts and down icy driveways. All this is to say that ours was not a little country church where a handful of people shuffle in on Sunday mornings and shuffle on home until the next week. East Craftsbury Presbyterian Church found a vital mission and beloved friends within a snowball’s throw across the road.

That would be the “celebration” part of the church/care center story. I do have one confession to share though. Through some denominational connections, we learned of some grants available from the PC(USA) that were meant to support building community in rural areas. Someone suggested that a recreation area in our small village would help bring young and older neighbors together. Once we had determined that the Community Care Center was a more suitable site than the church yard (the grant application made it clear that the funds were not to benefit churches so much as the areas churches served), we applied even before the center itself was complete.

Local contractors built a playground with solid wooden equipment, some benches, and even a walking trail, all located behind the Care Center. But there was to be a complication that just about torpedoed the project. Our original vision had neighborhood kids coming to the playground and, when Vermont’s weather cooperated, interacting in positive ways with the elderly residents who might otherwise rarely have contact with youngsters. But the Care Center executive director vetoed the plan, pointing out that there were serious liability and safety concerns, including a lack of supervisory personnel to prevent vandalism of the property and possible harm to fragile residents. She declared that the recreation area would be open only to “invitees” and children who had a connection with (or willingness to visit with) residents.

Looking back, hers may have been the right decision, but I was very disappointed that we had failed to live up to the good purposes of the original grant. Instead of building community, we put up barriers, and that was no fun.

In the years since my pastorate there, we have heard of financial challenges and management changes at the Center. But I understand that church members are still involved with Board work and church folk still find a remarkable outreach opportunity across the road. I should add that several church members have also taken up residence at the Craftsbury Community Care Center over the years, making every risk, challenge, and effort worthwhile.

I’ll write more about our Vermont parish in further posts, but tomorrow I’ll return to my first parish experience in Richmond, to explain why the old TV ad about falling “and I can’t get up,” isn’t at all funny.