The manse of the East Craftsbury Presbyterian Church in Vermont was the only church-owned home Joan and I ever lived in. Prior to moving to Vermont and later living in Ithaca, NY, we owned our own homes (with the bank’s help, of course).

The Vermont manse was built in the 1840s, and had quite a history. It was first a farmhouse, and then, generations ago, became the property of the church, and used as what some traditions call a “parsonage.” Joan and I loved it at first sight. There was not a floor that was level, much of the wall paper had faded over the years, and we didn’t trust the garage to hold the weight of the Camry. A fire had burned off the original attached barn, and the roof over the attic area still had charred wood and a smoky odor these fifty years later.

Some motion picture lore is attached to that home. Around 1953 Alfred Hitchcock was filming “The Trouble with Harry” in Craftsbury, VT, and the church agreed to let the “Master of Suspense” use the church house for Shirley MacLaine’s home in the film. A movie set provided the home’s interior shots, but Hitchcock wanted exterior shots to include a front porch. So he built one on the front of the manse, and after the film crew left, the church removed the porch to the back of the house, where it remains today, screened in. I used to call it the Hitchcock Memorial Porch. Rent the movie and you’ll see John Forsythe striding up our front walk to sit on the porch with MacLaine and a very young Jerry Mathers who played her son.

Joan devoted a lot of time and energy to freshening up the interior of the old place: new wallpaper, some plastering of cracked walls, adding some stenciling, and applying bright paint colors. The church had a painting bee for the exterior one summer, and church members were wonderful at sharing their gifts: plowing snow and loading in firewood for the big furnace. Bob Kinsey firmed up the garage floor, and then warned us not to look at his work. “It doesn’t look real good, but it’ll hold,” he promised. And it did.

The house became the heart of the church’s hospitality and the communications center, thanks to the old red rocking chair on the front glassed-in porch. Whenever there was paperwork to be shared, or a package picked up or left, we’d say, “It’s on the red rocker.” As for hospitality, not only did we have church meetings in the “keeping room” around our dining table, but we entertained members of the Presbytery’s Cambodian Fellowship, a Habitat For Humanity work team, and Heifer International visitors from Tanzania, as well as a monthly Soup Group from our own congregation.

That Soup Group was Joan’s idea. Homemade soup in the midst of Vermont’s long winters would make for warm fellowship for anybody, but we had in mind some of the older church members who might enjoy just getting out of their own homes for lunch now and then. It was a chance to escape “cabin fever” and meet for conversation and homemade bread and soup.

We lived in that wonderful home for almost ten years. The year after we had moved to Ithaca, a church member mailed us the Vermont Life Magazine calendar, with a note that told us to look at the December page. There was the manse. And in the driveway, under a couple of feet of snow, was my car, with the vanity license plate almost visible. It said “KINGDOM,” meaning the Northeast Kingdom, that part of Vermont that changed our lives, and enriched my sense of ministry.

Next, in this series of forty reflections for Lent 2015, Craftsbury’s Easter Sunrise Service in the llama pasture.

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