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Spiffing Up the East Barnard Church

  • Maria Lamson, of South Royalton, foreground, shares her thoughts while discussing the poem From Blossoms, by Li-Young Lee, during a winter service of the East Barnard Church at the home of Cynthia Powers, second from right, in Royalton, Vt., Sunday, March 26, 2017. The church holds the non-denominational services led by minister Kellyann Wolfe, about once a month during the winter, in the homes of its members due to the high cost of heating their un-insulated, 183-year-old building. Nine church members including Sophia Stone, of Barnard, left, and Tim Wolfe, second from left, attended the gathering. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Sophia Stone, of Barnard, walks to her car through the late March mud after a service of the East Barnard Church at the home of Cynthia and Joshua Powers in Royalton, Vt., Sunday, March 26, 2017. During the service, attendees shared their joys and concerns, sang together, and discussed the coming of spring. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • While cleaning the building in preparation for the first service of the summer, Mollie McHugh, of East Barnard, vacuums the dust from the shirt of John Leavitt, of Pomfret, in East Barnard, Vt., Saturday, June 3, 2017. A week later in preparation for their first summer service that will take place Sunday June 11. "It's a pretty good little church," said Leavitt, who was baptized there and helps with the maintenance of the building. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Tim Wolfe rings the bell to signal the start of the service at the East Barnard Church, Sunday, June 11, 2017. Wolfe's wife, Kellyann, is the minister of the non-denominational congregation. "This is not going to be a summer of being told that there is one way of going about a spiritual life," she said during her sermon. "Whatever your practices in spiritual life, you belong here." (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Members sing from newly purchased hymnals to music played by organist Amber Leavitt, of South Royalton, during the service in East Barnard, Vt., Sunday, June 11, 2017. Leavitt and her choir bring vitality and variety to the service with their music. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • A gust of wind catches Sue Schlabach, left, and Carol Robbins, right, as they exit the church after snacking and socializing in East Barnard, Vt., Sunday, June 11, 2017. "It's a live church," said Robbins. "There's a lot happening, It's really a hidden treasure." (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • John McHugh, of East Barnard, left, John Leavitt, of Pomfret, middle, and his sister Marian Whitaker, of Barnard, right, turn to watch a pair of runners passing while discussing maintenance projects for the church building following the service in East Barnard, Vt., Sunday, June 11, 2017. Eighteen people attended the first service of the summer, and the numbers are expected to swell as the season continues. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Saturday, June 24, 2017

East Barnard — Brooms, dust mops and vacuum cleaners in hand, a half-dozen parishioners converged on the East Barnard Church on a damp Saturday morning earlier this month. They greeted one another warmly and, without pausing to divvy up the chores, set right to work readying the sanctuary for the start of the summer season.

“We don’t have to be told what to do,” quipped John Leavitt, a Pomfret resident who was baptized in the church in 1936.

Between Leavitt, his sister Marian Whitaker, of Barnard, and several others, any dust bunnies that had assembled over the winter didn’t stand a chance.

Like many churches with dwindling congregations in the Upper Valley and beyond, to save on heating costs, theirs holds services only in the summer and on special occasions, such as Christmas Eve.

Leavitt, whose family has belonged to the church throughout its 183-year history, remembers Sundays when the pews were full. But that’s not the case these days.

“We try to keep it going,” he said.

In recent winters, that’s included gathering in parishioners’ homes for informal services.

With fewer people in town and the weather harsh, meeting during the colder months isn’t easy, minister Kellyann Wolfe said in a telephone interview. Yet the effort is worthwhile. “It’s hard to keep packing up a community and unpacking it nine months later,” said Wolfe, who is entering her fourth year with the non-denominational church. “It’s not really how human community works.”

The themed gatherings were potlucks, “both in conversation and in food,” she said. One focused on the book of Ecclesiastes and “the impermanence of things and how that can be really liberating. It’s sort of a hidden tradition in the Bible,” almost a Buddhist idea that things “are always shifting.”

The services help sustain the fellowship and worship year-round, said Wolfe, who later recalled a newer member’s pointed questions: “Why do you close the church? Don’t you guys need Jesus in the winter?’ ”

During the annual cleanup, Sophia Stone took a break to talk about the church, and the home services, which generally include a few prayers, a song and discussion.

“It’s nice to gather during the winters … and not forget that we do this,” the Barnard resident said.

Displays in the entryway provide a map of the building’s history. Among them is a list of 100 or so donors who contributed to a recent steeple renovation project that addressed, among other issues, a leak that had caused timbers in the belfry to start rotting.

As lovely old historic churches often do, theirs has captured the imagination and hearts of Barnard residents and people from surrounding towns, even non-parishioners. That’s why, despite the small congregation, it was possible to raise $75,000 for the steeple work.

The church is “a local landmark,” Stone said. “People care about it as an artifact.”

This summer, services will run through Aug. 27, when communion will be offered. They generally attract anywhere from a dozen to 40 people, including some who have been vacationing in the area for decades.

The 9:30 a.m. services will unpack traditional and central concepts and “get at the richness” of Christian traditions, said Wolfe, who has a doctorate in biblical studies. The topics will include atonement, the theology of the cross and suffering. “There are many atonement theologies,” she said. “One has more to do with God’s (compassion for humanity) than … with punishment.”