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West Fairlee Church Goes ‘Beyond Just Bread’

  • The Rev. Roger Daum, right, prepares to load Cynthia Wigington’s pizza into a new bread yesterday at the West Fairlee Congregational Church in West Fairlee. Daum hopes that the oven will serve as a means to bring the community together. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

    The Rev. Roger Daum, right, prepares to load Cynthia Wigington’s pizza into a new bread yesterday at the West Fairlee Congregational Church in West Fairlee. Daum hopes that the oven will serve as a means to bring the community together. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jon Garrow, of Vershire, rolls personal pizzas before the dedication. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

    Jon Garrow, of Vershire, rolls personal pizzas before the dedication. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Bruce Hook and Lauren Garrow wait for their pizzas as the Rev. Roger Daum shuts the door to the new community bread oven at West Fairlee Congregational Church in West Fairlee. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

    Bruce Hook and Lauren Garrow wait for their pizzas as the Rev. Roger Daum shuts the door to the new community bread oven at West Fairlee Congregational Church in West Fairlee. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • The Rev. Roger Daum, right, prepares to load Cynthia Wigington’s pizza into a new bread yesterday at the West Fairlee Congregational Church in West Fairlee. Daum hopes that the oven will serve as a means to bring the community together. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)
  • Jon Garrow, of Vershire, rolls personal pizzas before the dedication. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)
  • Bruce Hook and Lauren Garrow wait for their pizzas as the Rev. Roger Daum shuts the door to the new community bread oven at West Fairlee Congregational Church in West Fairlee. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

A recently completed wood-fired oven behind the West Fairlee Congregational Church passed its first test yesterday, holding a temperature of about 475 degrees on a blustery late fall day and evenly cooking more than a dozen pizzas — but its next task won’t be as simple as watching dough rise.

Roger Daum, the church’s pastor, hopes the community oven will live up to its billing and become a center of gravity for the geographically fragmented town .

“There are a lot of forces that are pulling people apart, and there are counter-forces that are pulling people together,” Daum told a crowd of about 20 people that had gathered at the oven’s dedication ceremony yesterday. “Let’s root for the together part.”

Throughout the course of the oven’s dedication ceremony, Daum emphasized the biblical adage that “man does not live on bread alone.”

“Our bread oven is beyond bread,” said Daum. “Let us grow into that awareness.”

He continued, “There is more to life than just the physicalities of our beings. We have spirtual and physical beings, and all the ramifications of what that means.”

The oven is part of a thesis project for Daum, who is about to start his third and final year of a doctorate program at Bangor Theological Seminary in Maine. The asssignment, he said, was to design an activity that emerges naturally from a group of people to meet a need for that particular community, and to make sure the activity has some “foundational reasons” behind it.

The idea for the community oven originated with churchgoer Steve Garrow, who said it came to him a few minutes before a church committee meeting where they were deciding between about 30 potential projects.

Garrow said he wanted to have West Fairlee unite around something, and thought of the oven as a means to host monthly pizza dinners, which he said would play into one of the church’s core strengths of feeding people.

A wild game supper hosted by the church a couple of weeks ago drew nearly 100 people, he said. The church has only about ten “regulars,” according to Garrow’s wife, Lorna Garrow.

“There used to be a lot of people here in this church,” she said. “We’ve tried different things, and it will get the teenagers in the community here for a little while, but then they drift again. I think this is going to help so that they don’t drift.”

The brick-and-mortar oven was built over the course of about four weeks by churchgoer Nate Pero, who has constructed three similar wood-fired ovens .

Daum said that the oven has a firebox below a concrete slab to protect the food from direct flame fire and a four-inch chamber in three of the four walls to trap hot air and to keep the food free of ash.

If yesterday’s test run is any indication, the oven takes a long time to warm up but holds its temperature exceptionally well.

Skip Brown, who moved to Lake Fairlee full time five years ago after summering there for five years, said the oven was “an excuse to have a party.”

He said he has gone to a few dinners at the church, and although he’s not practicing Christian “with a capital ‘C,’ ” the church dinners offer him and his wife, Jane, an opportunity to engage with the community.

“West Fairlee is a community that is not blessed with a convenient geography,” Brown said, describing the town as divided by valleys and ridges.

“We’re always looking for things to provide a center,” he said, “to bring people together.”

He said that in that respect, the oven brings forth a “lot of possibilities.”

Doug Sonsalla, a member of the church and who took his daughter — 6-year-old Elisia — to the event yesterday, agreed with that sentiment.

“Food is a commonality, and I think it draws across the lines to bring people in,” he said.

Jim Brigham, who has lived in West Fairlee for six years, called the oven is a great addition to the community, and said he has has high hopes for its ability to draw a crowd.

“Everybody likes to eat,” said Brigham.

Concluding the oven’s dedication, Daum reminded those gathered there that although the oven has been completed, its impact on the community was yet to be felt.

“This is just the beginning,” he said. “The bread oven is built, but it’s not over.”

Ben Conarck can be reached at bconarck@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.