Church Communities Unite for Windsor County Pastor

Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, August 08, 2015
Windsor — Members of two United Methodist churches in Windsor County are organizing a benefit dinner today for their pastor, Earl Dionne, who is fighting an aggressive form of head and neck cancer.

Dionne, pastor of the Rachel S. Harlow Church in Windsor and the St. James Church in Proctorsville, Vt., is seeking to raise money for what he hopes are the final stages of his treatment.

“It’s overwhelming,” Dionne said of the support he has received from well-wishers as far away as California, Texas and Germany. “The love and prayers have just been overwhelming.”

After he discovered a lump on his neck while shaving in February, Dionne underwent chemotherapy for what he said is stage 4 head and neck cancer. After extensive testing and medication — his last cancer treatment was June 25 — he is awaiting confirmation from his doctors in September that the cancer is in remission.

Though he has health insurance, Dionne and his family are asking for help to meet a high deductible. Today at 5 p.m., congregants will welcome visitors at the Windsor church for a spaghetti dinner, featuring a concert by the local band Middle River Gospel.

The charity event has a recommended donation of $10.

An online crowdfunding push has already raised nearly $4,000 for Dionne.

“We don’t like having to ask for financial help,” his wife, Peggy, wrote on the fundraising page, which lists a goal of $20,000. “It really isn’t in our nature. But I am asking because I want to be able to help my husband the best I can. I don’t want to have to worry about the medical bills — I want to worry about him.”

Dionne has had to miss some services because of his ailment, and lay leaders — non-clergy spiritual leaders elected from among the congregation — have occasionally filled in for him.

Claude Melanson delivered sermons for Dionne in Proctorsville, as did Barbara Loyer in Windsor.

“Our hearts have gone out to him and Peggy during this difficult time,” Melanson said in a telephone interview Thursday. “He has a very strong resolve to beat this disease and get through it, and I’ve been pretty surprised that he has taken as little time off as he has, given the amount of pain and discomfort he was going through.”

Melanson said that another pastor might have taken a sabbatical of several months, but Dionne has missed six or seven Sundays.

“And even with some of those, he would write the material and his wife would bring it down for me to use,” Melanson said. “That’s what I mean when I say dedicated.”

Dionne, 47, worked for 15 years as a nurse before joining both churches as pastor in July 2014. He is a what the United Methodist church calls a “local pastor,” a licensed, unordained clergyman appointed by New England’s bishop. He said he is taking seminary classes in his spare time.

As he does so, and as he fights his illness, Dionne has been taking things day by day.

“Today’s not one of the better days,” he said over the phone Thursday, “but we keep pushing.”

The pastor will receive a PET scan near the end of September, at which point he will determine his next step.

Dionne’s doctors are upbeat, he said, and “as long as they’re optimistic, so am I.”

Anyone interested in making a donation can do so at http://www.gofundme.com/q9eeeygg.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com .