Tag Archives: Vermont

Witnessing Out and About in the Villages

By Dorcas Lehman, Interim Pastor – Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship

Sometimes witness means continuing work that has lasted several generations, as it has taken root in the communities around the church.  People tell their neighbors that this is who the Mennonites are and what they do.  Then when the neighbors learn that an Interim Pastor is in the village, the witness resounds in conversations where I live, worship, and shop.

Taftsville ChapelMy Subaru was overdue for an oil change, so I took it to a local mechanic in Bridgewater Corners, Vermont.  I needed my out-of-state car to run smoothly while I serve as Interim Pastor at Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship.  “Take a good look,” I said, “this car has a lot of miles on it, over 100,000, and I am putting a lot more miles on it.”  He took one look and countered, “With that Outback, you are just getting started!” An Outback, even with PA license plate, fits right into the landscape in Vermont, and Chris the mechanic seemed happy to help.

He also smiled when he learned that I am a Mennonite pastor. All his growing up years, he camped at Bethany Birches in Plymouth, as did his mother before him, first as a camper and then as a counselor.  For fifty-plus years this Mennonite-affiliated camp and Franconia Conference Related Ministry has been part of his family story, and he tells it with delight.

I hear this in other places too:  “Have you seen the new state-of-the art pavilion?” asks another neighbor at a dinner in the village with friends, an ecumenical array of guests around the table, mostly neighboring Catholics.  He is a donor, and he admires its architecture.  The Mennonites are known for camp, and for being in the community, adds another guest. They volunteer all the time.

Resurrection Walk In a place and time when only 17% of the state’s residents regularly attend houses of worship, the lowest church attendance in the nation, it is no small witness to be known for generating a sense of community ownership of a camp that cares well for local children.  When the stories of Jesus are shared in the way of Jesus, a community will remember that camp was invitational, playful, and welcoming.

While Mennonites are also known for volunteerism in their communities, that witness seems to enrich and flow with the local culture, rather than contrasting with it.   “Vermonters by and large are a quiet people who recognize and appreciate hard work and service,” says Dave Beidler, a life-time member of the Taftsville congregation.  Vermonters readily join hand in hand with their neighbors as needs arise.

Taftsville signThere is yet another kind of witness that neighbors tell about Vermont Mennonites.  I hear it from Charlie Wilson, long-time resident and observer of Taftsville, the hamlet where my interim congregation worships.  I am sitting in a presentation at the Woodstock Historical Society, where he is telling stories about Taftsville’s recent past.  “If you walk by the Chapel on a summer Sunday morning and the windows are open,” he tells the group, “you will hear the unsurpassed acappella singing of the Mennonites, and at Christmas they serenade the village with carols.”

Sometimes witness is the quiet service of being and doing with neighbors, and sometimes it is the sounds of our singing that float out the windows into the village during our service of worship.

Introducing Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship

TaftsvilleTaftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship is a small, stable congregation in mid-central Vermont.  We meet in an old school house in the rural village of Taftsville, which is situated in the Ottauquechee River valley between the tourist towns of Woodstock and Quechee, along the US Route 4 corridor.

The congregation was formed by Mennonite families who had all temporarily moved into the area for 1-W Alternative Service to the draft (most working at a local teaching hospital) in the late 1950s to early 1960s. Many of these families decided to stay, and the congregation has grown into a vibrant, healthy body. Our congregation has remained stable at around 60 members, with some ebb and flow as families move into and out of the area for school and work.  Currently, we are about 50% ethnic Mennonites, mostly from Pennsylvania, and the rest represent a wide diversity of spiritual backgrounds.  The majority of our members are employed in the fields of medicine or education.  We range in age from newborn to 94.

Our geographic area is called “The Upper Valley,” which is simply a convenient and loosely defined term referring generally to the middle section of the states of Vermont and New Hampshire bordering along the Connecticut River.  We have dedicated members who travel as much as an hour to worship with us at Taftsville.  We are not a ‘community’ church as such, since none of our members live in the immediate village of Taftsville.  Instead we represent a wide geographic area of rural communities, home towns and workplaces.  Even with the geographic challenges, our community at Taftsville is a close-knit one, and we look for ways to be involved in each others’ lives.

Currently, the leadership at Taftsville is shared among several small teams, and individuals on those teams are either volunteers or appointed by group discernment according to strengths and giftings.  The Administrator serves as leader of the Church Council, which is made up of annual voluntary slate positions and is concerned mostly with the programs and finances of the church.  The Pastoral Care Team is invited by the Pastor to share the pastoral care needs of the community.  The Leadership Team is discerned by the congregation, serving alongside the Pastor to oversee the vision, teaching, and sermon direction and other spiritual needs of the group.

We have discovered that our mission in the Upper Valley is primarily a place of healing.  We describe this as being “preparers of good soil.”  We have found that many people’s hearts are unable to receive the gospel because of hurts, traumas, and confusion, sadly often at the hands of other Christian churches.  We provide a safe place of welcome, rest, and grace and delight to find that broken people who become part of our faith community begin to learn to trust again and grow in their own discipleship and faith.

Introducing Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Church (pdf)

Introducing Bethany Mennonite Church

This mosaic hangs at the front of Bethany’s auditorium and is made from slips of paper that members wrote on as part of one Sunday’s sermon.

Bethany is an intimate ecumenical gathering in Bridgewater Corners, Vermont. We began as a small group of five families who followed a call to move here from PA in the early 1950’s. We are currently led by Gwen Groff.

We foster a healthy awareness of the broader Christian faith as it relates to our global community. We are excited about Jesus Christ. We celebrate the transcendence of his birth. We marvel at the complex grace of his time on Earth. We rejoice in the solemn beauty of his death and resurrection. We are excited about continuing His story of a deep love for the women and men around him, as we live and work here in a quiet corner of the world being the hands, feet, body and blood of the Word-made-Flesh.

We come from all walks of life. We come from all political persuasions. We come from all economic backgrounds. Our common theme is our deep love of the way of Jesus. We love to sing together. We love to eat together. We love to camp together. Our children are important to us. That they have a safe place to seek out their Creator is tantamount to our existence as a body of faith.

In light of all of this, we see ourselves as good soil- no more and no less. Good things grow here.