A beautiful stone structure from the early 20th century, dedicated in 1907. It is undoubtedly influenced by the architectural trends of the Oxford Movement. Inside, there is a beautifully ornamented high altar, a partitioned-off Lady chapel, and a cute cranny for the baptismal font. Stained glass windows all around the church depict events in the life of Christ. The pews are numbered; there are about 60 pews in the nave.
The current rector comes from a Christian contemplative tradition, and contemplation seems to be a cornerstone of parish life. The church also seems to emphasize a friendly community that includes people of all ages.
Bennington is a town of 16,000 in the southwest of Vermont – one of the largest in this rural mountain area. It is nestled in the Green Mountains, in the same range as the Berkshires of Massachusetts a half hour drive away. The church is located on the interestingly named Pleasant Street amid older working class housing stock so prevalent in the Northeast.
The biretta-sporting rector presided and preached. An organist led the music, and there were adult lay acolytes and choristers in the sanctuary as well.
What was the name of the service?Holy Eucharist, Rite II.
How full was the building?
By the time the clock reached ten, only two or three other congregants were in the nave; by the time the service started six minutes later, there were about two dozen, plus another dozen ministers and choristers. This was the Second Sunday of Easter! In his announcements at the end of the service, the rector mentioned that the traditional name of Low Sunday, while not an intentional reference to attendance, did correlate with it.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I arrived 15 minutes before the posted service time, and it appeared the main entrance was closed. I entered through another door where there was no one to welcome me, though I saw the rector and nodded hello. After finding myself a place in the pew, I went to the back to pick up a service leaflet; two or three people gave me a brief but warm welcome and the said leaflet.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was unmemorable – probably a good thing, as it means it was not memorably uncomfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Empty, then chatty. The altar book was still being set up as late as the scheduled start time. Most of the congregants arrived late by the clock (but before the service started); a fair number of these were young children, making the noises that children are wont to make, and the older congregants were engaged in friendly conversation throughout. ‘Uh-oh, he’s got more candles!’ someone exclaimed as a man set fresh candles in their places.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
The opening words of the processional hymn: ‘That Easter day with joy was bright;’ the priest then chanted ‘I saw water.’
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The service leaflet, the Hymnal 1982, and the Book of Common Prayer 1979. The Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version, was also in the pew racks.
What musical instruments were played?
A modest pipe organ.
Did anything distract you?
My hands were quite cold. And the stained-glass windows were quite beautiful.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It seemed laid back but formal. The liturgy hewed fairly closely to the Prayer Book. Although it also included a couple of elements associated with high-church practice, it did not have an affected or consciously Anglo-Catholic feel.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 — The rector had a very down-to-earth delivery, but there was substance and depth to his message. He was himself, and in this case that was a good thing! ‘Hey man,’ Jesus says to Thomas in his voice, ‘come here! Put your fingers into my hands!’ The message refreshingly took a bit of a different tack than many preachers I have heard, as it was more contemplative than historical-critical.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Thomas gets a bad rap for having his ‘doubt.’ Actually, however, belief and doubt operate at the surface level, while real faith is ‘deep in the bones;’ faith takes us to a deeper place than experience. It is a bit like being in a dark room: if we rely on a flashlight, we can see bits of the room, but if we let our eyes adjust, we learn to ‘feel’ and truly know the whole room in a different, more holistic, more profound way – and sometimes dawn comes, and we experience it brightly and wonderfully. Thomas’ real fault was insisting on experiencing God on his own terms. We need to experience God by opening up and learning to feel for God.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The silence after the fraction.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Hearing my voice – and only my voice – during the hymns. I couldn’t even hear the choir, and I was only a few pews back!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I hung around gazing at the stained glass windows (there was a beautiful one of the three women at the tomb greeted by two angels) and was immediately greeted by a friendly parishioner who asked if I was going to coffee hour. Another parishioner, a chorister, engaged me in good-natured conversation before I made my way there.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I didn’t see where the actual coffee was. I did see a variety of teas and tisanes, including a promising bowl of British breakfast bags. A fresh pot of water came out, and I inquired whether it was really boiling. I was assured that it was quite hot, but in fact it was lukewarm and I had to set my tea aside. The scones, on the other hand, were delicious. People seemed genuinely friendly and welcoming, and I did not feel out of place.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 — I really enjoyed the service and I would be glad to visit on a Sunday with higher attendance. The rector is leaving the parish soon, however, and unfortunately I think that he was largely responsible for my appreciation of the church.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
My happy surprise upon seeing the rector’s biretta.