Lamoille County Churches Consolidating, Closing
Vermont consistently ranks among the least religious states in the country. In Lamoille County, churches are consolidating in an effort to stay relevant.
This month marks the first anniversary of the United Community Church of Morrisville. Before, it was two churches, side by side on Main Street – Puffer United Methodist Church and the First Congregational Church. Now both parishes worship together, in the old congregational church's sanctuary.
"It was a long process of just negotiating and talking and coming together and the sad, heartfelt pain of saying goodbye to Puffer and saying goodbye to First Congregational," explained Rev. Dr. Marisa Laviola, the pastor of the United Community Church.
At the other end of the village is another church with a similar story. Until recently, some parishioners at the Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish attended now-closed Catholic churches elsewhere in Lamoille County – St. Gabriel’s in Eden, St. Theresa’s in Hyde Park or St. John the Apostle in Johnson. They combined with The Church of the Holy Cross, in Morrisville, to become a new parish.
Monsignor Peter Routhier, who's overseeing the consolidation, says there are several reasons why it makes sense. St. Gabriel's was sold to a local businessman for $152,000. It will soon serve the Eden community as an independent hardware store.
The Catholic church buildings in Johnson and Hyde Park are also for sale. Routhier says the proceeds from those three properties will be put toward either improving the current church property in Morrisville or building a new church elsewhere in town.
"As our Holy Father Pope Francis has pointed out we have to be good stewards of creation," he said. "And so, rather than heating four buildings, heating one building efficiently – with solar and so forth – that's the route we need to go."
Tracey Morin lives in Eden and was an active member of St. Gabriel’s Ladies' Guild. Now she drives 12 miles to attend mass in Morrisville. She says the drive can sometimes keep her from church – especially during a snowstorm. But Morin says belonging to a bigger church means she can be involved with more church activities, from rummage sales to community dinners.
Morin has even found herself helping with communion in Morrisville. "I’m a Eucharistic Minister," she explained, "and I did it here at St. Gabriel’s. I never thought about doing it in one of the other churches. And now we all work together, so you’ve got some from Johnson, some from Hyde Park, Morrisville and Eden."
Although the pews at the Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish may not be completely full, there are enough worshipers to offer three masses a week. Across the village, Laviola says between sports schedules and other family commitments, people have things to do on Sunday morning besides attending church. So parishioners stay involved in other ways. They cook or serve food at the church's free community breakfast on weekdays. Or they volunteer for the after school program at the youth center in the church basement.
"In order for churches to survive now, they have to become mission churches," she said. "They need to become relevant and vital to the community around them, or they’re not going to survive. If we’re vital to the greater community then we’ll not only survive, we’ll thrive."