MARK E. RONDEAU
County News Editor
BENNINGTON --Now an anchor presence on Main Street, the Green Mountain Christian Center owes its existence to a young man's searching and eventual conversion several decades ago.
John Goyette and his wife, Linda, started the church in Bennington 35 years ago this month. From March to October 1978 the church met at Mount Anthony Union High School. That October the church purchased a building at 200 School St., at the corner of School and Pleasant Streets.
"And from there ... we were a peripatetic group for a while, we went to the Old First Church barn up on Monument Circle." After about a year and a half there, they rented from the First Baptist Church for about five years. In "1987 we purchased up on Harwood Hill, 1506 Harwood Hill, and we were there for 20 years," Goyette said in a recent interview in his office at the Main Street facility.
A catastrophic fire more than five years ago destroyed their worship space. "It basically destroyed the whole building."
"The fire was in July of 2007 and we actually met in our tent, we have a pretty good-sized tent, so we met in our tent until October when it started to get cooler," he said.
The First United Methodist Church congregation had closed its building at 440 Main St. in Bennington by then, was holding its weekly service at the Bennington Free Library, and offered the Christian Center use of the building for the cost of heating it. The Methodist congregation put the 16,000-square-foot building up for sale about that time.
"So we started investigating that and wound up closing on the building in February of 2008," Goyette said.
Goyette was born on the West Coast, living in Oregon and California in his early years. His family moved to Bennington in 1960. The family arrived in town with a 1936 Buick pulling a large U-Haul trailer. His father was an optometrist for many years at 507 Main St., where the family also lived.
"From sixth grade on up I attended local schools, graduated from Mount Anthony, was (in) the first graduating class from Mount Anthony, 1967, although the only time we were in that building was graduation," he said. "I spent more of my time in the old Benn Hi.
"And then that year I went to college, but I wasn't interested in pursuing education so I wound up flunking out," he said. "I went ski bumming, everything was looking rosy until I got a notice from the draft board. So I enlisted in the Navy, spent four years in the Navy and came back and bounced around from job to job. I wasn't very responsible, so I wound up on the street."
Then something happened. "It was at that time that Jesus Christ came into my life transformed my life and I wound up getting married and going to Bible school in Seattle and pastoring there," Goyette said. "We were out there about four years and really feeling called to come back and start a church here -- 1978."
The church is affiliated with the Assemblies of God denomination. "Assemblies of God is a movement really, a fellowship of independent churches around the world."
Goyette said they have enjoyed renovating the Main Street building over the last five years, dealing with a number of maintenance issues, involving such things as roofing, the furnace, cracking plaster, insulation and more. The building is slightly larger than GMCC's old space on Harwood Hill.
On Harwood Hill, the church still owns the Green Mountain Christian Center Conference Center. Currently the church rents almost all of that building to the Bennington Early Childhood Center.
Its operation now centered on Main Street, the GMCC has managed to fill it up with activities. "We use the building a lot and we have our family night on Tuesday night, which involves adult Bible study," he said, "and then there's youth group and age-appropriate classes for the kids."
On Sunday, there's Sunday school at 8 a.m. and then a morning service at 9:30 a.m. In the evening there is a 6:30 p.m. prayer meeting. The church office is open every day and the food shelf and clothing ministries are open during the week. In addition, there are various prayer meetings and Bible studies. Average weekly attendance is about 125 people, he said.
"We have a wonderfully active congregation, a lot of good leadership there between our elders board and deacons, ministry group leaders, among the women and the men, and the youth and so on -- very active," Goyette said.
Since the move downtown, the church has been involved in the annual Bennington MayFest, putting up a tent and offering its puppet and music ministry. Each year at Christmas, the GMCC has become the largest local provider of gifts to families in need for children. A number of corporations and individuals and businesses work with the church and help to provide thousands of gifts, he said.
‘The Power of Return'
Goyette noted that 35 years is a rather long time to be pastor of a church. "It is a rather unusual tenure, not unheard of, certainly, but nowadays most pastorates certainly are shorter."
What has he learned from the experience?
"I think perseverance ... faith in the Lord, of course, and trust in him," Goyette said. "I think sometimes people give up too soon, and through God's grace, his mercy, we've been able to stick things out and we've seen good results. And we have the two properties, we feel very privileged to be on Main Street enjoying the location and this beautiful old building."
In 2010, Destiny Image published Goyette's book, "The Power of Return."
"The book is really the product of the 35 years of ministry. My heartbeat is really a lot about revival of the church, renewal, return to God, if you will, that I think the church needs and our society needs," he said. "It's a study of the 12 great spiritual awakenings in the Bible and how they provide a pattern for us currently to return to the Lord and the blessings that accompany that return. I'm excited about it, it's been well-received in many places and doing well."
Goyette is currently on a two-year campaign to preach and teach through the book at GMCC, preliminary to traveling out and talking about it more.
Another book he would like to write is about the prophet Elijah. "And his experience of conquering depression. He got to a point where he wanted to give up and sit down and die -- and once he got to the mountain of God, things changed."
Reaching out to youth
As for the GMCC itself, what does he see for the future? "We really have a heart to touch the younger generation, have a great deal of concern and compassion and care and love for the young people. We have a very active youth program," he said. In fact, the center has two large rooms set aside for its youth center. "And so we really want to connect a vibrant, living faith with the young people. I grew up in Bennington, as I told you, and had no church background. I'd been in Sunday morning church service I think twice (by) the age of 23.
"Looking at the fact that in our society we have distanced ourselves from God by choice; we've removed prayer and the Bible from school; we've taken them out of the marketplace, out of our political process to a large degree, (it's) not politically correct to be a Christian nowadays," Goyette said. "And so as a result of that has really impacted our society, because what our standards are, what we believe is right and wrong comes out of what we believe, what our faith basis is."
If there is no God, if people are really just animals, a product of evolutionary chance, then the logic is that what's right and what's wrong is merely a matter of personal choice.
"You know, one man's truth may be totally rejected by another -- there's no absolute truth," he said. "We feel differently about that, and the lack of relationship with the one true God, one creator God, is very deleterious for our society."
Contact Mark Rondeau at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Banner_Religion