Second Congregational Church turns 180

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BENNINGTON — Vintage recipes, photos, newspaper clippings and stories was the center of the Second Congregational Church's 180th birthday celebration on Sunday.

The worship service consisted of four "Grasshopper Tales" — five-minute stories similar to ones told on Moth Radio — that shared the history of the church.

The first tale was told by Dean Hanson. He explained the division from the "Old First Church" in 1836. Women weren't willing to trek up the hill to the Congregational Church on Monument Avenue several times on Sunday for worship services. In response, a New England, tall and traditional style church was constructed by parishioners on the corner of School and Main Streets where the TD Bank is now.

It later became too expensive to maintain and was sold. A new church was built on Hillside Street which is the one that stands today. Eighteen months later, the organ caused a gas explosion that blew out walls, according to Lorna Cheriton. She posted clippings from the Aug. 6, 1961 Banner in the church on Sunday that displayed an article and photographs of the sanctuary walls blown out and lying on the ground.

Thomas Steffen, the church's second reverend who served 29 years, talked about draft counseling during the Vietnam War.

The church welcomed young men who "felt they couldn't fight," or who felt they "weren't articulate enough to go to the drafting board" to talk about their feelings and resistance towards fighting, Cheriton said.

Steffen also reflected on the church being the first in the state to declare itself open and affirming to LGBTQ people. This happened in the early 1990s.

In 1994, Steffen retired and Reverend Mary Lee-Clark hailed from New York to serve as the pastor. Cheriton explained that not all members of the congregation agreed with a female pastor.

"They were trying to find someone whose heart matched the church's heart," Cheriton said. "We think of this as a community church. A family — extended family."

Some left the congregation due to this transition.

"It was daunting," Lee-Clark said in regards to her new position in 1994. "I expected people not to agree. I read the history and saw that it was all male."

She noted that the church audience has changed over time and that the stories were important for the new people.

"[The celebration] is important as we head into a transition time, to know where we come from, in an unsettling time," Lee-Clark told the Banner after the worship service. "We need to be more nimble with the community. This is more than just a building."

A barbecue and potluck featuring old recipes from the congregational church followed the service for the 280 members.

— Contact Makayla-Courtney McGeeney at 802-490-6471.


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