A History of Bethany Mennonite (@ 60th Anniversary)

From our 60th anniversary celebration.  A historical reading:

Reader 1 Steve: Sixty years ago, it became a congregation I proudly claim the honor, of being the youngest member of that beginning of Bethany Mennonite The three families, the Howards, the Wilmers and the Lloyds (I don’t remember families being called by their last names in those early years) gathered for “The Picture.” There were actually four families that came from Franconia Conference to start the mission church. I don’t know why-“‘the Abes” weren’t in it. But I remember I was sitting there on my mother’s lap. Well, I don’t actually remember that day. Birthday # 2 was still severaliponths away. But I have seen “The Picture” so often that it .just seems that I can remember being there. We all looked so excited and full of energy. This is the look that people get when they. don’t have a clue what the future will bring.

I do remember somethings from those early years, the 50s: Sliding down the old stair railing. Adults didn’t seem to realize God meant it to be part of a children’s playground; Multigenerational church socials in the damp and dark church basement Funny what stays in your memory. Lois KuIp and Lester Lerch singing “Do-Re-Mi” at a talent show in that basement. Took them a l000000ng time between giggling spasms to complete the song.

I remember sitting in the hay wagons every fall behind Howard and Wilmer’s Ford tractors eating crisp Macs. Those dark back roads of Vermont. I learned to, keep an eye out for the tree

branches that might sweep down and get you. Sometimes there were older boys hanging in those branches trying to scare us I was not scared. Hay rides in October were how we Mennonites got around celebrating Halloween.

I remember the four girls, Judy, Judy, Lois, and Ruthy, singing in a quartet one Sunday evening service. Actually I remember them giggling while we all tried to sit in stoic reverence as they tried to finish the song. My sister Judy and I were remembering this a couple weeks ago when we were In Vermont for our Moyer family reunion Judy remembers Ruthy being the #1 giggler.

For Sunday evening services we’d often have films, usually from MCC, and I’d watch the men rewinding the film on the big movie projector. Couldn’t wait till I was old enough to be the man who had that job. Of course when I was old enough to be ‘the man,’ that projector was an ancient relic.

Everybody, and I do mean everybody, gathered for spring cleaning, inside and outside. twas, for me, one of the perks of male hierarchy. I got to work outside. Yes! That Mennonite work ethic. My father modeled it even in later years when he tried not to let even a heart attack keep him from being there and doing his share.

I remember growing up in two worlds. The church world and the Vermont secular world. They seemed very different. I sure didn’t find good answers for how to move from one to the other. We all kind of learned the hard way, as individuals, families and a congregation, that transplanting ethnic Mennonites into a, well yes, foreign culture, was probably not the best way of planting a church. The lines of what is right and what is wrong are not always so clear when we are in the middle of it Hard lessons were learned, maybe too hard sorretimes I saw my parents having to learn and relearn and still remain faithful to their call

I remember when Nevin and Lourene came to be pastors. At the time, we said that Nevin came to be the pastor. Looking back, I can only think of them as being co-pastors. On Nevin’s 24th birthday, I was 12. He became a mentor for me. When I think of God intervening in my life, I wonder where I would be if…. and of their importance to Ann and me in our early years of marriage and of things that happen fo which we can find no explanation

Being at Bethany in my coming of age years during Vietnam. Living in the two worlds. We were a peace church. Churches around us were God:and country. The couples coming from Pennsylvania to serve 1-W assignments in Hanover and worshiping with us. Practicing conscientious objection to war. Boys I went to school with going to Vietnam to serve. Some not returning or not the same Most from the lower economic population This remain, s with me today in the war-crazy, inequitable world we live in. 1

I could keep on saying a whole lot more. I suppose we can all wonder, “what if?”  What if a group of nameless church leaders from Franconia Conference in the middle of the 20th century hadn’t decided there was a need to start a church in Plymouth Vermont called Bethany Mennonite (the building they found just happened to be in Bridgewater).

What if my parents, Alice and Lloyd Moyer, hadn’t felt called to serve in the beginnings of that church…? I can’t even begin to imagine how different my life would have been. I am very glad they did what they did.

How many lives would have been different if Bethany Mennonite hadn’t…? Of course, our three children have been heard to say, “What if… our parents hadn’t moved us from Vermont all the way to the west coast and San Diego, California” ……Oh well!

– Brad Moyer was one year old in the summer of 52.

 

Reader 2 Gwen: When Mennonites first came up here they stayed at the Coolidge Homestead and had Bible School at the Plymouth Church. Clayton was 5 1/2 and Lewis was 4, and both went. Mr. Landis was the minister. The building was. nothing like it is now. There were two big rooms with wooden doors that rolled right back into the wall, and the stairs went straight up from the front door. Every one o my kids went to Sunday School there from when they were 4 years old until they left home. I took a class for 2 or 3 months and read a book got baptized there on October 3, 1959.

I feel the church is like one big happy family. I remember once when Jim and Aldine were here we had a “breaking of bread service.” It wasn’t a regular communion service Each person was given a small bread roll, and We went around and broke off a piece of our roll and gave it to someone else until our roll was gone. That service felt exactly like a great big pair of arms was holding the whole congregatipn in a big hug. It was a wonderful feeling. I asked Carroll Earle how he felt about it and he said he felt exactly the same way.

I didn’t go to church for a lot of-years after they kicked out Mr Mitten I felt if they could kick him out they could kick me out too He was such a generous man Jim Mitten would take wood or potatoes from his own cellar to help someone out. We had a big old bus and he would go clear to the end of the lake and up the Plymouth Notch mountain. He would say, “Does anyone want to get out and push?” He called me the best pumpkin pie maker in Happy Valley. When Peggy was born, Mrs Millen (Katherine) came up every day and bathed the baby and took the dirty diapers and linens away to wash. We were carrying water from the brook at that time When the bishop said that Mr. Millen would have to leave he didn’t say anything, but Katherine lit into him. Fifty seven of us signed a petition asking that he be allowed to stay but he wasn’t allowed. I came back to church after Cliff passed away.

 

Readers (together) Steve, Gwen, Marcia, Andrew, Anna and Calef: SummerVacation Bible School was BIG

 

Reader 4 Marcia: I went door to door asking if families would like to send their children.

 

Reader 2 Gwen: Just before they bought the building here in Bridgewater, they held Bible School at the Pinney Hollow school house.

 

Reader 5 Andrew: I taught a Bible School class every year from the time we started attending Bethany (47 years ago) until it was discontinued. Bethany was actually started after groups from Pennsylvania came to the area in the summer to teach Vacation Bible School. Members of the church eventually took on the teaching. Transportation for the children was provided using a vehicle owned by the church and then the town school bus. Bible School was Monday through Friday mornings for two weeks. When there were over 100 children, we were unable to accommodate them in the church building so we used the grange hall next door for some classes. Teachers camp from the other churches in Bridgewater and from the community as well as Bethany.

 

Reader 1 Steve: I am pretty sure that I completed every year of each curriculum . ….. I can’t believe I really did that.

 

Reader 2 Gwen: I taught my’ first Bible School class when Peggy was 4 years old. I started with nine 4-year-olds but one boy got strep and another cried all morning so I was left with six girls and one boy. That boy could swear up a storm. He never had pennies for the offering. One morning he had a jingly pocket. I asked him what that was. He said, “Pennies.” I asked why he hadn’t put them in the box. He said he didn’t have them then. I asked where he got them. He said out of the box. I asked him why he had done that. He said it was because he never had any pennies. I said, “Well you will novy “Later I kept Ben Derstine and the very young children of the other teachers so they could teach Bible School.

 

Reader 6 Anna: One of great memories I have is of Bible School. The first time I walked into the church as a young child I felt warmth, joy and love, which made me feel very welcomed. I couldn’t wait till the next day so I could go back, and it hasn’t changed. Now I’m older and doing different things there, but it has the same feeling when I walk in.

Reader 14 Calef: I remember Nevin taking us on a bus into Rutland to go bowling. We’d come back and have hot chocolate at the church. Or Kool Aid and Ritz crackers.

 

Reader 5 Andrew: As people became more mobile and more women began working outside the home, teachers became more scarce and we decreased to one week Competition from other summer activities also effected attendance. We held Bible School in the evening for at least one year, but attendance remained low. Community children began attending Bethany Birches Camp, and Bible School ended Members of Bethany are very active in the operation of the camp, and we are seeing a great ministry for children there. Jesus said “Suffer the little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven”

Reader 3 Lilli: I remember many fun Sundays in the 50’s when our families got together in the afternoon, for supper and into the evenings On cold, sunny winter afternoons, we’d take fast toboggan rides down Beulah & Howard Kulp’sJong, steep, mountain. We’d take a break inside for hot chocolate by the fireplace. After dark, Howard would play his trumpet, & we’d sing. On Jean & Wilmer Schmell’s fields up behind their barn, we’d sled and learn to ski. We had wooden skis with very !oose bindings. Abe Landis came down one time in his long Sunday overcoat & top hat.

Reader 4 Marcia: We came tb Bethany in the mid ’60s and found it to be an active church. There was year round Sunday school, clubs for the kids during the week, and usually a Bible Study at church or in homes. monthly women’s group knotted quilts and ended each evening with a devotional.

 

Reader 3 Lilli: In summer, Ruth & Lois would take us kids for rides in their open Jeep on the dirt road behind their house. Some warm days we’d hike to the top of Blueberry Ledges & down the other side to Walt and Faith Rittenhouses.  Lloyd and Alice Moyerhad large snapping turtles in wooden pens in their garage. I don’t know if we ever tasted them at dinner. Alice was a delicious cook & baker. Bessie and Abe Landis, had a large living room for playing all sorts of board and card games. If the weather was warm, we were outside playing softball, badminton, croquet, and hide ‘n seek.

 

Reader 4 Marcia: Bethany worked closely with the other churches in the area, especially-with the Congregational Church in Bridgewater where Pam Lucas was pastor. When Nevin had a brain aneurysm, the Bridgewater church was very supportive of this congregation in many ways. They held a fund raiser for Nevin by having a community potluck meal that brought many, many people together.

 

Reader 7 Naomi: Nevin and I came to Bethany in 1963 pregnant with Nevin Kent and also pregnant with ideas for the perfect church. What a rude awakening to find that a church is made up of human beings and so perfection is out of the question! We learned so much about community and what the important things in life are. In 1965 Lloyd & Alice Moyer bought some land in Plymouth. Lloyd told Névin he would like to donate land for a children’s camp. He said he didn’t know how to begin, but the land was there. Lots of Nevin’s time was spent following that dream, and the church was so good about supporting him in this (most of the time.) When Nevin had a brain aneurysm in December of 1979, the church was helpful with the children and all — in the midst of their own grief. In June of 1983 we left for Virginia The church gave us a lovely scrapbook at our farewell.  I look at those 20 years as years of profound learning, and I’m crying as I write and think about those times.

 

Reader 8 Gerry: I saw the “Face of God” many times through nature during my 17 years of ministry in Vermont. More significantly were the words and actions of people throughout my ministry at Bethany.  Upon my arrival there on June, 1984 with our personal belongings, many people’ came out to help unload the truck. Wilmer Schmell asked if we wanted a garden. We did but we didn’t have the equipment to work a garden. He said, “Oh, I’ll come down tomorrow and plow it for you and ask Carroll Earle to disc it.” Thus began many summers of gardening, with the help of Wilmer and Carroll. During that weekend visit, following worship on Sunday, June 3, the Moyer family invited me to join them for lunch at a Chinese restaurant in West Lebanon and to visit their father, Lloyd, in the hospital awaiting heart surgery.’That was my first pastoral hospital visit, although I Hadn’t ‘Yet been installed as pastor.

That evening, Wilmer and Jean Schmell invited me to attend the high school graduation at Woodstock Union High School. Three young people from Bethany were graduating. When we arrived as a family on July 9, our furniture and belongings were in disarray in the parsonage. We began by putting the kitchen in order. Wilmer  stopped by to see if we needed anything. Soon Elsie Breneman stopped by bringing us a very nice meal.

On September 9, I was licensed and installed as pastor of the church by our overseer, Noah Kolb. The expressions of love, support and encouragement from the congregation reflected the face of God.

My employment with the church was 3/5 time. I needed additional employment as we were committed to having Aldine be an “at-home-mom” while our children were small. Franconia Mennonite Conference had indicated a good possibility of part time employment in church development in Vermont, but that didn’t develop. They encouraged me to seek other employment when I shared this with our congregational chairperson, Ken Hershey, he immediately offered me a job with Larken for two days a week.

The conference had actually set aside funds to support a church planting position in Vermont. The Bethany Birches Camp Board, knowing about my experience in Christian camping ministry, decided to approach the conference to see if those funds could be used to hire me as executive director of the camp. They obliged beginning the following year. On December 31, I terminated my employment with Larken and on January 1 began receiving a salary from Bethany Birches Camp for two days a week, thus completing a full time employment package with the church and camp which lasted for 13 years, a wonderful arrangement for me.

When I was ordained the congregation presented me with a gift, a copy of the Believers Church Bible Commentary on the book of Jeremiah, the first in the series. The note inside the front cover says, “This book presented to James W. Musser on the day of ordination, March 15, 1987 as a token of love from the Bethany Mennonite Congregation at Bridgewater Corners, Vermont.” I have since acquired the rest of the series.

In 1991 I encountered my first challenge with mental health issues. The outpouring of love from the congregation and community with visits, cards, flowers, meals and a brief break from pastoral responsibilities to heal clearly showed me the “Face of God.” A special visit from our overseer, Hubert Schwartzentruber, to talk and pray with me was warmly received. I believe God is often present when we don’t recognize it.  I suspect I could write of many occasions if I had been paying attention to the way God was moving and working in our midst while I served as your pastor from 1984-1997.

 

Reader 10 Robert: Some thoughts about Bethany surrounding Ada’s death: Several people took care of the practical aspects of feeding people at the calling hours and after her funeral, for which I was very grateful It was hot and someone made a lot of iced tea. We had no money for her burial plot but Lloyd and Alice loaned us money for that, and!the church paid for her stone. It was very humbling to have others give us this gift.

Aldine read a story at Ada’s funeral and talked to the children about Ada, what she liked and how she was going to be missed. Aldine also had activities later in the year for children to express their feelings about Ada dying.

Leland wrote a letter about how the congregation would sorely miss her presence in the church. He said he would have enjoyed teaching her, he loved her “good old fashioned name,” and he recognized the larger loss it was for Steve and me as her parents and Sam as her brother. Leland and Elsie made a special effort to connect with Sam during his childhood.

I was aware that it was very uncomfortable for some in the congregation to watch us grieve. They wanted to somehow fix “it” so we could move forward. A month or so after Ada’s death, a visitor came to Bethany and commented that he didn’t know what had occurred here but he sensed we were all in shock.

 

Reader 9 Karen: Standing on the porch facing south, gazing at the light on the mountain behind Putnam’s house, I felt that God was present. In the challenges of seeking meaning in the gathered community of faith, Ifelt hope. The beauty of the setting in which the building is located made me appreciate our Creator and believe that Bethany Mennonite Church had a future.

The early morning walks and talks with Linda Maham, Mary Mosher and Merrideth Hathaway gave me a sense of connection with the community that I cherish. We would gather at the church with our flashlights before our day of work began. This was a life-sustaining activity for me when I was adapting to how I fit into Bethany. f

Amanda Williams had a dream to begin an exercise group called “Body and Soul.” One of the first times I was at the post office in Bridgewater Corners Amanda came and introduced herself to me with this dream. It was exciting to feel the passion and vision she had. More than 30 women participated through the years at Bethany.

God’s face was present in the walks and talks through many back roads with other women through the years We valued friendship, faith, and health.

The visits with Gladys who lived across the street kept me in touch with many happenings in the area. Through her, Jim and I were often asked to sing at the grange for the Community Service Award events.

God’s presence was felt in families from the village who brought their young children to the parsonage for childcare Conversations relevant to life happened at daily drop-off and pick-up times. I felt joy watching my children play- Among many others in the field in a safe, open environment.

Serving on the worship commission gave an opportunity for the Spirit of God to move in my spirit as we planned worship. Tears would well up in my eyes when God would show up in the choosing of a song or scripture appropriate for a theme.

I experienced God at the annual gathering on Christmas Eve to celebrate God sending Jesus to us in human form I remember with fondness the after-service fellowship in the parsonage of regular worshipers and neighbors.

During my time at Bethany, the face of God was found in beauty, uncertainty, brokenness, friérids, nature, yearning, growing, loving, kindness, compassion, courage, joy, intimacy, redemption, celebrating Jesus, imagining … Blessings as you journey on.

 

Reader 11 Julie: I moved to Vermont fourteen years ago and started attending Bethany Mennonite Church that fall. I attended regularly, with a brief time-out to attend Friends Meeting in Hanover, for the next twelve years. Then I began attending church in Randolph but have maintained connections with many people at Bethany Mennonite ‘Church. “Connection” is a theme in John 15. Jesus is the vine, God the vine dresser, and we are the branches. Alone we can do little but when we’re connected to one another and to Jesus, we can show God’s Love. These connections were made clear to me in the winter and spring of 2001 when I had surgery and chemo treatments at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. I was connected to God’s Love through many people at Bethany; we were all Jesus’s friends and thereby able to demonstrate and experience God’s Love. For that experience I continue to be very grateful.

 

Reader 12 Scott: When we planned to come to Bethany in 1999 for an initial exploratory visit, I was asked whether I would bring the message, even though I was not yet officially a pastoral candidate. Bethany had been without a pastor for two years and the search committee chair said they were always glad for

someone to speak on Sunday mornings. I came that Sunday expecting a tired congregation. Instead I found an energetic, thoughtful, welcoming group of people. I remember preaching with Andrew asleep in his car seat in the aisle. I remember Lilian sitting with Larry and Althea. I remember Jean saying in sharing time that we were held in the palm of God’s hand, a phrase that had become strangely meaningful to me as I was in the process of searching for a church after seminary. I remember good music with rich harmony and drumming. I remember Steve saying if I didn’t come back as pastor he hoped we will feel welcome to come back to visit. I don’t know if these memories are factually accurate, but 1 know they’re true. They represent truths that continue. We are still glad for someone new to speak to us on Sunday morning. I still find uncanny connections between my life and things people say in the sharing time. We still have energetic singing with rich ‘harmony. Andy is still mellow, and Lilli is still entrusting herself to people in the congregation And people still welcome me and our family as pastor and friends.

 

Reader 13 Denise: I first visited Bethany Mennonite after Julie had invited me to church a few times and I finally said yes. I wondered if I would “fit in.” I needn’t have worried.

The first thing that struck me was the beautiful singing with everyone doing harmony a choir. We were all the choir! That made so much more sense tome than a church where a small select group does the lion’s share of the singing.

I also worried that I would feel out of place because I am not sure of my beliefs, and I thought other people might try to push me in one direction or the other. No such thing has ever happened, which has allowed me to slowly and comfortably examine what I can say I believe – or at least 1 want to believe In fact, I have been tremendously impressed with the openness of the members in discussing their own musings and wrestling with issues of belief and faith. My background includes many religious influences, and I have never heard a religion belittled or dismissed by members of Bethany.

Another big attraction was the great sense of a welcoming and open community among members. I felt valued and enjoyed many conversations after church that increased my sense that Bethany was a great group to be a part of. My attendance has been more consistent in the, last year or so, but before that I would still tell people that Bethany was “my church.” I had attended another church for a few years before I came to Bethany, but I had never shared openly in three years. After being at Bethany only a short time I felt comfortable sharing during reflection time. This was due to the open and accepting atmosphere here, rather than a dogmatic or image-conscious atmosphere.

So I am grateful to have found Bethany, and to be able to call myself a part of the community here. It is a place I can grow spiritually, keep learning and be challenged.

All: So be it

 

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