The 21st Century finds the Wesley United Methodist Church home to a committed family of followers of Christ joined together in worship and service to their community. The Methodist Church in Waterbury Village began in 1836 and in 1841 constructed a church on the site of the American Legion on Stowe Street. The congregation outgrew the church and in 1890 purchased a lot on South Main Street where the church is now located. The old Stowe Street Church was sold and removed and the Opera House constructed in its place. The new Church was designed by architect A. P. Cutting of Worcester MA and constructed by local contractors. Reverend Davenport led the first service in December 1892. The bell in the 1841 church was moved to the new church.
Beginning the 21 century Reverend Joy Lowenthal was the pastor and Wesley was experiencing similar trends as area churches, including declining Sunday attendance and church membership. Pastor Treseta Beach joined Pastor Joy at Wesley in 2001. In spite of these trends Wesley has continued to maintain a faithful congregation and to support our community in a number of ways. Pastor Joy Lowenthal left in 2002 and we were joined by Pastor Melvin Bridge and his wife, Marcia from Rhode Island. Pastor Bridge retired in 2013 and was replaced by Samuel Newton of Barre.
The first decade of the 21st Century saw an end to some Wesley traditions. For 30 years the chicken barbeque at the Fourth of July celebrations was a major fundraiser and community event raising $1,500 each year. We discontinued the barbeque in 2009 because of inadequate help.
Without the barbeque, the church relied on lawn sales to raise funds. The community gladly donates items to be sold. Tables are set up on the lawn and in the church dining room. The church named the lawn sale the “Nova Bernard Annual Lawn Sale.” Nova was a long time member of Wesley who held her own lawn sale numerous times each year to support the church.
Another Wesley tradition recognized throughout Central Vermont was the annual October Chicken Pie Supper. Many families made reservations year after year. Wesley was known for its squash flavored with maple syrup, fluffy biscuits on the chicken pie and homemade pumpkin and apple pie served with Cabot Cheddar Cheese. Church members enjoyed great fellowship and memories of working together as they peeled potatoes and squash, or picked chicken. Politicians sometimes offered to help wash dishes after enjoying a meal with neighbors. The chicken pie supper tradition at Wesley started in 1940 and continued until 2011 when Tropical Storm Irene destroyed the kitchen and dining room. October 2010 was our last chicken pie supper.
Wesley suffered major flooding damage from the storm on the night of August 28, 2011. Worship service was held on Sunday Morning, August 28. Monday morning revealed the damage. There were 8 feet of water in the basement. All the kitchen equipment, dining room furniture, furnace and boiler, and interior walls were damaged and had to be removed and replaced. During the reconstruction, we treated for mold, and asbestos was removed. We also treated powder post beetles in some of the floor joists. On July 1, 2011, all Vermont Methodist churches left the Troy Conference and became members of the New England Conference. Wesley was fortunate that the New England Conference property insurance effective on July 1, 2011, included coverage for flood damage. The parsonage at 56 South Main Street sustained damage from water in the basement to within 1 foot of the floor joists. The electrical panel was replaced and the new boiler installed in February was rebuilt. Wesley received $30,000 in donations to assist in the rebuild from many churches and individuals throughout New England. These donations, with insurance proceeds, helped restore the church and lower level so that it was safe. During the reconstruction it was decided to insulate the entire church including over the sanctuary and the third floor, cutting fuel consumption in half. The regulations required a full upgrade of the electrical system and installation of a sprinkler and fire alarm system.
The insurance policy limited the coverage for code upgrades to $100,000. After payment for these required systems, there were not adequate funds to finish the kitchen. We continue to work toward finishing the kitchen.
One tradition that has continued to grow in the 21 century is the sale of Christmas trees with the profits supporting the Waterbury and Duxbury Food Shelves and the Good Neighbor Fund. The Christmas tree sale was started in 1991 by Ed and Robin Lemery to help with their grief of losing their son Jason in an accident just before his high school graduation. Wesley has continued this tradition which has widespread community support. Many people come from neighboring towns to purchase a tree knowing it will help the food shelf. This tradition has grown from selling 50 trees in 1991 to 575 trees in 2019 and raising $12,000 a year for Food Shelf support. The church purchases the trees and volunteers help unload and sell the trees with all the profits going to the Food Shelf. Wesley has hosted the Waterbury Food shelf in a converted garage and back room at the Parsonage at 56 South Main Street since mid-1990.
The shingles on the steeple and front of the church were deteriorating and needed painting. We decided to replace instead with the help of Edward and Karen Steele pledging the funds to paint the steeple. A contract was signed with Kurt Reinecke of Jeffersonville for $38,500 to remove, replace and paint the shingles and repair any damaged wood on the steeple. The work was completed in fall 2018. We have received many compliments on the work and the improved appearance of the church. During the work, a hive of honey bees was removed by a beekeeper from a partition of the steeple. With the steeple work completed community members Mark and Loren Montgomery donated the funds to replace the shingles on the church front. A small area of shingles on the south side of the church remains to be replaced. A big thank you goes out to both the Steeles and Montgomerys for their support.
A small group of United Methodist Women has continued to meet under the leadership of Rosina Wallace. This faithful group has continued to do mission and outreach work in the community and among the members. A Tuesday Bible study group started in early 2000 has continued to meet in people’s homes under the leadership of Rosina Wallace.
As of this writing, we are operating in the midst of the Covid-19 virus pandemic under Governor Scott’s imposed restrictions. We stopped services in early March 2020 and did not return to in-person worship until late June. The church opened under the restrictions that everyone wears a mask, wash their hands on entering, and maintain a social distance of six feet. Worship uses recorded music as there is no singing allowed. We pray that when the threat of the virus pandemic is over Waterbury area church traditions can continue.
Waterbury area churches have also shared in the rotating Lenten Lunches. Each week one church offers a lunch followed by a short devotion. Wesley is a longtime supporter of the Lenten lunches. For many years three churches, Wesley, Waterbury Center Community Church, and the Congregational Church have, on a rotating schedule, hosted 7 a.m. Easter sunrise services at the Blush Hill Country Club, followed by a community breakfast at church.
In March 2019 the reconstruction of Waterbury’s Main Street started including replacement of the water and sewer lines, a new roadbed with curbing and bump-outs and installing underground electrical utilities from Dac Rowe Field to Rusty Parker Park. Wesley received a right of way payment from the State for use of the church and parsonage property to install the underground utilities. When completed Waterbury will be both safer for pedestrians and have a beautiful streetscape to enjoy.
A note from Sam Newton, pastor: Wesley is proud to be part of the Waterbury community of faith over our long history. I would especially like to thank our lay leader Skip Flanders for his years of faithful service to our church and community.
Mother Nature tried to deliver a knockout punch to Waterbury and our church from Tropical Storm Irene. Three factors have helped to bring us to the brink of restoration today!
God’s incredible help in providing resources in unexpected ways. We call them God winks.
An unbelievable “can do” spirit in our small congregation, and
The tremendous support from the Waterbury community. For this, we are thankful beyond measure!
As we look to the future we are reminded by a clue from our past. Our church is the only Vermont United Methodist Church named after Methodist founder John Wesley. One of John Wesley’s most famous sayings is: “The world is my parish.” Our overriding vision for the future is that Waterbury is part of our parish and the gift of restoring Wesley is not just for us but the whole area. By the grace of God we look forward to serving our community in the center of the busy village of Waterbury.