East Bethel Community Church is reborn

Dan Kinney, of Royalton, the president and only surviving board member of the East Bethel Community Church, says a prayer to open a meeting exploring the future of the defunct church in East Bethel, Vt., on Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023. Kinney told the gathering that he was voted into the position more than a decade ago by the aging board when he went to the bathroom during their annual meeting which he drove his mother-in-law to. Nevertheless, he took the responsibility seriously, refusing to entertain offers to sell the church buildings, and ultimately seeking to re-establish a church to assume their care and serve the community. “I think the community needs a church,” he said. “My picture of a church might be different from yours, and yours, and yours…but I think the community needs a church where people can be safe, can gather, and it can take form in the way the community wants to form it.” (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Dan Kinney, of Royalton, the president and only surviving board member of the East Bethel Community Church, says a prayer to open a meeting exploring the future of the defunct church in East Bethel, Vt., on Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023. Kinney told the gathering that he was voted into the position more than a decade ago by the aging board when he went to the bathroom during their annual meeting which he drove his mother-in-law to. Nevertheless, he took the responsibility seriously, refusing to entertain offers to sell the church buildings, and ultimately seeking to re-establish a church to assume their care and serve the community. “I think the community needs a church,” he said. “My picture of a church might be different from yours, and yours, and yours…but I think the community needs a church where people can be safe, can gather, and it can take form in the way the community wants to form it.” (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — James M. Patterson

Mildew spreads across the cover of a hymnal in the East Bethel Community Church in East Bethel, Vt., on Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023. The last service in the building before the October meeting called by Kinney was about eight years ago. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Mildew spreads across the cover of a hymnal in the East Bethel Community Church in East Bethel, Vt., on Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023. The last service in the building before the October meeting called by Kinney was about eight years ago. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Judy Powell, of Randolph Center, George Gast, of Tunbridge, Jim Noel of Royalton, and Joe Williams, of Randolph Center, discuss the history of the Octagon Schoolhouse on the grounds of the East Bethel (Vt.) Community Church on Sunday, Oct. 22, 2024. Siblings Powell and Williams attended the church in their youth. The preservation of the historic church and schoolhouse was among the concerns of those who attended the meeting. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Judy Powell, of Randolph Center, George Gast, of Tunbridge, Jim Noel of Royalton, and Joe Williams, of Randolph Center, discuss the history of the Octagon Schoolhouse on the grounds of the East Bethel (Vt.) Community Church on Sunday, Oct. 22, 2024. Siblings Powell and Williams attended the church in their youth. The preservation of the historic church and schoolhouse was among the concerns of those who attended the meeting. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — James M. Patterson

Dan Kinney speaks during a second meeting to gauge interest in establishing a board to guide the future of the East Bethel (Vt.) Community Church on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2024. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Dan Kinney speaks during a second meeting to gauge interest in establishing a board to guide the future of the East Bethel (Vt.) Community Church on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2024. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Amos Post, newly elected as president of East Bethel (Vt.) Community Church, begins a board meeting with a Christmas Carol on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2024. Growing up with his mother playing organ and father singing in the church choir has made music a central part of worship for Post. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Amos Post, newly elected as president of East Bethel (Vt.) Community Church, begins a board meeting with a Christmas Carol on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2024. Growing up with his mother playing organ and father singing in the church choir has made music a central part of worship for Post. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

George Gast passes a copy of the East Bethel (Vt.) Community Church bylaws to Judy Powell during a meeting at which a transitional board was formed for the organization on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. Gast was elected as treasurer and Powell became the only woman on the nine-member board. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

George Gast passes a copy of the East Bethel (Vt.) Community Church bylaws to Judy Powell during a meeting at which a transitional board was formed for the organization on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. Gast was elected as treasurer and Powell became the only woman on the nine-member board. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Board President Amos Post leads a meeting of the East Bethel (Vt.) Community Church board of trustees, including Clerk Russell Rohloff, of Bethel, and Trustee Bruce Post, right, during which they discussed their vision as an organization on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2024. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Board President Amos Post leads a meeting of the East Bethel (Vt.) Community Church board of trustees, including Clerk Russell Rohloff, of Bethel, and Trustee Bruce Post, right, during which they discussed their vision as an organization on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2024. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Jim Noel, of Royalton, builds a fire to warm the classroom of the Octagon building while cleaning during a work day for the community church in East Bethel, Vt., on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. “I’m not a church goer,” said Noel, but he has an interest in the history of the organization and surrounding area and wants to be of service. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Jim Noel, of Royalton, builds a fire to warm the classroom of the Octagon building while cleaning during a work day for the community church in East Bethel, Vt., on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. “I’m not a church goer,” said Noel, but he has an interest in the history of the organization and surrounding area and wants to be of service. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

George Gast inspects the timbers under the floor of the Octagon Schoolhouse on the grounds of the East Bethel (Vt.) Community Church on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. Gast, a maintenance technician for the U.S. Postal Service, has taken the lead in assessing the buildings and their systems. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

George Gast inspects the timbers under the floor of the Octagon Schoolhouse on the grounds of the East Bethel (Vt.) Community Church on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. Gast, a maintenance technician for the U.S. Postal Service, has taken the lead in assessing the buildings and their systems. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

George Gast wipes the face of Oliver Post, held by his grandfather Bruce Post before a potluck and church board meeting at the home of Amos and Kim Post in East Bethel, Vt., on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024. “I’m probably the polar opposite of everybody here, because I’m not here for the religious end of it,” Gast told his fellow board members. “I don't have any issues with it, but it’s not my cornerstone, the community is my cornerstone.” (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

George Gast wipes the face of Oliver Post, held by his grandfather Bruce Post before a potluck and church board meeting at the home of Amos and Kim Post in East Bethel, Vt., on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024. “I’m probably the polar opposite of everybody here, because I’m not here for the religious end of it,” Gast told his fellow board members. “I don't have any issues with it, but it’s not my cornerstone, the community is my cornerstone.” (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Following on the energy of a successful Christmas service of the East Bethel (Vt.) Community Church, Amos Post, center right, holds a potluck and board meeting at his home on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024. From left, are Neal Fox, Joshua Post, 11, Dale Post, Amos Post, Bruce Post and Judy Powell. Just a day earlier the Middle Branch Grange, another community organization serving the village and surrounding areas, suffered a fire that severely damaged its meeting hall. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Following on the energy of a successful Christmas service of the East Bethel (Vt.) Community Church, Amos Post, center right, holds a potluck and board meeting at his home on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024. From left, are Neal Fox, Joshua Post, 11, Dale Post, Amos Post, Bruce Post and Judy Powell. Just a day earlier the Middle Branch Grange, another community organization serving the village and surrounding areas, suffered a fire that severely damaged its meeting hall. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — James M. Patterson

Clerk Russell Rohloff, left, and President Amos Post review the church’s financial documents during a board meeting at Post’s home in East Bethel, Vt., on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Clerk Russell Rohloff, left, and President Amos Post review the church’s financial documents during a board meeting at Post’s home in East Bethel, Vt., on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Michael Huston, of Tunbridge, arrives at the East Bethel (Vt.) Community Church to clean on Wednesday, March 27, 2024, in advance of Easter. Huston serves as collector on the organization’s board of trustees. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Michael Huston, of Tunbridge, arrives at the East Bethel (Vt.) Community Church to clean on Wednesday, March 27, 2024, in advance of Easter. Huston serves as collector on the organization’s board of trustees. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Amos and Kim Post, at left, greet Michael and Dana Huston and their kids Brenya, 4, and James, 2, as they arrive for Easter service at the East Bethel (Vt.) Community Church on Sunday, March 31, 2024. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Amos and Kim Post, at left, greet Michael and Dana Huston and their kids Brenya, 4, and James, 2, as they arrive for Easter service at the East Bethel (Vt.) Community Church on Sunday, March 31, 2024. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

While leading the service, Ben Wolfe, of Tunbridge, second from left, welcomes, from left, Braden White, 12, Brenya Huston, 4, Hailey Williams, 8, and Natalie Post, 5, to the front of the church during Easter service in East Bethel, Vt., on Sunday, March 31, 2024. It was the second service since a new board was formed last December. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

While leading the service, Ben Wolfe, of Tunbridge, second from left, welcomes, from left, Braden White, 12, Brenya Huston, 4, Hailey Williams, 8, and Natalie Post, 5, to the front of the church during Easter service in East Bethel, Vt., on Sunday, March 31, 2024. It was the second service since a new board was formed last December. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

After Easter service at the East Bethel (Vt.) Community Church, on Sunday, March 31, 2024, Jolene Snelling, of Bethel, left, laughs with her mother Dalene Whitcomb, of East Bethel, middle, and sister Lisa Flint, of East Bethel, right, after joking about how Whitcomb’s Sunday school class photo, posted on the bulletin board, was turned to color. Whitcomb grew up going to the church, and attended school through eighth grade at the Octagon Schoolhouse next door. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

After Easter service at the East Bethel (Vt.) Community Church, on Sunday, March 31, 2024, Jolene Snelling, of Bethel, left, laughs with her mother Dalene Whitcomb, of East Bethel, middle, and sister Lisa Flint, of East Bethel, right, after joking about how Whitcomb’s Sunday school class photo, posted on the bulletin board, was turned to color. Whitcomb grew up going to the church, and attended school through eighth grade at the Octagon Schoolhouse next door. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Church Trustee Jerry Barcelow,of South Royalton, middle, departs with his grandson Braden White, left, and a clock used to keep the Easter service on track in East Bethel, Vt., on Sunday, March 31, 2024. McKinley Post, 9, is at right. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Church Trustee Jerry Barcelow,of South Royalton, middle, departs with his grandson Braden White, left, and a clock used to keep the Easter service on track in East Bethel, Vt., on Sunday, March 31, 2024. McKinley Post, 9, is at right. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

“East Bethel Church, Summer 1949, Before painting,” reads a caption on the back of a photograph of the 1824 building pinned to a bulletin board in its entryway, on Sunday, March 31, 2024. The church underwent a revival in the 1950s under the establishment of the East Bethel Community Association. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

“East Bethel Church, Summer 1949, Before painting,” reads a caption on the back of a photograph of the 1824 building pinned to a bulletin board in its entryway, on Sunday, March 31, 2024. The church underwent a revival in the 1950s under the establishment of the East Bethel Community Association. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Dan Kinney, of Royalton, rings the bell of the Octagon Schoolhouse on the grounds of the Community Church in East Bethel, Vt., after giving a tour of the disused building on Sunday, Oct. 22, 2024. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Dan Kinney, of Royalton, rings the bell of the Octagon Schoolhouse on the grounds of the Community Church in East Bethel, Vt., after giving a tour of the disused building on Sunday, Oct. 22, 2024. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

By ALEX HANSON

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 04-05-2024 8:04 PM

EAST BETHEL — From their cars, parked in a neat row on the grass outside, worshipers walked through the front door of the village’s stately, 200-year-old brick church for a symbolic rebirth.

Not only was it Easter Sunday, but some of the 30 or so people on hand hadn’t been in this church in years. Churches also die and are reborn. Inside, light streamed in through the windows, illuminating the worn but sturdy pews, the smooth white walls and the wide floorboards.

“Welcome to East Bethel Community Church,” Amos Post, the president of the church’s board, said from behind an electric keyboard, where he would play accompaniment for the hymns. “There’s a lot of people who put a lot of effort in to make this day possible.”

Over the past couple of decades, most of the church’s members have died off, leading to a period of inactivity of at least seven or eight years, Post said later in an interview. Dan Kinney, who is Post’s uncle, was president of the church’s board until the board stopped meeting several years ago. Since then, he’s acted as a caretaker, and has fielded requests from people who wanted to buy the church. Kinney called a meeting in October at which Post agreed to lead a new board.

“I knew I didn’t want to sell it,” Kinney told the 25 to 30 people at the October meeting. “I knew that it was important for it to be maintained as part of this community.”

Built in 1824 at a cost of $1,060, according to a 1974 history of churches in East Bethel, the brick church was originally for a Baptist congregation formed in 1812. In its two centuries, the church has had full years and empty ones.

“By the 1840s, the church entered a period of stagnation,” brought on in part by the 1833 establishment in the village of a “meeting house of Equal Rights” catering to all denominations, including the Baptists.

During its decades of neglect, the Baptist church was left open. Sheep from neighboring farms wandered in and out. By 1860 the building, then only 36 years old, needed significant repairs. A new pastor, Rev. Austin Norcross, “proved to be the right man for the hard task before him of reorganizing a disorganized church and rehabilitating its neglected place of worship.”

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After decades of solid membership, the congregation slowly dwindled, until by the late 1920s only two members remained and the church was forced to close. The state Baptist organization took the church over and proposed in 1931 to sell it as a paint shop.

“People were upset!” the church historians, Dorothy and Robert Hyde, wrote.

This outrage spurred the establishment of the East Bethel Community Association, which bought the church for $500 and, along with the Middle Branch Grange, sparked a long-lived revival. In 1954, congregants established the East Bethel Community Church Association to govern the church.

The 1974 history concludes with the news that the church association had purchased the neighboring Octagon schoolhouse for use as a community center, church offices, Sunday school classroom and library. “Worship service with music by a junior choir is held every Sunday.”

Some of the Easter attendees remember the church’s heydays. Dalene (Rogers) Whitcomb grew up going to the East Bethel church and attended the Octagon school through eighth grade before heading over the ridge to Whitcomb High School.

“I was married in this church,” she said. She attended on Easter with her daughters Jolene Snelling and Lisa Flint. Snelling recalled attending Sunday school in the Octagon.

“It was always fairly small,” Judy Powell, who went to church in East Bethel and Randolph Center when she was a child, said after the Easter service. She was last in the church in 2011, for her mother’s funeral. “That was about the time that it started to die off,” she said.

Powell’s husband, David, was a longtime Hartford firefighter, but they moved back to the Middle Branch a few years ago to be closer to Judy’s family. She’s now on the church’s board. “It needs to somehow continue to serve the community,” she said.

What that service will look like is unclear. Pastor Ben Wolfe, who led the Easter service, has been thinking for some time about how a faith community should organize.

“You make sure it’s all about the people,” he said after the service, “then figure out what the building can do for you.”

As the church’s history suggests, though, it’s hard to separate the physical structure from the spirit within it.

The board plans to evaluate both the church and the Octagon. Wiring and heating upgrades are overdue. There’s a well and septic, Post said, but the buildings don’t currently have running water.

The board also will be “talking about whether we want to try having more regular services there in the summer,” Post said. How it could further serve the community also is up for discussion. A food shelf and services for people battling substance use disorder have come up, Post said.

“The other need, I think, for our community is creating a place where people can gather,” he said.

The work the community did to clean the church and to hold an Easter service are steps in that direction.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.