Vermont churches and their majestic steeples stand as perhaps the most iconic of all Vermont images, yet these institutions face a number of challenges, including aging congregations, daunting maintenance costs on historic structures, and an ebbing of interest in religion in general, especially among millennials.
In response, many churches in Vermont are finding ways to open their doors beyond Sunday morning service, becoming de facto community centers. In one remarkable case in Middlebury, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church went even further, leading a community-wide effort to solve problems related to a major construction project that threatened to sap the vitality of the entire downtown.
“About 20 to 30 percent of our congregations are struggling to keep their churches going,” says Paul Bruhn, executive director of The Preservation Trust of Vermont, but he is optimistic that Vermont-style collaboration among partners will enable many of these churches to reinforce their importance to civic life. “I predict a far smaller number will ultimately close. These buildings are not just beautiful on the outside, but they are beautiful on the inside in terms of the services they provide to their communities.”