Holy Trinity Episcopal Church
~History~

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History of the
Episcopal Church in Swanton

and Highgate Falls, VT

Based on
Winston G. Hewlings' writing in
"The History of Swanton Vermont"

Discussion regarding the building of a meeting house at Swanton Falls had begun in 1822 and the building was completed in 1824 with an agreement between the Congregationalists, Methodists, Episcopalians, and Quakers that each would share equal rights to the pulpit.

The Episcopalians held services there occasionally for a few years in the meeting house which is now the Swanton Christian Church. Bishop John Henry Hopkins from Burlington visited once or twice a year, to preach to the people.

The Society of Episcopalians adopted the name Christ Church. It was served from 1824-1826 by The Rev. Joseph H. Covell. The Congregational Church purchased the Episcopal right to the Meeting House in 1827.

Mr. Hoffman and his family, who seemed to have been the mainstay of the church at the time, returned to New York in 1828-9, and for the next few years little if any use of the building was made by the Episcopal Congregation, though it evidently survived, for in 1832 Rev.Anson B. Hard was appointed rector. He apparently was unable to revive enough interest to have a viable church and departed in 1834.

The name Christ Church must have been withdrawn, or relinquished, for when the church next became active it was under the name of Holy Trinity.

Holy Trinity Episcopal Church of Swanton, VT was established in 1867 and it owes its beginning in a very large degree to a persevering, tenacious, loving woman named Olive Barker (Sawyer) Stone.

Olive Barker Sawyer was born in the small hamlet of Tinmouth in southwest Vermont on March 10,1833. Though there was no church in the community, there was an active house church, and she was baptized and confirmed by Bishop Hopkins on one of his regular visits to the area. Henry Martyn Stone lived in Swanton, more than 100 miles to the north. It would be interesting to know how Henry and Olive happened to meet in those days of dirt roads and horse drawn vehicles. They were married and lived in Swanton.

Olive Stone was born, raised and confirmed in The Episcopal Church. Henry's family were equally staunch Congregationalists. One of her sons wrote "she suffered a mild form of persecution at the hands of her husband's family. They were thoroughly Puritanical and had absolutely no use for any other religion. They made scathing remarks about the church, criticized the use of written prayers, and the wearing of the surplice." Nevertheless she took her children to a church four miles away to be baptized.

The church "four miles away" was St. Johns' Episcopal Church in Highgate Falls. No doubt she attended services there whenever possible, though it must have been a tiring journey back and forth by horse and buggy. It may well have been on such trips that she made the plans that would eventually lead to the building of a church in Swanton. It was 1867, when her eldest son Charles was thirteen years of age, Emily nine, Edward three, Walter one, and George on the way, that her plans finally were achieved.

At that time there was a vacancy at St. John's in Highgate Falls. During the summer the congregation was introduced to The Rev. J. B. Pitman, of Northfield, who had given up his ministry for reasons of health, and was acting as the special agent of the Church Book Society. He was urged by his bishop the Right Reverend John Henry Hopkins, and fellow clergy, to accept the call of rector of St. John's which included the establishment of a mission at Swanton Falls. He accepted the call and assumed his duties Sunday, August 4, 1867. Morning services were held in Highgate Falls and evening services in Swanton Falls at 2:00 at the Academy Hall (presently the town clerk's office).

As soon as he became rector, Rev. Pitman began to baptize any who had not been admitted to the church. He also formed, and instructed, a confirmation class of seventeen adults who were to be confirmed by Bishop John Henry Hopkins on Sunday January 5,1868. Because of the size of the class, and the limited space at Academy Hall, arrangements were made to use the Methodist Meeting Hall. Constr uction at the hall delayed the ceremony a month to February 5. In the meantime Bishop Hopkins made a visit to Plattsburgh, where he contracted pneumonia, and died on January 9, 1868, so the confirmation service had to be postponed indefinitely.

The following June the Right Reverend W. H. A. Bissell was elected, ordained and consecrated Episcopal Bishop of Vermont. On July 5th 1868, Bishop Bissell celebrated what is believed to have been the first Episcopal Communion in Swanton. Eighteen adults and three teenagers received the Sacred Rite of Confirmation. Holy Communion was offered immediately afterwards. Again the use of the Methodist Meeting Hall was extended to the growing Episcopal Congregation.

The parish in Swanton grew more quickly than the one in Highgate Falls, due perhaps to the fact that Swanton had become an important railroad town. In any case it was decided that Rev. Pitman should reside in Swanton. A house, with the land on which the present church buildings are located, was purchased from Mr. George Blake, and his wife Mary, to be used as a rectory. The house at 40 Grand Avenue still exists, being reunited with the campus in 2006. Rev. Pitman, and his family moved in on May 1, 1869. Seven years later the house was sold and property split, so a church could be built.

A wooden church, the building becoming the parish hall 30 years later, was erected in 1876, at a cost of less than $2,000. It had seating for about 150 people. Rev. Pitman resigned possibly due to recurrence of earlier health problems. Several interim rectors conducted services until September 1888 when the Rev. Josiah Swett, D. D. accepted the call. He remained until his death in January 18 90. One of Rev. Swett's first official acts was to arrange the consecration of the church, on September 9, 1888, by the Right Rev. W. H. A. Bissell, Bishop of Vermont. This rectified a longstanding oversight caused by the temporary and uncertain nature of the leadership during the preceding years.

The lack of a rectory undoubtedly made it difficult to attract and keep a permanent rector. Once again the generosity of the Stone family was manifested. On October 8,1894, their oldest daughter Emily Olive (Stone) Beebe died in Minneapolis. As a memorial to her, Henry and Olive built a house on First Street to be used as a rectory. The house, located at 46 First Street was sold to Herbert C. Skeels in 1917. If there is one significant fact more than any other in the history of Holy Trinity, it is the love and devotion of her parish families, Burt, Kidder, Laselle, Tobin, Bell; but most of all the Stones, who gave generously of their time, talents and resources to build a beautiful edifice in which to gather together in the name of Christ to worship God.

Henry Martyn Stone and his wife Olive were the most active and dedicated of all the parishioners, members from the outset. Henry M. Stone served on the first vestry, and had been a part of the small group of believers assisting Rev. Pitman in establishing the parish.

Three of the Stone's sons entered the priesthood and their second son, Edward Sawyer Stone, was appointed rector of Holy Trinity in 1905, a post he filled, despite many years of illness, until his resignation due to failing health in 1923.

Henry M. Stone died August 16,1908. Within the next year his widow, and her surviving sons and daughter, made plans to have the present church designed, financed, and under construction. The contractor was E. M. Prouty. The cornerstone was laid on September 22,1909 and dedicated "To the Glory of God in Memory of Henry M. and Olive B. Stone A.D. 1909" in the presence of many local dignitaries, visiting clergy, friends and numerous school children who were given time off to witness the ceremony. The church was consecrated by Bishop Right Reverend Addison C. A. Hall on the Thursday following Trinity Sunday May 26,1910.

The new building in English Gothic style is constructed of rough-cut native red marble supplied by the Barney Marble Company of Swanton. The interior roof and lower side walls of the church are finished in cypress and Georgia pine stained a dark brown shade. A wall of plaster, painted a buff color, extends from the wainscoting to the ceiling. Natural light enters the sanctuary through leaded glass windows, most of which are stained glass memorial windows, depicting Old and New Testament themes.

Separating the chancel and nave, is a rood beam, surmounted by a crucifix, and the figures of the Blessed Virgin on one side and St. John on the other. The altar of white Vermont marble incorporates three delicate della Robbia inserts. There is no "east" window in the chancel, instead there is mounted on the wall behind the altar a triptych depicting our Lord in Glory surrounded by adoring angels. Five years after the church was built, a former parishioner, James Monroe Bell, presented a fine pipe organ built by Hall & Sons, Boston in memory of his wife, Eva M. (Laselle) Bell.

Olive Barker Stone, who played such a prominent part in the establishment and construction and furnishing of both the original church and the new one, departed this life on November 2, 1913.

Many of the appointments in the church such as the altar rail, lectern and pulpit, as well as ornaments have been made as gifts.

Rev. Edward S. Stone who was greatly loved and respected by parishioners was rector of the new church during this important period of its growth and development. He was a victim of tuberculosis which necessitated periodic hospitalization and eventually forced him to resign on January 2,1923. He lived in the house presently owned by Richard and Marilyn Foster on Grand Avenue. His death occurred in October 1927.

Rev. Arthur French, of Phillipsburg, Quebec, who was retired, performed priestly functions until November 1924 when Rev. Vernon A. Weaver of Sheldon became pastor. Mrs. Hilda Wheelock (wife of Ed), played the organ in those days.

From the time of the resignation of Fr. Edward Stone in 1923 until the arrival of Fr. Alan Bragg in 1962 no significant changes seem to have been made to the church property. Attendance apparently fell to quite low levels at times and revenues were often insufficient to cover operating expenses. Fortunately there have always been a faithful few who loyally and generously responded when needed; none more than Donald E. Wood, a long-standing and loyal servant of his church who was first elected to the vestry in 1938.

Fr. Bragg, who had begun his ministry as a missionary in Africa, was nearing retirement when he came to Swanton and served well past that time before finally taking his leave in May 1973.

During his rectorship the original pews, which had served in the first church, were replaced. He also arranged to have the present red carpet installed. One of his desires was to have things liturgically correct, and he was instrumental in having a credence table placed in the chancel, as well as an ambry of white Vermont marble to match the altar. During the same period new lighting fixtures, the gift of the late Bishop Quimby, a summer resident, were installed in the nave.

The Rev. Benjamin 0. Chase, a chaplain in the U. S. Navy before assuming his duties here in June 1973, attracted many young people and the parish grew under his direction. It was with a great sense of loss that his resignation was accepted after almost five years in February 1978.

Six months later Bishop Kerr recommended The Rev. James A. Kelsey, another energetic young priest. His father had been a priest before him; he had grown up in Vermont, being recently graduated from General Seminary in New York. Fr. Kelsey, who took up duties in August 1978, continued the programs so successfully initiated by his predecessor, and the parish continued to grow under his guidance. It was a sad day when he announced that he, his wife Mary, and their three children, all of whom had been born in Swanton, had decided to "move on". He conducted his final Eucharist at Holy Trinity on May 12, 1985.

Molly Comeau was raised up by the congregation; studied for years and served as a voluntary assistant to Fr. Kelsey who was her mentor. She “read” for orders and was ordained our deacon and eventually a priest. Upon Fr. Kelsey's departure, she became the unanimous choice of the parish for its next rector. She was the first female Episcopal priest in Franklin County, and the first woman to preside as full-time rector of a parish in Vermont.

When The Rev. Judson Pealer came to us, he continued the regional ministry started with Fr. Chase known as the "Yoke" which included Alburgh and Swanton. Under Fr. Kelsey it was known as the "Cluster" envisioning an even larger regional ministry throughout Franklin and Grand Isle counties, but still added Sheldon and Highgate.

Fr. Pealer shared duties and pulpits with The Rev. Brad Clark and added Enosburg and Richford to the cluster and called it the "Confederation", bringing the regional ministry into practical reality. Unfortunately, the effort was short lived, causing both priests to resign and move away.

The Rev. Evelyn Manzella was our next full-time priest; she served Holy Trinity exclusively. She was an award-winning preacher and made many connections with the youth. In three years she received a call to Wooster, Ohio, home of Wooster College. During her tenure, Normand LaVallee of Highgate Center, the last member of St. John’s Episcopal Church began an active summer music program and opened the church as a picturesque Vermont village wedding venue.

In 1998 the Diocese arranged a shared 3-year position; The Rev. Marsha Hoecker as our half-time priest and half-time Canon for Youth Ministry for the Diocese. She organized and led a trip to the National Cathedral in Washington D. C. for the acolytes of Vermont to celebrate Vermont Day. Approximately 80 acolytes and 25 adults journeyed by coaches and camped at the Cathedral School for Girls and the St. Albans School for Boys. The acolytes brought their robes and banners and processed at the Sunday morning service, a great experience was had by all. Later she offered a trip to the children and chaperones throughout the state to the outdoor Cathedral in Boston bringing food and feeding the homeless gathered there for the Sunday afternoon service. She also arranged a Northwest Deanery trip to Montreal, visiting the Anglican Cathedral and Catholic Catherdral in the old city, as well as St John’s Basilica on Mont Real.

Despite these successes, as her contract was coming to an end, a reduction to a quarter time rector was strongly advised at the 2001 January annual meeting for our next priestly leadership. Another major issue at that meeting was the repair of the Resurrection Window facing the Swanton Village Green, which had been smashed by a sledge-hammer on election night 2000. This act symbolized the antipathy for “Vermont Civil Unions” an effort for justice toward same sex couples, which Holy Trinity and Rev. Hoecker strongly supported.

But in May 2001, "Parish receives an unexpected fortune" as later reported in the Burlington Free Press article of January 27, 2002, including to following excepts: Harold Arthur Perry, a long-time resident of Swanton, died in the early hours of May 2, 2001, at the Vermont Respite House in Williston, over 80 years old and worth more than $8.3 million. He left no survivors. His will was simple: Pay off the bills and give the rest, about $7.7 million, to benefit the struggling church in Swanton: “for the stablishment and beautification of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Swanton”.

"He didn't want recognition for anything, he was always that way," said Georgette Lauzon, a friend and neighbor who acted as Perry's legal guardian in his last weeks.

He was born Sept. 28, 1920, in Swanton, the only child of Harold and Cora Perry. His father died when Perry was 15. Perry graduated from Swanton High School in 1938. After serving in WW II, he returned to Swanton and graduated from the University of Vermont with a B.A. in Commerce and Economics.

Perry started work at the Burlington office of General Electric the same year; his devotion to his mother, widowed at 55, was apparent. He commuted at least 80 miles round-trip each day rather than have his mother live alone. He faithfully brought her to Sunday services at Holy Trinity Church, just a few blocks from their village home.

Months after his mother's death in early 1970, Perry wrote his will. He had ceased attending Holy Trinity, but bequeathed his estate to the Trustees of the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont to establish the Cora E. Perry Memorial Fund. He gave no explanation and never spoke of his plans. The money was to be "prudently invested" and the earnings given to Holy Trinity to be used for its "stablishment and beautification" as noted above.

"Its obvious to me that Mr. Perry wanted to do two things. He wanted to honor his mom and he wanted to do something local." said Bishop Thomas Ely, who leads the diocese. "Now they're expected to be good stewards of this generous bequest, which in some ways, has added a lot of responsibility.”

The Holy Trinity Congregation did take this responsibility very seriously, quickly recognizing that this gift would change its future immensely. During the ensuing months many every-member meetings gathered in a large circle in the parish hall, trying to discern our future call and vision. A prolonged consultation with a team from the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes informed us about the life changing future lying before such a small parish receiving such a tremendous bequest. Slowly a vision developed to use the dividends for three main purposes, operations, outreach and building a parish hall facility, which could serve as a safe meeting place for the Swanton community. To assist in the overall operations and coordination of ministries for the parish, Rose Bacon was hired as a full time level Parish Coordinator in August 2002; to assist in outreach and pastoral care concerns, Carol McCurdy, was hired at a part time level in October 2003.

Reid Farrell was called to serve a rector and oversee this transition, beginning on June 6, 2004 (Trinity Sunday). Being an openly gay priest in a committed relationship, his installation on October, 20 2004, immediately followed Dale and his civil union ceremony at St John’s Episcopal Church, presided by the Rt. Rev. Thomas Ely, Bishop of Vermont. What an iconic and exhilarating series of events, symbolizing Holy Trinity’s vision of church community and Christ’s Kingdom.

Designing and implementing our vision remaining daunting and prolonged, as vague property lines were collegially defined with our neighbors the Swanton Christian Church, attorney offices of Ned Spear, J.D., and the Village of Swanton; the original rectory so long ago sold was purchased from its present owner, Ned Spear, J.D.; and several versions of the design of the campus facilities with full modeling were presented and modified by the whole congregation. The final plan agreed by all included the multi-phase construction of a new 3-level parish hall, renovations to the original rectory repurchased in 2006, renovations and reorganization of the altar, sanctuary, choir, organ and nave of the church. The old parish hall was “decommissioned” on May 13, 2007, and work began the very next day. R enovations were done to St John’s Church in Highgate Falls so it could become an active year around liturgical space during the construction and renovation period.

Even as we were engrossed in the long range planning and design led by David Winchester, we also began new outreach initiatives, anticipating the completion of our new facilities. Beginning in January 2004 Melissa Davidson and Carol McCurdy organized and initiated an “Open Door Dinner” monthly free to the Swanton community meal. The response was so tremendous that in 2006 the Methodists and Catholics were invited to join in sponsoring the event, each serving for four monthly meals, making it a truly ecumenical program. Presently more than 150 meals are served, about a third being taken to area residents’ homes.

Carol McCurdy left Holy Trinity to return to her home in Owen Sound, Ontario in the fall of 2008. A decision was made not to fill her position and her duties were divided between the Rector and the Parish Coordinator.

Finally on July 6 2008, we enjoyed a Celebration of Thanksgiving, Dedication and Consecration and the completed buildings opened to the congregation and organizations throughout the Swanton community. Soon afterwards the fruits of our vision were becoming apparent, as the whole campus bustled every day with actively. Sunday worship was enhanced, a revitalized Church School catering to nursery though middle school children took possession of the lower level spaces, fellowship activities abounded throughout the year, and throughout the weekdays Swanton organizations made the parish hall facilities their home. By September, we initiated yet another meal outreach program, our Community Breakfasts. They were held the first and third Wednesday mornings of each month and were started to provide additional support to the nutritional needs of our community. From September 2008 through June 2010, the breakfasts were held on a bi-weekly basis each month. The format was changed in 2010 to discontinue the breakfasts for the months of July and August to give our v alued volunteers some respite. The Community Breakfasts were last held in June 2013, but may be reinstituted in 2015.

Within 3 years another iconic event symbolized this vision of being a missional church community. Normally we celebrate on average four baptisms a year. As a result of opening the parish hall to these many groups, the impressed convener of one playgroup decided to have her children baptized and others from her playgroup followed. Joining one of our members, they formed the group “Baptism of the Twelve” on January 9, 2011, the Baptism of Our Lord! The whole congregation, pews packed, celebrated with joy; we were affirmed in the renewing our Baptismal Covenant!

Another outreach was implemented in the summer of 2009, as Mary Wood spearheaded a weeklong cooking camp for elementary aged children. This followed a previous summer program Zoom Zone from 2003 to 2005. Begun with 15 children and growing each year to 25 campers for August 2014, this is a Bible themed cooking camp, past sessions include these themes: Fishers of Men and Women, Foods of the Bible, Spirited Pirates, and The Armor of God. The 2014 theme is Rock the World. Holy Trinity children and other local youth participate in a weeklong camp full of music, crafts and cooking, which are creatively connected to the Bible theme. Additionally, a community outreach project is incorporated into each camp’s experience. The week concludes with the children serving a meal to their families. In 2013 Bishop Ely and his wife Ann attended the dinner and were entertained by the “Armor of God” theme. Fully regaled as king, Bishop Ely commissioned Fr. Farrell to knight or “lady” each child in dramatic fashion before Queen Ann and a packed hall of thrilled parents, family and friends! Notably, he added pictures of the event to his Twitter account as the night progressed. Please contact Mary Wood golfwoodmd@comcast.net for more information. Please see our picture album of the event here.

Fellowship events occur annually, 4 in Advent culminating with the “Greening of the Church”, Los Posada Celebration with the F.A.R.M. minister, 2 Christmas Eve parties, Twelfth Night Oyster Stew, Mardi Gras –Shrove Tuesday Pancake Dinner, Seder–Maundy Thursday dinner, Easter Celebration, Pentecost Celebration, Trinity Sunday Celebration, St John’s “Red, White and Blue” July party, and an All Saints Party. Several occasional events stand out including several more Montreal trips, 2010 Mystery Tour to Rock Point Center, 2012 “60’s” Birthday party as 6 of our members started their seventh decade, and a celebration designation on June 27, 2013 of the St John’s Henry Erben Organ (ca 1837) as historic by the Organ Historical Society.

Fr.Reid announced his retirement on May 9, 2013 and celebrated his last liturgy with us on Labor Day Sunday, 2013. Reid retired to Sarasota, FL returning to care for Dale and their aging parents together there. So we have begun a new phase of our common life together, as we discern our vision anew and call a faithful rector to join in the journey with us.

Updated by Wallace H. Good, Jr. and Holy Trinity’s Ministry Discernment Committee of 2014.


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