Aging Chester Congregational Church seeks ‘replanting’

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2019 Telegraph Publishing, LLC

Next June, after 247 years, the ministry of the Chester Congregational Church, at 469 Main St., will come to an end. But if all goes well, it will also be the beginning of a new ministry, according to Pastor Susan E. Moody.

With congregation membership hovering at around 40 and 20 to 25 coming to services “on a good Sunday,” Moody describes the congregation as aging while the church is reaching the end of a lifecycle and looking toward a “replanting,” or establishing a revitalized church under new guidance.

“We could use all of our resources to stay open,” Moody told The Telegraph on Friday, “but that would be for 10 years – tops – and instead we decided to end it well.”

With the help of the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, the church will look for a “planter” who will either be an individual or a team to come to town and build relationships, look for needs in the community and begin holding Bible studies in the process of forming a new congregation. According to Moody, the new congregation would be theologically aligned with the Conference, but may “express” itself differently.

“That might involve a different style of music or where to meet,” said Moody. “There could also be differences in the liturgy used or how often communion is given. But the new ministry would be theologically the same.”

The decision to end the ministry and “replant” the church was made at a special congregational meeting in late September, which Moody characterized as peaceful. She noted that the current congregation will “work with experts to do this right.”

The existing congregation will continue until June of 2020, when it will hold a worship celebration of its history since its founding in 1773 and end its ministry.

In the meantime, the church will continue its weekly 10 a.m. Sunday services and celebrate the traditional Christmas and Easter seasons. The congregation will also continue to host the community groups currently using the space.  As the transition process moves forward, those groups will be kept informed of decisions and details that will affect them, including those regarding the church building.

Moody will remain to help the process of “ending well,” maintaining a ministry for the existing congregation and the community until July of 2020. After the final celebration in June, Moody will move on to a new ministry.

“There’s grief among the members of the church,” said Moody, “but there’s also excitement and anticipation.”

Questions about the decision or requests to be included on the final celebration invitation list can be directed to the Rev. Moody at  susanemoody@gmail.com, Deacon Ruth Walker at rdw2066@yahoo.com or Deacon Ken Barrett at shirken@vermontel.net.

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