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Corinth Celebrates 250th Anniversary with a Service of Inclusion

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East Corinth Congregational Church. Photo by Nat Frothingham.
East Corinth Congregational Church. Photo by Nat Frothingham.

By Nat Frothingham-

This year, the Orange County town of Corinth has been celebrating the 250th anniversary of its founding. Accordingly, on Sunday, Aug. 17, I drove down to Corinth from Montpelier for the final event of the 250 Old Home Day weekend—an ecumenical service at the East Corinth Congregational Church.

The centerpiece of the service was the dedication of a new Memorial Windows Booklet. The booklet was published in memory of the late Judy Drury, church historian from 2000 to 2013 and an active member of the Corinth Historical Society. Drury was the indispensable force who pursued the research and compiled the notes that tell the story of each of the church’s 17 stained-glass windows.

The windows date from the beginning of the 20th century. Money for their creation was collected in 1905 and the windows were installed in 1909. Each window memorializes a Corinth resident who lived and died in the 19th century. The names on the windows are still to be found among this quintessential Vermont hill town’s residents Darling and Winch, Thompson and Ordway, Page and Sawyer.

Let’s inquire into one name. Who was Mary Knight Darling, memorialized in a window reckoned the most beautiful in the church? It’s the only window in the house of worship that bears a verse from the Bible: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). The window is in the back of the sanctuary, up in the balcony and therefore removed from the view of the congregation as if to make our inquiry more fitting.

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Born in 1834, Darling died only 39 years later, in 1873. Can we logically imagine that perhaps she died in childbirth, as the memorial booklet suggests so delicately when it notes that she met “the fate of many women of her time.” Mary was married to Joseph Kimball Darling, a lawyer and state senator, but little is known about her, save that she is remembered in the window.

An explanation does however exist as to why the most beautiful of all the church’s windows is largely obscured from view. Today’s East Corinth Congregational Church was once the Union Meeting House. Back then the congregation faced east and faced the Mary Knight Darling window. But in today’s East Corinth Congregational Church, the congregation enters from the back of the sanctuary and faces west, because the pews were reversed in the early 1900s. Lore has it that, before the pews were turned around, they faced the church door. Latecomers got tired of being shamed, and so the pews were reversed, and latecomers can now enter behind the congregation. No more shaming.

On Aug. 17, as East Corinth Congregational’s pastor, Rev. Dr. C. Michael Caldwell, began his tour of the stained-glass windows, he stopped in front of the Susie Metcalf window on the south side of the sanctuary, and asked: “What is an ancestor?”

“Someone who helped make us,” someone answered. People who helped make us are remembered in these windows as family members—sisters, daughters, wives, mothers and husbands. And as farmers, pastors, doctors, carpenters, brickmakers, a postmaster, an overseer of the poor, a woman who worked tirelessly in the Loyal Temperance Legion, a junior department of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union that devoted itself to curbing excessive liquor consumption in the 19th century.

Window 16 remembers Charles Page and his father, William Page. Charles Page is remembered as one of a small group of men who, in 1870, “joined hands [with others] around the stove in the sanctuary and pledged themselves to keep the church open and make sure that regular worship was held as long as anyone in the group lived,” the memorial booklet informs us.

Rev. Caldwell’s worship service and sermon conveyed a message of outreach and inclusion. The church’s program handout spoke about the same themes. It listed the names of community members, and many others, in need of prayer. “All of our troops and their families. The people of Syria, the horn of Africa and The Congo and South Sudan.” Also remembered were “the Nigerian hostages.” The handout appealed for “the blessing of peace and reconciliation throughout the Middle East and Asia” and for “an end to the crisis in Gaza.”

Rev. Caldwell’s scripture reading (Matthew 15) and sermon told of a Gentile woman from a foreign country who came to Jesus to ask him to relieve the plight of her daughter, who had been possessed by a demon. Annoyed by the woman and perhaps discriminating against her because she was an outsider, Jesus’ disciples asked him to send her away. At first, Jesus spurned her. But she persisted, and Jesus blessed her inclusion, saying, “‘O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt.’” And, the Bible tells us, her daughter “was made whole from that very hour.”

In a phone call with Rev. Caldwell several days after the Aug. 17 church service I asked him about the meaning of the Bible story about the Gentile woman. Caldwell said that it was when Jesus decided to be inclusive that the woman’s daughter was healed. “Healing comes from the inclusive embrace of the outsider,” he said.

Rev. Caldwell called my attention to a sign that his church has posted outside near the door—a sign with words drawn from Isaiah 56 that speaks to a Congregational Church aspiration: “House of prayer for all peoples.”