Patricia Wiley, founder of the Middlesex Historical Society, credits her involvement in the church as the catalyst for her interest in town history as she heard the stories from elders about the past. When she arrived in Middlesex with young children, she asked the town clerk where she could find other parents for a play group and was pointed toward the church across the street. Eventually, “Playful People” became an important resource for new families in town, and about a dozen families became active in the church.
“Little kids were allowed to ring the church bell, and sometimes they were lifted in the air,” she remembered. Children also shared their musical talents at services. The pastor at the time, Kim Hornung Marcy, brought many families to a growing congregation, sometimes so large that folding chairs had to be set up in the sanctuary. “Marcy was great with kids.” Wiley served as organist for several years.
Throughout the years, members of the church gained a “real sense of belonging” as they took responsibility for community activities, such as the mammoth yearly lawn sale. Retired citizens repaired the donated appliances that were donated each spring; the Wiley family took in all the books and sorted and priced them; and others wrangled the many clothing donations. For many years, the spaghetti dinner on Town Meeting Day was held at the church, as well as the food pantry, Scouts, and other community-building events.
Patty Wiley shared a history of the church: The first settlers built a meeting house that in 1831 became a Congregational church, a brick structure where the Town Hall now stands. In 1837, part of the church was sold to the Methodists, and then it became half Unitarian and half Methodist. (They used different entrances, and the green pews and organ belonged to the Methodists and the red pews and the pulpit were claimed by the Unitarians. After some years, this arrangement became uneasy, and so the Methodists built a church across the street in 1906 and raised funds for a steeple in 1910. (The brick church burned down in 1910).
Sharon Merchant Laments Loss of Local Church
Sharon Merchant has a life-long connection with the church. She was born in Middlesex and baptized and married there. For her parents, the church was the center of community activities for 60 years, and she learned from them, serving as sexton and treasurer. Her mother, 93, is still active in the church. Both are heartbroken at the recent fire.
The church was a magnet in the rural community. Because of the large well-equipped kitchen with tables and chairs, as well as the involvement of generations of church members, the church was known in the community for frequent chicken-pie suppers and large receptions for weddings and funerals. The large room below the church also served as practice and rehearsal space for area musicians, meetings of Weight-Watchers, and the food shelf. The annual summer lawn sale was known far and wide, and people spent months getting everything ready. A recent addition was completed mostly by neighborhood men. A handicapped restroom and an elevator were installed. In recent days, with declining attendance, a few faithful members took care of paying the oil bill and doing regular maintenance, and after the death of the minister, David Light, services were led by lay members.
The church had at least four long-term woman ministers through the years, whom Sharon commended for being especially welcoming to children and youths, particularly Kim Hornung-Marcy. For a few years, she remembers, the back wall of the church held a row of teenagers, “swaying and singing away.” They found life-long friends there. In later times, church attendance declined. Families no longer looked for a church home, and sports were scheduled on Sundays. One young man, she remembers, loved being in church but loved playing hockey more. But members of the older generation were committed to the congregation and the life of the church.
The building itself, Sharon remembers, was a treasure. It held one hundred souls on the wooden pews; fifty padded chairs were bought to accommodate the crowd. One of those chairs, charred, still rests on the snow in front of the remains. One window survived the fire, and there are hopes to restore it. She and a Montpelier firefighter were able to save the life-sized “Big Jesus and the Lamb’’ wooden cut-out, which had been a fixture in the downstairs nursery area for many years; they laid it outside on the side of the church. But so much else was lost in the fast-moving fire: memorial windows of loved ones, including one for her mother, the baptismal font, the steeple, and the spacious meeting space.
The future of the church at this point is uncertain, but Sharon Merchant speaks for generations of Middlesex residents who dedicated their time and talents to the congregation and to the community at large.
Editor’s note: See our story about the church’s recent destruction by fire.