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ST. PETER'S CHURCH MARKS A CENTURY

From The Bennington Banner, Sept. 25, 2007

By Mark E. Rondeau

Tuesday, September 25
BENNINGTON — Hundreds of people packed the corner of Pleasant and School streets in a heavy rainstorm 100 years ago this week to mark a milestone in the construction of a new church.

St. Peter's Episcopal Church, at 200 Pleasant St., will continue on Saturday and Sunday its series of centennial events celebrating the placing of the cornerstone of its new church in 1907.

The Rev. Anita Schell-Lambert, rector of St. Peter's, said the cornerstone centennial is a big event in the life of the church and of the town. "St. Peter's is very integral to Bennington, and we need Bennington at St. Peter's."

Saturday, Sept. 29, will mark exactly 100 years to the day that the Episcopal bishop of Vermont, the Rt. Rev A.C.A. Hall, came to town to set the cornerstone of the new St. Peter's in 1907. To honor the centennial, Vermont Gov. James Douglas has proclaimed this Saturday "Cornerstone Centennial of St. Peter's Church Day."

The first cornerstone ceremony was held on Sunday, Sept. 29, 1907. By coincidence, on the very same day the cornerstone of the new National Cathedral in Washington D.C., officially the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and Paul, also Episcopalian, was being set in Washington. D.C..

"They have the same anniversary as we do," said Schell-Lambert. "They're issuing a proclamation as well."

Work began on St. Peter's in 1907, and the building was completed and consecrated in September, 1909. It replaced a brick church at the same site dating back to 1836, which was razed when the new church was built.

On Saturday, St. Peter's will mark the 100th anniversary with a social event open to the whole community, the Annual Chicken Pie Supper. Sittings will be offered at 5:15 and 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $12, adults and $5 for children. Call 442-2911 for reservations.

On Sunday, Sept. 30, the church will hold a Festival Choral Eucharist at 9 a.m. Presiding will be the current bishop of Vermont, the Rt. Rev. Thomas C. Ely. The service will use the language of the 1892 Book of Common Prayer, the same language that was used when the cornerstone was set. Schell-Lambert will preach the sermon.

A buffet brunch will follow the service, with tours of the church available. Community members are encouraged to attend both events.

Other cornerstone centennial events will include a potluck supper and centennial cookbook presentation on Oct. 9, an organ concert series; the annual Christmas tea at which centennial ornaments and a St. Peter's music CD will be available for purchase, and a cornerstone centennial picnic on June 8 of next year, including a "Teddy Bear Picnic" for children ages 2 to 6.

According to the Saturday, Sept. 28, 1907, Bennington Banner, the cornerstone was donated by C. M. Lambert & Son. The copper box inside the stone included the names of all baptized children and adults in the church, the names of communicants and donors, the newspaper of the diocese of Vermont, coins minted in 1907, a set of Jamestown stamps and a picture of the last child baptized in the old Episcopal church.

On the outside of the cornerstone are engraved the words, "Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam," Latin for "The Greater Glory of God."

The day after the event, the Monday, Sept. 30, Banner reported that the cornerstone ceremony did not go quite as planned: "On account of the violently unfavorable weather Sunday it was impossible to carry out all the plans for the laying of the cornerstone of the New St. Peter's Episcopal Church."

A floor that had been set over the foundation could have seated an estimated 300 to 400 people outside in good weather, but the heavy rain made it necessary to hold the exercises in the chapel, except for the laying of the cornerstone itself which occurred outside.

"The chapel was crowded to its utmost capacity and a large crowd of people stood under umbrellas upon the platform and in the street while the Rt. Rev. A.C.A. Hall, bishop of Vermont, conducted the impressive rite," the article states.

In his address, Bishop Hall spoke of Christian unity and, according to the Banner, "declared the present to be a period of lessened interest in religious life while people are crazed by the rush for material prosperity. This condition he believed to be but temporary."

William H. Bull of Bennington drew up the plans for the new St. Peter's, according to parishioner Judy Krum. The original plans called for the use of red brick, but the women of the church organized and raised the necessary funds to build a stone church. It cost $30,000 to build.

"Surely, the whole village owes a debt of gratitude to these women for insisting on the change and for this noble effort in raising funds sufficient to make it possible," the Banner wrote at the time. "It now stands as a thing of beauty to be enjoyed by all."

The stone used for St. Peter's is native Vermont blue-gray dolomite, rough-hewn. It was donated to the church by Roland Taylor, a parishioner, and it came from the quarry owned by the House family in Pownal. The church was built in a modified gothic style, with a cruciform shape, Norman square tower and modified buttresses.

According to Krum, St. Peter's parishioners have been active participants in the life of the Bennington community as well as in the life of the church community. Parishioner William Wills was governor of Vermont (1941-45); Robert Stout was instrumental in the building of Putnam Hospital; Tom Foster was active in the environmental movement; Luman Norton (of Norton Potters fame) was the driving force behind the building of the church; John Spargo wrote "The Bitter Cry of the Children," an expose of child labor in the early 1900s; and Jean Aldrich was an early admissions director at Bennington College.

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