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CHURCH CELEBRATES ITS HISTORY, LOOKS AHEAD

From The Bennington Banner, Oct. 1, 2007

By Mark E. Rondeau

BENNINGTON — Parishioners and clergy of St. Peter's Episcopal Church celebrated the past and looked toward the future at a special service on Sunday.

Members held a special Festival Choral Eucharist at 9 a.m. to celebrate  the setting of the church cornerstone 100 years ago, on Sept. 29, 1907.

Gov. James Douglas attended the service, as did the Episcopal Bishop of Vermont, Thomas C. Ely.

The Rev. Anita Schell-Lambert, rector of St. Peter's, preached at the service. She noted that the first Episcopal house of worship was a rectangular red-brick church, completed in 1836. The new St. Peter's, built with stone, opened in 1909.

"We owe these spiritual benefactors gratitude beyond measure — this is how they loved — for dreaming into the future here at Pleasant and School Streets. And now what about us? Where do we fit into the storied history, for the church is not just this magnificent building, but in us — always and first and foremost the people."

"What will be the legacy we leave at the bicentennial celebration of the cornerstone in 2107?"

Schell-Lambert spoke of service to both the town and the state. "How will we make a difference right here, right now in this town, that's changed so much?" she asked. "Our future as a faith community is integrally linked to the future of this wonderful town and wonderful state."

Though Bennington is a large town in Vermont, in the wider scheme of things it's a small town. "We're small and we must work together," she said. "The bottom line for us...is how then do we love one another these next 100 years?"

Both the individual members and the parish as a whole have pledged .7 percent of their income to eliminating poverty, she said.

"As we look into the 21st Century and the next 100 years here at this corner, we begin as children do with the reality of today, and that includes the reality of local and global poverty, the reality of economic and environmental degradation at our doorsteps," she said. "The answers are quite simple, that we must again, in the words of Jesus in today's Gospel, be humble, be welcoming, cut out the excess and stay focused on the tasks in front of us."

Douglas attended the service with his wife and presented a proclamation in honor of the centennial.

"It's a privilege to share this important milestone with all of you," he said. "What a magnificent structure this is, the stained glass windows and the beautiful stonework outside."

Ely said he was honored to be part of the centennial celebration. "Your continuing witness to our Lord through your unselfish service to your community is the human cornerstone of your life as the the baptized people of God."

Sunday's Festival Choral Eucharist followed the language and order of the 1892 Book of Common Prayer. This was the same language used at the service during the cornerstone ceremony 100 years ago.

This struck a chord with Arthur Murphy, 85, who started attending St. Peter's in 1931. He was a member of the choir for 75 years. "For me the service itself was very familiar. It was taken from the prayer book that they were using when I started coming here," he said. "It's what I grew up with."

The basic structure of the service has stayed the same over the years, but the prayers themselves have changed, he said.

After the service, people took tours of the church and many people attended a buffet luncheon in the parish hall sponsored by the Church Insurance Company of Vermont. Ely picked the winning raffle ticket for a painting of St. Peter's Church by artist Ellen Viereck. Parishioner Terry Granger won it.

In addition to the proclamation by Douglas, St. Peter's also received one from the Bennington Select Board, as well as from the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. By coincidence, both the cornerstone of St. Peter's and that of the National Cathedral, also Episcopalian, were set on Sept. 29, 1907.

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