A New Church Comes to Quechee
If you were in Quechee this summer or early fall, you likely saw something going on at the site of the old Quechee Community Church. And, you will see more activity in the future. Christ Redeemer Church based in Hanover, New Hampshire, bought the building in June and has plans.
Christ Redeemer Church is a part of Converge, a Christian conference of churches that evolved from its beginnings in the mid-19th century as the Swedish Baptist General Conference. The Converge name captures the current strategy of starting and strengthening churches through collaboration, and national and international ministries. Don Willeman, founding pastor of the Christ Redeemer Church, describes Converge as a “historic Christian conference with accessibility to the community. That’s the tradition. It comprises people from a lot of different backgrounds.”
Willeman is originally from the Midwest. He has a Master of Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary, has led church-based ministries in Ohio, Michigan, Texas, and Vermont, and has experience with campus-based ministry as well. He was drawn to New England with the opportunity to work in Burlington, Vermont, as an assistant pastor helping to start other churches. He says matter of factly, “Starting a church is a lot of fun, and a lot of work!”
In 2000, he decided to found a new church in the center of the Upper Valley; a church accessible to the Dartmouth College and Dartmouth-Hitchcock communities, but not a campus or student church. Hanover, New Hampshire, seemed the logical location and the Christ Redeemer Church is now a thriving congregation of close to 400 that meets at Hanover High School. Several years ago, a group started meeting in Sunapee, New Hampshire, at the request of people who had been coming to Hanover. He hopes to see that evolve into an independent congregation. Part of the Christ Redeemer Church mission as Willeman explains it is, “to be a blessing to other churches in the Upper Valley; a bridge to a stronger future for struggling congregations. We’ll see how it goes over time.” That is where the Quechee Community Church fits in.
A new home
When the Quechee Community Church, facing a dwindling congregation without the resources to maintain the building, decided to “dissolve” and put the church on the market, they asked John Bassette, a local realtor for help. Bassette attended the church when he was younger—his family moved to Quechee in the early 1970s and his parents were active members.
In fact, Bassette’s mother and brother are in two of the four murals depicting scenes from the New Testament that are in the church sanctuary. These murals were painted in the mid-1970s by artist Kathleen Bruskin, using local scenery and portraits of Quechee residents. You can view them online at http://www.quecheechurch.org/home/about/murals/.
Bassette explains that he was “very attuned and sympathetic to the goals of the Quechee Community Church who preferred that the building continue to provide a spiritual, or at least a community anchor in Quechee. They were open to other uses as well, and there was interest from buyers wanting to use the building for a restaurant or bar, and even a personal residence. One condition that the Quechee Community Church required of the sale; however, was that the exterior façade of the building remain ‘church-like,’ complete with a steeple. This was not negotiable.”
Then, Bassette thought of the congregation that he had joined four years earlier—Christ Redeemer Church. He likes the vision and philosophy of Christ Redeemer Church, and realized that the needs of the Quechee Community Church and the Christ Redeemer Church could be complementary. As he describes it, “Here’s this church with 400 members with no physical structure. Their core is in the Dartmouth community, but they might want to reach out to a community in need in the Upper Valley. They could end up with a beautiful structure and maintain a symbol of Christianity intact there. Perhaps there could even be a Quechee congregation again.”
He was right. He brought the idea to Willeman, and the Christ Redeemer Church bought the building significantly below market value but with the “blessing” of the Quechee Community Church. The Quechee Community Church assets were distributed after the sale—some to their sister church, the Hartford Vermont United Church of Christ in Hartford Village, and some back to the Christ Redeemer Church in support of the restoration of their new steeple. Bassette provided his services at no charge, and is very excited to have the Christ Redeemer Church in Quechee.
Past and present
The Quechee church building was designed in 1871, in the High Victorian Gothic Revival style by Thomas W. Silloway, a Boston architect who also designed the Vermont State House among other notable structures. The church was dedicated in May 1873. The congregation—then known as the First Congregational Church—was organized by the widow Marsh in 1831 and originally worshipped in her home, Marshland Farm.
So what are the current plans? Willeman tells me that this summer the Christ Redeemer Church held a weekly bible study and a vacation bible school at the church. There were “work days on the building in June, July, and October when over 50 people chipped in, including a bunch of Dartmouth College students. Several people driving by stopped to offer encouragement and let us know that they are happy about our commitment to Quechee. Lannie Collins [chairman of the Quechee Community Church], was there for it all. It was great!,” says Bassette.
He adds that, “We have been doing a lot of cleaning up, but keeping anything of historic or sentimental value, and have developed the basic maintenance plan. We are fully committed to complete restoration of the steeple, and hope to have the funds to be able to begin that project next spring. Our intent is that the murals, which are so important to the Quechee community, will stay. We want what we do to add value to the Quechee community. We are open to what the community needs.” The long-term goal is to see the establishment of a self-sustaining Christian congregation once again in Quechee.
This year, Christ Redeemer Church will hold Christmas Eve and Day services at the church, and since New Year’s falls on Sunday, also on New Year’s. They hope to start weekly Sunday services in Quechee sometime in 2017.