A Fond Farewell
A little over a week ago, I attended a final church service in the Timothy Frost Sanctuary of the United Church of Thetford. As was reported last week in the Valley News, it was our last service in this space. I am a member of this church, and have been a regular attendee for over twenty years. Like many churches throughout New England, ours has witnessed an aging congregation, with few to no new members. In an effort to sustain our sanctuary and that of the North Thetford Federated Church, our two congregations merged over ten years ago. Although this did give us both a boost in membership, and additional worship spaces, ultimately, we still reached the conclusion this year, to turn over the Timothy Frost building to the Town of Thetford, and to put our North Thetford Sanctuary on the market.
Although I do not have the long history that many in our community had with Timothy Frost, I did have some magical times in that space. I was married there in 1999, and still remember my young son the ring bearer, untying and fiddling with our rings while standing over a heating grate throughout our ceremony. Once we made it through without mishap he and his friends hung off the bell pull to ring the church bells announcing to all that we were wed.
Easter Egg hunts were fun as well. Given how often our Easter Sundays were either filled with snow or mud, often the eggs were "hidden" in the sanctuary. You spent most of the service enjoying the spectacle of children looking for the eggs from their pews and then looking at the clock and wondering how much longer until they could be let loose for the hunt.
I have attended funerals, and concerts in this building, and even helped paint it's walls at one time. I have had 3 ministers who have presided over our congregation, all strong women who have seen me, and others through good times and bad.
Not a practical building by today's standards (this is a meeting house, with no plumbing), we made it work. The former schoolhouse across the street, which is now the Thetford Center Community Association, allowed us to use their building for coffee hour after church. We hosted pie sales, church suppers, yard sales and had our doors open when Old Home day used to happen.
But even at it's most active, the church was unused most of the week. And so, our small but dedicated congregation decided to take a leap of faith. That by giving the Town of Thetford a space, that sits right next to town offices, and shares the same land, this sanctuary could be used by all. I don't know what will become of our building, it will be part of the agenda at town meeting. I know the food shelf is in need of more space, and that meeting space in town is also tight at times. And the acoustics are amazing in this space. But no matter what happens to this building, I know that those who came before are still there. In the windows, for sure, but also in that indescribable sense you get when you walk into a space that has a long history.
In the spirit of the sacrifice the Lt. George L. Fox, a former minister and one of the Four Chaplains who are memorialized in front of the church, our church was freely given away. I hope that Thetford and the greater community recognize the grace of the gift they were given, to give this sweet space new life and a new future.