On April 26 at 1 p.m., Bishop Shannon will lead a deconsecration service at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Canaan. The church building at 55 Power House Road is being sold to Canaan, Naturally Connected, Inc, with closing scheduled for May.
“We intend to use the church as a community gathering spot for multiple purposes such as senior center, meetings, theater group, music and art venue, rotating Historical Society displays, chapel etc.,” says Georgianna Carr, a board member and treasurer of Canaan, Naturally Connected, a 401(c)(3) nonprofit organization with an all-volunteer staff.
Services concluded at St. Paul’s before the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, when the last remaining year-round member died. Members who attended St. Paul’s in the summer now worship with nearby congregations, including the two parishes St. Paul’s partnered with in a border ministry covenant: All Saints, Hereford (Quebec) and St. Stephen’s, Colebrook (New Hampshire).
“As far back as I can remember, St. Paul’s has been my spiritual home,” says the Rev. Robert Lee. He was St. Paul’s last priest-in-charge, but before then was a member of the congregation.
“What cheers me up the most about this sad thing is that the building is going to be there,” Lee says. “And if there comes a day, and I hope it does, when there are Episcopalians in Canaan that want to have services, it will be available.”
St. Paul’s first became a place of experimentation in 1974, when it became clear the border ministry that included the congregations in Hereford, Colebrook and Canaan could no longer support a seminary-trained priest, Lee says. The Rev. David Brown, rector of Christ Church in Montpelier at the time, approached Bishop Robert Kerr with the idea of calling a priest who would receive the necessary training locally from the bishop and other diocesan leaders instead of going away to study at a residential seminary.
Robert Bryan, a local meat-cutter, was trained and served the border ministry for twenty-five years. For much of his ministry, he was the only priest in the border ministry and drove “a Sunday circuit,” Lee says.
“And then he reached the point when he just couldn’t physically do it any longer and told our team that he was going to have to retire. By that time, we had continued to study constantly, anticipating the need to raise up people to the ministry. And so it was kind of an automatic thing.”
When it came time to nominate Bryan’s successor, “everyone at the table just turned and looked at me!” Lee says. He was ordained to the diaconate by Bishop Mary Adelia McLeod in 2000 and to the priesthood by Bishop Thomas Ely in 2001.
Now retired, Lee spends the winter months in Florida, but has found a new church home in Vermont year-round. “I’d like to express my gratitude to the folks at St. Mark’s in Newport,” he says. “When we’re here in Florida, we are with them by Zoom.” In the summer months, he attends St. Mark’s in person, and is especially grateful for the congregation’s weekly vigils against racism. “We’ve been taking part in that for a couple years now. It gives us a chance to physically talk to the friends we’ve made.”
In addition to St. Mark’s, which is located just over an hour’s drive from the former St. Paul’s, both All Saints, Hereford, located four minutes away, and St. Stephen’s in Colebrook, located 12 minutes away, continue to worship on Sundays.