One afternoon, about 12 years ago, I stopped by Sunderland Union Church to drop off some flowers for a service, and I saw a brand new sign with my name and phone number in bold black letters on a bright white background, hanging below the sign with the Church's name and date on it. To my delighted surprise, I realized that it was my "installation" as Minister in Residence! It was a gift from Lester Hartman, a devoted SUC friend and neighbor. What an apt and symbolic welcome it was, an inauguration into a time in my ministry I never imagined.
Today the sign came down, and I have stepped away from my position on the Church Committee. My Community Ministry of Ceremonial Craft, Counseling, and Teaching will continue. Memories have cascaded through me the past few days: weddings, both local and "from away," where families and friends and local florists Lily of the Valley and Nancy Bishop transformed the Church with flowers, candles, crystals, all things beautiful and festive; funerals with flowers, trees, bagpipers, Native American storytelling, smudge sticks of sage and cedar, heartfelt eulogies spoken from the pews and from the pulpit, favorite hymns resounding from the wonderful acoustics of the Church's barrel-vaulted ceiling. How true to the ceremonial soul it was when a casket was carried by the bearers down Hill Farm Road to the family plot in Ira Allen Cemetery, traffic held up as family and friends followed in procession; or when a bride and groom appeared in the Church door after being married, aglow with joy, with the mountains and sun around them, the wind stirring their finery, the bell tolling, the front lawn of the Church a confetti of delighted guests.
Over the years I had unstinting support and friendship from the Hill and Bowen families, whose family histories are in the very foundation of Sunderland Union Church. Whenever I needed anything for the Church, they were all only a phone call away. The Jacobsons and Holzmans have also stewarded the Church, as Hill Lane friends and neighbors. Lester Hartman always visited and kept me company when I was waiting for people to stop by for Open Church Days, bringing me a snack. To all the wedding couples and bereaved families, to the people who trooped up the Church steps for Christmas Eve services and Solstices on those frigid winter nights - thank you for making me and my Spiritual Science ministry part of your ceremonies and memories. Because of you, my heart was instructed in what the words "privileged to serve" meant, and you gave me moments where I knew with shining surety I had "the best job in the world."
For the future, I believe the preservation of Sunderland Union Church will need to be stewarded within a community plan, one grounded in pragmatism, fiscal wisdom, and the union of inclusive love and generosity for the greater good.
I affirm that this beautiful landmark Church that holds so much local history, spiritual sustenance, and treasured memories will continue to be part of our cherished landscape.
Rev. Claire Longtin North, MSS, MFA