A voice from the past called. He’d heard that I was going to be in Vermont on a reading/writing retreat this past summer, and would I come and preach in his newly-formed Anglican church in Burlington? And so it was that I drove north and stayed with my friend and his Camden (SC) born-and-bred wife.
Burlington is about as far north as you can go in Vermont – only a short distance from the Canadian border, and home to a trendy, anti-establishment student population at the University of Vermont.
It is also one of the major cities in this quiet New England state that is known for skiing, tourism, farming, quilts and Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream!
In Burlington a group of biblically-minded Anglicans have founded a new mission, St. Timothy’s. And so on August 7th. I was there to preach. Who should I meet there, to my surprise, but Bettie Clark the mother of Mikell Scarborough who attends a nearby church in the summers. Also there were some old friends from Connecticut, plus the man pictured here with me who is Daniel Aguek one of the “Lost Boys” from Sudan who with his wife and son Deng have settled in Burlington.
Daniel was particularly interesting to me. Not only is his faith in Jesus Christ solid and growing, but he has obviously worked his way up from lowly immigrant status to today being one of the University of Vermont’s Assistant Admissions Officers. Daniel is one of thousands of Sudanese young men who escaped the terrors of civil strife and persecution by the Muslim government in Khartoum. These were Southern Sudanese Christians – of African descent – many of whom were Anglicans. When war started these young men fled into the desert, then crossed crocodile-infested rivers, watched their friends and relatives die, and somehow made it to safety. Cities all across North America, some of which are cold and wet in contrast to the hot dry Sudan, welcomed these “Lost Boys”, and today they live and prosper here.
The worship at St. Timothy’s was joyful. After the sermon, the young Canadian-born Rector (whom I had met during my years in Toronto) left time for people to respond in an impromptu way. Several did, including Daniel. During Communion we sang the old Gospel song “Just as I am”. The Passing of the Peace was particularly warm, as was the delicious potluck luncheon served in the school auditorium where we had just met. Nobody seemed anxious to leave.
Here is the emerging church of Jesus Christ in one of the most spiritually inhospitable parts of the Country. Church attendance in Vermont is among the lowest in the nation. Mainline churches are increasingly pastored by clergy who live in irregular marital relationships. This, sadly, only serves to further empty the pews.
But “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”, in the words of St. John. Pray for places like Burlington, and groups of believers like those at St. Timothy’s. This is the future and the hope that we yearn to see in this cradle of America, where Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys cried out “The Lord is the God of the Hills”, and in the Eighteenth Century carved out a land where the Light of Christ could shine brightly and the bells of freedom ring loudly.
Peter C. Moore, D.D.