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Burlington, Vermont - February 1, 2009

Sunday morning, people gathered for Catholic mass at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in Burlington.

"Every time I leave, I feel a lot better," said parishioner Dale Earley of Burlington. "I have a better day. I'm fighting a disease right now, and since I've been going to church I feel a lot better."

Many said religion is not just a part of their lives for an hour on Sunday morning. "Definitely, it's in everything I do during the day," said Ray DeVoid, a parishioner from Ferrisburgh. "It keeps you going in this tough world right now."

A new survey finds these Vermonters are in the minority. A Gallup poll of 355,334 adults nationwide asked, "Is religion an important part of your daily life?" Only 42 percent of Vermonters said yes -- that's the least in the country. New Hampshire was second with 46 percent, followed by Maine and Massachusetts at 48 percent each.

"Doesn't surprise me one bit," Jeff Trumbower said, noting he thinks about religion all the time. A member of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Burlington, he is also a professor of religious studies and dean of St. Michael's College. "I went to graduate school in the Midwest, I'm originally from the South," he said. "I know those regions are very, very different in terms of religious sensibility and religious commitment than New England is."

The Unitarian Church welcomes people of all religious faiths. Some here suggested the Gallup survey may not be a true reflection of the state. Perhaps not a question of whether you believe in God, but whether you believe in polls. "I think it depends on how you define religion," George Rutherford said. "If you asked Vermonters how many were spiritual or believe in a greater power other than themselves, I bet that number would be a lot higher."

"Probably because of the word 'religion,' which seems to me something that Vermonters steer away from and prefer spirituality," Sarah Gliech suggested, noting it was part of her daily life but perhaps not in a traditional way. "Helping out in the community is part of what I consider my religion; it's my duty to do well unto other people."

"Polls are very interesting, but if you look at statistics on memberships in churches and synagogues, it's probably a different state," said Rev. Gary Kowalski, leader of the Unitarian Church in Burlington. "Look at the way we try to care for children, for people with disabilities, for those who are low income. If that's not religion, loving your neighbor and watching out for them, what is?"

Southern states in the so-called "Bible Belt" topped the Gallup survey. Mississippi came in at number one with 85 percent of people saying religion was a part of their daily lives -- double what was found in Vermont.

Kate Duffy - WCAX News

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