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Barre church virtually hires a new reverend

Published: Jul. 19, 2020 at 9:44 AM EDT
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BARRE, Vt. (WCAX) - Last month we reported that weekly attendance for Catholic churches in Vermont is down..

So far down, that three have closed their doors... as there aren’t enough priests to lead parishes in the state.

Now, we offer an opposing view... with one Christian church in Barre seeing growth, and in turn, a brand new reverend.

Eric Tuper-Giles plays the organ for Barre Congregational Church

He's just one of many pieces that make the church what it is today.

The musicians, the Congregation, and the latest addition, Pastor Leigh McCaffrey.

Pastor Leigh was recently chosen to be the new pastor after the church’s beloved reverend retired a few years back

“It was hard when Reverend David retired after 28, 29 years of service. But you know, there’s also the future and things can change in good ways,” says Ritva LaFlower, a co-chair of the search committee at BCC.

But the way this change came, was anything but ordinary.

“We had to really scour our constitution of the church and figure out how we were going to vote on a pastor when we couldn’t have an in-person congregational meeting,” says Jeffrey Tuper-Giles of BCC.

Normally, a search committee would interview candidates, some in person, from New England and across the nation.

Top candidates get the chance to preach at local Vermont churches in something called a “neutral pulpit,” also not an option this year... to show the committee what each candidate brings to the table.

But because of COVID, it all happened via Zoom this year, with remote voting from Parishoners.

“You know it’s very important that you have a good sermon, it’s very important that the lay ministry working with the parishioners, but she really filled a lot of the expectations that we were looking for,” says Jim Donovan, the other co-chair of the search committee.

Pastor Leigh has never seen Barre Congregational in person and hasn’t met anyone from the church face to face. But that didn’t seem to matter.

“I just feel so blessed. The first meeting I ever had with this committee, which was on Zoom, I enjoyed myself so much, I got up from the meeting and I said to my spouse, oh these are my people, this is my tribe,” says Pastor Leigh.

And for now, Zoom is the way operations will continue. She continues to give online services, even while waiting to make her move back from Florida to her childhood home-state of Vermont.

“This whole process has been full of joy and full of figuring out how to do what we’ve been doing for years and years and years, but doing it differently,” she says.

But different is what makes Barre Congregational work in perfect harmony.

Reverend Leigh is set to make her trip up to Vermont from Florida sometime in August.

She'll have to do the two-week quarantine, unless something changes with public health guidelines.

But making the trip up from Florida is not the only thing that makes Pastor Leigh unique.

She’s openly queer-identifying.

She says it’s a part of who she is... and that the labels mean nothing at Barre Congregational.

As far as re-opening, we’re told the church council and parish nurse will work together to create a re-opening plan for their buildings using the public health information made available, and keeping the safety of members in mind.

For now, services will continue online, delivered by Pastor Leigh.

Copyright 2020 WCAX. All rights reserved.

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