|Est. 1809||Built 1855|
|Listed Vermont and National Historic Registries|
The West Fairlee Center Congregational Church was a community before it was a building. Founded in 1809 by six people, three women and three men, it met for two years at nearby Elmwood Farm, then the home of Judge Nathaniel Niles (1740-1828). During these years, Niles, a gentleman farmer, Vermont public figure, patriot and distinguished scholar, led services and gave lectures. (Indeed he interrupted one such occasion by excusing himself for a moment in order to hive a swarm of bees!) Within a few years, the group had a meeting house on the knoll above the present structure, and soon thereafter a settled minister, but the town grew quickly and soon sessions were called to plan a new church. There ensued a heated debate over the best positioning of the proposed building. Some wanted it on the east side of the road leading through the valley and some where it now stands, on the west side. Those for the east were asked to move to the east side of the meeting house and those for the west to the west. Six moved their seats easterly and twelve to the westward. As a result, in 1855 the new church rose on its current site.
Partly because of its position and the beauty of its simple white facade, which seems to look southward down the road through the Middlebrook Valley, the church has been a point of interest and a refuge not only for those who live here but for those who walk, ride and drive through this valley. It is constructed in the Greek Revival style, popular in nineteenth century Vermont, and experts like to remark on its post and beam framing, corner pilasters, unadorned frieze and "pristine" architectural style. In 1973, members of the community, led by Rick Eaton of Elmwood Farm, himself a descendant of Judge Niles, provided a steeple to replace one that was tilting, and more recently, thanks to generous donors, a refurbished Estey pump organ has been installed in the sanctuary. Otherwise the church has remained remarkably intact, though work is now badly needed to preserve the basic structure as well as the original details. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The actual size of the congregation here has always been small in relation to the widespread affection in which it is held. In the 1840-50's, it probably had about 148 members; by 1894 the numbers were down to forty. The minutes and memorials of its life reflect an increasingly open communion, an emphasis on good preaching from many different denominations and a running theme of celebration for the surrounding landscape and close-knit community. A saving remnant keeps the church active today, offering multi-religious and multi-cultural vesper services in the summer, hosting meetings, weddings and funerals and blessing community events and activities.
The West Fairlee Center Congregational Association, the Church's governing body, offers two levels of membership, full and associate. (The latter option is for those who may have other faith commitments or beliefs but who wish to be formally associated with the Church and its spirit of thanks and praise.) It also gratefully accepts donations for the work of restoration and repair.
Church Services - For decades the West Fairlee Center Church, a member of the United Church of Christ - Vermont Conference, has provided the communities of Middlebrook and Blood Brook with Sunday Evening Vesper Services during the summer. Different area ministers are asked to lead each worship service and in the past there has been a wide range of denominations and religious backgrounds invited. The congregation is very small, but the church is open to everyone. There is little in our lives to compare with the deep serenity of this building and its location. Many come for a service and spend time wandering through the adjacent, old cemetery.
Special services include a Blessing of the ATV's which is held in partnership with the Westshire ATV Club. Members of the club arrive early, park their ATV's on the green and the officiating minister of the evening holds a special service for them. Many continue into the church for the standard evening service. There are always refreshments provided by the club and the church.
The church also holds a Blessing of the Animals. For many years people have brought dogs, cats, hens, guinea pigs, and more to be blessed. The service is often held outside but then everyone and their pet is invited inside for the traditional service. Water and treats are provided for all creatures.
Notices which list the dates and ministers are placed in area papers as well as posted on the church. Fliers are posted around the region or mailed to those on the church mailing list.