The West Dover Congregational Church can be traced back to Dover’s original settlers. According to Nell Kull’s “History of Dover, Vermont: 200 Years in a Hill Town,” the Rev. James Tufts was Wardsboro’s first Congregational pastor. He began preaching in the north district of Wardsboro in 1795 and in the south district of Wardsboro in 1797.
All Wardsboro residents belonging to the Congregational Church were responsible for financially supporting the church. But the Rev. Tufts was a “strict Congregationalist” and many parishioners found his style of preaching “unacceptable.” Collecting taxes for Rev. Tufts’ salary became difficult and church members could no longer support his ministry. As a result, Tufts left the church and preaching was abandoned.
In 1802, townspeople formed a spiritual community called the United Religious Society. They built a two-story meetinghouse, which was available to all faiths. The Congregationalists reorganized and were led by the Rev. Urban Hitchcock in 1809. The Rev. Issac Cummings took the church from Hitchcock but when the church’s numbers dwindled, the Congregational Church’s activities ceased in 1843.
In 1857, there was a resurgence in the church. Residents organized a West Dover meetinghouse society and erected a new place of worship. A committee comprising Joel Lyman, Daniel Leonard, and Moses Bogle approved the plan. Kull wrote, “It was 38 feet wide and with three aisles which were to be carpeted. The plans also included 42 pews, singing seats for the choir, a steeple strong enough to hold a bell of at least 1,000 pounds, and blinds and windows.”
In April 1860, the West Dover Church Society was formed. In 1862, the society voted that the meetinghouse should be free to everyone. The church evolved and eight years later became the West Dover Congregational Church. One hundred fifty years later, the West Dover Congregational Church tradition continues.
The Rev. Emily Heath will be ordained as the new pastor for the West Dover Congregational and Wilmington Congregational churches on Sunday, September 26. Heath is a Virginia native. She received a Bachelor of Arts from Emory University, a Masters of Divinity and Theology from Columbia Theological Seminary, and is currently a student in the Doctor of Ministry program at Andover Newton Theological School in Massachusetts.
Heath served as a hospital and hospice chaplain in Georgia, Tennessee, and Massachusetts. She lived in Provincetown, MA, prior to her arrival in the Deerfield Valley. In addition to serving the West Dover and Wilmington churches, Heath is a spiritual life advisor at Marlboro College, a member of the Brattleboro Area Interfaith Clergy Association, and active in other religious and community organizations.
Heath said she was ready for a change and searched for opportunities across the country. She saw the opening at the Wilmington and West Dover Congregational churches and met with the search committee, who thought Heath was a great match.
Deacon Andy McLean was a member of the search committee and thinks that Heath’s presence will be a benefit to the community. “I’d say that it is not an exaggeration that having (Emily) take over the reins has brought more people to our doors,” said McLean. “Pastors have so much to do with the feel and direction of the whole thing. (Emily) has a lot of energy, she has been revitalizing the church, and people are saying how great she is. We are enjoying the compliments we’re hearing.”
As for Heath, the transition has been smooth and she is looking forward to serving the Dover and Wilmington communities. “People have been very welcoming and have gone out of their way to show me community,” said Heath. “I’ve been struck by how open people are to new ideas. They have a willingness to grow and evolve as a church and that has impressed me.”