Journeying toward change

The First Baptist Church of Bennington, VT, is undertaking a season of transitional ministry. Working with an intentional interim minister, the congregation seeks to build a new way of carrying out the gospel.  We invite you to learn about our congregational journey, and we hope that you will join us in this holy work.


First Baptist Church hosts Christmas Carol Sing for community

Organist, moderator put on Christmas Carol Sing at First Baptist Church of Bennington


Organist Charles Olegar leads First Baptist Church guests in holiday hymns for its first Christmas Carol Sing on Christmas Day.
Organist Charles Olegar leads First Baptist Church guests in holiday hymns for its first Christmas Carol Sing on Christmas Day. (Tom Momberg — Bennington Banner)

BENNINGTON >> First Baptist Church of Bennington hosted its very first community carol sing, beginning at 3 p.m. on Christmas Day, Thursday, Dec. 25.

The open public hymn service featured church organist Charles Olegar. About 18 people made it out to sing such holiday hymns as "What Child is This" and "O Little Town of Bethlehem."

A knowledgeable musician, who also serves as the organist for Old First Church, Olegar gave historical context and musical arrangement histories of each hymn, and broke up music with his own interludes.

Olegar said he volunteered his time to work with the church on reaching out the people of Bennington who may not have close family or friends to spend the holiday with.

Guests to First Baptist Church sing holiday hymns with Charles Olegar on organ for the church’s first Christmas Carol Sing on Thursday.
Guests to First Baptist Church sing holiday hymns with Charles Olegar on organ for the church's first Christmas Carol Sing on Thursday. (Tom Momberg — Bennington Banner)

"We had talked about doing this on perhaps the Sunday before Christmas, and we had noticed the sheer number of events in the area," he said. "We thought, 'Why don't we target another segment of the community?' So, this is an experiment to see if there is any interest."

It was the first such carol sing that First Baptist put on, but the church hopes to continue it on future Christmases. Though the carol sing wasn't overwhelmingly attended, Church Moderator Wayne Kachmar said the church will evaluate a further need in the community for Christmas Day activities.

"We would hope to have some interest, because we think it's a portion of community who is not well served: Those who have family that are particularly far away," Kachmar said. "I have family that is spread, and I have family that has to work today."

Kachmar said the church has had a recent interest in reaching out to the greater public.

"We are an open community church," he said. "We want to spread our arms as wide as we can, and sometimes we experiment with certain things."

Olegar added that being on Main Street, First Baptist is in a valuable location to greet the greatest needs in the community. "It also reflects the fact that we are a downtown church, and our commitment to be vital in our community is a part of our effort to be a part of this section of Bennington."

First Baptist Church of Bennington holds regular Sunday services every week at 9:30 a.m. Visit the church online at for more information and notifications for other upcoming events.



First Baptist receives OGHS Funds for The Kitchen Cupboard (Bennington Banner article, 7/25/11)

Local food pantry gains grant


Monday, July 25, 2011, 1A and 3A 

BENNINGTON -- American Baptist Churches USA has awarded a $10,000 grant to The Kitchen Cupboard, a food distribution program of the Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services Inc.

The Kitchen Cupboard is a food pantry which opened earlier this year at the corner of Gage and Bradford Streets.

"The grant was for infrastructure development at the Kitchen Cupboard, and specifically items that we have in mind are a handicapped access ramp that we desperately need and additional cooling... capacity," said Sue Andrews, who directs the cupboard and other GBICS programs. "We have a lot of freezing capacity, but we need more coolers."

Andrews and the Rev. Jerrod H. Hugenot, coordinating minister of the First Baptist Church of Bennington, applied for the grant in March.

The front door of The Kitchen Cupboard, located in a building that was a former tanning salon, is reached by going up two steps. The ramp will be useful not only for people in wheelchairs, but for all those who arrive empty-handed but leave with lots of bags of food, Andrews said.

"In the winter it's going to be very important to have access instead of those two steps," added Dick Bower, vice president of the GBICS board. "It's nice to have a ramp, safety-wise."

Andrews said the additional cooling capacity is needed for vegetables for local farms and other sources: "We're benefiting from the plethora of vegetables that are kindly available."

Grant funded by American Baptists

Hugenot said the grant is made possible by financial contributions of 5,500 American Baptist congregations nationwide to the One Great Hour of Sharing offering, which provides disaster relief aid and grants for domestic and global development. The grant is awarded as part of this program's Domestic Food and Shelter Fund.

"First Baptist is committed to interfaith collaborative efforts that meet basic human needs. Through our key partnerships with GBICS and the Interfaith Council, First Baptist endeavors to create and support collaborative efforts," Hugenot said.

These efforts include The Kitchen Cupboard, the Bennington Free Clinic, which is located in the building attached to First Baptist on Main Street, and the Food and Fuel Fund.

Hugenot said he hopes this grant will encourage other congregations to seek similar grants from their national associations for GBICS programs.

Wayne Kachmar, moderator at First Baptist, said it is difficult to raise money for infrastructure improvements.

"People like to raise money for something that they can point to and see," he said. "Infrastructure is one of those really critical factors; people don't recognize the value, for example, of a freezer or coolers in making food usable for a longer period of time.

"A lot what's gone on with the interfaith council is they've built a lot of infrastructure for support to bring people up, up the economic ladder," Kachmar said. "And I think that's an important factor in all of this."

In recent years, First Baptist has turned its Nichols Education Building into a center for local non-profits, beginning with the Bennington Free Clinic.

It also houses offices for the Vermont Center for Independent Living, Project Against Violent Encounters' Family Time program, Easter Seals, and various community non-profit meetings and events.

First Baptist is recognized by the Vermont Community Foundation as a model for non-profit collaboration and among American Baptists for missional efforts, especially in the area of interfaith partnerships.

The Kitchen Cupboard is open Tuesday evenings and Saturday afternoons.

"The number of guests who are served on any given week kind of depends on where in the month's cycle we are. When food stamps get put on cards and when people get cash allotments from various programs on the first of the month, basically business kind of falls off and we'll serve 50 or 60 families," Andrews said. "And then by the third or fourth week in the month we're up to 150 or 160 at each of two distributions a week."

Contact Mark E. Rondeau at



Missional Team Effort: Little Dresses for Africa

First Baptist, Bennington, celebrates the missional work of congregants and community members working together to sew "Little Dresses for Africa."  In just a few short weeks, over 70 dresses were created for distribution to young girls in African countries via the "Little Dresses for Africa" project. 

Little dresses from big hearts

Bennington Banner, April 11, 2011 by Mark E. Rondeau

BENNINGTON -- Women at the First Baptist Church have made more than 70 dresses for girls in Africa. They sewed at the church over three weekends in February and March, and others worked on dresses at home.

Little Dresses for Africa is a non-profit, Christian organization based in Michigan which provides relief to the children of Africa. Simple dresses, at times made out of pillow cases, are distributed through orphanages, churches and schools in Africa.

Aleta Boutin, of First Baptist and co-organizer of the project, said the church had a lot of cloth given to it a couple years ago. Her daughter, Lisa Flynn, saw about Little Dresses for Africa on the Internet and suggested the project. They chose the quiet time between Christmas and the start of Lent for the project.

"We just came -- we brought our machines. We brought supplies for everybody. We shared," said Martha Palka, who also co-organized the project. "And people that couldn't stay did some sewing. There was all kinds of different skill levels, and we just helped people out."

"When it's cold outdoors a lot of ladies do like to have something to do, to sew. So we thought it was also an appropriate time to do it, a nice time of year to do it," Palka said. "And we got, I thought, a good response."

A basic motivation of Little Dresses for Africa is to boost the self-esteem of girls who receive them. "Women are not held in the same esteem in Africa as men are. And so it's really a self-esteem project for women in that country because they really are pretty downtrodden," Palka said. "It's a way of making the girls feel like they're worthy."

Little Dresses for Africa also sends shorts made here for boys in Africa, and the local women also made some shorts. They will send all the clothes to Little Dresses for Africa. "And they make sure the dresses get to the places in Africa where they're needed," Palka said.

As noted, the original idea was to make dresses out of pillowcases. Boutin and Palka downloaded patterns and put them in packets with materials. "So all anybody would have to do is pick up the packet, they'd have the pattern in there, all the supplies and the materials to make the dress," Palka said. "So a lot of people did do that, and I think that's why we had good success with it, because we made it as easy as possible."

The church still has some ready-to-go dress kits available in the church office for those who would like make a little dress for an African girl.

"It's nice because it doesn't take a big commitment of any one person," Palka said. "It doesn't take a big commitment of anybody's time, so they can just take one dress and do one. And then actually we had people who just took one or two, and they came back and said ‘give me a couple more.' They were having fun with it."

People donated additional materials. "One lady went to all the thrift shops and bought up all the nice binding and lace, and one lady even went out and bought a whole box of elastic that we needed for the tops of dresses," Boutin said.

Palka enjoyed the project. "For me, I have to say it was really like kind of an honor to do the project, because I have never really done this kind of thing before, and I was trying to find something within the church... where I could be a happy contributor, really enjoy contributing to the church," she said. "And I really think that this was a nice project to start with. I felt I gained a lot more out of giving my time and effort to this than I could ever have imagined. It was really nice, the people that I met, they really touched my heart. It was really, really nice to do this."

The Rev. Jerrod H. Hugenot, coordinating minister at First Baptist, said its missional projects are open to people "who have affinity with a given project, faith background notwithstanding. The ‘Little Dresses' project reflects the good spirit that emerges when people get together and partner for a short or long-term goal to serve others in need. We're open to suggestions for new projects as well."

Little Dresses For Africa's Website is


First Baptist goes to New Orleans!


Three members of First Baptist traveled to New Orleans to help rebuild homes still unrepaired after Hurricane Katrina struck the city in 2005. Our congregants Aleta Bryant, Cindy Watson, and Bob Wilson participated as part of a joint-effort sponsored by the American Baptist Churches/USA, Church World Service, and other denominations. Click here for the article featured in the Bennington Banner.

To learn more, watch this video, featuring all three congregants appear in the opening housepainting footage, and then hear from ABC and CWS staff celebrating the good work).

For more information, visit the special website assembled by ABC National Ministries.


On Pentecost Sunday (May 31, 2009), First Baptist welcomed the Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley, General Secretary of the American Baptist Churches/USA, as our morning speaker. Dr. Medley's visit made the front page news of the Bennington Banner.

Click here to read the article.

(Featured L to R: Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley, ABC/USA General Secretary; the Rev. Jerrod H. Hugenot, coordinating minister, FBC Bennington; and the Rev. Rohn Peterson, acting executive minister, American Baptist Churches of Vermont and New Hampshire)


A look at 2009



As we look ahead to the New Year, I suggest that First Baptist mark 2009 as a festive year. In 2009, Baptists celebrate a major anniversary: the 400th anniversary of our religious tradition. In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, the Protestant Reformation was well underway, however, some religious groups still experienced persecution and harassment even by those who were reformers themselves. A group of English dissidents fled to Amsterdam, a safer place for religious tolerance. By 1609, English pastor John Smyth’s congregation began articulating religious views we now look back upon as the earliest evidence of a Baptist way of believing and practicing the faith.

Throughout 2009, you will receive notes about our Baptist history and heritage through special bulletin inserts, newsletter articles, and congregational events highlighting the spiritual hallmarks of our tradition. Keep an eye out for announcements of special opportunities via the congregation’s various ways of communication: email, website, newsletter, and bulletin. It is my hope that the congregation will see our tradition’s “big 400th” as an opportunity to celebrate our past, reflect on our present day identity, and deepen our resolve to keep the Baptist tradition alive and well into the future.

This January, U.S. citizens recognize the only civic holiday named in honor of a religious leader: the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The legacy of Dr. King takes on a particularly poignant note this year as the King holiday falls on the day before the inauguration of Barack Obama as the nation’s first African American president. A number of organizations are encouraging communities to celebrate the King holiday and the new opportunities presented by the incoming White House administration by hosting local events or dedicating themselves anew to local grassroots initiatives.

By happy providence, First Baptist and other interfaith-minded religious communities are doing just that with the dedication and grand opening of the Bennington Free Clinic the week before. On Wednesday, January 14, 2009, from 5-7 PM, the community will celebrate the dedication with local and state leaders attending to help cut the ribbon. I encourage every congregant to attend the dedication so you can enjoy the words of thanks and recognition for your part in making this community initiative take flight.

This clinic will offer free healthcare to adults, especially the seventeen percent of Bennington County residents (ages 18 to 64) who are without health insurance. On Thursday, January 15, 2009, the Free Clinic will begin its weekly efforts to help our community members in need, utilizing space at First Baptist every Thursday evening and the skills of various area doctors and other medical professionals and community volunteers. To donate or volunteer, call 802/442-3700 and talk with Sue Andrews.

The Free Clinic is illustrative of First Baptist’s growing understanding that our congregation has a Missional calling. With the tutelage of Dr. Ron Carlson of ABC/USA National Ministries in the past (and the future—we’re hoping to have Ron back in early March 2009), First Baptist is considering what it means to be a Missional church. Dr. Carlson is crossing our nation working with congregations just like First Baptist, and I believe we are hearing his good word about the future of our faith (and the change necessitated to get there!). As part of his introduction to Missional church training, Dr. Carlson writes,

You have been chosen to live during the most accelerated rate of change in human history. Human knowledge is doubling every two years. Think for a moment of all the ways life has changed in the last fifty years: communication, technology, medicine, science, culture, global economy. How has all this change affected the church?

Just fifty years ago, eight out of ten Americans got up on Sunday morning and went to Christian worship. Today fewer than two out of ten Americans attend worship on any average Sunday. What changed? Everything!

As Christians, we believe that the gospel message of Jesus is good news for every era, and we know that the church has adjusted to every new challenge in each new generation. How will the church respond to today's challenge?

Missional church is a growing movement throughout America in response to this time of change. A missional church is "an authentic community of faith that primarily directs its ministry focus outward toward the context in which it is located and to the broader world beyond”.

Along these same lines, Dr. Troy Jackson, a minister and author of a new book on Dr. King, explores how the Missional church movement harmonizes with the thought of Dr. King. He writes, “King would challenge you to think first about the welfare of your community rather than the size of your congregation the next time someone asks how your church is doing”.

While we are not a congregation of considerable size, First Baptist seems to be coming to terms with being “smaller than we used to be” and reframing its identity and ministry around the new day at hand. Whether it is renting space to non-profits, cooperating with other religious communities on common ground efforts, or engaging in creative projects with our own congregants, First Baptist has much to offer. Let the year 2009 serve as a time to remember the past and go forward boldly into the future as the heirs of Smyth and King.


The Rev. Jerrod H. Hugenot, coordinating minister