From its founding in 1955, in a former TV repair shop converted to a chapel in Burlington’s New North End, Christ Church Presbyterian (CCP) has been on a different path.
Called by founding pastor Bill Hollister to take the gospel of Jesus seriously, CCP turned its focus outward to the city throughout the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, becoming involved in work in the correctional system and creating a coffee house and bookstore on Church Street. Health professionals, businesspeople and educators met regularly to consider what it meant to live out the gospel in their professions.
The church’s outreach in the late ‘60’s was marked by the founding of the Burlington Ecumenical Action Ministry (BEAM), a coalition of Burlington churches and businesses that initiated a variety of community projects including drug counseling and neighborhood revitalization.
In 1978, the church moved to a chapel on the UVM campus, and refugee assistance became a focus. In 1983, the church sponsored a family from Cambodia. This was followed by the declaration of CCP as a Sanctuary Church and in 1985 a family of five, fleeing violence in Guatemala, lived in our family room for 16 months.
Meanwhile, in 1984, the church had taken a stand with gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning (GLBTQ) persons, declaring itself to be a “More Light” church offering full acceptance into the life and leadership of the church to all. This same year, a three-year effort by a group from CCP led to the opening of the Ronald McDonald House in Burlington.
As “More Light”-related issues continued, CCP took a leadership role in adopting a “Resolution of Dissent” in 1997 in response to the denomination’s ban on ordination of GLBTQ persons. This active dissent continued until 2003, when the PC(USA)’S General Assembly resolved the dispute in support of ordination.
Following Founding Pastor Bill Hollister’s departure in 1986 and a time of interim leadership, Rev. Mike Brown and Rev. Becky Strader were called to be our co-pastors. Shortly after their arrival, we welcomed New Alpha Baptist Church into shared use of our building for several years.
In 1990, CCP joined the federation of Burlington churches known as “JUMP” (the Joint Urban Ministry Project) serving the pressing needs of people who are homeless and impoverished in our city. This work continues, and CCP continues to support this with JUMP volunteers, financial commitment and leadership positions.
In 2004, Rev. Mike Brown became solo pastor. In 2005, Vermont Interfaith Action (VIA) was established with an opening convention at St. Joseph’s Church in Burlington; Mike Brown was instrumental in the formation of VIA. In 2007, CCP established its affiliation with the Center for Progressive Christianity, and has continued its study of progressive theology and liturgy.
Recognizing the limitations of our lease on the UVM campus, a Strategic Planning Task Force was convened in 2007 to develop a long-range strategic plan and vision. This group completed its work in 2009, recommending that CCP affiliate with another church. There was extensive research and conversation, but ultimately, these efforts did not lead to an affiliation and CCP needed to regroup.
In 2012, UVM let us know that they would not be renewing our lease on campus. After a period of research and outreach, the Cathedral Church of St. Paul (Episcopal) offered us space in their community room and two years later, a space of our own in a former bookstore space in the building. This move from our chapel on campus was a difficult one for the congregation, but church members remained active and highly engaged throughout the transition. This new space has served us well and we have made it our own.
In 2015, Pastor Mike Brown retired as planned, and following a search, Rev. Deadra Ashton became our pastor until 2018 when she left to pursue work as a hospital chaplain. Following her resignation, the Worship Committee provided leadership for Sunday services, using a network of local pastors, both active and retired, who were willing to lead our services. Rev. Marjorie MacNeill was among these pastors and provided pulpit supply and pastoral care. In 2019, we signed a contract with Marjorie as our Transitional Pastor, with a focus on helping us live into and implement our new vision and support our individual missions. Our work with VIA and JUMP continues, as do other CCP sponsored missions including support for TeacHaiti , a residence for newly-released ex-offenders and meditation groups.
Marjorie MacNeill continues as our Transitional Pastor now, in 2020, as we launch our search for a new pastor to move with us into the next chapter of our journey as a community of faith.