Like the Statue of Liberty welcomed immigrants to Ellis Island, the Stowe Community Church and its spire has welcomed travelers to this mountain valley for over a century.
The steeple, which rises over 170 feet into the air, never fails to beckon those of us who live here as well; we cannot stop ourselves from glancing up at one of the four clock faces while walking or driving by. The imposing white church tells visitors, “You’re in Stowe.” It tells the rest of us we are home.
In the fall, busloads of would-be photographers litter School Street trying to blot out the power lines and take home a personal reminder of its impressive reach. (Soon, those power lines will be buried beneath the earth, making steeple shooting a breeze.)
Dozens and dozens of couples travel here each year, with entire entourages in tow, to get married. Its doors are usually open. People wander in, sit, reflect. (COVID, sadly, has removed our ability to find solace inside, this, the people’s church.)
Inside, in the sanctuary, its magnificence isn’t measured in statues or frescoes or elaborate religious icons. The beauty is in its spare New England simplicity, its purity, its welcoming hand. It has no denomination. People of all faiths feel welcome. It brings us together in celebration, it unites us when a cherished resident dies.
The Stowe Community Church is steeped in history, has stood guard over the village since 1863. It is believed that its structural lines were copied from the work of the famous English architect, Sir Christopher Wren. How fitting.
Construction began in 1862. The steeple, it is rumored, was constructed on a flat area behind Main Street. It was carted to the church and raised by ropes and blocks and lowered into place so accurately that no changes had to be made.
The church’s body stretches 75 by 50 feet. A 10-foot portico extends in front, supporting four Ionic columns resting on granite. While the outside of the church has remained relatively unchanged, part of its interior was originally fresco art known as “trompe d’oeil” (trick of the eye), which essentially creates a 3-D effect. The art, on flat walls, gave the appearance of a cathedral. Alas, furnace smoke caused the fresco’s disappearance and a fresh coat of white paint in 1922 eradicated the artistry.
While some churches are very strict about couples using the church to exchange wedding vows, or to wander in from the street to reflect or recharge, most recent pastors take a liberal approach. Said one: “I open my arms up to anything that will make it more of a public and community church as long as it is Christian in nature. The church really is a community church.”
— Greg Popa