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Crawford’s vision for Mission Farm combines traditions with modern relevancy

Church of Our Saviour at Mission Farm recently announced the selection of Lee Alison Crawford as the new priest

Church of our Saviour at Mission Farm recently announced the selection of their new priest, the Reverend Canon Lee Alison Crawford, Vicar. The announcement is exciting, but not surprising. Crawford has been conducting Sunday services as a substitute pastor for the church since last November after Diane Root retired.

"Lee Crawford is incredibly giving of her time, invested in our church and our community and we are so incredibly lucky to have her," said Pat Kent, a member of the church's executive committee who helped with her selection.

Crawford looks at home at Mission Farm, with her long silver and brown hair she wears in a thick braid, a clerical collar and a warm Vermonty sweater.

"Vermont is where I feel most at home," she said last Thursday, explaining that she has been coming to visit Vermont since she was 5-years-old and learned to ski at Mount Tom, Woodstock. She joined the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont nearly 20 years ago, spending most of that time at Northfield and Rutland churches. This is her first time living in Killington, however. "It's nice to get to know in depth a place I've known for a very long time," she said of the past five months.

Crawford and her partner, Anne Brown, who books the guesthouse and is also licensed to preach in Vermont; both live on-site at Mission Farm. They met at General Theological Seminary in Manhattan and have been together for the past 23 years. They celebrated their holy union at Church of our Saviour at Mission Farm in 2000.

"There is lots of energy the two of us can provide," said Crawford.

Crawford and Brown have been involved in church services together at a "wider level" beyond the Vermont Diocese. The Episcopal Church is in 16 countries and they have done work in Haiti and El Salvador, in addition to various areas throughout America, Crawford said.

Prior to ordination into the Episcopal Diocese, Crawford taught French and Spanish language. She has a PhD in Medieval French Language and Literature and is trilingual (speaking fluent French, Spanish and English.) She hopes to use these skills as well during her tenure at Mission Farm to connect with seasonal employees at Killington. "When you are hurting you always revert to your language of origin," Crawford says.

Outside the church, Crawford and Brown enjoy long walks. They completed the 272-mile Long Trail in 2010 (which coincided with the trail's 100th anniversary) and walked Spain's 960-mile El Camino de Santiago ("The Way of St. James") over four springs, 2004-2007.

This winter they enjoyed volunteering together as Mountain Ambassadors for Killington Resort.

When asked what it means to her to be a priest, Crawford quoted Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsay, author of The Christian Priest Today. A priest, he says, is "a person of prayer always with the people of God on his [or her] heart." Crawford says she likes this definition because it is all encompassing. Being a priest is "who I am as a person, not just who I am on Sunday or who I am when I'm when I'm 'working' in the church," she says. Adding, this way of life, a life of prayer and service, is also the focus of the Episcopal faith.

The Episcopal Church recognizes the Image of God in every person, she says. The Episcopal Church teaches, along with Judaism and Islam, the other faiths of Abraham, that the highest value is loving God and loving your neighbor (this comes from the Shema in the Book of Deuteronomy.) This focus, Crawford explains, is not exclusive to the Episcopal expression of Christianity or even to Christianity. "When you boil down any faith tradition, it really comes down to that: Loving God and your neighbor as yourself."
Seeing God in everybody, is "why we act with loving kindness," she adds. "We look for the good in others. We are all made in the image of God and we are fundamentally good as human beings… we just, sometimes, do stupid things… Jesus was always talking with the margins of society, he set a good example for us all to follow," Crawford added.

"There is a healthy and lively congregation, with a common vision of providing hospitality on many levels," said Crawford.
The guesthouse, of course, provides hospitality to individuals and non-profit groups looking "to take 'time apart' for fellowship, community- building, recreation, reflection, prayer, study and spiritual renewal," states a church brochure.

Crawford says the entirety of Mission Farm is truly a "place of prayer," pointing to the flowers, the 170 acres of land, the barn, the river, the view of the Skyeship gondola, the wholesale bakery, the walking trails, and the church, whose doors are always open for prayer, meditation, or simply to provide a quiet space for anyone in the community to sit.

"It is a blessing to live in a place of such beauty," she says and hopes to honor that by becoming "exemplar for the community" with regards to stewardship of the Earth. Crawford has many ideas for how to do this, some include exploring the possibility of renewable energy sources and re-imagining the farm, possibly re-creating the garden labyrinth that Diane Root once had.
Crawford is excited to continue the ongoing work with the trail system, concerts, and community celebrations in partnership with Killington town and resort. The Church has great acoustics, Crawford says, and is currently the rain site for Sherburne Library summer concerts.

Crawford would also like to see Mission Farm become a retreat center, with guided meditation walks and to utilize the guesthouse for 1-2 day quiet retreats.

She hopes this may be a way to incorporate the "nones," which she defines as those in the community "not connected to a formal expression of religion but with a deep spiritual desire." The Episcopal tradition offers an easy entry for everyone to take part in religion, she says. "There is flexibility but framework in Episcopal liturgy; it is predictable and familiar, but there is also space for people to enter into mystery. I think there is a hunger for that… people want to connect with the divine, with the holy," she says.
Additionally, Episcopalians offer 'both/and' thinking," she says. This "allows room for ambiguity, entering into the grey areas… we encourage everyone to ask questions and we often wrestle with the 'big ones,'" she says.

Through her visions for the church and work as a priest, Crawford hopes to make religion relevant and accessible to everyone not just the congregation inside the church.

Every Sunday at 9:30 a.m. - Everyone is welcome to take part in the celebration of Holy Communion.
Sunday, May 5 - The church will perform a symbolic "Blessing of the crops." Everyone is invited to bring plants or seeds for a blessing. People are welcome to attend the 9:30 service or arrive about 10:30 for the blessing.
Friday, June 14 at 6 p.m.- Join in for a Celebration of a New Season of Ministry and street party. Bishop Thomas Ely will be there for a formal welcoming of the Reverend Canon Lee Alison Crawford, Vicar.
Tuesday, June 12 - Crawford celebrates the 20th anniversary of her ordination.

Photo by Anne Brown