By Virginia Dean
“All shall be well. We are a people of hope. We are the church. Do not be afraid. Love your neighbor as yourself. Respect the dignity of every human being. God loves you. And so do I.
All shall be well.”
Last Sunday, these words by the Reverend Canon Lee Alison Crawford, PhD, were imparted for the last time to her congregation at the Church of Our Saviour at Mission Farm. After seven years as vicar, Rev. Crawford will be retiring and beginning a new chapter in her life, along with her married partner, Anne Brown, also a student of theology.
“In a way, I have been writing this sermon since I first started to preach on a regular basis back in 1992,” Rev. Crawford said to her parishioners. “All these years I have been really consistent in what I have had to say. That’s all there is to be said. Except one last thing. Remember that Jesus told his disciples on the night before he died, ‘I will not leave you orphaned.’ You have that promise. Hang on to it tightly. All shall be well.”
Acknowledging that although she is “merely retiring from being in charge of a congregation,” Rev. Crawford stressed that she is nonetheless a “priest eternally in the order of Melchizedek.”
In fact, her theology over the years has been greatly informed by the words of the “Song of Mary (the Magnificat)” in which she speaks of societal reversals where the “proud are scattered, the mighty cast down, the lowly lifted up, the hungry filled with good things, and the rich sent away empty,” Rev. Crawford related.
“When all is said and done, however, the one verse in Scripture that guides me is the Shema, from Deuteronomy 6.4-5: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might’,” Rev. Crawford said. “The gospels later recount that Jesus adapts this verse by adding, ‘This is the first and great commandment, and the second commandment is that you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ If I try to live out these verses, I have plenty enough work ahead!”
Rev. Crawford arrived at Mission Farm in April 2013 when the Rev. Diane Root retired. Prior, Rev. Crawford was the Priest-in-Partnership at Trinity in Rutland where she had served for three years.
“Over all these years, I always knew of what was going on at the Church of Our Saviour, Mission Farm, through Anne’s participation,” said Rev. Crawford. “So, when the Rev. Root retired, I thought the Mission Farm seemed just the right place for me to explore innovative ministry in a unique setting. I loved that the Church of Our Saviour is a small congregation because my pastoral heart has always been drawn to the small congregations where everyone knows everyone else, and it’s a simple system.”
The Church of Our Saviour’s instilled Benedictine ethos of daily prayer combined with work, weekly communion, rich guest house ministry, a walking trail system, the land and river and the holiness of Mission Farm (what Rev. Crawford calls in the Celtic sense a “thin” place) are what drew her to apply for the position as vicar, she explained.
“Over the past seven years, I have delighted in watching the Ottauquechee River flow outside the windows and in seeing all the manner of wildlife pass through Mission Farm as the congregation and I have walked together,” Rev. Crawford said.
But aside from enjoying the vitality of nature, Rev. Crawford was also busy servicing the church. Thanks to the “fabulous” leadership of the congregation, particularly that of Senior Warden Sue Durant, there were two successfully completed capital campaigns, she said.
“In terms of physical accomplishments, I can say that I am leaving the woodpile in better shape than I found it,” Rev. Crawford mused.
But during the last seven years, the reverend has done more than that. She, along with community members, helped to restore the vicarage, farmhouse, and guest house in addition to connecting with the residents of Killington, Bridgewater, Mendon and Plymouth. She and Brown became Killington Mountain ambassadors in 2013 and plan to continue in that capacity.
Mission Farm excels in buildings and land, Rev. Crawford noted. There are 172 acres of fields and forest, an 1894 stone church, an 1817 farmhouse that serves as the clergy residence (a.k.a., the vicarage), a 19th-century carriage barn converted into a guest house (called the Heminway House that Brown ran) in the 1940s, an 1890s corn crib, an 1840s farmhouse converted into Mission Farm Bakery and, finally, a 1930s cabin.
Brown has been involved in liturgy and property maintenance after becoming the senior warden or lay leader of the executive committee at the church.
“Over the years, I held that role for 14 non-consecutive years as well as the role of treasurer,” Brown said. “We dealt with the maintenance of several buildings and significant property, moved the historic house that became the Mission Farm Bakery down Route 4 from Aspen East, built a network of trails open to the public and much more, all on a very tight budget.”
Regardless of her deep appreciation of the richness of her physical surroundings, Rev. Crawford indicated that the spiritual life of the congregation has been, in fact, more important, particularly in its inherent fervor.
“I like to say that, while the congregation might be small, it is enthusiastic,” said Rev. Crawford.
Despite the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic and Sunday, May 17, Zoom meltdown on her last day, for example, the parishioners were devoted and faithful to gathering for worship, she related.
“They understand the history of Church of Our Saviour and its Benedictine ethos – work and prayer – as lived out, in particular, by the Rev. Truman Heminway (1931-1957) and the Rev. Daniel Goldsmith (1964-1990) who truly worked the land and prayed daily at dawn and dusk,” said Rev. Crawford. “In my own quiet way, I have held this rhythm as I have worked in my gardens, greeted passers-by on Mission Farm Road, picked apples in the orchard, helped on trail maintenance, and tended to the church proper. Truly, God has blessed me by allowing me to serve seven years at Mission Farm.”
Plans after retirement in the short term include staying home and safe in Plymouth, after clearing out the vicarage. When they are able to venture forth, she and Brown will travel in the U.S. and beyond. The couple has been involved with the Episcopal Anglican Church of El Salvador since 1992. They plan to continue their efforts there and to travel the world and complete hiking the New England 4,000-foot peaks they began in the early 2000s.
“Professionally, the sky is the limit, and I will take time to dream and listen for what God might be suggesting,” said Rev. Crawford. “I am sure, in due course, I will find out, ‘What next?’”
The Church of Our Saviour at Mission Farm now welcomes incoming vicar is Rev.Lisa Ransom [see related story].