STOWE, Vt. (BP) – Gerald Hunt was a Georgia kid with an interest in Vermont, a land way above the Mason-Dixon line where hockey is more popular than college football and bread stuffing replaces cornbread dressing on holiday dinner tables.
“Ever since I was in elementary school I was fascinated with that state,” he said. “I didn’t really know why, but now I do.”
Hunt moved from Comer, Ga. and arrived in Vermont on Nov. 16 with his wife, Susan, and their seven children to answer a call. Specifically, he responded to a call for more pastors in the area and so he will serve as associate pastor of Grace Bible Church in Stowe. In doing so, Hunt stepped away from his job managing several chicken houses. However, his skills as a handyman will also serve to make ends meet and build inroads with his new neighbors.
His decision to move came after a representative from the Baptist Convention of New England met with several Georgia pastors last spring. Those conversations were about building missional connections but included the possibility of joining desperately-needed evangelical work.
Vermont is among the least religious states in the country, with two of its counties being in the top ten for the highest number of religiously unaffiliated Americans. Any religious presence is usually interfaith, as exemplified by a display in Stowe that may appear to be about the manger scene of Jesus’ birth, but includes Jewish and Islamic symbols.
Hunt said he felt led to work in a rural setting. A testimony shared at the Georgia gathering by Russ Rathier, BCNE regional coordinator for Vermont, confirmed that direction.
“Russ talked about the state’s small, rural churches and that kind of hit my heart pretty hard,” Hunt remembered.
State regulations over Covid-19 complicated the timing of when pastors could serve in the state. But Hunt maintained contact with Rathier throughout the summer and even began joining other Vermont pastors on a regular Zoom call.
Hunt has been a pastor and assisted with a church plant in New York State, but at the time was attending Cedar Grove Baptist in Comer. Rathier, interim pastor at Grace Bible Church, needed an associate pastor who could also preach for local congregations as needed.
In August, the Hunts and two of their children spent eight days touring the area. They stayed in the parsonage that now serves as their home and met others in the community. Before completing the 2,100-mile round trip and pulling into their Georgia driveway, the question had all but been settled to move.
BCNE executive director Terry Dorsett is aware of what goes into such a decision and is enthusiastic about its possibilities.
“In 1993 I visited Vermont on a vision trip,” he told Baptist Press. “Six months later I was living in Vermont doing ministry. So, imagine my excitement when I heard God was doing that exact thing again in the life of Gerald Hunt and his family.
“God is calling workers to the fields that are white unto the harvest. Hallelujah!”
Susan Hunt’s job with a children’s clothing company is online, so her move will be seamless. Their sending church, Cedar Grove, has offered to provide some financial support. Gerald’s fix-it skills also generate income as well as chances to meet others, as in recently when he helped install the drywall for a church in Montpelier.
There are and will be challenges. Many in his family don’t understand leaving the Peach State to live among a bunch of “Yankees”. Vermont’s secular culture can be a shock to the system. And the climate is quite different. Snow at Christmastime is charming; but come April, maybe not.
Rathier feels that the Hunts’ arrival is a signal for more outside the state and region to come and join the work, one where God is involved and active.
“We’re seeing the spirit of God moving people here,” he said. “They’re coming in to plant churches. We’re seeing partnerships form like the one we have with Georgia Baptists.
“It’s not just a one-and-done type of mission trip. Churches from the south are partnering with those in Vermont and coming back for 10-15 years. So, the community up here knows who these people are.”
The Christmas season beckons thoughts of home. One may suspect that Hunt is thinking about Georgia in that regard. They would be wrong.
“I am home,” he stated. “Wherever Jesus leads you, that’s your home. I can’t say I wish I was in Georgia for Christmas because that’s not where the Lord placed me. I have to submit to His leadership and to His authority. This will be my home until He moves me again.”