At Town Meeting next year, Waitsfield voters will be asked to approve a donation to Waitsfield United Church of Christ to strengthen the church’s application for a Vermont Community Development Block Grant.
The Waitsfield Select Board received the request for financial support at a meeting last month and voted 4-1 to pass along a line item request for $1,500 to voters next March.
That action and that proposal require careful scrutiny.
The church is as much a religious entity as it is an important historic and iconic structure in the village. It is a meeting place, a community gathering space, funerals of multiple religious affiliations are held there. Monthly community dinners put on by multiple community organizations take place there. Art exhibits are held in the sanctuary.
And the church is a tax-exempt organization being used for ongoing faith-based activities. It’s fair to question whether public funds should be used for a church, regardless of its stature, central role and important architectural contribution to the village.
It could very well be argued that public funds for a church constitutes a violation of the principle of the separation of church and state. At least one member of the Waitsfield Select Board felt it was and voted against the motion to include $1500 in next year’s budget for the church.
Beyond the logical question of what would happen if Our Lady of the Snows and St. Dunstan’s requested funds, what if the owners of other important historical structures took the board’s action to mean that they too could request town support to enhance their chances of getting a Community Development Block Grant?
It sets a difficult precedent.
Waitsfield United Church of Christ is important to our community, as a home to a congregation of people who work very hard to walk the walk and talk the talk of espousing the best values of Christianity and the church is absolutely a critical historic feature of our village and it needs some serious upgrades to make sure it survives for future generations.
Townspeople should consider this carefully.