Missy and I are living in Lincoln, Vermont, during the month of January. The United Church of Lincoln invited me to be their guest pulpit minister and live in their charming parsonage across the street from the New Haven River.
Over the next several weeks, I will be writing about our experiences and the lessons we learn from these remarkable people living in the Green Mountains of Vermont.
We flew into Boston last Friday before taking a shuttle to Hanover, New Hampshire, where our youngest son attends college. He is graciously lending his car for our adventure in the Green Mountains.
On Saturday, Missy and I began the trek to Lincoln. We plugged the address into our GPS, thinking that was the wisest course of action. All was fine until we hit central Vermont. We noticed the roads were getting smaller with less pavement. The GPS finally told us to take a right into the mountains, where we saw the sign, “Do Not Depend on GPS In This Area.” No kidding.
Over the next hour, we slid back and forth on a wet dirt road; riding close to the mountain and hoping not to roll down the other side into the river. We finally made our way into Lincoln, a quaint little town, nestled by the New Haven River and winding through the Green Mountains.
After we arrived, we headed to the church’s parsonage. We were told the back door was open with the keys on the dining room table. This bit of information was strange, but also charming, for us city kids.
We did a quick assessment of our temporary home. The church had set the house up perfectly for our arrival, with furniture and everything we might need for our month-long stay. However, as we settled into our new living quarters, we realized I needed an iron for Sunday morning.
So, we walked to the local General Store, just around the corner from the parsonage and across the street from the church. As we walked into the store, we must have stood out like aliens from another world because a lovely woman asked if we needed any help. She could instantly tell we were not from around these parts.
We asked if the store had any irons for sale. She informed us they did not have an iron for sale but inquired about our other needs. I told her I was the new pulpit pastor at the church across the street, to which she declared, “Oh yes, we’ve heard all about you.”
Then, she did something unexpected. She said, “You need an iron, do you? Well, let me make a phone call.”
In an instant, she was on the phone talking to someone. After she hung up, she told us that an iron would be delivered to the house that night. She smiled and said, “It might even be there before you walk home.”
Guess what? She was right.
Sitting on our front porch when we returned to the parsonage was an iron ready to use. The iron – and the extremely kind gesture by the owner of the general store – was a quick reminder that stories about small-town Vermont hospitality were legitimate.
The owner of the general store is Vaneasa Stearns. She grew up around Lincoln, her grandfather being the last dairy farmer in the area, and she has owned the store since 1991.
After living in nearby Middlebury as an adult, Stearns grew weary of her job as a department store buyer. She wanted to settle down, stop traveling to New York so much, and raise a family in the area.
So, she stopped into the Lincoln General Store one day to inquire about possibly purchasing it. The owners were interested.
The general store opened in 1843, 63 years after the town was chartered. It has always been a hub for the community, as people purchased much-needed resources and caught up on the local news.
Stearns knew owning a general store would be difficult, but knowing it would be in the hands of someone connected to the community over several generations was warming.
Therefore, she recalled, “I waddled into the bank, pregnant with my first child, and secured the loan to buy the store.” She’s owned it ever since.
Stearns raised her kids in the store, creating a safe space for them in the back where they could play, nap and wait for the school bus that picked them up across the street.
Community members affectionately refer to Vaneasa as the “mayor” of Lincoln. If anything is happening in Lincoln or the surrounding area, Stearns will be the first to know about it. She quipped, “If my kids got caught speeding in nearby Bristol, I would know before they got home.”
One of her employees, Spencer Prescott, commented, “The town would be completely lost without Vaneasa.” Prescott is one of the many beneficiaries of the store, which employs several relatives and townspeople. He is also Stearns’ nephew.
Prescott says store traffic ebbs and flows through the seasons these days, but there is always a steady stream of folks stopping by for coffee, sandwiches and conversation. This is a nice change coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 severely slowed traffic down at the store, but the store adjusted by making at-home deliveries and offering curbside pick-ups. Stearns said the store and community adjusted to the pandemic well, but she did complain that her nephew left his music on a little too loud in her car after he delivered goods to customers.
The Lincoln General Store is a social microcosm of rural America. Stearns said a variety of people come into her store from week to week. Regardless of their professions, wealth or political leanings, the general store is a “safe space” for people to enter, find what they need and enjoy some delightful conversation.
Stearns, Prescott and their fellow Lincoln citizens really make the general store what it is. It’s a beautiful place where people discover the very best of the community. While you can find just about anything you need at the general store – even an iron they do not sell – the best commodity they offer is friendship.
As I wrapped up my conversation with Stearns, I asked how much I owed her for the coffee. She replied, “It’s on the house when two friends share a good conversation.” Indeed, mayor, indeed.
CEO of Good Faith Media.