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Backstory: Most Random Assignment

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Published December 29, 2021 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated December 29, 2021 at 2:17 p.m.


Green Mountain Bible Church in Island Pond - COLIN FLANDERS ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Colin Flanders ©️ Seven Days
  • Green Mountain Bible Church in Island Pond

This "backstory" is a part of a collection of articles that describes some of the obstacles that Seven Days reporters faced while pursuing Vermont news, events and people in 2021.


To explain how I ended up spending part of Easter weekend at a Bible reading in the Northeast Kingdom, it helps to understand how I was feeling at that time.

It was early April, and I had spent most of the previous year toiling away at home, emerging from my dim bedroom-turned-office only to make lunch or refill my water bottle. My neck felt permanently kinked from doing interviews with the phone propped against my shoulder. Too often I was forgetting to put on deodorant. And while the vaccine rollout offered hope, my age group wouldn't be eligible for another two weeks. I was going stir-crazy.

Around that same time, I was speeding through This Land, a book by journalist Dan Barry that contains a collection of columns he wrote for the New York Times. The stories painted intimate portraits of American life. You could smell the manure from the last-ever auction at a century-old Minnesota stockyard and hear the ripple of the flag planted on the side of a South Dakota dirt road — the geographical center of the nation.

I wanted to do more reporting like this, to go somewhere I'd never been, to see something new. And so, when I stumbled across a posting for a 24-hour Bible reading in Island Pond, I was on board. What would inspire someone to do this? What would they get out of it? Where the hell was Island Pond?

I called the pastor and made my pitch. He seemed hesitant; it was the height of mask mania, and there had been reports of churches not strictly adhering to indoor mandates, which had led to some outbreaks of COVID-19. I assured him that I had no interest in mask policing. I just wanted to take in the scene.

After a lengthy drive that included a stop at an NEK grocery store to ask for directions, I found the church and spent nearly three hours there, reveling in the feeling of being with strangers once again.

The pastor warmed to my presence the longer I stuck around. An interview in his office revealed more about him: his past struggles with money and depression, and why he does what he does. He even sent me home with a small pocket Bible, which I awkwardly accepted, figuring the gods — journalistic or otherwise — would forgive the ethical transgression of accepting a gift from a source.

The high from the visit was quickly replaced by the dread of having to write it up. I racked my brain for a deeper meaning, for a way to convince readers, and maybe myself, that I hadn't just wasted a tank of gas and a Saturday on a dud.

But then I remembered that I wasn't the only one who had spent the last 12 months in isolation. So I wrote about what I saw: a group of people coming together to do something they enjoyed. That felt newsworthy enough to me.