John Mack (L) and Volunteer Vermont co-founder David Watts. Photo Meg Smith

 

Volunteer Vermont will hold a potluck reunion on Dec 27, from 3 to 7 p.m., in the vestry of the Charlotte Congregational Church. In addition to sharing memories of Summerton and the Prayer House Mission, the gathering will celebrate the extraordinary life of John Mack, the leader of Volunteer Vermont from its founding until his death on August 12, 2017.

Volunteer Vermont began as a one-time effort to help rebuild an African-American church in Summerton, South Carolina, that was one of hundred torched during a wave of racially motivated hate crimes that swept the United States during the mid-1990s. Organized by Mark Bolles, then pastor of the Charlotte Congregational Church, 42 Vermonters spent a week in April, 1998, working with the members of the Prayer House Mission rebuilding their church. The Vermonters came home so enthused by the experience that the next year, another trip was planned. The momentum continued, and it became an April tradition for a small core of adults and successive generations of Vermont high school students primarily from CVU, but also from Mt. Abraham, the Waldorf School and Burlington High School, to journey to Summerton.

Volunteer Vermont’s accomplishments include the completion of the Prayer House Mission Church and the full construction of the adjacent Mother Bennett Fellowship Hall. The volunteers worked on a number of projects at other predominately Black churches and various community facilities. All of these accomplishments occurred hand in hand with the Prayer House mission Church members who welcomed the visitors from Vermont as family and included them in worship services, concerts and what were easily the best barbecues in the south.

The Vermont volunteers met John Mack when they arrived in Summerton on the founding trip in April 1998. This extraordinary man known to all as “Mack” was a recently retired contractor and a member of the Prayer House congregation. Mack quickly found himself coming out of retirement to supervise the volunteers from Vermont and then successive groups of volunteers who completed the construction of the church over the next months.

Each year it was Mack who greeted the arriving volunteers and with extraordinary skill and openness organized and supervised a ragtag group of volunteers to complete projects that seemed impossibly complex and ambitious. By the end of the week, every volunteer knew they had worked with an extraordinary man who brought out skills and qualities they did not know they had and felt that they had met a friend for life. Without John Mack’s leadership, Volunteer Vermont would not have been possible.

The gathering is for everyone in the community who participated in Volunteer Vermont, whether as a volunteer, a host family for visits to Vermont by the Prayer House community, by enjoying the concerts of the Prayer House Mission chorus when they sang in Charlotte, as well as those who are just curious about the program and the man who made it possible.