Newmarket Pastor Vows to Sleep in Steeple for Fundraiser

By Kathleen D. Bailey /

Posted Apr 20, 2020 at 11:04 AM   

NEWMARKET — The Rev. Patty Marsden has a few concerns about spending the night in the steeple of the Newmarket Community Church. “I don’t mind the bells, but I hope there are no critters,” she said of the antique building.

The other thing is there’s no bathroom on that level, Marsden said, adding with a laugh: “I did not think this through.”

Marsden, pastor of the church, plans to sleep in the building’s steeple once congregants and community members raise $8,500 to continue the church’s ministries. While the church’s resources have been strained due to COVID 19, Marsden and others believe they can continue to be what she calls a “light for the town.”

The idea came to Marsden through a conversation with Deacon Carl Hindy, a retired clinical psychologist and volunteer with the NCC Food Pantry who heard about another church where the pastor committed to spending the night in the church steeple when the congregation raised $8,500 for steeple repair. After Marsden, her husband Jim and music director Dave Talmage broadcast their Easter sunrise service from the steeple, Hindy jokingly texted her about the other church’s steeple challenge.

Marsden shot back: “I’ll sleep in the steeple if we raise $8,500,” and the challenge was on.

Hindy explained that while donations to the church have fallen off due to COVID 19, the mission of the church and the people who need it are stronger than ever. Newmarket Community Church is “synonymous with community outreach,” he said. The town is small, sandwiched between bigger towns, and is a “lost valley” when it comes to social services, according to Hindy.

The church’s food pantry is known as the “Newmarket Food Pantry,” and “some people aren’t even aware that it’s associated with the church,” Hindy said. And while Newmarket is a rich gumbo of musicians, artists, and UNH students, faculty and staff, it also hosts people down on their luck. “It’s a mill town that has plateaued and recovered,” he said.

“I love that we’re a ‘downtown’ church,” Marsden said. “The building is available for so many groups. We see ourselves as being a light for the town.”

But Newmarket returns the favor, Marsden added. “Newmarket has a spirit. I love the way this community comes together.”

The church has kept its food pantry going during the pandemic, Hindy said, and any funds raised will be used to replenish that and fund other ministries. It won’t go to the steeple, he added, pointing out that the steeple is actually in fairly good shape.

The decision to broadcast from the steeple on Easter came from brainstorming with Marsden and her deacons. A Facebook survey showed that some of the congregation wanted to have the traditional Easter sunrise service in Schanda Park. They wanted everything to be as familiar as possible.

“But my view was, nothing this year is familiar and traditional,” Hindy said.

The final decision was Marsden’s, and she is determined to do something special with elements of tradition. She kept it secret from everyone except her husband, who was her tech person, and Talmage.

“On Easter we all tuned in at sunrise, and they did the sunrise service from the steeple,” Hindy said. “People were delighted.”

The idea to broadcast from the steeple actually came from Talmage, according to Marsden, and she embraced it.

The steeple area has two levels. The first level, from which Marsden broadcast, is about 4×6 feet and also houses the clock mechanism. The second level holds the bell but is hard to access, with only crossed beams for support. The clock chimed at 5 a.m. on April 12, and Jim Marsden pointed the camera out the window.

At the end of the service Marsden, her husband and Talmage signed their names to the wall of the steeple room. The building dates back to 1828, she explained, and all the “keepers of the clock” have signed their names on the wall. “But ours was the first Easter service held in the tower,” she said.

Patty Marsden is also chaplain of a Boy Scout troop and they “jumped on the idea,” she said. They will provide her with camping gear for her night in the steeple. Other people have offered to bring meals or help in other ways. The Boy Scouts are planning a “virtual sleep-out” on April 25, and she’s hoping to join them from the tower if the money has been raised by then.

Hindy has no doubt of reaching the goal. In the first three days of the challenge they raised $2,500, he said. The fundraiser has spawned mini-fundraisers in the form of challenge grants. One woman called Hindy to make a cash donation and asked him to pick it up. When he drove to her house, she had a sack of $5 bills on the hood of her car.

Hindy smelled a story and asked her how she’d collected all those $5 bills. The woman, now retired, said that the “girls at work” saved their change from luncheon orders over several years. Hers totaled $200 when she left, and she decided to donate the bills to the church challenge.

“She asked, ‘Can we match it?’ and we put out an appeal,” Hindy said. “Within a day the amount was doubled. We eventually made $330 just off her $5 bills.”

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