By PHYL NEWBECK
In late December 2017, Jesse Mark and his family moved from sunny New Mexico to Vermont for Mark’s new job as pastor of Daybreak Church in Colchester.
Several months later, he has settled in happily but admits the first few days weren’t the easiest.
“We went full Vermont,” he said. “We moved into an old farmhouse in South Burlington that had been vacant and the heating lines were frozen. The bathrooms had just been renovated, but both showers leaked.”
The first five days here were uncomfortable to say the least, but everything turned around soon after, Mark said.
Mark previously worked in Los Alamos, N.M. with troubled teens when he felt called to try something new. He applied to a number of different churches, based on their ideology rather than a particular location. When Daybreak wrote back, he delved deeper into its philosophy and was thrilled when he was hired to take over the congregation.
Mark’s family moved to Los Alamos when he was 2 years old. After graduating high school, he wanted to tour through different colleges in the U.S. and spent one year in Maine before transferring to Eckerd College in Florida.
There he realized the downside to his plan since he ended up having to repeat much of his freshman year. Abandoning his college-hopping goals, Mark got his undergraduate degree in biology at Eckerd before going to Fuller Theological Seminary in California for graduate work.
Mark readily admits to a lack of knowledge about the state he now calls home.
“Vermont wasn’t on my radar,” he said. “I knew the state capital, and I knew about maple syrup but we had no family here and didn’t know anybody.”
Soon, he realized the state “checked all the boxes,” in part because his wife, Zoe, was able to find a job doing the laboratory science work she’d done in New Mexico. Daughter Abby, age 7, is attending the Chamberlin School while 4-year-old Cora goes to preschool at Christ the King a few mornings each week. Their third child, Thomas Oliver (known as Ollie), is 1-and-a-half.
“We’ve been enjoying the state,” Mark said. “There are a lot of things about Vermont that appeal to my natural tendencies. I like ecological responsibility, and Vermont has that in a lot of creative ways. I also have a passion for locally sourced food and that’s readily available here.”
Mark appreciates how welcoming Vermonters have been: “People are generally friendly,” he said “and have the mentality of getting through the winter together.”
Home renovations and getting settled at Daybreak has kept the Marks from trying many Vermont winter activities, although the family went to Great Ice in Grand Isle with one church family, and some congregants took him to Bolton for his first ever night skiing.
Both Mark and his wife are snowboarders. When they began to date seriously, he was invited on a family vacation and at one point he found himself alone on a ski lift with her father.
“It turns out that wasn’t an accident,” he recalled.
Zoe’s dad suggested a difficult run, and when Mark had no difficulty navigating it, he was greeted with a high-five at the bottom, a welcome to the family.
He’s also felt welcomed to Daybreak Church, which he says has a mission to create unity while appreciating diversity.
“That’s what made me pursue a relationship with this church, and they back that up with actions,” he said.
Mark said Daybreak’s credo corresponds with his belief in exercising patience and grace and maintaining community even with those with whom he disagrees.
“What we share is stronger than what tears us apart,” he said.