"Most people here will vote for Jim Jeffords regardless of what party he belongs to," says the Rev. David Dean, pastor emeritus of Grace Congregational UCC in Rutland, Vt. "He does right by Vermonters and what we believe."
Jeffords is the U.S. senator who switched parties last month, shifting the balance of power in the Senate from the Republicans to the Democrats.
Dean, now retired, was Jeffords' pastor for about 25 years. "He's a native Vermonter," says Dean. "He grew up in the church and now he lives nearby.
"He and his wife, Liz, are both very concerned with social issues, and he was always ready to respond to a social justice sermon—sometimes to agree and sometimes to challenge me."
In his statement on May 24, Sen. Jeffords said, "I love the state of Vermont. It has always been known for its independence and its social conscience."
He then listed a number of social issues with which he "will disagree" with President Bush: "the issues of choice, the direction of the judiciary, tax and spending decisions, missile defense, energy and the environment...and education."
Jim Jeffords "is a very steady, quiet, independent thinker," says the Rev. Robert Curry, Pastor at Grace church. "He takes part in church activities and is a singing waiter at our Harvest Dinner."
He also brings other senators to worship with him, says Curry. Last spring, one of those guests was then-Senator John Ashcroft, now U.S. Attorney General.
"He definitely is a part of our church," says the Rev. Mark Pitton, Grace's Associate Pastor. "His faith is clearly a part of who he is and what he does and how he decides."