Christ Presbyterian Church, the first church organized in Telluride, will celebrate its 130th birthday Sunday with a community picnic following its regular hour-long service at 10 a.m.
“We are having a homecoming picnic and also an open house, and we’re inviting the entire community to come and check us out,” said Patrick Bailey, Christ Church minister for the past 11 years. “People don’t have to come to church service. Just come have lunch with us. There will be plenty of food and music.”
Bailey said church members have sifted through old records and photographs in building several informational display.
The church was originally founded in 1889 by 90 community members. In the early days, Bailey said, there were a lot of short-term ministers, which was indicative of how difficult it was to attract and retain ministers to a mining town like Telluride.
Originally, Christ Church was congregational, but became part of the Presbyterian Church in the 1930s. Bailey said it’s always been a community church. Earlier this week, for example, a student drama club hosted its meeting in a downstairs space. For years the church basement was home to a busy Telluride Montessori School and 12 Alcohol Anonymous meetings a week.
While the church has always been located at 434 West Columbia Ave., the original structure burned down in 1964.
“It was still a mining community at that point,” Bailey said. “The people rebuilt it and it reopened in 1967, and they did a beautiful job. We’ve got a fire place that was built out of all those crystals that the miners brought out of the mines, probably hidden in their lunch boxes.”
There used to be a wooden tower that housed the church bell; the bell was salvaged from the 1964 fire and still rings today. While there have been some interior renovations over the years, including a major renovation of the manse (parsonage) next door where Bailey and his wife reside, there have been no major structural changes to the building.
Bailey served as an army chaplain for most of his career. After his final assignment in Alaska, which included a 15-month tour in Iraq, he moved to Telluride.
“I followed three progressive ministers before me,” Bailey said. “This church has always been a forward-thinking congregation.”
Historically, western Colorado sees a more conservative brand of Presbyterianism, but that’s not the case with Christ Church.
“Our polity supports a wide range of theologies and different views. We try to allow and empower a minority voice but at the same time we make decisions together as Presbyterians within the national denomination,” Bailey said. “It allows a big tent of thinking, views and perspectives.”
Bailey points to the second annual intersect conference the church hosted this summer: a conversation between spirituality and science.
“We’re not afraid to engage science and be a conversation partner with science,” Bailey said. “It’s part of my leadership, but it’s also this community and the people who come here and support us.”
Bailey earned a doctorate in spiritual direction and nature spirituality, which aligns with what he sees as the high education and experience level of this community.
“A lot of the people in our church now are folks who had given up on religion a long time ago. They’ve found a home that is safe because we gather around the journey, not around a creed or a set of doctrines,” Bailey explained.
Naturally then, the emphasis of his ministry has been educational focusing on interfaith spirituality and spiritual practice, stages of consciousness, and ecological and nature-based practice.
Perhaps one of the most notable physical accomplishments of Bailey’s tenure is the construction and cultivation of the interfaith contemplative gardens that bloom across an entire town lot adjacent to the church building. A generous gardener-benefactor has overseen the gardens project for the past 10 years.
“They’re not our gardens, they’re the community’s gardens,” Bailey said. “We have Jewish displays there, Islamic and American readings. We have a Buddha and some Taoist and nature presentations. People come and have lunch, bring their children, roll around in the grass, sit and meditate. Everyone is welcome.”
As part of a three-year ministry initiative, the church hired Andy Konigsmark two years ago as a part-time associate pastor. Also an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church, Konigsmark recently earned his doctorate and shares all pastoral duties. He will step into the full-time minister position next fall, when Bailey takes a two-month sabbatical renewal retreat to Spain, where he lived during his early 20s.
“A lot of my spiritual formation happened there. My sense of call to ministry happened there,” he said. “So it will be kind of a reunion with those past things and an opening to new possibilities.”