On Easter Sunday, I knew that Grace and St. Stephen’s would be crowded with worshippers, that parking would be a problem, that the pews would be uncomfortable, that my knees would be creaky and that I couldn’t check my phone during the sermon. So I wafted kind thoughts to my fellow Episcopalians and headed for Cripple Creek, hoping for some sign of heavenly beneficence.
Driving past St. Peter’s Chapel as we arrived in the Creek, I was pleased to see scores of cars parked around the resplendent church, where Sunday mass has been celebrated since 1898. I’ve never been inside. According to the Diocese of Colorado Springs, it “features ornate altars in the pre-Vatican II style, liturgical artwork and handcrafted stained glass. A new (copper) roof installed a few years ago increased the church’s visibility, particularly when the roof reflects sunlight to the view of the townspeople.”
Leaving the Creek a few hours later, we drove past St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, a small but immaculately maintained building that has services every Sunday. Like its Catholic counterpart, it’s one of many small congregations in cities throughout Colorado that have somehow survived (and even thrived) since the 19th century.
That’s something to celebrate, as is the peaceful coexistence of multiple faiths and belief systems in our state. We Episcopalians are schismatic Catholics, an offshoot of the Anglican Church that was created in 1534 when King Henry VIII declared himself supreme ruler of the Church of England. The bitterness and bloodshed of 500 years ago is long past, and it seems unlikely that our religious communities will ever be infected by the angry rancor of present-day national politics, but unlikely doesn’t mean impossible.
Consider 2007, when the Episcopal congregation of Grace and St. Stephen’s fractured as conservative dissidents led by then-Rector Don Armstrong attempted to break away from the Colorado bishopric and affiliate with an Anglican group. Armstrong and his followers took possession of the building, the Episcopal Church sued and the dissidents lost in court two years later. No shots were fired, no bombs exploded and no one vowed revenge. Father Armstrong and his followers acquired the 1873 downtown building that originally housed Grace Church, and launched St. George’s Anglican Church in 2009. Loyal Episcopalians who had worshipped in Colorado College’s Shove Chapel for two years repossessed their beautiful Tejon Street building.
An enduring “Ring of Faith” blesses our city, a handful of historic churches that were erected in the 19th and the early 20th centuries, and remain lively and relevant today. They include the First Congregational Church, All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, Grace and St. Stephen’s, The First Baptist Church, Sacred Heart and St. Mary’s Cathedral.
Yet all are threatened — by indifference.
As Michelle Boorstein reported in The Washington Post on Easter Sunday, 23 percent of Americans say they have “no religion,” up from 14 percent in 2000. That makes “no religion” the fastest-growing denomination in the country. More than half of all Americans say they attend religious services once a year or less.
Those figures suggest that we’re well on the way to post-religion America, a country where church buildings have been converted to other uses, congregations disbanded and religious schools closed. It’d be a 21st century Reformation, one that would sweep aside Protestants, Catholics and adherents of every faith. Some might applaud such a change, while others might see it as another consequence of depersonalized digital culture. No matter — I know that I’m one of the perps in this particular cultural heist.
My parents were the first couple married in Grace and St. Stephen’s, shortly after it was completed in 1926. I grew up in the church, reluctantly attended Sunday school and benefited from Rector Lindsay Patton’s wise counsel after my father died when I was a teenager. I’ve attended family marriages, funerals and christenings there, but I haven’t been to services for years.
No more excuses, no more Sunday morning trips to the Creek. A week has 168 hours — I can give up staring at my phone for two of them. It’s time to reconnect, and give what I can give, and gratefully accept what is given.
Just don’t ask me to repeat Sunday school.