history
 
     
 

the beginnings

Christ Church had its birth in the hey-day of the silver boom, when the main business of Aspen (as Ute City had come to be called) was the mining of precious metal, not catering to skiers, celebrities, and second home owners. Christ Episcopal Church was established as a congregation in 1881, and its first church building was erected in 1886 at the corner of Second and Bleeker Streets in the West End, where a contemporary private residence now stands.

After the silver market crashed in 1893 and the boomtown atmosphere began to wane, the community of Aspen changed rapidly. Miners lost their work; merchants who had catered to them had to shutter their businesses; and the population – which had been as high as 15,000 at the peak of the silver boom – gradually dwindled to fewer than 1,000 souls.  As the population shrank, the numbers of Episcopalians decreased markedly. Due to the disappearance of its congregation, Christ Church was closed soon after World War I, as was the second Episcopal church in Aspen, St. John’s, which had been located on the east side of the old town.

The era between the end of the silver mining industry and the arrival of the ski industry after World War II is known locally as “The Quiet Years.” Ranching was the main business in the valley during those times, and the town of Aspen served the needs of the agricultural community and the very few miners who had hung on, scratching a meager living out of the rocks and hoping for good times to come again.

the modern era

Aspen was “discovered” as a getaway by a band of pioneer skiers, a few Hollywood stars, and some Chicago business leaders just before the beginning of World War II.  After the war was over, good times did indeed come again, but they had nothing to do with the mother lode of silver that continued to lie beneath the surface of the mountains around the town. The rapidly growing Aspen Skiing Company, the newly founded Aspen Institute, and the Aspen Music Festival and School, attracted an influx of new permanent and part-time residents —drawn to the snow, the cultural attractions, the laid-back atmosphere of the rustic old mining town, and the beauty of the Roaring Fork Valley. Lodges, hotels, clubs, restaurants and other new businesses sprang up to meet the needs and wants of mid-century Aspenites.

As the town began to grow again, of course some Episcopalians moved to town, and a handful of the faithful – including Marian Rubey and Peggy Rowland – pioneered the re-establishment of an Episcopal Church in the town. A mission congregation was organized in 1956 under the short-lived tutelage of the Rev. Donald Shissler.  The newly ordained Rev. Richard R. Palmer arrived in 1959 to take over responsibility for the fledgling church. A house on Hopkins Street downtown became the place of worship until the first church building was erected on property donated by the Rowland family at the corner of Fifth and West North Streets in 1961-62. Father Palmer continued as vicar of Christ Church until being succeeded by the Rev. William Shannon at about the time the new church was being built.

1976 to 2011

Father Bill Shannon was vicar until 1976, when he was succeeded by the Rev. Robert J. (“Bob”) Babb, a Colorado native who came to Christ Church, Aspen, from Christ Church in Cañon City, CO. Fr. Bob, as he became known to everyone in town, had a long and fruitful ministry in Aspen. A tall, good-natured, gregarious and community-minded pastor, he presided over a period of growth in the congregation and expansion of the church facilities. A rectory was built on West North Street adjacent to the church in 1981, and in 1984 Fr. Babb became the first rector of the “new” Christ Church, when the congregation was promoted from mission to parish status by the Diocesan Convention. Under his leadership, Christ Church in 1989 established a parochial mission in Basalt, named St. Peter's of the Valley, which was served at first by Fr. Babb and later by the Ven. Morris Hollenbaugh, retired Archdeacon of S. Ohio, who had retired to Snowmass. The Find Us Faithful capital campaign in 1998-99 raised funds to purchase a church building for St. Peter's.  This was about the same time as Fr. Babb left to accept a call to Trinity Church, Longview, TX, where he died suddenly and unexpectedly of a stroke in 2002.

After an 18 month interim, during which the congregation was served by the Rev. Eugene Todd as interim rector, the Rev. Jeffrey Fouts was called in 2000 as the second rector of the “re-founded” parish.  His tenure was short and marked by controversy.  Another one-year interim period began in January of 2003, when the Rev. Geoffrey C. Gwynne came to Aspen to function as interim rector and search process facilitator.  Fr. Gwynne asked an old friend and former ministry colleague, the Rev. Bruce McNab, to be a candidate in the rector search.

In late 2003, Christ Church issued a call to Fr. Bruce McNab. Father Bruce arrived at Christ Church in early 2004 with 32 years of wide-ranging experience, serving parishes of all sizes throughout the United States and overseas.

 

Under Fr. Bruce’s seven and a half year tenure, Sunday attendance and stewardship increased, leading to a new era of spiritual vitality at Christ Church. In 2007 the congregation voted to go forward with plans for a wide-ranging renovation and expansion of the original facility that had been built in the 1960s. Fr. Bruce, with the energetic support of the Vestry and a committed group of lay leaders, spearheaded the three-year Ministry for Tomorrow capital campaign to raise funds for the building project between 2008 and the end of 2010.

At the end of June, 2009, after enjoying the hospitality of the historic Aspen Community United Methodist Church for thirteen months, the congregation celebrated “Homecoming Sunday,” moving back to the new renovated home on its old site. Bishop O’Neill blessed and dedicated the new facilities on August 21, 2009. In 2010 the new church received three Colorado regional architectural awards and a fourth award, a national one, was presented to Studio B Architects in May, 2011.

After 45 years in the ministry, Father Bruce McNab retired at the end of June 2011.

 

 

 

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christ episcopal church of aspen
536 West North Street, Aspen, Colorado 81611-1253 • (970) 925-3278