Lutherans and UU’s Building for the Future in Carbondale 2

Two different churches that draw congregants from up and down the Roaring Fork Valley have recently put down roots in Carbondale.

Faith Lutheran – which formed from the January 2015 merger of Holy Cross Lutheran of Glenwood Springs and Messiah Lutheran of Aspen – recently purchased and is renovating the former Valley View Medical building at 3140 Highway 133. The congregation has also purchased a nearby parsonage where Pastor Thomas Thierfelder will live.

The Two Rivers Unitarian Universalist (TRUU) congregation has welcomed its first residential minister. Florence Caplow, who relocated from Washington State, lives in Basalt and conducts Sunday services at Third Street Center where TRUU is a tenant. Caplow, who is already ordained as a Soto Zen priest, will be ordained as a UU minister in the summer of 2016 and will be the second UU minister in North America to hold these dual ordinations.

Like Faith Lutheran, TRUU’s roots lead back to other valley communities. Originally called the Unitarian Universalist (UU) Congregation of the Grand Valley, the congregation first met in Silt in 1996. It later became the UU Congregation of Glenwood Springs, meeting at different times in Glenwood, Basalt and in a math room in Carbondale’s Bridges High School. Since moving to Carbondale in 2010, the congregation has doubled in size, counting 60 members drawn from as far away as New Castle, Emma and Lenado. In 2010, TRUU began hiring ministers who commuted from Denver. The most recent, the Reverend Stephan Papa, retired in June. TRUU meets Sunday mornings in the Third Street Center’s Callaway Room.

Like TRUU, the two Lutheran congregations that merged to form Faith Lutheran had done some creative planning to support their ministries. Paul Menter, the new congregation’s president explains, “To save costs, the congregations had been sharing a pastor – our current pastor, Thomas Thierfelder – for about a year before our two memberships voted to merge in the fall of 2013.”

The new Faith Lutheran congregation initially met in the Carbondale Middle School auditorium while searching for a building suitable for both worship and their licensed day care facility.

Both the conversion of the medical building and the merger, which involved votes from the two congregations and approval from the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, a national body of Lutheran Churches, were complex. “The merger was challenging for members of both congregations,” says Menter. Besides serving as the church president, Menter is chief financial officer for RMC, a destination management company headquartered in Aspen. “Long time-members saw church buildings that they had worshiped in for years, and in some cases decades, closed, decommissioned and sold for other purposes. Messiah was sold as a single-family home. The Holy Cross property became part of a car dealership.”

“Those members who remain understand that the church is not a building, it is a community of believers in Christ,” Menter explains. “We want to start a thriving Lutheran congregation in the mid-valley to serve this community, and most importantly to help members of our community recognize their personal gifts and use them to God’s glory. Lutherans believe that salvation is God’s free gift to all of us, available because Christ died for our sins on the cross The Apostle Paul told us that salvation is not something you find, or choose, or earn through works or wealth. His words not only assure of eternal salvation, but also encourage us to work together, with the help of the Holy Spirit, toward the betterment of the world, not in a prideful way, but with humility and compassion for all.”

Faith introduced itself to the larger Carbondale community with a booth at this year’s Mountain Fair and sponsored a community-wide vacation Bible school program in July.

Volunteers from the Lutheran congregation have created a small sanctuary, Sunday school rooms and a pastor’s office in the medical building. Next, they plan to turn a wing of former medical examination rooms into a fellowship hall and to develop space for Faith’s daycare program which is currently renting space on Merrill Avenue in Carbondale. Later, the church plans to expand its sanctuary to accommodate services for up to 100. “The timing of those improvements will depend upon our growth, but it is important to note that we are a community church,” says Menter. “We don’t have grandiose growth plans. We do plan to become an active member of Carbondale’s faith community and also the larger nonprofit and service community.”

Faith Lutheran has hired Stephanie Schimidt to serve as director of family ministry; she will be responsible for much of the church’s community outreach, engagement and programming. Schimidt is a graduate of Concordia College in Irvine, California. She and her husband Wally moved to Carbondale in August.

Two Rivers Unitarian Universalist employs a part-time director of music, Jimmy Byrne, who lives in Carbondale, and also a director of children’s religious education, Heather Rydell, of Lenado.

Like Faith Lutheran, TRUU is seeking ways to connect with the larger valley community. Unitarian-Universalist congregations formally affirm “direct experience of transcending mystery and wonder” as well as “wisdom from the world’s religions” and “spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions.” For several years, TRUU has joined with Colorado Animal Rescue (CARE) to sponsor a Blessing of the Animals in October, and TRUU has joined with the nonprofit Davi Nikent Center for Human Flourishing to sponsor an annual winter solstice bonfire and service at Third Street Center.

Since TRUU’s new minister Florence Caplow has been a Buddhist practitioner for 30 years and a field biologist for most of her adult life, she and the congregation will spend the coming year exploring connections between contemplative practices, the natural world, environmental action and creating community. “I am excited about being in a place where people care so passionately for their environment,” says Caplow.

Caplow, who is also an author and Buddhist teacher, looks forward to reaching out to those with common interests. “I hope to offer classes and workshops that will be of interest to the wider community, and I want to find ways to creatively integrate spirituality with the love of the outdoors that is so apparent here.”