Our History

The History of Christ Episcopal  Church in Aspen

The Beginning

Christ Church had its birth in the hey-day of the silver boom. Christ Methodist Episcopal Church, as it was then known, 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, the boomtown atmosphere began to wane, and the community of Aspen changed rapidly. 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 of the town shrank, so too, did the numbers of Episcopalians. Due to the disappearance of its congregation after World War I, Christ Church was soon closed, as was the second Episcopal church in Aspen, St. John’s, which had been located on the east side of the old town.

The actual church building itself was moved to the town of Marble nearly 60 miles away and renamed St. Paul’s.  Now the Marble Community Church, it still stands today albeit with significant additions.

The Modern Era
Just before the beginning of World War II, Aspen was “discovered” as a getaway by a band of European, ex pat, pioneer skiers, a few Hollywood stars, and some Chicago business leaders, and after the war, those surviving “new pioneers” returned with a vengeance. Good times did indeed come again, and the reminted utopian city of Aspen was inundated with an influx of new permanent and part-time residents, including many Episcopalians, as the church was now called. Lodges, hotels, restaurants and other new businesses, schools and churches sprang up to meet the needs and wants of midcentury Aspenites.  A handful of the faithful  – including Marian Rubey and Peggy Rowland – were determined to re-establish an Episcopal Church in Aspen also.

A mission congregation was organized in 1956 under the short-lived tutelage of the Rev. Donald Shissler, and in 1959 the newly ordained Rev. Richard R. Palmer arrived to take over 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, where the church is still located today.

1976 to 2004

About the time the church building was being built, Father Palmer was succeeded by the Rev. William Shannon who remained as vicar until 1976. He was then followed by Christ Church’s longest serving rector, the gregarious Robert J. (“Bob”) Babb. A community-minded pastor, Fr. Bob became known to everyone in town and enjoyed a long and fruitful ministry in Aspen. Under his leadership, Christ Church grew in both their congregation and their 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 as the congregation was promoted from mission to parish status. With Fr. Babb’s guidance, in 1989 Christ Church established St. Peter’s of the Valley, a
parochial mission in Basalt. Around 1998, after initiating a fundraising campaign to purchase the new congregation its own building, Fr. Babb departed to accept a call to Trinity Church, Longview, TX..

The Rev. Eugene Todd took over for 18 months as interim rector until the Rev. Jeffrey Fouts was called in 2000. His tenure was controversial and short, and he resigned unexpectedly a week before Christmas 2002.  The Rev. Geoffrey C. Gwynne from Parker, Co. stepped in to the rescue with three days’ notice, and after preaching Christmas Eve, ended up staying on for another 18 months as interim rector. Father Geoff ultimately declined the invitation to become rector, leaving for CT. in pursuit of his original calling as a church planter. Before he left, however,  Fr. Geoff, had the prescience to recommend Christ Church consider an old friend and former ministry colleague, Rev.Bruce McNab as a candidate in the new minister search.

After a short “search”, Fr. Bruce was called to be Christ Church Aspen’s third rector, and he and his wife Joan, an ordained Deacon in her own right, arrived in 2004.

2004 to 2011

Having been a preacher for 32, Fr. Bruce provided the seasoned spiritual leadership Christ Church needed following a tumultuous span which saw it endure 4 priests over 5 years! Well-experienced in congregational stewardship, Fr. Bruce helped Christ Church move from budget deficits and a loss of parishioners to actual growth and expansion.

Under Fr. Bruce’s seven-year leadership, average Sunday attendance increased by slightly more than 23% (from 93 to 115) while plate and pledge giving increased by 96%. In 2007 Christ Church initiated a wide-ranging renovation and expansion of their 45 year old building, breaking ground in 2008 and taking13 months to complete. During the reconstruction the congregation enjoyed the hospitality of the historic Aspen Community United Methodist Church, who generously shared their even older building with the Episcopalians. Christ Church finally celebrated “Homecoming Sunday,” on August 21, 2009. In 2010 and 2011 the new church building actually received three Colorado and one national architectural awards!

In July in 2011, a month short of his 66th birthday Fr. Bruce retired from active ministry, although, for the sake of stability, he was happy to remain until a new rector was elected and ready to relocate to Aspen.

To be Continued...

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