EMMA - A decade after parishioners of Grace Church of the Roaring Fork Valley first gathered to worship, they will do so Sunday in an actual church - their church.
The long-awaited facility, constructed in Emma, will host its first service Sunday morning after a short dedication service, ribbon-cutting and open house that takes place Saturday, starting at 1 p.m. Everyone is welcome.
Friday, the building was busy with last-minute interior setup and cleanup - the final finishing touches by a congregation that finally took matters into its own hands to build its home.
Since the congregation was formed in October 2002, it had met weekly at the Eagle County Community Center, a government building in El Jebel that opened shortly before the new congregation came together. It was to be a temporary arrangement; the group purchased property in Emma for a church in 2003.
"None of us expected it would be 10 years," said pastor Terry Maner.
Soon after purchasing the Emma land, the congregation submitted a development application to Pitkin County. It proved controversial, leading to lawsuits involving the church, the county and the Emma Caucus - a history that Maner acknowledges but doesn't dwell upon.
"Were not looking back - we're looking forward," he said.
The county approved the application in early 2008 and the building permit was issued in November of that year, just as the country sank into the Great Depression. Construction stagnated.
"We did things at the best pace we could - a few stops and starts," Maner said. "We just kept pecking at it. It really took a huge volunteer effort. It's been an amazing thing to be able to pull off during the recession."
He believes it is the first new church built in Pitkin County since 1987.
Maner credits the work of the church's 140 or so parishioners for completing the task, as well as subcontractors who offered to perform work at generous prices. Church elder Jim Alexander, a roofing contractor, took over as general contractor when the funds to pay the project's original contractor ran out.
"The whole church really pulled together," Alexander said. "It's been fun."
Instead of a few rooms at its disposal for an hour each week, the congregation now has 8,782 square feet in which to study, socialize, celebrate and worship. There is a nursery, pastor's study, four classrooms and a generous kitchen that opens into a spacious gathering area with a fireplace. The adjacent sanctuary, with a vaulted wood ceiling that also extends over the gathering area, is lined with windows and built with acoustics in mind. The building is heated with a geothermal system.
The ceiling in the gathering room and sanctuary boasts a combined 2,200 boards, all carefully spaced in keeping with the acoustic design. Each one was cut, sanded and stained by members of the congregation, according to Maner.
Sunday's inaugural worship service happens to coincide with the first Sunday of Advent. Maner has prepared a fitting sermon.
"The theme is really about coming home," he said.