The Aspen Chapel: a sanctuary for everyone
December 21, 2007
If there’s any place of worship that embodies the Aspen Idea, then it’s the Aspen Chapel, where every walk of life and faith is not only welcome but encouraged.
Building on postwar Aspen’s bedrock principle of nurturing the mind, body and spirit, the Aspen Chapel was founded nearly 40 years ago as a “testament to remind people in Aspen that there is foremost a spiritual dimension to our existence,” according to the program distributed at the chapel’s 1968 groundbreaking ceremony.
As an interfaith chapel, personal connections are made every day with people of various faiths and beliefs. The chapel is home to the Aspen Jewish congregation, as well as to various branches of Christianity. Christian worship and Jewish Shabbat are held weekly at the chapel, which is situated at the entrance to Aspen and is a landmark of sorts with its steeple nestled between three of the four local ski areas.
Heading the ecumenical center is Gregg Anderson, whose personal style attracts many of its worshipers. The chaplain’s wit, humor and approach to theology is why many residents, second-home owners and visitors come to the chapel.
“We are blatantly open in our theology,” Anderson said, adding while the church respects tradition and liturgy, it’s progressive in redefining spiritual truths and values.”
Anderson doesn’t think worshipers should flock to church because of the clergy.
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“I believe in spiritual leadership, but I don’t believe people should worship spiritual leaders,” he said.
There is a lot of variety in the services at the Aspen Chapel, with an emphasis lately on music-driven worship. Friends of the chapel, including the country-rock band Tanglefoot and singer-songwriter Mack Bailey, are regular visitors, performing inspirational and uplifting music with a message. Last week’s service, the third Sunday of Advent, featured the Aspen Chapel Choir, which set spiritual readings to music, in keeping with ancient tradition.
Perhaps the Aspen Chapel is best known for hosting the Easter sunrise service atop Aspen Mountain, which has attracted thousands of people on sunny Easter Sundays. The chapel also is popular during the holidays, attracting hundreds of kids and adults for the Christmas Eve services, which will be held this year at 5:30 p.m. (children’s service), and the traditional services at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.
At the chapel, where the mission is to “promote open and progressive theology, spiritual enrichment and peace through interfaith engagement,” a global community has been formed that also serves as a center for seminars and classes that focus on the theological concerns of contemporary society.
The chapel is host to an interfaith enterprise called Spiritual Paths and a school called Aspen Wisdom School, which combines a deeper investigation of Christian tradition with a broad inter-spiritual focus.
Coming together in whatever forum is important for Anderson, who believes worship is best when it’s collective.
“We come as human beings humbly to acknowledge that there is something else that is greater out there,” he said. “It’s natural, innate in ourselves to fulfill our instincts in acknowledging the infinite, the eternal, the source or the wisdom ” whatever you call it.
“I don’t know if God even knows his name is God,” Anderson joked.
It was almost a decade before weekly services were held at the chapel after its inception. There is still no formal membership.
“We haven’t converted one person or have one member,” Anderson said with a smile. “I’ve stayed here because I am wishy-washy. I want to support everyone in their own spiritual journey.”
Originally established by a Mennonite bishop, the Aspen Chapel continues to be a church for everyone.
“I like it because it’s a place for people of all faiths,” said Cathy Markle, who sang in the choir during the Dec. 16 service. “It doesn’t matter what you believe.”
Anderson notes that Pitkin County has one of the smallest percentage of people attending church anywhere in the country. And that presents the challenge of convincing people that going to church and worshiping together doesn’t have to be “religious” ” evoking childhood memories when they were forced to go.
“This is not your father’s Oldsmobile,” Anderson joked. “And this isn’t your father’s church.”