Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
December 17, 2010
It’s always been there for me, the place where organized spiritualism came into my life and possibly where I’ll get the final boot into the next world. Some things just are, and even though I haven’t attended a regular service there since my high school days, the Aspen Community Church is my church.
As an infant, I was baptized there, as was as my father before me and whether you believe in such outward embodiments of biblical interpretation, there can be no denying that, at least for me, a part of my spiritual being is forever attached to that cozy and unique sanctuary.
Built in 1890 at a cost of $20,000, it is now one of the most enduring and attractive remnants of Aspen’s glory days as the “Silver Queen.” Its reddish peachblow sandstone exterior and majestic stature immediately catch one’s eye and the stately, stained-glass windows offer a glimpse into the imaginations of long-departed artisans.
At a very young age, I started Sunday School there, my first class taught by the inestimable Mary Eshbaugh Hayes. She was an excellent storyteller and we learned the major Biblical tales well, and for me, it was my initial introduction to Christmas carols. Big in my memory still are the little yellow chairs we sat on, circled around Mary in a basement room, just off the kitchen.
The center of our lives was the Woody Creek ranch, but our connection to a family social life in Aspen was the church, at least during the school year. Potluck suppers were held every month, and just about everyone showed up. As we got older, my Sunday School buddies and I were allowed to ring the church bells, announcing the 11 a.m. service by pulling on a long rope in a hidden room off the balcony.
It’s hard to say what other people wondered about, but godliness and the promise of eternal life weren’t really on my list. The death of my grandfather had flung me into examining those issues deeper and more intensely than a young kid should need to, and I developed my own sense of spiritual understanding, which generally seemed to be off the mark with official religious intent. That did not diminish the importance of the Community Church in my life, though.
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As we sat tight against each other, holding hands during a midnight Christmas ceremony, I envisioned my high-school sweetheart and I married, bringing up our children in the creaky-floored cathedral. Years later, my first marriage did occur there, but the idealism of youth had been scorched by reality and the myth no longer existed.
Around 1962, I became a member, and participated eagerly. I was one of those who passed the wooden collection plates through the crowd, seated in oak pews. I never kept track, because that seemed rude, but always wondered what was inside the little white envelopes some people meticulously placed in the dish with a look of sincere satisfaction.
I might get back there before I die or before it’s too late, but I can’t say. For now, word has it that the entire roof is unstable and needs emergency repair. The church has been extemporaneously closed for safety reasons and its generosity placed on hold.
Groups that used to meet there, some daily, have been forced to find temporary quarters: AA and NA groups, piano lessons, a children’s music program, a yoga class, Bible study classes, a winter recital series, and a Latino worship service twice a week, to name a few. And don’t forget the heart of the operation, the United Methodist congregation that meets on Sunday mornings.
A Christmas reopening is possible, but it’s going to take some heartfelt contributions this holiday season. All of us can participate in some way, either as a statement of religious faith, or simply to help preserve an iconic landmark that is a continuing symbol of our town’s multifaceted spirit.
As it’s always been, Aspen helps its own.
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