A Short Summary
Gunnison Congregational Church – United Church of Christ was founded to meet our community's need for a theologically liberal and inclusive place of Christian worship. Our founding members began organizing in late 1999 and the first formal worship service was held June 11, 2000 at the Aspinall-Wilson Center. Those interested in this new and lively church quickly grew from two to eight to thirty-seven to a membership of seventy-five in 2008.
Our development was assisted by Rev. Tim Clark, Union Congregational Church in Crested Butte, Rev. Tom Reihling, Rocky Mountain Conference Minister in Denver, the New Church Development Fund of the United Church of Christ, Washington Park United Church of Christ in Denver, and the Rev. Sandra V. Edwards of Paonia, Colorado who served two short terms as interim minister.
We worshipped for several years at St. Peter's Catholic Church whose hospitality we especially appreciate and acknowledge. For several years our full time minister was the Rev. Don Wills, who later became director of the Restorative Justice Program in Gunnison. His wife, Joy, worked with our children’s program.
In May of 2008 our congregation called the Rev. Brenda Brown as our full-time pastor. She has brought a contagious enthusiasm which has spread through our congregation and beyond. Our children and youth programs have grown rapidly along with membership.
We currently meet at the Aspinall-Wilson Center. We are seeking a place for our own church home in the city of Gunnison and plans are underway to make this possible.
The founding of a new church is a daunting task, and usually the effort ends in failure. The story of our beginning can be found below.
How We Began
In October and November 1999, Sylvia Peterson and Martha Gentry met with the Rev. Tim Clark, Minister of the Union Congregational Church, UCC in Crested Butte. Sylvia and Martha had discussed the possibility of these conversations for at least the preceding year. Neither found the existing churches in Gunnison to represent liberal theological leanings. Conversations with Tim explored these views and the possibility that others might think similarly.
An early exploration with Tim was for him to hold a mid-week, early evening chapel service in Gunnison. This did not seem possible with his responsibilities in Crested Butte. Instead, we began to consider the extent to which our views about a different worship opportunity in Gunnison might be shared by others in the area.
The first Gunnison meeting of a few interested persons was held at noon on January 20, 2000 at the Johnson Gallery. In a memo dated Jan. 7 to interested persons, we referred to ourselves as the Gunnison Satellite UCC Church. Additional Gunnison persons present at this meeting were Nancy and Dan Tredway, Rick and Kathy Tonnessen, and Ronda Connaway. Tim told us about the Rocky Mountain Conference-UCC help that could be provided and information they needed from us.
A survey of current churches' membership/participation and population figures for city and county were identified as important for the Conference office. Martha agreed to do this within the next few weeks. We set a next meeting, with each participant to invite other interested persons.
Our second Gunnison meeting was February 17, 2000 in the Conference Room of the Community Bank at noon. We were joined by Steve Patrick, Deborah Hund, Jo Ann Brown and those at the Jan. meeting. Tim talked with us further about the RMC and a possible visit by Rev. Tom Rehling, new church growth minister.
We set March 14, 2000, 5-7 p.m. at the Aspinall-Wilson building for this meeting. The survey results and population estimates had been completed and sent to RMC.
Plans were made for child care, refreshments and newspaper publicity for the meeting with Tom. An analysis of names and addresses of those attending and the names/addresses of possible interested persons submitted that night showed that:
- Thirty-seven (37) names/addresses of adults were turned in. Some of these were not present, but thought by others to be interested.
- Twenty-four (24) adults were present, plus Tim and Tom. These adults represent eleven children in their families.
- Of the number 37, three moved from the area within a few months and six have not participated as of summer, 2001.
- Twenty-six (26) adults from this meeting (present or named) have become members.
- Three children from these families also have joined.
At the meeting, we described the church we hoped to form:
- Be accepting of diversity;
- Find ways for outreach in the world;
- Have an educated clergy;
- Engage in local mission;
- Provide meaningful activities for children;
- Have worship that is non-traditional, lively, open, questioning, non-doctrinal, provocative;
- Have a mixture of modern/classical/contemporary music;
- Provide opportunities to explore and deepen our faith;
- Put our faith in action;
- Have fellowship opportunities within our congregation.
We began to talk about summer 2000 worship in Gunnison. A meeting was set for March 28 at Aspinall-Wilson to proceed to develop plans. The following people attended this meeting:
- Robin Bingham
- Bill and Barbara King
- Nancy and Dan Tredway
- Ronda Connaway
- Peggy Martin
- Rev. Tim and Beth Clark
- Martha Gentry
- Sylvia Peterson
- Dawn Helman
- Rick and Kathy Tonnessen
Organizational tasks were identified for summer worship and for a full operating church in the fall.
Some comments about our functioning and education are in order. Steve Patrick and Ronda Connaway each searched the Internet for information about the UCC church and distributed copies to each who had been involved to date. Beginning in January/February references to these materials were frequently made in our meetings. We kept in touch through memos/notes summarizing our past meetings and identifying our next. These were written by Martha and mailed by Ronda, using the beginning list of names place on her computer/mailing label program.
We also started sending money to Crested Butte for initial expenses, indicating it was for the Gunnison Church. Although the Union Church Council voted not to support the developing church financially or by pastoral leadership, they did make it possible for our checking account to be opened March 9, transferring $85.00 balance that had been received to date. The account was the "UCC-Gunnison" account at Community Banks.
Joni at the Union church office, managed our financial affairs until November 1, 2000 when our own account was opened in Gunnison at Community Banks. Martha mailed requests for payment with receipts enclosed (at first, child care for meetings and stamps/xerox.)
Individuals contributing mailed checks directly to C.B. Once summer worship began, offerings were deposited to our C.B. Community Banks account by either Robin Bingham or Dan Tredway.
Meetings scheduled in the evenings began to be distinguished by two activities: refreshments – provided for or arranged by Sylvia, and child care – recruited or managed by Kathy Tonnessen. This continued when we began our evening worship.
In the evening of April 17, Bill and Barbara King hosted a dinner for Tom Rehling and a staff person from the UCC Cleveland office to meet a few of our group.
We met April 25 at Aspinall-Wilson to plan and distribute tasks for summer worship. Our worship leader would be Union's summer intern. Our financial responsibilities agreed to wer 1/4th the intern's salary and rent, worship space at Aspinall-Wilson, bulletins, supplies, publicity, etc. totaling $3,500 for the period June 11 through August 20.
The group reviewed materials about interns available and expressed a preference which was the same as Union's preference. Aspinall-Wilson was chosen as the location and rented for Sunday night 6:30 p.m. service. Rick Tonnessen designed our first flyer which was distributed to motels and campgrounds among other places. Publicity continued to be submitted to the Shopper and the Country Times by Martha. We were now referring to ouselves as the Gunnison Congregational Church, United Church of Christ.
Our summer worship leader was Pastor Cynthia Stateman, a third year student at Pacific School of Religion in the Master of Divinity program. She had served the Nucla UCC church in the summer of 1998 so was not unfamiliar with Colorado. The winter prior to joining us, she coordinated the after school program at a Methodist Church in the inner city of Oakland, CA. She also contributed to the worship and adult education programs. Our first service was June 11 – Pentecost!
As the summer progressed a worship group was formed to initiate and coordinate activities/tasks as needed. Persons and tasks were:
- Dan Tredway, Convenor of the group as necessary
- Bill King – Coordinate music
- Jo Ann and Kevin Brown – obtain two greeters/offering persons for the guest book and offering plates passed each Sunday
- Kaylonn Tredway – recruit persons to bring juice and cookies.
Dan Tredway made our aspen wood offering plates and Harley Tripp our cross which were dedicated in an early service.
We concluded our summer worship with a potluck/celebration/send-off for Cynthia.
Offerings from Jan. 1 - Aug 31 totaled $5,688.25; expenses were $3,687.32. Our balance as of Aug. 31, 2000 was $2,000.93.
In late May, several from our group were asked by Tom to become part of the RMC search committee for a full time pastor beginning in the fall. Gunnison persons were: Sylvia Peterson, Carol Primus, Kathy Tonnessen, Karen Obermeyer, and Tim Clark, representing the Western Slope. Tom worked with this committee, including a visit to Gunnison. A potential minister was invited to visit. A special worship service led by him was scheduled for August 8th at Aspinall-Wilson Center. (Another great flyer by Rick!) Opportunities for visiting with him and wife were provided and the group suggested to Tom that he be called; the RMC search committee concurred. The offer, however, was not accepted.
In the process of deciding where to meet for worship in the summer, many different kinds of locations were considered which might also be our location for the winter. Aspinall-Wilson had served us well for our meetings; we decided to regularly meet there for the summer and to continue to look for fall. Different members of the group participated in exploring various possibilities – restaurant/bar, private home, lodge building, warehouse, etc. Each would require extensive renovation for our use and require us to purchase furniture. It became apparent that our best choice for the near future was a location for worship set up and equipped for that. Tom was consulted by phone and e-mail and visits to Gunnison. We were aware of developing plans of the St. Peter's church to build on the old City Market space which they had purchased. The current sanctuary would probably be sold in the near future. We decided to formally talk with Father Jim about our use of the sanctuary for worship.
On Friday, July 7 at 4 p.m., the following person initially met with Father Jim: Matt Tyler, Heidi Keck, Martha Gentry, Rick Tonnessen and Rev. Tim Clark. Tim was included because he was a good friend of Father Jim's and we thought our group and idea needed some credibility with Fr. Jim. Further negotiations took place and the Parish Council gave approval. We began worshipping there Aug. 27, at 9:00 a.m.
As discussions continued with St. Peter's, we decided we needed a visible place downtown to identify ourselves and to conduct church business/meet/educate ourselves, etc. The location at 214 N. Main was available for rent; we leased it Oct. 1.
Our need for pastoral leadership following summer worship was addressed in two ways. First, Tom was able to obtain Rev. Sandra Edwards for a short-term period. Rev. Edwards was know to several of the group due to her leadership in Western Sloper UCC churches and her workshops in Christian Education. She and husband, Jack, drove from their home in Paonia for six weeks each Saturday, returning Sunday, and ending October 1.
We entered St. Peter's Church together for our first service, singing and carrying our new UCC banner. Sandra and Jack's leadership made it possible for us to continue together and to engage in searching for a longer term solution for pastoral leadership.
Tom recommended us to a recently, early retired Florida UCC minister and wife who were intrigued with the challenges we presented. The previous search committee along with Bill King arranged for a visit by Charles and Kathy Mory who preached September 10. They toured the area, became acquainted with us through a Brunch in the part following service and saw the Main St. office space. Our group told Tom to "get them for us." Charles and Kathy met with the RMC search group who concurred. They agreed to become our gathering pastor beginning October 15, 2000 – Charles as Minister and Kathy as Office Manager.
Through the help of Sandra and Tom, we were able to have worship leadership for October 8 by a Licensed UCC Minister residing in Montrose – Lael Van Ripen.
Tim Clark provided valuable assistance in our beginnings – taking us seriously, exploring our/his thinking, initially meeting with the Gunnison group and connecting us to the Rocky Mountain Regional Conference office and Rev. Tom Rehling, Minister of new churches. The Union Church shared worship leadership with us during the summer and handled our finances for some months. Tim joined us the first of each month during the summer to lead our communion service.
Following our March meeting with Tom Rehling, continuous contact was made between him and our group via Martha, except for Tom's work directly with the search committee. A subsidy from the conference for our beginnings has been invaluable. The first year's amount of $4,000 per month began September which made it possible to equip and supply the office for full functioning. As soon as Charles Mory arrived, we officially chose our name which made it possible for bank account, post office box, telephone, etc., to be established. Other continuing benefits from the Conference include Workman's Compensation, Federal non-profit number plus continuing assistance, contact, and support to our minister.
This is the record as remembered by Martha Gentry, Nancy and Dan Tredway, Sylvia Peterson, Kathy and Rick Tonnessen, Ronda Connaway