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St. Patrick’s celebrates 40 years

Last weekend, the congregation of St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church in Pagosa Springs celebrated the Feast of All Saints with a commemoration of the 40th anniversary of its consecration.

St. Patrick’s was originally consecrated as a mission by the Rt. Rev. Edwin B. Thayer, Bishop of Colorado, on Nov. 1, 1970. The Rev. Alexander Patience, rector of St. Mark’s in Durango who ministered to the people St. Patrick’s on a part time basis, suggested the name for the new mission church. Though Fr. Patience was unable to attend the special festivities this weekend, he sent a letter to the church congratulating them on 40 years of ministry in Pagosa Springs.

The congregation began their celebration with a delightful evening at Nello’s on Saturday evening where they enjoyed visiting with friends and greeting returning clergy, while eating a delicious buffet meal. A slide show of historic pictures, reminiscent ruminations by clergy and longtime members, and original songs written especially for the event gave the evening a festive tone.

The Rev. Doug Neel, current rector of St. Patrick’s, welcomed the Reverends James Ragsdale (1969-1976), Andrew Cooley (1985-1991), Annie Ryder (1998-2003), and Bob Pope (2004-2008) and invited them to share some of their memories. Each brought personal reflections of their time at St. Patrick’s and the people who touched their lives and ministry. Jan Jacobs, Lay Leader of St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church in Creede, was also in attendance.

Annie Ryder, who was the church’s rector when St. Patrick’s achieved its full parish status in 1998, was instrumental in organizing committees and helping to raise the funds to build the beautiful church that now stands on South Pagosa Boulevard. She shared wonderful stories of the work and dedication that went into making the dream of a new church home a reality. She thanked Bob Hart for the significant role he played in the construction of the church. His family also provided the use of their barn for worship after the congregation sold its downtown church and waited for the completion of its new facilities. Annie said that far beyond the physical construction of the new building, her proudest legacy was the open and loving congregation she left behind.

Sunday morning began with festive music and hymns led by organist, Sally Neel, trumpeters, Larry Baisdon and Sue Gottschalk, and saxophonist, Bill Gottschalk. Tears of joy were flowing as the congregation exuberantly sang the opening hymn and the choir and clergy processed into the church. Each returning priest played a part in the liturgy for the day.

The Rev. Bob Pope, who served St. Patrick’s from 2004 until his retirement in 2008, presided over Sunday’s service. His resonant voice struck a familiar tone as he invoked God’s blessing on the celebration. He is warmly remembered for his engaging wit and for his excellent administrative skills. He was instrumental in helping St. Patrick’s get its church records in order prior to the arrival of The Rev. Doug Neel, current rector of St. Patrick’s.

Fr. Ragsdale read the Gospel lesson for the day, Fr. Cooley gave the sermon and Annie Ryder celebrated the Holy Eucharist. Fr. Doug Neel read letters of greetings from Bishop Rob O’Neill, Fr. Patience, and from Fr. Scott Hollenbeck, whose priesthood was sponsored by St. Patrick’s and now serves in Meeker, Colorado.

Fr. Cooley, now rector of St. Mark’s in Durango, remembered coming to St. Patrick’s as a newly ordained deacon in the church. He brought with him his bride Terri and lived in a small apartment connected to the downtown church. He talked about several parishioners who had played an important part in his ministry here. Each had very different personalities and gifts, yet each was instrumental in helping the little church grow.

Fr. Cooley said, “Every church has its own DNA, its own personality that helps define who they are. I think of St. Patrick’s as a place for healing; a place where those who have walked in darkness can find the Light of Christ; a place where those who have suffered can find help; a place that is welcoming and warm to all who come.” He gave thanks to God for the vital ministry that continues to grow and for the Spirit that is actively present in the life of St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church.

The morning ended with a beautiful reception in the parish hall, with a delicious layered cake and punch provided by the Women of the Church.

“This celebration could not have been more perfect,” says Fr. Doug Neel. “It was a festival commemoration of those who have gone before us, a joyful recognition of who we have become, and a strong encouragement to continue to minister to those who seek God’s love,” he said.