St. Patrick’s announces retirement of rector

Sally Neel and the Rev. Douglas Neel

By Heidi Tanner
St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church

The Rev. Douglas Neel, rector of St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, has announced that he and his wife, Sally Neel (minister of music), will retire from their ministry effective July 31. Their last Sunday at St. Patrick’s will be on July 26.

Doug Neel came to St. Patrick’s in September of 2008 as the priest in charge and in 2009 became rector of the parish. His nearly 12 years of ministry at the church has allowed the church to grow both in membership and in ministry to the community. 

His focus on beautiful worship, Christian education, spirituality and outreach ministries has broadened the church’s mission to seek and serve Christ in all persons. He initiated such programs as Theology on Tap, a discussion group that meets in a local brewery, to discuss a variety of topics relating to the faith. Sunday Night Unplugged, a monthly music and meditation service, has drawn a strong community following, providing a beautiful setting to reflect, meditate and pray. 

His support of the parish’s longtime service projects such as the annual clothing giveaway, the church’s weekly food box ministry, serving hot lunches at Loaves and Fishes, the annual Christmas tea, the Irish Festival and other fundraisers to support local nonprofits has provided a strong outreach service to the community. 

Doug Neel is well-known for his willingness to give back to the community. He has served on the boards of numerous community service organizations, such as Loaves and Fishes, Rise Above Violence, Social Services oversight board, Pagosa Outreach Connection and Curtains Up Pagosa (CUP). He also is a past member of the Noon Rotary Club.

He has been active in the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado, serving on the Standing Committee (the bishop’s board of directors), and as Regional Missioner for the Western Slope (the bishop’s overseer for churches in the western region of Colorado). He was appointed by the bishop to be the diocesan liturgist for four years, planning and implementing worship for the diocesan annual conventions. 

While living here, Doug Neel finished and had his first book published, “The Food and Feasts of Jesus.” The book describes the food and culinary culture of Palestine at the time of Jesus and includes menus and recipes authentic to the time of Jesus. He has a second book that is almost completed. In past years, he enjoyed working “for fun” at a local restaurant on Fridays, helping his son and a friend with morning prep work. While there, he developed a recipe for the Italian muffaletta sandwich which was named for him, El Padre‘s Muffaletta.

His wife, Sally, provided an extra bonus when they moved to Pagosa Springs. Her training as a professional organist and choir director was immediately utilized and appreciated by both the church and in the community. Since the church did not have an organist when they arrived, Sally Neel filled that position and took over directing the church choir. 

She has been responsible for bringing in other musicians to the church as well. In 2011, she founded the Nightsong Trio, made up of herself on piano, Heidi Tanner (violin) and Jessica Peterson (flute). This musical ensemble has served to assist in worship and performed concerts for the general public. 

Sally Neel has developed a long list of local musicians who have generously assisted with the monthly Sunday Night Unplugged services at the church and, along with her husband, has assisted in developing and producing beautiful and unique times for meditation. 

Sally Neel has also been very active in the community, serving on the Music in the Mountains Steering Committee in 2008-2010, as well as musical director for CUP from 2008-2017. While serving on the board of CUP, she was the instigator behind establishing our local community band, which is now under the guidance of the Pagosa Springs Instrumental Music Society (PSIMS). 

Sally Neel has brought in numerous artists that have performed concerts at St. Patrick’s, including the Austin Piazzola Quintet, a trio of piano artists, choral ensembles and a variety of solo artists. The annual Heralds of Christmas, a greatly anticipated and well-attended Christmas concert at St. Patrick’s, was the brainchild of Sally Neel and trumpeter Karen Mesikapp of PSIMS. 

Doug and Sally Neel plan to continue to reside in Pagosa Springs, though they have hopes of traveling once the pandemic is under control. 

“We love Pagosa Springs and are happy to continue to call it home. However, since full-time church ministry has not been conducive to a great deal of free time, we look forward to traveling and seeing the U.S. and other countries as well,” said Doug Neel. 

“It is very difficult to say goodbye to this amazing congregation,” he said. “St. Patrick’s has been our church family and our dearest friends for almost 12 years. The members of St. Patrick’s commitment to our Lord and to service in his name is incredibly inspiring. They truly understand the mandates of Christ to be his hands and feet in the world, serving each other and those who are in need. Sally and I leave our friends in this parish knowing that they will continue to thrive in this capacity, being a beacon of light to all who are searching for the love of God.”