For a century, Gunnison Community Church has been offering hope, love, deliverance and fellowship — an unchanged message in a changing community and world.
It’s one that has resonated with member Ben Cowan and his family. Cowan’s grandmother was the first to join Community Church in the 1950s, his parents have attended, and now his children are enjoying the spiritual nourishment offered. He remembers attending Sunday School in the basement of the church.
“I think it’s a very welcoming church. It’s nice being nondenominational,” said Cowan. “It’s nice to be able to raise my kids with other kids with the teachings of ethics and morals. It helps keep them on the right track.”
This coming weekend, church members are inviting the public to join them as they honor 100 years of service under the umbrella of “Celebrating our past, rejoicing in our present, and building our future.”
A congregation takes root
As part of the celebration, church leaders asked a committee to research and compile its history.
According to the committee, in 1918, a fairly large group of citizens, chiefly Methodists and Presbyterians, met at the courthouse. They considered the idea of forming a “community church.” They agreed to merge both congregations into one, and in May of that year, Community Church held its first services, using the existing Methodist Church building.
Each of the two congregations had its own minister — Reverends White and Ferris. Each minister had four months left on their contracts, so they divided responsibilities. When White left, Ferris took over until 1920.
In 1920, Rev. Clem Davies was contracted, and along with his sermons to capacity crowds, a choir and an orchestra were instituted. Organs, orchestras, choirs and special music have long been part of the tradition at Community Church. Today, music is provided through Praise Bands utilizing more modern instruments.
Programs were added and the mortgage was paid in 1922. A year later the Community Church was incorporated and a parsonage was purchased.
Construction on Webster Hall began in 1935, while a new church building was begun in 1942.
It must be noted also that a great deal of construction materials were salvaged from the dismantling of the Lake City Bridge railroad trestle that spanned the Gunnison River.
The new church, named The Biebel Chapel, was dedicated in May 1945.
One of the more noteworthy elements of the church — besides its members — is the colorful stained glass windows throughout the building. Former Western State College art professor Pat Julio was commissioned to create the windows. Each illustrate a specific Scripture for inspiration.
A message for the ages
Yet, apart from the historical aspects of the building and how its programs came about over the last 100 years is the message that has been given to those who participate. It is what drew Ina Sanderson to the Community Church 32 years ago. She’s been with the congregation ever since, because, she said, it was welcoming to everyone no matter their spiritual background.
Over the years, youth groups and Bible fellowships have been incorporated, further adding to the buffet of offerings at the church. But Sanderson said spiritual truths that are taught have stayed the same.
“It’s a group of people who accept one another for who they are,” said Sanderson. “And while the physical aspects can change, the spiritual aspects do not change.”
Likewise, Kelly Osness found a place to call her spiritual home 28 years ago. It’s where she met her husband, Chris, who now serves as one of four members who are covering sermon responsibilities until a new pastor is found. Osness said that while planning the 100th anniversary celebration has been difficult without a pastor, members have arisen to take on additional responsibilities as they often do. She is looking forward to a weekend that not only honors the past and rejoices in the present, but looks forward to the great future of Community Church.
“We’re not just celebrating the past. We want to talk about what we’re doing now and where we’re going to go,” Osness said. “Those are some of the things important to us.”