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A Tailing Tale

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 Of St. James Methodist Church 156th Anniversary

This past Sunday I had the pleasure of joining with the congregation of St. James Methodist Church to celebrate their 156th Anniversary. Members and guests were invited to dress in Victorian or Western attire, adding much to the festivities of the day.

As I had not previously visited St. James, I arrived early to scope out the digs. As I entered, I was greeted by three lovely young ladies who extended an invitation to visit the reception hall. I peeked inside the room to find many hands hard at work decorating tables and preparing cake and punch for after services. Not wishing to interrupt their labors, and most anxious to see the inside of the sanctuary, I climbed the staircase to the second floor. The colorful designs on the walls and stained glass windows are breathtaking. Several church leaders gathered near the altar and organ; an organ that fills nearly the entire front end of the sanctuary, and as I learned later, was added to the church in 1899, nearly forty years after the completion of the church. Through a small doorway, I spied a flight of curving steps that I assumed led to the balcony. I snuck up the stairs and from the vantage point of the upper level, I gazed in admiration and reverence at the scene before me. It is difficult to imagine the amount of work and skill that went into the construction and maintenance of such a beautiful edifice.

As stunning and impressive as the church may be, the building is not what makes St. James Methodist Church so extraordinary. It’s the warm, friendly members who make it truly unique. Shortly after arriving, I was greeted by Mike Keeler, who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting at several historical society functions. Mike, in his Wild Bunch Gang outfit, gave me a quick, history of the church, for which I was most grateful. When the sanctuary began to fill with people, I saw Barbara Thielemann, another member of the historical society whom I’ve had the pleasure to know. I sat next to her and moments later we were surrounded by her friends of “Ladies of Days Gone By,” all dressed in beautiful Victorian costume. Prior to the beginning of services, people laughed, hugged and chatted as though they’ve been friends for many years, as I am certain some have. Such a welcoming atmosphere I have never before experienced in any church.

The service began with Richard Kroeckel playing the prelude “Grow Quiet, Grow Still, Grow Close to God.” Mike Keeler then made announcements, followed by members of the congregation making their own announcements and introductions of guests. Tatianna Ogan & Terrence Chin-Lox, 2015 Central City Opera Apprentices, delivered a spectacular performance of “Make Us One.” Tammy Simonton gave the call to worship and led the readings. Jimmy Stewart led the congregation in singing, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” John Martin asked for sharing of joys and concerns of the congregation. Tatianna and Terrance then sang, “The Church’s One Foundation.”

Reverend Dr. Dick Vickery’s sermon was entitled “The Faith of the Miner.” He honored me by quoting several excerpts from a past column and mentioning me by name. He spoke of how the Cornish miners were masters of mining, of John Wesley’s influence in Cornwall, and how the faith of these people was central in their everyday lives. It was not about religion or theology, but about faith. They had an enduring faith that carried them from their native land to this far-away place in Central City, Colorado in America. It carried them through the hardships of poverty, freezing winters and hot summers, often living only in a tent or shack, or beneath the boughs of an evergreen tree.

Once the Cornish arrived on our shores, and traveled across the country to Central City, they knew they reached their new home and point of no return. A miner’s faith gave them a sense of permanence in such a transient world, much as the patriarchs Paul refers to in Hebrews 11.

A miner’s faith gave them hope when they were unrewarded. More miners ended up broke and jobless than struck it rich. Just as the patriarchs of old, they never lost hope.

A miner’s faith gave them humanity in the midst of temptation.

Reverend Vickery concluded with a story of how miners made their way to the mine and back home again during winter storms and darkness. They always carried a lantern, sometimes as a beacon for other miners to lead them out of the mine. They tied a long cord to their cabin door and carried it with them to the mine. When they could not see their hand in front of their face, that cord was their lifeline through the storm. Even when the light could not be seen through the wintery blasts, it gave them a sense of hope, and strengthened their faith in God.

Chris Duis gave a presentation entitled “A Miner’s Faith,” and he spoke of his brief years in the area and his love for the land and the people. Chris purchased land shortly after arriving in Central City, and he loves his home. He said, “None of us owns the land. It belongs to posterity. It is God’s property. We are only stewards, here for a short while to care for the land.

Chris discussed how the world was in a financial depression during the years the Cornish and others came to Central City. Poor farmers who journeyed to the California gold rush ten years later sought their fortune in Colorado. They worked hard, and most earned very little. A testimony to the endurance and determination of these people is found in the cemeteries of Gilpin County where children and young men and women in their twenties are buried. The Cornish brought their faith with them. They had a true belief in the goodness of God.

The final hymn was “Above the Hills of Time,” a song sang to the tune of “Danny Boy” at St. James anniversaries for many decades. Written by Thomas Tiplady in 1931, over 80 years later, the hymn seems so fitting to honor the miners of the Pikes Peak Gold Rush.

Above the hills of time the cross is gleaming,
Fair as the sun when night has turned to day;
And from it love’s pure light is richly streaming,
To cleanse the heart and banish sin away.
To this dear cross the eyes of men are turning,
Today as in the ages lost to sight;
And for Thee, O Christ, men’s hearts are yearning,
As shipwrecked seamen yearn for morning light.

The cross, O Christ, Thy wondrous love revealing,
Awakes our hearts as with the light of morn,
And pardon o’er our sinful spirits stealing,
Tells us that we, in Thee, have been reborn.
Like echoes to sweet temple bells replying
Our hearts, O Lord, make answer to Thy love;
And we will love Thee with a love undying,
Till we are gathered to Thy home above.

The benediction was “Sine Nomine” performed magnificently by Tatianna and Terrence. During opera season, performers attending St. James share their amazing talent singing at Sunday services.

A cake and punch reception followed services and then a reception at the Lee House, was hosted by Nicki (Lee) Frederick.

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