Two Episcopal Churches, Two Paths in Boulder, Colorado St. Aidan's Episcopal Church, 1 February 2004 St. John's Episcopal Church, 27 June 2004

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Two Episcopal churches, two paths in Boulder, Colorado St. Aidan's Episcopal Church, 1 February 2004 St. John's Episcopal Church, 27 June 2004

Boulder, Colorado, a city of about 100,000 persons, is home to the main campus of the University of Colorado (CU), with a population of about 25,000. With such numbers, town-gown tensions come as no surprise. For one thing, according to U.S. News & World Report, CU is the country's top party school, and the townsfolk are frequently annoyed by the noise, pranks, litter, alcohol and drugs, sexual aggression, scandalous and even criminal behavior, and general rudeness of some students. But there are deeper issues too. CU draws heavily from local resources and services, while enjoying exemptions from local regulations and taxes as a state-owned institution. It is a recipe for conflict in a host of areas, including law enforcement, housing, planning, architecture, construction, fire safety, and traffic. The arrogance of CU, and the resentments of the city, are symbolized in the university's monstrous Folsom Stadium, which glares down on townsfolk from a high ridge. In 2003 the university added two generous levels to the height of the stadium in order to provide club seats and skyboxes for the very affluent; the city whose skyscape was blighted was powerless to resist.

There are two Episcopal churches in central Boulder: St. John's is located downtown at 14lh and Pine Streets, and St. Aidan's stands just a few paces from Folsom Stadium. St. John's traces its history to a mission from Wyoming in 1873, making it one of the earliest Episcopal churches in the Colorado Territory; St. Aidan's is the outgrowth of an Episcopal student ministry begun in 1948. St. John's declares on its website (www.stjohns-boulder.org) that it serves "the Boulder community;" St. Aidan's identifies itself in its vision statement (www.saintaidans.org) as, first of all, a mission "shining the light of Christ to the University of Colorado." St. John's worships in a century-old sandstone gothic-revival church building, including a tower with castellated roofline, suggesting solidity and tradition; St. Aidan's has a modern church building with ski-chalet roofline and windows looking onto a quiet courtyard, suggesting openness and a contemporary sensibility. It would seem safe to predict that St. John's, the long-established town church, is the home of the Episcopal traditionalists, and that St. Aidan's, with its Celtic patron saint and its aerie among the intellectuals, is the home of the Episcopal radicals.

Unexpectedly, however, it is the other way around. The websites for the two churches, and their advertising in the local newspaper, the Daily Camera, drive home their differences with the current Episcopal Church coding: St. Aidan's is "traditional," with the word underscored; St. John's is "an AIDS-aware faith community." And while it is not unusual for a city to have two Episcopal churches of distinct character, a visitor discovers that circumstances and same-sex issues have pushed these two towards opposite theological poles.

St. John's became strongly committed to community service during the long ministry of Hubert Walters, the pastor from 1912 to 1953, and escalated to a liberal activist social advocacy in the 1960s. Its rector from 1961 to 1965, Bruce Ravenel, was a passionate advocate of the civil rights movement. His successor from 1965 to 1991, James McKeown, has been described as "an outspoken champion of the alienated and disenfranchised;" for instance, in 1969 he persuaded the church to house a hundred hippies and young runaways in the church every night, more in the summer, for two years, until it could build a hostel for them. Another radicalizing confrontation with the world was thrust on St. John's in 1996, when the murder of a six-year-old parishioner named JonBenet Ramsey was followed by a bungled police investigation and national media attention; a parish history recognizes this as an immensely trying and disruptive experience (The Centennial of A Sanctuary 1903-2003: St. …

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