The Unitarian-Universalist Congregation of the Grand Valley (Grand Junction, Colorado) finally has its own home. Now sun filters through shade trees and our big potted plants, flooding the warm-toned sanctuary and backlighting our wonderful choir. Natural wood paneling provides a pleasing backdrop for the chancel. Our called minister, Rev. Wendy Jones, delivers another thought provoking sermon over an excellent sound system. Children play downstairs or attend RE. The basement provides a large dining area and commercial kitchen. Members and guests mingle after service over coffee, enjoying conversation with kindred spirits.
After meeting in homes and rented space since 1955, enduring cycles of economic boom and bust, community contraction pains, and way too much turbulence between ministers and congregation, we have a home and we love it! How did this come to be?
Grand Junction is located in western Colorado. With a population of 60,000 (county is double that), it is the largest town between Denver and Salt Lake City. Agriculture and a gyrating energy industry dominate the economy. Although Grand Junction enjoys a university, community college, arts and music, and a regional medical hub, it is as conservative as the west gets. And we are the largest UU congregation in this region between Denver and Salt Lake.
With a bit of irony, the congregation was founded by geologists and engineers in the 1950s uranium boom that supplied Cold War atomic bombs. As transition led from an unstable uranium economy to unstable oil, gas, and coal industries, the community suffered booms and busts and population growth and loss. The fledgling UU fellowship had its own years of boom and bust. There were several false steps with contract ministers and congregation out of synch and no ministers lasting over three years. The congregation almost winked out in the 1980s when a new young couple breathed life into it with help by several tenacious older members.
For years, longer than Moses wandered in the desert, we moved around meeting in homes, a picnic site, rented office space and several churches. Membership at best seemed stuck at around 70, enough to survive but not thrive. Rented buildings never suited our needs. One site was gloomy. At the last site, services had to be in late afternoon. The building seemed attractive but the late afternoon lighting made a somber ambiance. Timing was awful for RE families and attendance dribbled down. Our small group seemed lost in a sanctuary that could seat 250. Hosting special groups, whether just music or anyone hinting of controversy, was a problem for the landlord. Such is the life of a renter. Things were getting dire.
At the same time with the recession on, a drop in real estate values seemed to provide buying opportunities. Two offers were made but with no success. We considered designing our own building but land and construction costs were too much.
A generous anonymous offer by a congregant reinvigorated the search and we took a serious look at a 1970s credit union building. The location was good, across from the town's central library in the leafy historic district. But it was hard to visualize re-working it into a church home. The interior was a warren of small rooms (think loan paperwork), and what about the drive-up window? Drive-through prayers? Fortunately one of our congregants was a contractor who visualized what our repurposed bank would look like. And you know, in seven months after making an offer we had our opening service on a beautiful early June day.
Well, that's understating things a bit. Money poured into contractor work to comply with current fire safety and other codes, without even buying things we see and use. We needed an elevator to comply with ADA code. Luckily members contributed specialized skill for lighting and audio system design. Not to mention a few stalwart grunts with time and a bit of energy to whack out old walls, pound nails, bust concrete, climb up scaffolding, rip out old carpet, set tile, debate colors, bring refreshments, and finally, paint. Volunteers contributed over 3000 hours of dirty, exhausting work. Green design features were used as much as possible, besides repurposing an older building.
But we finally arrived, and it is ours, really ours after loads of sweat equity. And what a difference it makes! Now we have a sacred home of warmth and tranquility. Guests wander in and like what they see. Sales people know the value of the first impression, and they have it right. We host whoever we want, drawing the general public into our home. Music groups grace evenings and afternoons. But the old vault with foot-thick concrete walls still remains. Makes a good crying room or meditation place, though not at the same time! An Hispanic legal aid group actually uses the vault for office space.
One year after our first service in the new sacred space, we voted to call our contract minister, Reverend Wendy Jones. Rev. Wendy is still part time but that works with her full-time children and husband. This called for celebration, with a dual ceremony for Rev. Wendy's formal calling and dedication of our new building in August 2015.
After wandering over 60 years, we now have a place of our own. We're happy, and we're growing. We have a home that is beautiful and serene, and we have a minister we’ve called. Looking back, it is just amazing how fast things went from dismal, near-crisis low attendance services in rented space to cheerful growth and vigor in less than one year. Sometimes, things just seem to fall into place.