St. Paul's History
From the beginning, in 1959, St. Paul’s has been on the cutting edge of progressive concerns, including racial equality in the 1960s, the Vietnam War, Latino rights in Fort Collins, women’s roles in the church, gay clergy, and welcoming of the LGBT community. Our position on the cutting edge has often not been easy, nor without conflict or controversy. But we have worked through our conflicts and have a sustaining history of reconciliation, resilience, and welcome.
We began as St. Paul’s House in 1959 and served as a mission to CSU students and faculty. The community met in a remodeled residence. The Rev. Malcolm Boyd, author of “Are You Running with me Jesus?” was our first priest and CSU chaplain. He began the Golden Grape Coffee House, which gained national attention. Rev. Boyd left in 1961 to become a Freedom Rider.
Under the Rev. Cyril Coverly, 1961-1963, St. Paul’s moved to its current location and began building a church. From 1964-1968 the Rev. Hal Lycett, an opponent of the Vietnam War and advocate of civil rights, was the third priest. Parishioners who attended St Paul’s then have spoken about Rev. Lycett’s work in getting Latino areas annexed into Fort Collins so that they could get water, gas, and light services.
The Rev. Bill Bacon, 1969-2002, came to St. Paul’s as the Vicar and CSU Chaplain in 1969 and in 1976 became the first Rector of the independent parish of St. Paul’s. At that time, the Rev. James Johnson served as the CSU Episcopal Chaplain and St. Paul’s formed its Daughters of the King chapter.
During Fr. Bacon’s continuing tenure in the 1990’s, St. Paul’s experienced conflict over women’s roles in the church, the 1979 prayer book, and gay and lesbian rights. The biggest conflict within the church occurred over the issue of gay clergy. When Fr. Bacon came out as a gay man, St. Paul’s split at the 1992 Annual Meeting. Parishioners who did not support Fr. Bacon left to form St. Andrew’s. Known wryly as “the schism” by some parishioners, this event reverberated through St. Paul’s and split families and friends who stood on opposite sides of the issues.
Later, in 1998, a University of Wyoming student and an Episcopalian, Mathew Shepard was severely beaten and killed because he was gay. Mathew was brought to Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins and Fr. Bacon performed the last rites. That event had a profound impact on St. Paul’s. The Rev. Henry Doyle, a CSU student in the late ‘70’s, sponsored by St. Paul’s for ordination, and still in contact with the parish, has said that Mathew Shepard’s murder led St. Paul’s to be more open and honest about embracing gays and lesbians and to become active, vocal, public advocates of inclusivity.
After Fr. Bacon’s retirement in 2002, four interim priests served from 2002- 2008: The Rev. Vicky Kempf, The Rev. Bob Davidson, The Rev. Rob Lundquist (Priest in Charge) and The Rev. Nina Churchman.
In 2009, St. Paul’s called The Rev. Bonnie Sarah Spencer, to be Rector. During her tenure, St. Paul’s continued its journey on the cutting edge. We were among the first Episcopal parishes in the Diocese of Colorado to hold blessing ceremonies for same gender couples. The entire parish celebrated the union of three parishioner same gender couples in 2012. Once it became legal, Rev. Bonnie and her partner were married. Under Rev. Bonnie’s tenure, the parish also began its service to homeless families through the Faith, Family, Hospitality program (FFH). We began to share our space with the Mary of Magdala Ecumenical Catholic community. Rev. Bonnie retired in November 2015.
The Rev. Lyn Burns became our Interim Rector in January 2016. Under her leadership, St. Paul's continued its volunteer work with FFH and its commitment to the Colorado Haiti Project. It’s members continued their work of ministry within and beyond the parish. We restarted service to the Food Bank of Larimer County, initiated a Social Justice ministry, enriched our hospitality, began a Centering Prayer group, and took several steps to strengthen our spiritual formation and mission.
In 2018 we are launching a new chapter in our history, a period of openness to the Spirit in all ways. What is God calling us to be in the 21st Century?
One long-time parishioner sums up the views of many parishioners about the nature of St. Paul’s. She affirms that “There are too many nice people here” for her to have left during the first upheaval at her church. “St. Paul’s is the best place in the world for any of us to be.”