GRAND LAKE - A fledgling church congregation that branched off from Stillwater Community Chapel near Grand Lake is in search of a permanent home.
Since April 1, the newly formed "Community Church of the Rockies" has been holding church services each Sunday led by Pastor Johan Kinies in the Town of Grand Lake's Community House, attached to Town Hall.
A one-time (nonprofit rate) of a $25 key deposit to the town granted the congregation of about 60 people access to the building.
But trustees and the mayor brought up concerns about hosting regularly scheduled religious services in a town building at their June 11 town board meeting.
"I want the community house to be for community events," said Grand Lake Trustee Elmer Lanzi. "What we're in danger of here is turning the Community House into a church."
According to Grand Lake's Town Attorney Scott Krob, case law establishes that the town "does have latitude it didn't think it had a year ago" in regulating religious "preaching and proselytizing" in a publicly owned building.
Krob cited a ruling from "Bronx Household of Faith vs. Board of Education City of New York" in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in June of last year that states landlords of public property cannot ban churches from using facilities, but can regulate what activities are practiced in such facilities.
For churches using such buildings, any regulation should not "distinguish between religions," or allow one religious group to use it over another, but it can distinguish between, say, a bake sale versus a church service.
Following this ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court did not take up the case, so the opinion stands, Krob said.
The majority of trustees at the Grand Lake meeting indicated the town should pursue regulating the use, and trustees went further to say they were opposed to the fact church services had been temporarily advertised on the town's marquis at the town's entrance during the spring. The mayor and trustees said they received complaints from townspeople about that.
Attorney Krob was directed to draft policy for Community House use that addresses religious services, which will be presented to the board in an upcoming board meeting.
New church forming
"Our slogan is 'Real People ... Real Big God,'" Pastor Kinies said of the newly formed non-denominational church.
Most of the congregation came from the non-denominational Stillwater Community Chapel outside of Grand Lake on Highway 34, where a "Come as you are" invitation is written beneath its entrance sign. Kinies was pastor there for a year following the departure of long-time Stillwater Pastor Jim Weber.
Kinies did not comment on what precipitated his departure from Stillwater.
But member of the board of elders at Stillwater Jim Campbell said it was a "difference in philosophy" between Kinies and the direction of the church board.
Stillwater, where a congregation now fluctuates from about 35 core members to more, is now launching a search for a new pastor, Campbell said. Presently, the church has the support of visiting local pastors and from the Front Range for conducting services.
As far as the church split, "We wish them the best of luck," Campbell said, saying it's not uncommon for new churches to sprout out of existing ones. "Whatever their congregation chooses, we hope they grow and will be a viable church in the community."
The new Community Church of the Rockies has its corporation and bylaws in place, has started children's programs, a "praise team," women's ministry and youth work, and has a website under construction, according to Kinies. Services generally include contemporary touches, such as a guitar, keyboard, singers and overhead projection so that congregation members can follow along in song.
But a permanent location for the church remains an unknown at this time.
The issue with the town came up when the church sought a longer-term commitment at the Community House, Kinies said.
But Kinies doesn't seem overly concerned.
"It'll all work out," he said.
- Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603