Eagle’s Sid Spain concludes a career ministering to souls and sailors all over the world
On July 5, Spain will preach his final sermon as pastor of the Eagle United Methodist Church
EAGLE — Spiritually, vocationally, geographically and personally — Sid Spain has lived a life of discovery.
And even as he prepares to preach his final sermon for his Eagle United Methodist Church congregation on July 5, the Rev. Spain’s thoughts are equally reflective and futuristic.
“You never end this work,” he explained.
Spain has been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, but he is quick to note that he recently received a strong medical report. He and his family foresee some quality time ahead that will include travel and relaxation.
Since arriving in Eagle in 2007, Spain and his wife Robyn and son Denny have made their home in the community. It was October of that year and Spain agreed to serve as the Eagle congregation’s temporary pastor.
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“I thought no church should be without a pastor at Christmas. I said I would stay from October to December,” he noted, with a rueful shake of his head. Then he agreed to remain through Epiphany and one season led to the next. Thirteen years later, he is still serving the congregation. That’s a long stretch of time for a fellow who was raised in a military family and who spent most of his theological career as a Navy chaplain.
“This church has been an important, historical presence in this town. It has always led with a spirit of community,” Spain said. “I love this church.”
Today, Spain proudly calls himself a Coloradan. But he was born in the small town of Kosciusko, Mississippi. It’s also the hometown of someone who people may have heard of. Her name is Oprah Winfrey.
While he was born in Mississippi, Spain didn’t grow up there.
“This is a formative fact about my life. I was born into a military family,” Spain said. “It’s not a life for everybody because you don’t get the chance to put down roots. But you become very adapt adjusting to new places.”
His father was an Air Force officer and the Spain family lived all over the country, including time in California, Florida, Kansas and Texas. His father was posted in Germany in the early 1960s, during Spain’s high school years.
“We were still in the post war era,” Spain said. “I was there when the Berlin Wall went up and when John Kennedy was assassinated.”
During his time in Germany, Spain played baseball and the team traveled all over Western Europe.
“I became more cosmopolitan, just by being there. I came to understand there were other issues in the world,” Spain said. “It’s hard to be provincial when you are exposed to other people. I am forever grateful to my father for his choices that led me to become more expansive in my view of the world.”
After high school, Spain enrolled at Southern Methodist University. “At that time, Dallas was still reeling from the Kennedy assassination,” he said. “Dallas was a conservative community and I was not. But luckily every university has a mix of people.”
During his senior year, Spain was elected student body president.
“I wasn’t much of an academic, but I was social in all kinds of ways and I was political,” he said.
While he started out as a political science major, he ultimately earned his degree in English literature.
“I tried all kinds of things I thought I should study, but then I went to what I loved,” he explained.
At that time, Spain thought he would pursue a career in politics, and law school was a logical next step. He was accepted into an Air Force ROTC program and enrolled in classes, but it didn’t take him long to figure out that law school wasn’t for him.
“I went to law school for two weeks and I got so far behind in the reading, I decided it just wasn’t for me,” he said. “So I packed up and came to Aspen, Colorado. I was literally AWOL.”
Spain and a couple of buddies thought it would be fun to hang out in Colorado for a while and learn to ski.
“Colorado has a certain panache to it, a certain romance,” he explained. “But of course the military thought I was still in school.”
When the semester ended and grades came out, the Air Force discovered Spain was not where he was supposed to be. But the not-amused powers-that-be didn’t know where to find him.
“My brother told them where I was. While I was quite agitated with him at the time, I have since been grateful to him,” Spain said. “The Air Force found me and chewed me out. But they needed writers, editors and administrative people at the time so they sent me to Minot, North Dakota. That was retribution for them, but it turned out fine.”
Spain spent two years in Minot and had orders to go to Vietnam. But those orders were cancelled and he was posted to Omaha, Nebraska. He said those years were a bleak time for him and he wanted out of the military.
“But it was when I was in Omaha that I became a Christian,” Spain said.
While he had been raised in the faith, his life changed one day at a Pentecostal church “with a loud preacher who warned me of hell and offered me life.”
Not long after accepting his faith, he was called to the ministry and he was called back to SMU.
Military man of faith
“Seminary was a grueling, challenging time. I had a group of professors who refused to let me be sloppy,” Spain said.
He began his first internship in 1975 and was ordained in 1977. He was serving a congregation in San Antonio when he made an unexpected realization — he missed the military.
Spain approached his bishop about becoming a military chaplain and he took a year off from the ministry. While he was offered space in a doctorate program, he ended up selling men’s clothing a Neiman Marcus in Dallas.
Eventually, Spain was offered chaplain positions with the Air Force, Army and Navy. Despite his Air Force background, he selected the Navy’s offer.
“I thought they had the best-looking uniforms,” he said.
Spain served as a military chaplain for 20 years.
“The years in the Navy were everything I could have hoped for,” he said. “You are really put into the middle of a lot of things that are happening.”
His assignments included time in Washington State and Newport, Rhode Island. He spent three years at a top-secret listening post in Scotland and two years in Naples, Italy. He was serving as the admiral’s chaplain in the fifth fleet during 1988 when U.S. forces mistakenly shot down Iran Air Flight 655, resulting in the deaths of 290 civilians.
“They made a horrible, horrible misjudgment. I got a call that day and the admiral said ‘I want you on the first tug of the day to the ship,’” Spain said.
Spain spent 18 straight hours counseling members of the crew.
“The anguish and remorse of the sailors on that ship was heart-rendering,” Spain recalled.
He particularly remembers speaking with the combat control officer, a young Jewish man who was directly involved in giving the fateful order.
“He was hurting very much,” Spain said. “I asked him ‘Was there any malice?’ and he said no, there was none. It wasn’t an act of bravado.”
Months later, Spain again encountered that officer when they had both returned stateside. The young man told him that when he went to his rabbi to talk about the experience, the rabbi asked the same question — Did you act with malice? Having two men of faith, from different faiths, ask the same question brought that sailor a measure of peace.
Spain’s most life-altering military experience was when he met his wife Robyn.
“She was an aviation maintenance officer,” he said.
The two met on a tiny atoll in the middle of the Indian Ocean. They have been married for 24 years.
Spain had been promoted to captain and moved to a senior position when the couple welcomed their son Denny.
“We were faced with a choice because we were up for reassignment,” Spain said.
He decided to retire six years before he originally planned and Robyn remained in active duty.
“I became Mr. Mom. What an amazing thing,” Spain said. “Robyn had a sparkling, successful military career and she retired earlier than they wanted her to.”
The family lived in Maryland and then went off to Sicily for one final overseas assignment. Robyn retired in 2007 and the Spain family moved to her hometown of Lakewood, Colorado.
And that was the year the Methodist Church offered Spain the temporary posting in Eagle.
“When they offered Eagle, I didn’t know anything about it,” he said. “I looked it up on a map and found out they had been looking for a pastor for a while.”
‘A good fit’
Spain said his 13 years in Eagle were “a good fit.”
“I don’t sit in an office. I spent too many years in the military for that,” he noted. “I spent more time in coffee shops than in my office and that was by intention. The congregation has been wonderfully accepting of my ways of responding to things.”
He embraced the congregation’s community vision — which has included child care and food service ministries. He served on the board for the United Way of the Eagle River Valley and joined the local Rotary Club.
“I came to know this community,” Spain said.
Denny graduated from Eagle Valley High School and is currently a student at Colorado Mountain College. The Spain family now makes its home in the former Ira and Ella Bindley residence on McIntyre Street.
While Eagle has found its way into his heart, Spain sees both the community’s strengths and flaws.
“We are fundamentally a peaceful valley, but there are racial issues and there are issues of social conflict here,” he noted. “There are also wonderful people across the economic spectrum here.”
Spain said his service to the Eagle Methodists has become one of the pillars of his life. While he prepares to move to his next chapter, he is humbled and thankful that he has been given the opportunity to lovingly hand over his congregation.
“My successor is already here,” he explained.
Molly Fiore, well known locally as the founder of local suicide prevention group Speak Up Reach Out, joined the congregation a few years ago and was ultimately called to the ministry. She has been attending seminary and will take over as full-time pastor in Eagle on July 12.
“It is close to unprecedented to have someone come out of the congregation, go to seminary and go into the ministry there,” Spain said. “Molly is just an extraordinary person and it is more than a privilege to see who your successor is. She is a gift to this community and the church.”
On Sunday, July 5, Spain will deliver his final sermon during a 10 a.m. virtual service. He plans to wear his military uniform for the occasion.
“I thought heck, it’s July 5 — the Fourth of July weekend — and they have never seen me in my military uniform,” he said.
He also had a big event planned last Saturday. He officiated for Fiore’s wedding.
As he prepares to conclude his career, Spain believes there is still work ahead. We live in tumultuous times, he noted.
“There has never been anything like this in our lives. Something is happening now and I am very hopeful that something of extraordinary power will result from all this,” Spain said. “And in our little town, we are part of it.”
Spain also has Biblical inspiration for his life’s next chapter.
“Jesus said ‘Do not be afraid,’” Spain noted. “Know at your core that life is good and love is the strongest force in the world.”
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