Protesters, counter protesters visit Vail area churches; Sunday services not disrupted |

Protesters, counter protesters visit Vail area churches; Sunday services not disrupted

Counter protesters gather in front of The Vail Church on Sunday, June 24, in Avon. The Vail Church in among several the saw demonstrations take place outside their doors over the weekend.
Chris Dillmann |

AVON — The counter-protesters arrived before the protesters at The Vail Church on the morning of Sunday, June 24.

Their mission was to speak out against messages they predicted would be vulgar, and when protesters arrived a short while later, those predictions proved to be correct.

To local Stevie Gawryluk, it was no surprise.

“I’ve read a ton about Westboro Baptist Church and their protests over the years, from their soldier’s funerals to Sandy Hook,” she said. “I want them to see that we come from more love than we do hate.”

Gawryluk was surprised, however, by Westboro Baptist Church choosing Vail for the site of its protests this weekend. The church also protested outside the Vail Interfaith Chapel on Saturday, June 23.

“You see them in more urban settings than you do in the mountains,” she said.

Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek was present at the Sunday morning protests and said the sheriff’s office was also present at Saturday’s protests in Vail. He said the protesters had not caused any major disruptions.

“They’ve been completely quiet,” van Beek said.


Inside The Vail Church, Pastor Craig Smith preached about wealth and generosity as the protesters were gathering outside.

Citing information from Global Rich List, Smith said those who earn $32,400 per year are in the top 1 percent of income earners around the globe.

“You’re quite wealthy,” he told those in attendance. “You say, ‘I don’t feel rich,’ well that’s because it’s Vail, Colorado. If you travel to some other mountain regions in the globe you’ll realize, ‘Whoa, I do have quite a bit of, quote, wealth.’”

Smith said wealth is evident in things our area has in abundance, such as electricity, clean water and food.

Smith also mentioned how parishioners may see their wealth portrayed in the way they arrived at The Vail Church that morning. Cars filled the parking lot and had runneth over, to use a term from the book of Psalms, onto U.S. Highway 6.

Living up to its name as The Vail Church, parking was addressed before the sermon. Kristi Carleton, with The Vail Church, said last summer, the church averaged 60 to 75 cars having to park on Highway 6 on Sundays.

“Our part at The Vail Church is to create a culture of welcome for every single person who enters our doors,” Carleton said in a recorded message. “That culture of welcome begins in the parking lot.”


A culture of churches being welcome to all persons is among the issues the Westboro Baptist Church appears to be against.

Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups and other extremists throughout the United States, has designated Westboro Baptist Church as an anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender group.

The group’s website uses a vulgar slur in describing gay persons, and more offensive language was on display Sunday morning outside The Vail Church, as a protester’s sign used a pejorative for the word “prostitute” in reference to The Vail Church’s pastors.

Counter-protester Andrew Miller said he’s not a religious person, but his disapproval of those types of messages compelled him to visit The Vail Church on Sunday.

“If you have that much hate for somebody because of who they love, you’re doing it wrong,” he said.

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