Red Cliff Community Church is closing after 135 years
If You Go
What: Red Cliff Community Church’s last service
When: Saturday. Potluck at 11 a.m., service at 1 p.m.
Where: Red Cliff Community Church, 396 Eagle Street, Red Cliff, CO 81649
Information: Red Cliff Community Church has been worshipping since 1881. Saturday is the last service in their building.
RED CLIFF — God is eternal. Humankind is not. On Saturday, after 135 years of worship, Rev. Dan Tisdel will lead Red Cliff Community Church in its final service.
Red Cliff Community Church started when the town did.
After holding services since at least 1881, (the town was founded two years earlier, 1879) the church has been on-and-off the past few years. First Lutheran Church in Gypsum launched in 1888.
Ironically, Tisdel leads both congregations.
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Even more ironically, on the day Tisdel leads the Service of Holy Closure — the end of one thing — they’ll have four baptisms on the same day, the beginnings of so many others.
The Red Cliff crowds are tiny — single figures usually.
“Those kids and their families will probably be the biggest crowd I’ve seen since my time there,” Tisdel said. “But if we didn’t do it, it would become more difficult for people to hear the Word.”
The Service of Holy Closure will include children baptized, communion served, God worshiped, a potluck lunch and people enjoying one another’s company.
Bob Trezise was raised in Eagle and lives in Red Cliff, He’s a retired teacher and outstanding musician. He’ll play the piano and pump organ Saturday. A pump organ is exactly what is says. While you play you operate two pedals that pump air into a bellows that forces it through the reeds, and the music comes out. Some organs have an auxiliary pump on the back and you pay a kid 10 cents to pump more air into it. Trezise was never one of those kids. He’s always been in front at the keyboard, not behind.
There were once three church buildings in Red Cliff. After Saturday there will be none. Mount Carmel Catholic Church is still owned by the Denver Archdiocese, but no longer hosts Mass.
The church is the oldest in Eagle County, and the piano isn’t much younger. A wagon hauled it over Tennessee Pass from Leadville in the 1890s, and it has been in the church ever since. It wasn’t played much while services were suspended because the pastor was on maternity leave.
Gail Britt, a Lutheran minister, and her husband Bill were the worship team when the church reopened. Gail, a fine musician in her own rite, sat down at the piano, gently pressed the keys and it rang clear and true. With that, the Red Cliff congregation restarted worship services.
At that first service, Dec. 18, Britt spoke from the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke, in which the angel Gabriel comes in a dream to Mary, the mother of Jesus.
The message: With God, nothing is impossible.
Like all of us, the Red Cliff congregation needed a little of the lord’s help from time to time.
The Red Cliff Community Church was established in 1881. Congregationalists constructed the building in 1889, and deeded it to the Presbyterians in 1916. In the 1970s, the Presbyterians wanted to pull the plug.
On Jan. 27, 1974, Alan S. Albert, Sandy Rose’s father, and Trezise drove to Denver in a blizzard to ask the Presbyterians not to sell the building without giving the congregation first shot at it. The Presbyterians agreed.
About that title
Real estate deals require a paper trail, and the Red Cliff church building did not appear to have one.
Local historian Pearl Henderson thought it might have been lost in one of the fires in Red Cliff or Leadville, said Sandy Rose, who grew up in Red Cliff, attended church in that building and has been heroic in keeping the congregation going.
After scouring the Eagle County archives and records, former pastor Hal Holman finally found the title filed in Summit County. When the church was established, Summit County encompassed what is now Eagle County, which was founded in 1883, two years after the church was. So Breckenridge is where the Red Cliff church’s title was filed.
Fast forward to about a decade ago.
Presbyterian church officials in Denver wanted to sell the Red Cliff and Minturn Presbyterian churches to free up funds for a larger church building in a more central location. That’s now Eagle River Presbyterian Church in Eagle-Vail.
Minturn’s Presbyterian church building is the Holy Toledo store on Main Street.
The Denver Presbytery — which still owned the Red Cliff building — put a lockbox on the church’s front door and asked the congregation to stop using it.
A Methodist minister, Rev. David Butler, was running Red Cliff services at the time and found an angel investor who flew to the church’s rescue. That angel investor bought the church building for $160,000, with plans to split the cost with the congregation.
Local Realtor Bev Trout put the deal together and even waived her fee, Rose said.
The McCoy Community Church pitched in the Red Cliff congregation’s first $1,000, and even changed their worship time so they could share their minister with Red Cliff. A.S. Albert sold a lot next to the post office and gave $15,000 to the church fund.
However, the waning Red Cliff congregation was able to raise about $23,000 throughout several years, a long way from its half of the $160,000 purchase price.
Their angel investor let it slide and the Red Cliff congregation kept meeting there.
“The church is very grateful,” Rose said.
However, taxes, insurance and utility bills consumed the congregation’s building fund.
Eventually, even angels investors have to land. The building went under contract and Saturday is the final service there.
“Every Christian in the valley is invited. We’re hoping to fill the church building for its last day of service as a house of worship,” Rose said.
The church’s roots roll through Eagle County’s history. So do miracles and the hands of God and his children.
In the early 1980s, a couple of men from Woodman Valley Chapel in Colorado Springs came through. They had been along with the 10th Mountain Division in Camp Hale, and had worshiped there when they were in the Army training for World War II.
They asked if the Red Cliff congregation needed anything. “Yes, please,” came the congregation’s reply. The two men added two restrooms and a kitchen.
Jane Martinez, Red Cliff postmaster Diana Cisneros and Beth Squires put that kitchen to immediate good use when they started cooking breakfast before church. Attendance grew because people started showing up their hearty main courses, cakes and pastries.
In the early 1980s, the building needed a new roof. A man died in Fort Collins and willed $10,000 to both the Timnath Presbyterian Church and the Red Cliff church, just what Red Cliff needed for the roofing materials. Because Plath Roofing donated their labor, the church had enough money left to pay the town’s water tap fee for the restrooms and kitchen.
One of the church’s antique Bibles was restored and bound by master bookbinder Helmut Fricker. That Bible has been with the congregation almost since worship began.
Jack Holmes was a political science professor at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. For more than 40 years, he’s spent his summers in a cabin along Homestake Creek a few miles outside of Red Cliff.
Holmes, who isn’t a minister, conducted lay worship services at the church during the summer for years.
Rose and others are heartbroken that 135 years after the church was started, it’s closing. But they say the important part of their church is forever, as Rose points to the final verse in the Bible in which God reminds us, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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