Mountain Welcome

Aspen Chapel, a Mennonite vision for spiritual unity, turns 50

Oct 28, 2019 by and

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A mile past Aspen Limo Ser­vices on Highway 82 in Colorado, as the Aspen Golf and Tennis Club rolls by and the wintry playground for the ultrarich comes into view, a stone building perches serenely by the side of the road.

First a steeple, then a chapel.

Aspen Chapel hosts worship services, seminars, concerts, outreach and justice initiatives, art exhibits, baptisms, youth events and weddings. — Aspen Chapel

Aspen Chapel hosts worship services, seminars, concerts, outreach and justice initiatives, art exhibits, baptisms, youth events and weddings. — Aspen Chapel

Today it is a worship space for all. Fifty years ago, Aspen Chapel was built by Mennonites who shared a vision for constructing a place of peace and welcome.

Throughout 2019, Aspen Chapel — “a spiritual home for everyone” — is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

The seeds for that vision were planted a century ago in the countryside outside Hesston, Kan., as the unconventional spiritual journey of the chap­el’s founder, E.M. (Earvey Meg­li) Yost, began to take shape.

Ordained in 1919, at age 19, in the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite (also known as Holdeman), Yost soon found himself in tension with the church. He wanted to enhance his preaching with study, in contrast to the Holdeman tradition of spontaneous, Spirit-led sermons.

Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online records that Yost “questioned the theological position that the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite was the only true church. Because of his concerns, he was asked to stop preaching within that denomination.”

He ultimately pastored congregations in the (Old) Mennonite Church, eventually becoming “founder” and overseer/bishop of Rocky Mountain Mennonite Conference. Living in Denver, his restrictive theological upbringing combined with formative attendance at Mennonite World Conference events in Europe and a World Council of Churches conference in Geneva, Switzerland, that broadened his horizons further.

Yost was familiar with Aspen because the Mennonite Church administered the hospital and sponsored a Mennonite Voluntary Service outpost there.

Aspen Chapel chaplain emeritus Gregg Anderson said Yost began to dream of an ecumenical and interfaith chapel situated in a town that drew people from all over the world.

“He thought Aspen would be more attractive and have more tourists and be a more beautiful place than Denver,” he said. “. . . I can’t help but think, before the end of his life, he said ‘I’ll build a church for everybody.’ ”

Although Aspen’s billionaire boom didn’t happen until the 1980s, nothing comes cheap above 8,000 feet, and Yost’s vision needed funding.

A notable nephew

Yost had a nephew back in Hesston. Lyle Yost, a founder of the farm equipment manufacturer Hesston Corp., shared his uncle’s vision for an ecumenical and interfaith chapel dedicated to peace.

“Hesston was in its heyday, and he said, ‘I’ll build it,’ ” Anderson said, noting Yost contributed about 95 percent of the construction costs.

Plans for the chapel began in 1966, based on paux mulon (mill of peace) chapels converted from old windmills E.M. Yost saw on travels in France. Ground was broken in 1968, and Glennon Heights Mennonite Church Pastor Edward Miller oversaw much of the construction.

The chapel — then known as the Aspen Chapel of the Prince of Peace — was dedicated with a worship service on Sunday morning, Aug. 31, 1969.

“Erect here an architecture to evoke the ideal functioning of a concept of engaging religious faith in conversation with the world,” wrote E.M. Yost in the 1968 booklet of groundbreaking and dedication. “To this place gather in lively encounter, leaders of religious thought to redefine spiritual values, to question, to seek relevant answers in a troubled world, to breach the systematic illusions whereby society maintains its institutions.”

Lyle Yost chaired the original board of trustees and did so until his death in 2012. His son Cameron Yost, of Colorado Springs, continues the family’s service on the board.

Aspen Chapel architecht George Edward Heneghan Jr. was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, and his style has been described as Wrightian/Organic. The inch-thick stained glass was made in France by Jean-Jacques Duval, who was asked to express in the windows his interpretation of the Beatitudes. — Tamara Susa/Aspen Chapel

Aspen Chapel architecht George Edward Heneghan Jr. was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, and his style has been described as Wrightian/Organic. The inch-thick stained glass was made in France by Jean-Jacques Duval, who was asked to express in the windows his interpretation of the Beatitudes. — Tamara Susa/Aspen Chapel

Continuing support

Noble intentions, however, were not enough to get the chapel off the ground. A handful of local volunteers kept the doors open as best they could.

A separate congregation, Aspen Mennonite Fellowship, began in 1964 with 12 charter members and support from Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities. Paul Martin came from La Junta in 1967 to pastor the church and be hospital chaplain, even leading some services at Aspen Chapel. But Mennonite Fellowship struggled to grow, and by 1972 it closed, since Mennonites no longer operated the hospital.

The voluntary service unit continued, and Anderson said Bob Longenecker maintained the chapel as part of his voluntary service duties in the 1970s. Longenecker was the chapel director from 1975 to 1978, when Anderson became director.

“Lyle and [E.M.] were concerned it wasn’t taking off the way they wanted it to in the beginning,” Anderson said. “They were looking for help wherever they could get it, and they approached Mennonite Board of Missions — and that was strange for an independent chapel, not Mennonite.  . . . They were instrumental in giving, I would say, $25,000 in  total to subsidize the utilities  and other things of the chapel.”

Over time, events and other activities began to pick up, and today the chapel keeps a busy schedule hosting worship services, seminars, concerts, outreach and justice initiatives, art exhibitions, baptisms, youth events and weddings. Aspen Jewish Congregation has been worshiping there since 1986. Through it all, Yost’s vision of welcome continues.


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