Spiritual life in
the valley burgeons
others lead rediscovery of religion
Express Staff Writer
is there to facilitate a relationship with God," said Bob Henley,
pastor of the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood in Ketchum, one of the
Wood River Valley’s largest congregations.
Emmanuel Episcopal Church is located in the middle of Hailey’s
original town site. The Rev. Jennifer Anttonen, the valley’s only female
pastor, stands in the doorway of the historic building built in 1885. Express
photo by David N. Seelig
re-establish that relationship¾ in the upheaval of the post-Sept. 11
days¾ the country’s populace is returning in record numbers to their
houses of worship.
a mark of the state of our world in Blaine County that along with secular
growth¾ a burgeoning number of new homes, increased highway traffic, the
need for more schools, services and infrastructure, plus other continuing
demands on planning and zoning¾ there’s an increased need for more
places of worship. That’s right. Faith in the Wood River Valley is a
spiritual groups here include Christian Fundamentalists, such as Baptist,
Lutheran, Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter Day Saints and Seventh Day Adventists; new-age non-denominationals,
such as Light on the Mountains and Wood River Spiritual Center, which are
both aligned with Religious Science; two Buddhism groups, and the Wood
River Jewish Community, which this year will be hiring its first full-time
yet another reason for the growth of spirituality in the valley that
reflects changes in the outside world. According to the 2000 census,
Hispanics make up 10 percent of Blaine County’s population. They’ve
moved to the valley in ever increasing numbers, and are largely
churchgoers. Both St. Charles Catholic Church in Hailey—where the
Hispanics now out number the Anglos—and Valley Christian Fellowship hold
Spanish services. Valley Christian Fellowship is the only church in the
valley with an Hispanic pastor, Tito Rivera, on staff.
with growth in churches can be tricky. In an article in Church Growth
magazine, Flavil R. Yeakley, director of the Center for Church Growth at
Harding University, Searcy, Ark., said most "churches have been
unable to sustain their growth rate when they have gone beyond 90 percent
of capacity in regard to parking space, classroom space and seating
Baker, the minister at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Ketchum, agrees.
church is full to the rafters, as St. Thomas was before its recent
reconstruction that doubled its sanctuary size, newcomers may feel
unwelcome, Baker said. "They think there is no room for me
contends "The growth rate begins to decline at about 90 percent of
capacity. Growth stops at around 95 percent. Attendance then declines. The
cycle is repeated over and over."
the large additions on two of the more prominent church buildings here—besides
the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church of the Bigwood has built an
entirely new sanctuary—this concept is timely. In Hailey, an expansion
of the Emmanuel Episcopal Church, whose congregation has tripled in the
three years that Jennifer Anttonen has been the minister, is in the
planning stage. This spirituality revival did not happen easily, however.
the 1950s there were maybe seven brands to choose from," Henley said.
"Everybody’s parents generally went to church."
But in the
divisive 1960s and 1970s, a search for spiritual alternatives developed.
generation’s general consensus was to go anywhere that wasn’t daddy’s
church. For many, it meant the outright rejection of organized religion.
also saw a drift from mainline churches due to the bureaucracy in church
in itself," Henley said.
church attendance dwindled.
spirituality never really goes out of style, and many came back or formed
new churches, which addressed their needs in more relevant ways.
And, in the
microcosm that is Blaine County, it’s easy to see now why additional
church space is necessary.
to the last census, Blaine County’s population swelled by 40 percent
over the past 10 years to 18,991. And it’s continuing to swell at a pace
that places it 4th in annual growth among Idaho’s 44
counties. Between April 2000 and July 2001, Blaine grew by 807 to a
population of 19,798, for a growth rate of 4.2 percent.
Boomers, who make up 36 percent of the county’s population, have had
children and have shown an increasing desire to pass on spiritual
traditions. Baker said a significant number of those aged 40 to 55 have
school age children who begin to ask about God. "That is the entry
point, not at baptism, but older. Parents want to give them spiritual
many churches have changed with the times, incorporating outreach
programs, becoming havens for community and serving the public’s need
for diversity. Many people now choose their religions and churches based
on personal compatibility rather than brand name.
like the Religious Science groups think of themselves as all-denomination
rather than non-denominational despite the fact that they are based on
Christian principles, said John Moreland, the new pastor for Light on the
Mountains. But they do not appeal to everyone after all. In fact, Light on
the Mountains is currently gathering on Sundays in the Sawtooth Botanical
Garden, but is planning to purchase a home nearby to use as their church.
First, though, they must resolve a conditional-use issue regarding a
turn-off lane on the highway, and contend with nearby property owners
unsure of the affect on their property values.
one of the reasons for the inclination toward these so called
interdenominational churches was the Jesus People Movement, which began in
1967 with the opening of a small storefront evangelical mission called the
Living Room in San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury district.
license to others to adopt and adapt elements of several faith traditions
based on their own sensibilities. Among the mélange of churches that were
born of this movement was the Calvary Church, huge non-denominational
places like the Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago, Foursquare
Gospel, Church of Science and the Charismatic Renewal.
this trend shows that at the institutional level evangelism has
re-infiltrated the mainstream.
many diocese and local churches are once again exploring their
faithfulness to the missionary mandate by building homes in Mexico,
working on Native American reservations or sending their children to Bible
haven’t come full circle. Certainly, with the sexual abuse crisis in the
Catholic Church, there is once again a need to peer deeper under the
layers of church bureaucracy and out-moded paternalistic approaches.
continuity of faith, and the accompanying manifestations, is really all
about freedom of conscience—as essential to the fabric of human rights
as the pursuit of happiness, free speech and freedom of the press.
concept that has emerged as a leading force behind the valley’s
spiritual growth, where new grocery stores, sub-divisions and bigger
schools go hand in hand with an increase in faith-based groups.
snow melts, and Bald Mountain closes, the need to connect on a deeper
level doesn’t diminish. In fact, the need to have that personal
relationship with God or higher power of choice, remains and must be