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For the week of May 15 - 21, 2002


For several valley churches growth is business

Express Staff Writer

Build it for the glory of God.

Many of the Wood River Valley churches have done just that over the years. But with the valley’s recent surge in growth the need to have more space has become even more vital to the success and longevity of various parishes.

To engender this boom, communities generally rely on pledges and endowments for their building and outreach programs. The Presbyterian Church of the Bigwood and St. Thomas Episcopal Church, both in Ketchum, have recently enlarged or rebuilt portions of their churches using pledges from their members and endowments. In Hailey, Emmanuel Episcopal is just beginning the process of enlargement.

The Rev. Jennifer Anttonen, below, stands in the doorway of the Historical Landmark church, Emmanuel Episcopal, in Hailey. Express photo by David Seelig

It took a mere five years for the Rev. Brian Baker of St. Thomas Episcopal Church to realize the enlargement of his church. Built in 1960, with hardly enough room for 100 souls, it was plenty big enough for the small congregation of the time. But, as it turns out, the newly expanded ski-chalet style A-frame church is still not commodious for its burgeoning congregation. For, during the five-year construction project, the congregation at St. Thomas more than doubled. It now has 680 members—and space for 220.

As healthy church communities go, the St. Thomas family is downright perky. While half of the membership is seasonal, the church is still filled to capacity every Sunday. Baker said that may be because there are less "sacred cows" than any church he’s been in. "They are just happy to be a part of a happening church, and are not as invested in the color of the carpet," he said with a laugh. The restructuring of the church cost $3.5 million. The new church remained true to the original ski chalet design. The sanctuary, designed by John Stewart, whose daughter Kathy Spiller is a member of the church, was left virtually untouched because of important architectural factors. More seating was added to the sides and rear of the original space. The multi-level building now houses several classrooms, a large fellowship hall, offices for the pastor and staff, a commercial kitchen, an elevator to the enlarged balcony with a choir loft, and a glass-plated children’s crying room at the rear of the sanctuary, where parents can take children while still watching the service There are also two terraces over looking Trail Creek as well as an outdoor labyrinth.

The Rev. Brian Baker enjoys his new office at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Ketchum. Express photo by Dana DuGan

This circular maze-like path will be landscaped as an outside meditation area for the community. Labyrinths have traditionally been used by several cultures as places of personal, psychological and spiritual insight.

A committee, including representatives of several denominations in the valley, is looking to raise $60,000 to finish the Community Labyrinth, which is just outside the church’s front door and bell tower. "It’s a sacred place for the whole community," Baker said.

The community benefits in other ways from St. Thomas’ expansion, as well. The Sun Valley Summer Symphony Music Conservatory also uses the space for lessons as does Music out of the Box, another music school, and regular meetings of such groups as Alcoholics Anonymous, the Girl Scouts and the Sun Valley Center for Arts board. The space is often used for play readings, acting classes, auditions and rehearsals.

St. Thomas’ Building to Serve Campaign brought in $2.5 million in pledges of the final cost of the addition, with the remainder coming from an endowment fund. "We’re hoping in the next year to rebuild our endowment," said Baker.

Working with historical limitations rather than structural, St. Thomas’ sister church in Hailey, Emmanuel Episcopal is just beginning the process of dealing with growth. For many years the church had fewer than 50 members and only seated 90. "It’s very close and friendly," says the Rev. Jennifer Anttonen, the church’s first full-time pastor.

Pastor Bob Henley, above, is proud of the brand new sanctuary in the Presbyterian Church of the Bigwood in Ketchum.

As an historical landmark, its historical worth is indubitable. Emmanuel was the first fully functioning Episcopal church in the Idaho territory and opened in 1885 with seed money put up by the legendary Bishop Tuttle.

The 16 stained-glass windows in the church are thought to have been in place at the time of consecration of the building, July 15, 1886. All original, they are a combination of colored glass and paint.

While this colorful past pleases Anttonen’s sensibilities, it’s also frustrating. Growth is hard to manage but part of her job is to ensure that growth is possible. Thanks to successful outreach programs and the influx in Hailey of young families, her parish is steadily expanding.

In the three and a half years Anttonen has been leading the church, the Sunday congregation has risen from approximately 20 to about 72 people at the 10 o’clock family service, when there is both Sunday school and child care.

She has also eased Emmanuel into the modern age. It’s only one of three Episcopal churches in Idaho, along with the Church of the Ascension in Twin Falls and St. Thomas in Ketchum, that is self sufficient. The Episcopal Diocese partially supports the other churches in the state.

Working with foresight, Anttonen is consulting with architects who specialize in additions for historical buildings. An addition will give them more space for offices, a parish hall and classrooms.

Among the activities that are now vying for space in the small church is an after-school program called The Study Place, for any child who needs homework help, and a Breakfast Club that began with a handful of hungry kids on Sunday. Between 600 kids come through The Study Place between October and April every year, says Anttonen.

A full third of the church’s income comes from its thrift store on East Bullion Street in Hailey. It has a huge outreach, having sent packages of clothes to Nepal and Bosnia, said Anttonen. Recently the church and thrift store were instrumental in refurbishing a youth shelter, Our Place, in Hailey and won a $10,000 grant from the Make A Difference Day Foundation. Anttonen and her fellow church ladies immediately gave the grant money to Our Place, even though the prize money would have greatly aided with the planned addition.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the Presbyterian Church of the Bigwood in Ketchum with a congregation upward of 300 in the summer time, said Pastor Bob Henley. Phase I of the current building campaign included the addition of a brand new sanctuary. Costing $3.4 million, it was all raised from pledges.

As part of Phase I a new wing for its preschool was added that has 10,000 square feet and serves 75 children daily. A kindergarten class will be added this fall to the current curriculum.

In the mid 1950s, Ketchum’s Presbyterian community met in an old wood frame house that is now home to Mama Inez restaurant on 6th Street and Warm Springs. Property along the Bigwood River was bought by parishioners and donated to the Church of the Bigwood in the 1970s. The fellowship hall was built by hand by parishioners, and the original sanctuary fit 160 people.

The new state of the art sanctuary, which officially opened this past Sunday, seats 425. Designed by local architect Janet Jarvis, it has an impressive 250 feet of river view.

"Part of what attracted me was the vision of this crowd," said Henley, who joined the parish last year after leading large parishes in Wichita, Kan., and more recently in Los Angeles.

The congregation has grown by 20 percent in the last year, he said. With the first phase completed they are now looking towards Phase II, a far reaching plan that will include a multi-purpose gym and new fellowship hall, a tiered lecture hall overlooking the river, a narthex and main entrance, adult classrooms, a commercial kitchen and new offices. When it is all completed it will be 35,000 square feet.

"We want this to be something that will enrich the community as a venue for appropriate events, productions, concerts, and the Sun Valley Opera," said Henley.

These three churches show how different congregations and denominations are dealing with different needs. Other churches in the valley are at the start of their growth curves. And for them the questions are not so much how big an addition should they build, but where can they meet in the first place.



Next: New Faces, New Spaces


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