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Denver’s First Church Celebrates Milestone

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Trinity United Methodist Church (credit: CBS)

Trinity United Methodist Church (credit: CBS)

The course of Colorado’s history was changed 150 years ago with the Colorado Gold Rush, and along with the unruly crowd that filled the dusty streets of a new settlement on the banks of Cherry Creek came Denver’s first church.

Trinity United Methodist Church has grown up with the city ever since.

Stairs inside the church lead not to the choir loft, nor to the balcony, but to the last place you’d expect to find the fundamental principle by which the city’s oldest congregation lives.

“We have found some writings on one of the rafters in the attic dated Jan. 20 of 1889,” said Lyn Willcockson. “We don’t know who wrote this.”

Willcockson thinks the words, written in carpenter’s pencil, were inscribed within a month of the very first service ever held in the sanctuary.

They read: “Reader, what have you done since this church opened to make it a benefit to mankind?” … “Do you allow the poor to enter this church with the same welcome as those in costly robes?”

“These words are kind of a mission statement for us — kind of a challenge — especially being a downtown church where we see so many people of different walks of life,” said Willcockson. “We think this is a kind of mandate, if you will, to the mission of this church.”

“When Trinity began Aug. 2, 1859, there were no churches, no hospitals, no libraries, no schools,” said Senior Pastor Michael Dent. “There were 31 saloons, so there was a need for a church!”

When the church was first established, they met in a log cabin along Cherry Creek. It was washed away in the flood of 1863.

The church built a new building in 1864 at 14th and Lawrence. That was its home for 25 years.

“It was the most prominent building in the city of Denver,” said Dent. “In 1887 the church bought lots at the corner of 18th and Broadway and paid the astounding sum of $12,000, I believe.”

Construction of the new church was completed the following year at what was the very edge of downtown Denver — four years before the Brown Palace hotel went up across the street. The cornerstone was laid in 1888.

A century later a box and its deteriorating contents were opened up. It’s believed the papers inside were once prophetic sayings from the bishop of the time.

“When we took this out of this damp rusty box, they just crumbled right before our eyes,” Willcockson said.

The seats in the sanctuary were installed in 1888. Underneath each seat bottom is a wire rack.

“They were for hats,” explained Willcockson. “Men and women wore hats to everything back in those days.”

Trinity Methodist’s steeple has no bells, something that may surprise some who have heard bells as they walk past.

“We have never had bells but we have speakers that broadcast the sound of bells,” said Wilklcockson.

When the church was built workers put in a 4,200 pipe Roosevelt organ was installed. Anamae Vasquez has been playing the historic organ since the 1960s.

“It’s a magnificent instrument,” she said. “Especially if I sit in the congregation and listen, then I realize what an honor it is to be able to play the organ. It just takes your breath away sometimes.”

Trinity United Methodist Church has now been part of the Denver community for 150 years.

“Our sesquicentennial theme is, ‘We’re here for good.’ We expect to be here for 150 more years plus,” Dent said. “But we’re also here to do good. Missions and outreach are a significant part of our ministry.

“We have we think we have a special calling to be here in the heart of this city, and to have the city at our heart.”

On Aug. 2 the church will celebrate its 150th anniversary. The festivities are open to everyone.

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