Methodist church in Steamboat welcomes Jewish symbol of the ‘Festival of Lights’

Tom Ross
The Jewish community Har Mishpacha in Steamboat Springs began looking Tuesday for an alternative place to display a menorah created by Randy Salky after Routt County government decided not to allow the religious symbol to be displayed on the front lawn of the historic downtown courthouse. The menorah now will have a place at the United Methodist Church of Steamboat Springs, and a lighting ceremony will take place at 5:15 p.m. Tuesday.
John F. Russell

— The new menorah built for Steamboat’s Jewish community, Har Mishpacha, by Randy Salky has found its home for Hanukkah on the lawn of the United Methodist Church of Steamboat Springs. A brief lighting ceremony will be held 5:15 p.m. Tuesday at the corner of Eighth and Oak streets. All are welcome.

Salky said that Pastor Tim Selby and United Methodist were the first of three churches to make the offer to host the menorah after the Routt County Board of Commissioners declined to make a place for the symbol of the Jewish Festival of Lights on the Routt County Courthouse lawn downtown.

“All of the reaction and response have been positive and that’s nice to see,” Salky said.

His contemporary version of the menorah is created from transparent plexiglass columns filled with lights.

Har Mishpacha members already observe Shabbat services between five and eight times per year at United Methodist, and board President Bert Halberstadt said Friday that he expected an uplifting ceremony Tuesday evening. He said there will be a short prayer and a talk about the history of the menorah.

“It’s hopefully going to be a gala celebration on the lawn of the Methodist church,” he said.

Selby said that Har Mishpacha already has a small office space in the Methodist church and that made it an easy decision to welcome the menorah to the grounds.

“I like the Jewish community and their desire to bring some light into the community and not wanting to be confrontational,” Selby said. “We need all the light we can get, right?”

Other pastors who offered to make their facilities available included the Rev. Scott Turner at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and Father Ernest Bayer at Holy Name Catholic Church, Salky said.

The county commissioners decided Dec. 8 to affirm the decision of County Manager Tom Sullivan not to permit the menorah, a religious symbol, on the courthouse lawn. Sullivan said the county has been consistent in that regard and added the vagueness of U.S. Supreme Court rulings on when religious symbols are and are not permissible on government property under the First Amendment of the Constitution was a factor in his decision. Sullivan consulted with County Attorney John Merrill before making that decision.

Halberstadt and other members of the Har Mishpacha board said in their view, the evergreen trees strung with lights on the courthouse lawn are Christmas trees and also religious symbols. Sullivan said he disagreed because the trees are lighted throughout the winter, not just at Christmas.

Har Mishpacha board members made it clear that they have no intention of mounting a legal challenge to the county’s decision but also said they looked forward to returning to county officials earlier in the holiday season in 2015 to renew their request.

Selby said that the existence of the multi-faith group, Exploring the Sacred, in Steamboat makes it comfortable for the community’s pastors to come together. They meet regularly within Exploring the Sacred to talk about community issues. But also, Selby said, the United Methodist Church at the national level for a long time had a inclusionary campaign called Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.

“Our congregation has really kind of grabbed onto that sentiment and tried to live that out,” Selby said.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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