St. Paul’s Episcopal Church embraces new priest

Tom Ross
Father Scott Turner was installed formally as the priest at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Steamboat Springs at the end of August.
Father Scott Turner was installed formally as the priest at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Steamboat Springs at the end of August.

— Father Scott Turner had been giving sermons at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in downtown Steamboat Springs for seven months when the true nature of his congregation revealed itself.

“I couldn’t believe my first Christmas Eve,” Turner said on Wednesday. “We held three worship services, and 750 people showed up. I didn’t recognize most of the people.”

Christmas Eve in ski town churches is special, Turner learned, because it gathers worshippers from all across the nation and the world.

Turner was recommended to the St. Paul’s congregation as a priest in charge after longtime priest David Henderson resigned in September 2008. He and his wife, Jo Anne Grace, arrived in May 2009 with the understanding that it was a long-term tryout with the local congregation.

The bishop felt that St. Paul’s initially was not ready to select a long-term replacement for Henderson. The mission for Turner, who was ordained in 1980, was to bring stability to the congregation.

The relationship with the congregation has taken hold, and Turner was installed formally as the priest at St. Paul’s at the end of August. And the broader community was doubly fortunate that day: Grace, who holds a doctorate degree, provides hospice spiritual care and bereavement counseling.

Since Christmas 2009, Turner has learned a good deal about the community as well as the strength vacationing worshippers bring to St. Paul’s.

He also has found that church becomes a touchstone for people who vacation or own second homes here.

“It’s a way for them to connect as soon as they arrive,” Turner said.

In return, he added, many of them are people of means who can support Steamboat’s community institutions, including churches.

Most Sundays, about 120 people worship at the church at 846 Oak St.

“I preach and believe in an active, involved God who reveals himself in Jesus in powerful and unique ways,” Turner said. “I shoot for pragmatic spirituality. How do ancient wisdoms speak to our current situation? To become a Christian is to learn to think as Christ would think, but not in such a way that it denies where we are in our own culture today.”

There is no doubt, Turner said, that the slumping economy and the resulting loss of employment and peoples’ homes has impacted all of Steamboat’s congregations. But he has found the members of his church to be resilient, and church at its best should be a place people come to find hope, compassion for one another and the kind of support that banishes despair from one’s life, Turner said.

Still, it’s not easy to take when it’s your job or your home that was lost, he added.

“It will be interesting to watch Steamboat over the next 10 years and see to what extent a middle class can be maintained,” he said.

— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email

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