Colorado Church Progressed from Shepherds to Stewards
Name: St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
Location: Grand Junction, Colo.
Metropolis of Denver
Size: ahout 100 members
Clergy: Fr. Luke Uhl (part-time, due to a shortage of priests; degrees from the University of Texas-Austin; the U.S. Navy’s post-graduate school and St. Leo College - Theology)
Noteworthy: Parish is supported 100 percent by stewardship
ST. NICHOLAS GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH
GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. -
Situated approximately midway between Denver and Salt Lake City near
the remote Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains, St. Nicholas Church
may be far from the centers of Orthodoxy, but its strong presence is
evident in the closeness of the parishioners to their faith.
church is alive, it’s not closed and shuttered,” said Fr. Uhl. “Its
heart is beating.”
an average of twice a month over the past 15 years, Fr. Uhl drives the
250 miles from Denver, where he serves as the Metropolis chancellor,
along Interstate 70 across the Continental Divide, reaching an
altitude of 11,000 feet to conduct a full weekend of services at the
normally takes him four hours, though in winter “that drive can take a
long time” if he encounters blizzards and road closings.
parishioners want a full schedule, following the same pattern as a
church in Greece,” said the priest.
means he will conduct Friday evening vespers, Saturday morning matins,
a Saturday liturgy, Sunday liturgy and evening vespers and Monday
morning matins before leaving for Denver later Monday morning;
this time, Fr. Uhl also holds office hours and makes visitations.
church appears to be growing. Thus far in 2010, he has performed 17
baptisms and chrismations and four weddings.
of its members consist of younger families. The priest estimates about
three-fourths of the parish members are converts, originally half
Roman Catholic and half Protestant, with the older families being of
mostly Greek background.
hinted in the headline, the earliest settlers from Greece in the early
1900s worked in sheep ranching, an occupation they had pursued before
immigrating to the U.S.
to a parish history, they established households that became “centers
of social activity for the Greek community.”
the first Greek immigrants, other Orthodox Christians settled in
western Colorado from Romania, Russia, Serbia, the Ukraine and Armenia
and the community aquired a pan-Orthodox character.
parish received its name as a result of the sheepherders coming down
from the mountains with their flocks around the feast of St. Nicholas
in early December to take part in the season’s religious observances.
they established their community in 1918, there was no permanent
priest and visiting clergy from Denver and Salt Lake City, (about 247
and 285 miles away respectively), through the 1930s traveled to Grand
Junction to perform weddings, baptisms and funerals at a local hall.
occasion, the Greeks traveled to Salt Lake or to Assumption Church in
Price, Utah, whose priest in the mid-1950s encouraged the faithful
from Grand Junction to build a church.
1958 the parish was incorporated and parishioners built a structure
that served as a church and social hall through the 1980s.
that decade, plans to build a church took shape and the present house
of worship was completed around Christmas of 1991.
original building still functions as the parish hall.
the first generation retired and passed away, the younger generations
pursued a variety of occupations.
Junction, with a population of nearly 60,000, serves as a major
regional medical center and a large number of adult members work in
the health care industry as physicians and nurses, and as
veterinarians, Fr. Uhl explained.
as it may be, the parish has a Sunday School with about 40 children
enrolled. There is adult education in the fall and spring as the
priest holds a series of catechetical classes for inquirers.
is no Greek school, but some families do pursue Greek home schooling
and many of the converts want to learn Greek, he noted. “They
appreciate that the Greek we’re doing is New Testament, classical
100 percent stewardship
noted above, the parish is supported by stewardship. Per capita giving
consists of about $3,000 per family and 30 families provide a total of
community started a Greek festival in 2002, but none of the money is
used for the church’s operating budget, only for iconography and
the outset of the festival, the parish designated that 10 percent of
the festival proceeds go back to the Grand Junction community. Funds
are donated to a Roman Catholic charity and to other philanthropic
causes that help provide food and clothing to the needy.
in the city knows it (the parish’s commitment to the community) when
they come to participate in our festival,” said Fr. Uhl.
on the remarkable steadfastness of the members of the parish, the
priest characterized the community as “a wonderful mix, a wonderful
bunch of people who love God and worship God. They love their parish.”
of the most colorful senior members of the parish that the history and
Fr. Uhl make note of are 95-year-old Catherine Shiolas, who was
widowed 18 months after her marriage and has remained faithful to her
husband’s memory for 75 years.
has been a mainstay of the parish and has taught all of us to keep the
traditions of the faith,” the history notes.
other is Triantafilos Patsantaras, age 94, a World War II veteran who
participated in the Albanian campaign against the Italians in 1940,
and later fought as an “andarte” (guerilla fighter).
was part of the unit that blew up the Gorgopotamos Bridge, effectively
cutting Hitler’s major supply line through the Balkans to North Africa.
later being captured and beaten by the communists, he came to the
United States and settled in Grand Junction where he worked as a
sheepherder and also made barbed wire fences.
can still dance and jumps and slaps the bottom of his shoes,” said Fr.
Uhl. He also attends church faithfully and serves as a chanter.
— Compiled byJim Golding
Source: Orthodox Observer, September 2010, page 21
Download edition: https://www.goarch.org/-/september-2010-orthodox-observer