Still reeling from the overwhelming local support to commemorate the Aspen Chapel’s 50th anniversary, community leaders are already looking ahead to the next 50 years.
Laurel Catto is one such leader, and together with Lexie Potamkin, she’s spearheading Together the Chapel, one aspect of the three-pronged Next 50 initiative to ensure the chapel’s even longer-term sustainability.
“We just felt like we needed to capture that momentum and that recognition of the community,” Catto said of Next 50. “There’s no doctrine that defines who the community is; you’re a member if you intend to be, if you engage there with your energy and your presence, full stop.”
Together the Chapel is looking to engage with that community — regardless in what capacity — to determine if the historical vision of the entity still resonates. Through November and December, the committee held what it dubbed a “pebble poll” to start the feedback collection process.
“We gave everybody a little bag with four rocks in it,” Catto explained. “We have this beautiful 1968 vision statement. We put out six bowls with the six core values that we distilled from that vision statement. For six weeks, anybody that came into that chapel for any reason ... got one of these bags, and they got to take their four pebbles and say which of those six values resonate most strongly.”
Of those six values — transformation, inclusion, creative expression, mind-body-spirit, social responsibility and preservation — creative expression emerged as a top priority, with 205 pebbles. A commitment to cultivating connection between mind, body and spirit came in next, with 195 pebbles, and the bowl representing social responsibility had 191 pebbles in it by the end of the poll.
Catto sees all those values as interconnected.
“All the values roll up into each other,” she said. For instance, she continued, the vision wouldn’t matter without a house in which to practice them — which is why the other two channels of Next 50 are facilities and financials.
“We don’t have any endowment to speak of. You would be shocked that a 50-year-old institution has virtually no rainy-day fund of any kind,” Catto said. “It’s like we just kind of woke up and went, ‘Somebody handed us the keys to this place 50 years ago; what are we doing to hand it off to the next group for the next 50 years?”
To help further fine tune what should be the chapel’s priorities in terms of financial allocations, Together the Chapel has launched an online survey, (tinyurl.com/AspenChapelNext50), which will remain live until Saturday at midnight.
“It was to get people thinking, ‘What are we about?’ What motivates you to participate? What should the chapel’s mission be?’” Catto said. “The big question is, how do we serve into those? How do we serve the valley? That’s really why we’re opening up to everybody, because everybody gets a say in how the chapel serves the valley.”
And after the online survey closes and the results are documented?
“We break bread,” she said. “If the survey is sort of the brain center of the process, the next phase is what we call the heart center. The next phase is probably a series of probably 20 parties with a purpose. They’re small dinner dialogues, where we sit down.”
Those dialogues, held between February and April, will delve into specifics, especially regarding the building itself.
“Form follows function whenever you’re talking about a facility,” she said, adding that items such as a new roof and minister housing are among the line items in facility discussions. “Just the building itself is incredibly significant architecturally and obviously to the town, so a ton of people are sort of coming out of the woodwork to help us with preservation plans and even visions for how we can improve it.”
The intense community outreach is both somewhat ironic to the chapel’s first roots, Catto acknowledged.
“I think everybody kind of intuitively knows it’s never been a church in the traditional sense. Churches usually start organically within a town; the chapel didn't happen that way,” she said. “One guy, Bishop Yost, spent his whole life working in the Mennonite church and had something of a personal epiphany that there was only one god, and there were many pathways to that god, but there was only one, and all the drum beating of different denominations was counterproductive.”
And so Yost came to Aspen and, inspired by European stone churches converted from old windmills, built the Aspen Chapel in 1968, “before Aspen was a thing,” she continued.
“His nephew had made a small fortune in the grain silo business, and he paid for all of it: one family; one guy’s vision. No organic roots in the community, and poof! There was a chapel.”
It would be another decade before the chapel became a community cornerstone. Since then, space is home to the Aspen Jewish Congregation and regularly hosts Buddhist monks and Catholic priests alike. It’s been the site of Pitkin County government-led public discussions and yoga classes. People have celebrated weddings and mourned the departed in the half-century-old building.
It’s that diversity of purpose that spurred the Next 50 initiative.
“Its greatest strength is also its greatest planning challenge,” Catto said. “After [the dinner dialogues], we will have a series of public meetings, basically bringing back to the community what we’ve heard for a further gut check. This summer, in a case statement, [we’ll release] the big bold vision for what the chapel is and what the chapel can be.”