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The little church that could

September 26, 2008

The modest stucco church with the gabled entryway and bell tower is the last remnant of a bustling Hispanic neighborhood that once flourished near downtown Colorado Springs.

Gone are the houses and businesses that occupied the area just south of West Colorado Avenue. The big draw in the area these days is America the Beautiful Park.

But each Sunday, a couple dozen dedicated members trek to Chadbourn Spanish Gospel Mission for weekly services. To them, the church has survived because of God's will.

Why else, they say, would it remain standing after the rest of the neighborhood was razed and the building nearly bulldozed by the city?

Divine intervention also gets credit for bringing the right people at the right time to the church. Senior pastor John Beatty likens his parish to the ragtag, spiritually filled apostles of the Gospels. Overstatement? Perhaps.

But given the challenges the nondenominational church has faced, it's notable that Chadbourn Mission has not only survived, but it is showing signs of growth. Membership is slowly rising, and plans are being drawn up for additions to the church.

Recent developments bolster members' optimism.

On Aug. 6, the Colorado Springs City Council approved a change to the church's zoning classification, which will allow Chadbourn to apply for building-improvement grants.

Church leaders are also working on getting Chadbourn registered on the National Register of Historic Places, a designation that would help ensure it will be around for generations. The National Park Service is expected to decide the issue in January

"The church has tremendous significance as a representation of a bygone era," said Timothy Scanlon, senior planner for the city. "It's an early example of community spirit coming together."

Missionary Ruth Chadbourn founded the church in 1930, calling it the Spanish Gospel Mission.

Parishioners met in a rented grocery store at 402 S. Conejos St. Chadbourn bought the building in 1932.

Ten years later, the building was renovated into the Spanish mission style, and the church's name was changed to Chadbourn Spanish Gospel Mission, in honor of its founder, who died in 1936.

The Conejos district began shrinking in the 1950s as developers bought up property on which to build commercial buildings.

In the 1990s, the city purchased the remaining homes and shops to build America the Beautiful Park.

But when the city offered to buy Chadbourn, church leaders refused to sell.

During the park's construction in the early 2000s, a demolition crew received faulty instructions to raze Chadbourn, church leaders say. Bulldozers were poised outside when the error was discovered.

"The city tried to run over us and we would not let them do it," said assistant pastor Bob Mathis, who attributes the close call to divine favor.

Many people figured the 2,100-square-foot church was on the brink of closing, as weekly attendance dwindled from a high of about 40 in the 1980s to maybe 10 by 2004. But the loyalty of longtime Chadbourn members such as Loretta Buchan kept the doors open.

Buchan, 69, grew up in the Conejos district and has attended Chadbourn since the late 1940s. "I have my roots here," Buchan said. "Like they say, ‘There is no place like home.'"

The congregation has grown to about 35, with an average weekly attendance of 25. Regular attendees come from all over Colorado Springs and represent a variety of backgrounds - business owners, retirees, former convicts, the homeless.

Yet everyone gets along, church leaders say, and nearly all help with church duties, such as gardening and maintenance.

Last year, Karen Hess, 47, became a member after hearing about Chadbourn from a friend. "It has introduced me to the Lord and lightened my heart," she said. "It gives me a sense of security."

Another new member is Jon Horton, who dropped in on a Sunday service while visiting America the Beautiful Park. During the service, Beatty left the pulpit, walked up to Horton and said, "You are here by divine appointment."

Neither man knows what to make of that moment, but it cannot be denied that Horton, 67, has become an important church presence.

His background as a permit agent for seismic exploration helped him understand and lead the effort to change the church's zoning and start the wheels rolling toward getting it on the National Register.

Now a church board member, Horton heads the drive to build a Spanish missionstyle chapel on church grounds.

"Everybody who joins this church brings something unique," Beatty said.

"This church should have been gone long ago," he said. "But God has his hands on this church."



Chadbourn Spanish Gospel Mission

Where: 402 S. Conejos St. Service
Time: 11 a.m. Sundays more information: 473-5496


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