The Rev. Bob Epping was ready to cancel service at Holy Rosary Chapel in Cascade due to a winter storm.
Epping resides in the rectory of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Colorado Springs, and since Highway 24 through Ute Pass was buried in snow, he had no way to get to the mountain church.
But he got a phone call from a Holy Rosary member offering to drive Epping the nine miles up the pass in the member’s four-wheel-drive Jeep.
Epping led the service on schedule.
The incident several years ago was the closest Epping has come to canceling a service since taking leadership of Tri-Community in 2004.
Tri-Community is made up of three parishes in three different cites: Holy Rosary in Cascade, Sacred Heart in Colorado Springs and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Manitou Springs. Epping and associate pastor Vince Kuna oversee all three.
Though running three parishes sounds stressful, it’s no big deal, Epping said.
“What gets stressful is when a parish has a school attached,” he said. “We don’t have that in the Tri-Community.”
Still, it takes scheduling skill to have two pastors cover 8 a.m. Masses six days a week and five Sunday morning services at three churches.
Other parishes within the Catholic Diocese of Colorado Springs also share priests, though Tri-Community is the only group that has its anchor church in Colorado Springs.
Catholic parishes in Victor, Cripple Creek, Florissant and Woodland Park share priests. One priest oversees parishes in Buena Vista and Fairplay. In the Limon area, three priests oversee seven churches.
The sharing is due to the dwindling number of priests and the fact that small parishes are unable to financially support a full-time priest, diocese spokesman Msg. Bob Jaeger said.
The churches within Tri-Community have had a relationship for decades, since Holy Rosary and Our Lady are church plants of Sacred Heart. But the relationship wasn’t formalized into Tri-Community until 1993.
Besides Epping and Kuna, Tri-Community employs seven other people who oversee music, children’s programs, management and accounting.
Financially, the three churches are autonomous, with donations staying within the respective church.
Epping and Kuna divide up their responsibilities among the churches. Kuna, for instance, handles all baptisms, and Epping handles all administration.
The priests alternate performing morning Mass Monday through Saturday at the churches.
A typical Sunday might have Epping presiding over the 7:30 a.m., 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. services at Sacred Heart, and Kuna handling duties at the 8:15 a.m. service at Holy Rosary and the 10:15 a.m. service at Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
The parishes are slightly different at each church, Kuna said.
Holy Rosary members are older and more stoic during service, Kuna said. The Our Lady parish has many young families who sing the hymns with gusto.
Sacred Heart has 959 families on the membership roll, while Holy Rosary has 77 and Our Lady has 121.
Parish size influences how sermons are delivered.
Kuna is more likely to go off text at Holy Rosary and Our Lady because of the smaller parish size. “I’m a little more formal at Sacred Heart,” he said.
Both priests say they enjoy the challenge of ministering at three churches and don’t have a favorite.
“I like the little differences in church styles and the communities,” Epping said.
They’re also excited by a development in September. The diocese gave Tri-Community a four-wheel-drive Ford Escapade. That will make commutes up and down Ute Pass during winter storms much easier.
For more religion news, go to Barna’s blog, The Pulpit, at www.thepulpit.freedomblogging.com.