Some things get better with time.
Rev. John Wengrovius says he believes that to be the case with Calvary Episcopal Church, where he preaches most Sundays. The original chapel, the oldest continuously used Episcopal Church in the state, was established in 1867.
“The church has just sort of been marinated in prayer over the years,” Wengrovius says with a chuckle. “And you can feel it when you walk in there, it’s clear that it’s holy space.”
For the past 25 years, Wengrovius has been a key ingredient in many of those prayers. Under his watch, Calvary has undergone a major expansion, nearly tripling in size.
“The church was poised to grow,” Wengrovius says.
When the Vestry (governing council of the church) first interviewed Wengrovius, he said they made it clear that they hoped the next reverend of Calvary could help the church expand in both size and scope.
“A church for the community has always been part of Calvary’s DNA. We just felt there was room for us to grow in that role,” Wengrovius said.
There were growing pains, Wengrovius says. When he arrived in 1988, there was no other full-time church employee. Nowadays, Calvary has 11 staffers, and four clergy members.
He said his seminary training did not include much in the way of management training for running such a large church organization, leaving him to learn on the job, and seek out mentors for advice.
Ask longtime community figures, like former Golden Mayor Marv Kay, and Wengrovius received a lot of credit for Calvary’s growth, and the many ways in which the church has helped the community over the years.
“Everything that has a community focus to it, John and his church have been represented and I think that starts with his leadership,” Kay said. “I’ve always felt that he’s an important part of the fabric of this community.”
Ask Wengrovius however, and he demurs. According to him, the church was a deeply integrated part of the community form the beginning, built on land donated by William Loveland. Adolph and Louisa Coors donated the funds to paint the interior and buy the pews in the early 1900s.
“This has long been a church that could help host many community events, whenever appropriate,” Wengrovius said, giving examples of community food drives and funerals of public figures, even those who were not members of the Episcopal Church.
“We feel very honored to be able to do things like that,” Wengrovius said.
Wengrovius said that while part of his job is to be the “face man” for the church, much of the hard work of community engagement is actually done by another 25-year veteran of the church, Pastor Bethany Thomas, who was ordained as a deacon in the church just a few months after he arrived.
“She really deserves most of the credit,” Wengrovius said.
Wengrovius was born and raised in Colorado Springs, and grew up as part of the Episcopal Church community. Still, it was not a straight line into the clergy.
“I went east to college, and finished in CSU. Started in physics, and eventually changed my major to German,” Wengrovius says with another laugh.
About to graduate, and no clue how to combine physics and German into any sort of rewarding career, Wengrovius said he had “a distinctive call to go into ministry.”
“I can’t quite say it was like hearing a voice, but it was about as close to that as possible, saying, ‘Be a priest’ and I never had any doubt after that.”
Wengrovius served as Curate (entry level clergy) at a small church in Lakewood, and had three years of teaching seminary in Malawi before being asked by the Calvary vestry to come to Golden. Wengrovius, with his wife and three young children, said the family saw the city as a terrific place to settle down.
“We feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude at being here at Calvary and Golden,” Wengrovius said.
That gratitude has only increased with time.
“There are people here, that for the last 25 years we’ve accompanied one another through life. I’ve now baptized the babies of babies I baptized here at Calvary,” Wengrovius said.
Asked about a particularly memorable moment in those 25 years, Wengrovius pauses for a while, then says that it is hard for him to isolate any one moment.
More than anything, it’s the tremendous privilege one feels being invited into people’s lives at important times: Times of joy, times of sadness, times of celebration, times of crisis.”