Laporte Presbyterian church, long-time community center

Laporte Presbyterian Church celebrated Holy Humorous Sunday on the fourth Sunday in Lent. “Laughter Sunday, a time to lighten up,” is characterized by joking around, singing, dancing and merrymaking. “It reminds us that God is a God of laughter as well as of sorrow,” the church bulletin says, “as much as God is Lord of the valleys as well as the mountain tops.”

Founded in 1900, the church has a long history of providing a meeting place for community organizations. Alcoholics Anonymous meets there six times a week and the church is also home to Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, 4-H and a homeowners’ association. There’s no charge for use of its space but donations are welcome and AA contributes regularly because of its frequent use of the building.

Reverend Fred C. Bunning, who has served the church as part-time pastor for five years, has spent his entire pastoral career working with small churches. A native of Kemmerer, Wyo., he describes himself s a “tentmaker” following in the steps of the apostle Paul who made tents in order to support his discipleship. Bunning has worked for the city of Loveland in charge of park concessions and spent many years in the furniture moving business. He and his wife, Virginia, also an ordained minister, spent 15 years as co-pastors of the Buckhorn Church in Masonville.

“I’ve always been involved with small churches,” Bunning said. “That’s where I feel at home.” For a time he commuted from his home in Loveland to a church on the eastern plains of Colorado that served Weldona, Orchard and Goodrich. “Loveland to Laporte is a short commute for me,” he said.

Schureman Fellowship Hall, where the 50-some parishioners gather to socialize after services, is named for W.H. Schureman who organized a Sabbath Sunday School in Laporte in 1900. He and Rev. H.W. Rankin held meetings, church services and revivals in the old schoolhouse. A lot near the present-day Laporte Firehouse was purchased for $150 and a service of dedication was held December 24, 1901. The Rev. Archibald McIntyre was the first pastor, followed by several dozen others in the years following.

The church has had its ups and downs including a 1904 flood that destroyed early records, and a 1915 fire that caused the loss of more records. In 1916 the Rev. H.S. McCutcheon resigned due to “spiritual apathy, the failure of the Sunday night service, a lack of cooperation on the part of the congregation and a failure to keep up their financial responsibility.” Eventually he was persuaded to stay on if the Sunday night service could be eliminated and he would be allowed to live on his farm in order to supplement his income. He, too, was a tentmaker.

The flu epidemic of 1918 closed the church for a time. In 1921 a gym and community hall with kitchen were built to address a needs of the local high school. By 1927, 22 inactive members of the church were suspended leaving 134 members. That number dropped to 89 the following year. By 1931 it was clear that the church could not support a full-time pastor.

The 1940s were difficult years. The church had no called pastor for most of this decade. In 1950 a 50th anniversary celebration of the church was held. Rev. Lawrence Faivre was called at a salary of $3,000. The entire church budget was $4,000 at the time. A tragic fire burned the entire church building in April 1955. Cache la Poudre School District allowed the church to use the high school for services until they could rebuild.

By 1955 groundbreaking was held at the church’s present location off U.S. 287 and the first services were held in September 1956. In 1965 the church elected Mary McNally and Helen Graves as the first female elders. In 1966 there were 222 members.

Rev. Bob Geller became moderator of the session and one of the supply pastors for the church. In this decade it was decided that the church should officially become a center for community activities. A set of guidelines were written for building use.

The decade of the 1980s saw the church involved with peacemaking issues and changes in the traditional worship service. By 1983 membership had declined to 74 and by 1988 had risen to 99. In 1989 Rev. Karen Akin became interim pastor to be followed by Rev. Nan Jenkins in 1990.

By 1993 the Logos after-school program was conducted at the church. At the same time building upkeep became an issue. The roof needed repair so badly that a concert was held to raise funds and a new roof was installed in 1995. Several pastoral changes occurred before the end of the decade.

Today church memberships hovers around 50 and the small number of junior members does not warrant an official Sunday School. Instead the children join their parents in church at a table of their own where they are allowed to draw and color. Each Sunday a special story is shared with them.

The church has always been mission-minded, Bunning says. In addition to providing for each other when someone is in need, the church contributes $500 every year for a church camp scholarship and also addresses needs in the wider world.

Bunning says that compared to the 1950s, when church involvement was at an all-time high, today he sees it at an all-time low. He estimates church atttendance among Laporte residents at about 50 percent overall and he sees numbers dropping even at the mega-churches in Fort Collins and elsewhere.

Laporte Presbyterian conducts a popular Christmas shopping experience every year. Members collect gifts during the year that are displayed and offered for purchase by children at a cost of 25 cents. Each child is allowed to choose four gifts. Santa pays a visit and elves guide the children through their shopping while parents enjoy punch, coffee and cookies while they wait. The Christmas shop is open to all children.

This year a move is underway to resurface the church’s exterior with either stucco or a new coat of paint. “It’s going to be expensive,” Bunning said. “We’ll need to have a campaign to pay for it.”

“Small but mighty” is a good way to describe Laporte Presbyterian. The church continues to uphold tradition by providing a welcoming place for any and all community organizations.

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