On Easter, Glenwood Mennonites are reborn with Defiance
Post Independent Contributor
Today, Glenwood Mennonite Church is officially relaunching as Defiance Church.
Pastor Matt Shedden and his wife, Kelli, have spent the past several months developing its new mission, which they refined in hopes of resonating with a broader spectrum of individuals in the community.
“Glenwood Mennonite has a wonderful history within Glenwood Springs,” Matt noted, “but our congregation is ready for growth and change. That is why we decided to cultivate this new vision.”
For the Sheddens, it has been a long road to Glenwood Springs and the church they now call home. The pair met in Durango as history majors at Fort Lewis College in the early 2000s, and married before settling in Washington. There Matt pursued a master of divinity degree from the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, and found that studying within the school’s interdenominational learning environment proved to be a pivotal moment in the development of his core values.
“I was raised Presbyterian, but attended an Episcopal church in my 20s in Durango, so I purposely chose to go to seminary at an interdenominational school because I was a ‘mutt,’ so to speak, and didn’t know what I wanted to really pursue,” Matt recalled. “This particular school appreciated denominational heritage but didn’t require a specific one as its brand.”
It was during this period of religious scholarship and exploration that he became familiar with the Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA), which has a foundation in peaceable living. After seminary, the Sheddens spent six years in Lebanon, Oregon, where Kelli worked as a middle school teacher and Matt took a position as associate pastor of Lebanon Mennonite Church.
By 2015, change was on the horizon.
“In January of last year we welcomed our daughter Roosevelt,” Kelli said, “and just a few months after she arrived, we were packing up our house in Oregon and preparing to move to Glenwood Springs.”
Matt had received an unexpected opportunity to become the new pastor at Glenwood Mennonite Church, and soon the Sheddens were on their way to Colorado.
Though somewhat of an underdog in the local church scene, Glenwood Mennonite has been active in the community for roughly 60 years — and its origins are tied closely with those of one of the most venerated institutions in the area: Valley View Hospital. The church’s first formal service coincided with the hospital’s dedication on August 14, 1955 — a time when the young medical facility housed just 35 beds.
A group of Mennonites had been summoned to settle in Glenwood Springs that same year to oversee the opening and operations of Valley View, which continued under Mennonite administration until 1977. Some 70 church volunteers also regularly served during the hospital’s early years.
Nowadays the size of Glenwood Mennonite’s congregation is modest, but optimistic — and the Sheddens hope to see it expand.
“We are small, but we’re eager to grow,” Kelli said of the 20-member congregation. She and Matt noted that local confusion surrounding Mennonite practices has been evident, and that the name may have acted as a barrier in recent years.
“We are aligned with MCUSA, which is different from Old Order Mennonites,” Matt said. Old Order Mennonites broke from the church as a whole in the late 1800s, and today its members wear only plain dress and practice a traditional lifestyle without utilizing many modern technologies.
“Old Order Mennonites, culturally, are more closely aligned with the Amish,” he added. “Part of the reason why we have chosen to change our name to Defiance Church is to remove denominational barriers and help all feel welcome here. We hope to connect with people from the inside — rather than the ‘outside’ of denominational identity.”
Matt has now led 10 a.m. Sunday services at the church since September. In the past several months, the Sheddens have not only worked to reinvigorate its mission but to immerse themselves in the community as much as possible. Kelli and Roosevelt are regulars at the library’s storytime programs, and Kelli is also involved with the local United Way of Battlement to the Bells. Matt has begun working with the Manaus Fund Valley Settlement Project, Extended Table and with groups of local spiritual leaders via interfaith meetings.
Plus, if you live anywhere near the Sheddens in downtown Glenwood, you have likely received a “hello” on the sidewalk or perhaps even an invitation to a dinner or barbecue at their house.
“We take loving our neighbors pretty seriously,” Matt said with a laugh. “Every day, Kelli and I hope to find ways to connect with people. It really means a lot to us; it’s a way of living our values.”
Though they have been in town for just seven months, the Sheddens are looking forward to making the Glenwood community their long-term residence. The couple’s hope is that the new Defiance Church will grow and evolve right alongside them.
“For us, it’s not really so much about a heavy emphasis on identifying as one denomination or another but simply bringing a sense of vibrancy to living more intentionally in the community — to making things matter more,” Matt said, “and infusing vitality into our beliefs and practices as followers of Christ.”
Defiance Church’s first official service is today at 10 a.m., in the same location where Glenwood Mennonite first held its services nearly six decades ago: 2306 Blake Ave.
“It is, of course, significant that we are re-emerging with a new name and mission on Easter,” Kelli continued. “This is the season of rebirth, so we felt it was the perfect time.”
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