This year, the Little White Church on the Hill, Beulah Community United Methodist Church, celebrates the 150th anniversary of its founding. We know it was founded in 1871 not by church documents or newspaper accounts, or by previous histories written about Beulah, but by a single letter. Until recently it was believed that the Beulah Church was founded at a conference held in 1872 along the St. Charles River. It is from this same Conference that the Rye Church takes its origins and will celebrate its anniversary next year. So, what is this letter that gives Beulah reason to celebrate a year earlier?
Before we answer that, we need to reflect on Beulah Hill. It is the identification of Beulah Hill that determines the genesis of the church. In the 1870s and 80s Beulah Valley was a wonder that caught the imagination and adjectives of newspapers beyond our horizons. This pleasant get away was described in flowery superlatives noting over and over the sensation of being embraced on all sides by walls of rock “400 to 600 feet high” that join the reaching mountains . . .with “one outlet and that with a narrow defile” or “We took a trip to Beulah and through the mercy of a kind providence entered the narrow gateway that commands the park.” Others just said it like it was, “There was one way in and one way out.”
To be sure there were other exits. There was a trail up and over North Creek to Hardscrabble and Canon City. There was the rustler’s exit up to Second Mace and beyond to the Wet Mountain Valley and early on exits up and over the ridge to the south and down the Dotson Ranch and perhaps a route to the east through Well’s Canyon. These venues were there for those who knew of them, but the impression of a single road that descended into “the palm of God’s hand” was indeed, the route not only taken by most people but the prevailing image of Beulah as a getaway from the world. Such a road descending down through a cleft in the rock, the “Rock of Ages”made Beulah a destination as “beautiful as when a groom first sees his bride.” Such is a slightly exaggerated but mostly true meaning of “Beulah” from the Book of Isaiah. It was on that descent into the valley, down through that “one way in and one way out” that the stage would sometimes stop as the travelers would break out in singing “Dwelling in Beulah Land.”
This brings us to the letter written by Asbury Quillian, September 25, 1871, nine months before the organizing conference on the St. Charles. Quillian wrote “I have organized a church and we have a nice Sunday School, and library. It is a curious place. There is a hold in the mountains. We have to go in through a gate and have to stay, or come out the same way.”
Mindful of the other places on the front range and down the Arkansas River that Asbury Quillian traveled to proclaim the gospel, there was only one place that fit such a description of a hold in the mountain that had one way in and one way out.
So it is, the Beulah United Methodist Church celebrates its anniversary mindful of Asbury Quillian’s September, 1871, announcement of “a Church, a Sunday School and a library” in a hold in the mountains with one way in and one way out.
This image and word of such a place as Mace’s Hole and the lands to the south along the Huerfano, really mattered following the Civil War. Southern pioneers sought escape from the aftermath of bloody conflict, the desolation left in Georgia following Sherman’s March to the Sea and the presence of carpetbagger politicians from the North that came to rule. If the South was devastated in its losses, it was further panicked by the bleeding of its youth who had enough and were leaving in droves seeking a new beginning in the west. The newspapers in Georgia repeated the lament “Don’t believe the rumors that the West is your answer to a new beginning!”
It was a man named Green Russell who led wagon trains from Georgia to the Huerfano. Eventually the combined settlers formed the “Georgia Colony.” Today, the entrance to the La Veta cemetery bears that name. It was on the last wagon train west that Russell brought with him a pastor for the Huerfano colony. Through a twist of health, and an encounter with John Sease, pastor Asbury Quillian and his family settled first on the St. Charles, then for one year in Mace’s Hole, before finally yielding to the call to settle further to the south and the core of the colony. In that diversion of two years, the Beulah Church was formed as was the Denver Conference of the church denomination called The Methodist Church-South. This Conference of fourteen Southern Churches in a Northern territory was a small influence in the west but not an anomaly. Asbury Quillian was considered the founding father of this Southern Church in Colorado. In that first year of his ministry all the places where Quillian preached were sometimes collectively referred to as “The Church of Mace’s Hole” for that is where he lived.
While Asbury Quillian was riding his circuit, wife Agnes tended their ten children in a one room cabin near the Sease house in the center of the valley. For a moment’s peace, Agnes would escape by throwing her apron up and over her head as she sat in her chair. Descendants of these ten children will be attending this year’s anniversary celebration. On the back wall of the Beulah Church are portraits of Asbury and Agnes Quillian. When the Beulah church sanctuary was completed in 1885, Asbury Quillian rode over from Gardner to participate in the dedication. There was talk at the time of naming the new sanctuary, Asbury Chapel. The Beulah church is the only remaining original sanctuary of the Methodist Church-South in Colorado that is still in use as a house of worship. Further tribute is found in Pueblo in the naming of Quillian Street on the south side.
Though the Beulah Church was considered a Methodist Church-South into the 20th century, it was very early on a church of many churches. For half a century, the Beulah Community Methodist Church was the only church in the valley and as such it took on the spirit of the many different experiences of faith of those who came to worship. Its southern roots mattered to some but to most it was just the church. When very British, Nora Thomson and Bess Challinor lived in the valley in the 1940s and 50s, they instilled the best they could the formality of Episcopal Church liturgy and high tea with the pastor. Such was a season of our heritage. Pastors from other denominations have served and brought their perspectives. Beulah’s summer residents brought their own support and view to the “Little White Church on the Hill.” At its best, the Beulah church thrived in the word “Community” while holding on to its heritage. When the church thrives, it is in that creative balance.
Through the years there has been a line of those, generation to generation for 150 years, whose life’s witness is remembered in living and serving others to the common good while grounded at the table of the Lord in a faith of a loving, transforming, joyous God of everyone. This year the Beulah United Methodist Church honors the past of their keepers of the faith, ringing in the sabbath each Sunday with the cowboy bell of another time. It does so, embracing the witness of the heritages of other Beulah churches and kindred spirits who have come to call the valley and surroundings as home. The best heritage of Beulah is when it honors the heritage all, each story blending into a larger story of Beulah and its better angels.
150 years ago, Asbury Quillian wrote a letter of a curious place in the hold of the mountain. . . One way in and one way out. It is still curious in the best sense when that road leads in peace, acceptance and caring to each person’s front door. v