Gateway Presbyterian celebrates 50th year of charter

       A little over 50 years ago, a church on the Colorado Springs Westside was facing an uncertain future. For different reasons, it was losing its pastor, its name (Westminster Presbyterian Church) and its location (15th Street and Pikes Peak Avenue). An undated Gateway Presbyterian photo (from about 20 years ago) shows (from left) the late charter member Carl 
Johnson, Rev. Dave Clark (now pastor emeritus), his wife Jan, charter member Lillian Johnson, an unidentified person
with the church, church member Mary Nell Trapp, the late church member Ruth Kruse, the late charter member Pat
Porter, and her husband and charter member Bob.
Courtesy of Gateway Presbyterian Church
       But several dozen of the Westminster members were not ready to give up their fellowship. They began an effort to develop a new church, to get it authorized through the Presbytery of Pueblo and to find it a home.
       The culmination of those efforts can be seen to this day at Gateway Presbyterian Church, 731 Castle Road. On Sunday, Sept. 14, the roughly 100-member congregation will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Gateway's formal charter, starting with a 10:30 a.m. worship service. Included will be special recognition of the four remaining charter members (Eleanor Chessmore, Dorothy Hutson, Lillian Johnson and Bob Porter) from the original 102. Anyone is welcome.
       “It's like a wedding anniversary,” said Pastor Dave Markwalder. “It's a golden opportunity to look back and be grateful for the many blessings God has given this church.”
       A retired Air Force chaplain, Markwalder started with Gateway July 1. By contrast, Lillian Johnson, 89, dates back to the 15th Street days. One of those who found the Castle Road site, she was also Gateway's first deacon. And, she noted cheerfully in a recent interview, “I'm still a deacon. You're never retired in the Presbyterian Church.”
       Her recollection of the congregation's long-ago decision to move from 15th Street was that the building there had just gotten too small. Following the advice of a pastor who had recently moved on (Rev. Standley Scott), the members began a search to buy property for a new church in a northwesterly part of the Westside. To help cover the cost, they sold their old site to the Church of God (which is still there).
       A Gateway Presbyterian historical account explains that under the regulations of the Presbytery of Pueblo at that time - related to moving to a new worship location - the members had to give up their old church name. The 12-year-old daughter of one of the church families is credited with coining the “Gateway” title, based on the proximity to the Garden of the Gods, the account states. The Rev. Doug Counsell speaks at the groundbreaking for the addition in 1995. The large cross in front of the 
sanctuary is now enclosed and faces into the lobby. 
Courtesy of Gateway Presbyterian Church
       Meanwhile, during early 1957, the congregation had no official home. The Colorado Springs Shriners let the group hold its services at their club at 6 S. 33rd St.
       Though not an ideal situation, it was fine with the Chessmore family. “When we first moved here from Greeley, our kids had gone to a Presbyterian church there,” Eleanor Chessmore recalled. “So I said I was going to find one here. The church at 15th Street was disbanding at the time, but we stayed right with them. The people were very friendly.”
       Bob Porter's wife Pat (who has recently passed on) and their children had also been enjoying their involvement with the former Westminster group. Porter himself was never a regular attender, he admitted - “if the weather was nice, I took off on my motorcycle” - but he would later become the 100th signer of the Gateway charter. He and Chessmore both plan to be on hand for the Sept. 14 celebration.
       According to Johnson, scouting out a new church location was no easy task. Her own family took the lead, including her husband Carl, a city firefighter who passed away seven years ago. “We would get in our car and drive all over the Westside, looking in different areas,” she said. Even when they found potential sites, they'd be disappointed that the neighbors didn't want a church so close. “They didn't know what it would mean,” she said.
       The half-acre-plus site at Castle was on the side of a hill and would prove to have a pesky drainage issue, but it had a great view of Pikes Peak and “we made it work,” Johnson said. “It worked out into a nice location.”
       The first structure built there was not the church, but the manse (the pastor's home), at the bidding of the Pueblo Presbytery. The first pastor was Rev. Louis Meek. Groundbreaking for the manse was July 28, 1957. Known as the Gateway House, it “was used for Sunday school and worship, with the initial services being held on Nov. 10, 1957,” the church history states.
       Following the Gateway Presbyterian Church's formal charter Jan. 26, 1958, construction begain a year later on the church itself - a sanctuary on the main floor and a kitchen and activity space below. The cornerstone was laid March 27, 1960, and the dedication services on Palm Sunday, April 10, 1960.
       There was an addition in 1995, bringing the overall building size to more than 5,600 square feet. The work enclosed what had been the main door to the sanctuary, creating a lobby area and offices on the first floor and additional space downstairs.
       The church's outreach efforts include helping with Westside CARES, an interfaith assistance operation, with its food pantry, and with Sacred Heart Catholic Church on its Sunday evening Lord's Dinner for the homeless. The church is also a Stephen Ministry, in which lay ministers provide one-to-one Christian care.
       “During its lifetime,” the historical account states, “Gateway has been led by 10 pastors or interim pastors, with the Rev. David Clark serving the longest time, 18 years, earning the title of pastor emeritus.”
       Current pastor Markwalder comes with high credentials, having been the Air Force's national chaplain recruiter before his retirement in 2006.
       Looking to the future, he said he hopes to lead a church that won't “hide its light under a bushel,” as the Biblical expression goes, but “will be actively involved in the community and have a positive impact on people's lives.”

Westside Pioneer article