History in Focus: The energy of faith | CraigDailyPress.com

History in Focus: The energy of faith

James Neton/For Craig Press

On May 12, 1900, the Congregational Church, the city's second-oldest church, was started in a meeting at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Collum with 15 charter members. From that humble beginning, the church still exists as a symbol of Craig's energetic early beginnings and strong faith in its Christian beliefs.

Immediately, members of the new church set their sights on constructing a permanent building. On May 4, 1901, lots were purchased on the corner of Main (now Victory Way) and Tucker streets, the current location of Bank of the West. On May 25, the Craig Courier announced the church was accepting bids to build a new edifice. On July 6, William Taylor was awarded the contract for $2,325. On Jan. 1, 1902 the new church held its first service, and the formal dedication took place May 25.

In September 1902, the Rev. William B. Craig, our town's namesake and hailed in the Craig Courier as "capitalist, scholar, gentlemen," traveled from his home in Pueblo to meet with citizens at the newly minted church. Articles of Sept. 20 and 26, covered the visit. From the pulpit, he gave a "lucid and instructive exposition" on Micah 6:6-8, the 13th Chapter of Corinthians, the essential nature of love, and how "a nation's religion contrived its progress and development."

In 1935, the Rev. A.C. Best arrived in Craig, certainly one of the most intriguing religious leaders in our local history. In 1951, on the 50th anniversary of his ordination, an article in the Craig Empire Courier highlighted his fascinating and well-lived life.

Born in 1873 in Plymouth, England, Best was the son of a Congregational minister. He earned a B.A. from Manchester University and was ordained in 1901 after training at the Western Theological Seminary. In 1914, at the age of 41, he fanagled his way into the British military and served as sergeant with the 9th Scotch Highland Division. He served in several major campaigns of the "Great War" and returned to England in 1919.

By 1922, facing a complete breakdown, he traveled to America in search of healing and a new beginning. He landed in South Dakota, moved to Silverton, headed north to Pinedale, Wyoming, and finally took his calling in Craig at the Congregational Church in 1935.

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He was noted for a "lively sense of humor, his sympathetic understanding of the motives which prompt men to act as they do, and a native dramatic talent." The topic of his sermons were published in the Craig Empire Courier and regularly drew a large Sunday crowd, even attracting those with no religious affiliation.

On Armistice — Sunday Nov. 5, 1941 — Best's sermon was titled, "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity — Are they Imperiled?" With fascism already raping Europe and Craig's Company A training for the upcoming war, the words of the grizzled veteran preacher must have kept the congregants on the edges of their pews.

On Oct. 13, 1943, amidst articles about the death of Sam Havenga in Salerno, Italy, and strategies for defeating Japan, Best encouraged his congregants with the sermon, "Fortified for Uncertain Days." He also spoke about the personal challenges of "Facing Middle Age" and "Growing Old and Keeping Young."

The beloved Rev. Best served as minister until 1953, died in Pueblo after a short illness in 1956, and was returned to his adopted home for burial at Fairview Cemetery.

In 1959, a new Congregational Church was built at 741 Green St., marking a new chapter for the venerable old church building. In 1960, the bell tower was pulled down, and the church was slowly moved through the streets of Craig to its current location at 657 Green St. Now home to St. Mark's Episcopal Church, the building is a living connection to Craig's early settlers, their underlying and energetic spiritual beliefs, and their hopes for a bountiful future.

Thanks to Dan Davidson and the Museum of Northwest Colorado for access to the museum archives. Email James Neton at netonjim@yahoo.com.