Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

By Jesse Murphy

Priest in Charge settling in at St. Mary Magdalene


February 1, 2018

Courtesy Photo Priest in Charge at St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church Bruce Swinehart.

For over a year, Bruce Swinehart has been the Priest in Charge at St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church in Gunbarrel.

In that time, the church has been working to grow the congregation, and it’s paying off.

“The first order of business was to bring stability,” Swinehart said. “It was important to build relationships with lots of people to get a feel for the history and character of the place, what we want to bring back.

“Another thing is to elevate the presence of families with children. We took an ‘if you build it they will come approach,’ so we hired a minister to oversee children’s programs. It’s just really grown and blossomed.”

Swinehart grew up in the Episcopal church in the San Francisco Bay Area and said that he had an inkling he wanted to do something involved with ministry when he was a youngster going through confirmation.

His undergraduate degree was in religious studies, and he spent a semester in India studying Buddhism. After that, he moved to Colorado in 1981 and got his master’s degree in counseling at CU Boulder.

After going to seminary at Berkeley in Connecticut, his first parish was in Kentucky before being called by the local bishop to go to Wheatridge, Colorado in 2012.

The call to Gunbarrel came after the retirement of Mike Houlik, who had been rector at St. Mary Magdalene for roughly 20 years.

“It was a very long journey to come back here to my own backyard,” Swinehart said. “In fact, my fall semester of my senior year I did an interview here for an associate pastor. There was some thought of coming here then. But it’s interesting that there are several years and thousands of miles to come back here again.”

Swinehart said that he was almost 50 years old when he started seminary, and that much of the work ties into what he did as a counselor.

“I felt that ministry was in my future somewhere around 1996,” Swinehart said. “I had a feeling that once I started to follow my interest with a bit more intention, I knew I would end up somewhere I was supposed to be.”

The church gave more than $40,000 in scholarships in 2017 alone, and there were many community outreach programs that grew as well. Swinehart said that he’s seeing how they all fit together and hopes to grow them.

“I’m thinking about what’s the next step forward for those areas,” Swinehart said. “I’m excited about getting everybody together and we’ve had so many new people coming that we’re trying to get them integrated into the community.”

Sarah Delaney, the senior warden at the church, said that Swinehart has been a great fit since arriving last September.

“We’ve been very excited having Bruce on board,” Delaney said. “He’s been able to get our house in order. We can grow in the right direction now with what we want to do with community outreach, that’s been a big strength of his. Everything is looking the right direction.”

She add that the congregation likes Swinehart’s work too, and that the period of discernment has gone well.

“He’s incredibly patient, has a great sense of humor and is wonderful with the children,” Delaney said. “His pastoral care is also very wonderful. Just as important, more important, is his spiritual direction. It’s just something that we all welcome and it’s a wonderful combination of the traditional with the modern.”

Swinehart added that the influx of new young families in the church has come with new excitement for community involvement and branching out.

“We want to take a big-picture view of all the things that are going and think about where we are being called to next with all of this new energy that’s bubbling up,” Swinehart said. “Whatever it is, it’s going to build on our history and character.”


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