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Anthony James “A.J.” Pettrini: 10/20/1921 – 4/4/2016


At eulogies, it’s customary to say nice things about the departed and how great of an influence they were on our lives, and maybe later, at the reception, less savory stories from a wild past may arise. But for A.J., there is nothing else to say except nice things, exceptional things – because that’s all he was. It’s hard to put into words what “Papa” meant to me and my family. He was a truly humble, loving, strong man; who lived for those around him more than himself. That’s who he was and every story about A.J. has a streak of this in it.

He lived a grand life, which began in Detroit in 1921. He was one of five children, born to Italian immigrant parents, on the poor side of town, but he was always surrounded by love. By the time A.J. graduated high school, he had lost his mother and several siblings to illness. He was an outstanding student and while he waited to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Corps, he worked factory jobs alongside his father in the heyday of Detroit’s automobile boom. He went off to The War in 1943, undergoing rigorous training to be a B-17 pilot.

During his service in WWII, A.J. flew 35 successful missions, three on D-Day alone. He never lost an aircraft or suffered a casualty to his crew. This was something he was always proud of, but never boasted aboutThat’s how my grandfather was.

He had a million great stories, but he always kept them under his hat, never bragging, but he had all the right to do so, especially after we heard this particular story.

One day while flying from their base in Kimbolton, England, a general decided to join my grandfather and his crew for that day’s mission. A.J. and his boys were a tight group, highly efficient at their job and I assume having a general on board was an honor to them but nothing to get tense about. They had a job to do and they were going to do it, regardless of who was tagging along.

They got into a scrape with enemy fire on their way out, but carried on and made it to their target site. They dropped their bombs and turned back for home, but not before getting shot up a few more times. They lost one engine in the fray and were still far from home. They ran into more enemy fire, and dropped a second of their four engines. The general was squirming by now, but A.J. remained focused, even after losing power to the third engine. They were low on fuel and shot up pretty bad with still a ways to go before they got back to base.

It was about this time the general said to A.J., white knuckles clinching his seatbelt, “Don’t you think it’s time we get out of here?” The thought never crossed A.J.’s mind, and he turned his head to the side, his steely gaze on the general now, and said, “You’re more than welcome to jump sir. I’ll have one of my boys open the side door for you, but I intend to take this plane back home.” A.J. turned his head back and resumed the flight – and the general sat back into his chair.

They did indeed get back home all right, exhausted but in one piece as always. A.J was woken up only a few hours later – to test fly the plane after the mechanics had repaired the engines and bullet holes. He flew it; it was good; and he racked up a couple more hours of sleep before being woken up again. It was time for another mission.

A.J. was strong enough to get the job done and he made sure he took care of those around him. That’s what he did that day and that’s what he did his whole life.    

He returned to the States and completed his service as a test pilot in Amarillo, Texas. It was here he met his future wife Anne Troth. They soon fell in love, and married on August 14, 1946. They attended college together at LSU in Baton Rouge, and moved up to Casper in 1949. They would be married for sixty years, before Annie’s passing in 2006.

They had three children, Tom, Elree and Valarie, and raised them in their beloved home of 35 years on Milton Avenue. It was a sanctuary for family and friends to gather and enjoy each other’s company. Everyone remembers those fabulous backyard parties and tradition still goes on. Papa was out there enjoying himself just this past summer.

A.J. began his professional career at Casper National Bank and later with Lee Townsend in a private insurance company. He continued to fly planes recreationally and as a private pilot for the Dutch Warner Airline Co.. A.J. later established his long-running and well-known accounting and real estate firm: “A.J. Pettrini & Co.”

In 1960, he purchased several acres in the mountains outside of Pinedale, Wyo. and built a magnificent cabin that continues to be a cherished family destination. In his typical generous nature, A.J. first helped build his neighbor’s cabin, who co-invested in the land, before beginning work on his own property.  Simply knows as “The Cabin,” we travel there often to for great family trips.         

In life, A.J. was a renaissance man, a go-getter. He was always working on projects. Us grandkids nicknamed him “Do” because he was always doing something. He had friends everywhere he went, from the Petroleum Club to Paradise Valley Country Club to happy hour at Johnny O’s. He was a friend to everyone and they knew he would always lend a hand.

It was his strong spirit, his passion for life, his perpetual smile that lead him to living 94 years. His life story really is astonishing. He only spent a few days in the hospital his whole life. He was born on the family kitchen table, had his tonsils removed at home and he hardly got a scratch in the war. He was 88 years old when he finally spent a night in a hospital.

A.J. instilled a passion for nature and flying in his son Tom, who is an accomplished pilot and outdoorsman himself. Papa also helped his first daughter Elree, and her husband Kelvin Huber, build a house on their ranch along the North Platte, called “The Nickel.” It was another treasured family estate, home to countless get-togethers. On November 10, 1988, Elree passed away after a long fight with leukemia.

Valarie White is A.J.’s youngest child, who lived in Casper with her parents their whole lives. She moved into the Milton house, with a family of her own, when A.J. and Annie moved into their last house on Lind Avenue. Valarie took on A.J.’s passion for work and family, being a successful businesswoman and mother, and closely caring for her parents for many years.

But for all his accomplishments and passions, A.J.’s true love was his wife. I have never seen a man so smitten, so devoted to a woman like he was. The blissful look on his face in every single photo of them together is amazing. He cared for her at their home in her later years, and he wouldn’t have had it any other way. He was devastated when she died. She was his life, and the strength he showed to carry on for the last ten years without her was profound.

We find comfort in knowing that Papa is with Annie and his daughter now. They have been waiting in heaven for a long time – and now their circle has grown. We know we’ll  join them one day, but for now, life has changed for us. We’ll miss him dearly. He was a sweet, sweet man.

It was a full life. It was a beautiful life Papa had. He has touched the lives of everyone here. He was a giant figure in my life. It felt like he would live forever. There is an emptiness I feel when I think about him being gone, him not being there to call and talk with. He’s gone, but that’s part of life. That’s how life ends. It’s never easy, but what better way to go than with family surrounding you in this world as you depart, and your wife and more family waiting for you on the other side.

At the end of his life, A.J. himself was a lot like his B-17 with only one engine still going. He didn’t have much power left, so he brought it in fast, in the company of those he cared about the most – even more than himself. He took care of his responsibilities, he did a miraculous job -and when he was done – he went home to find his wife.   

We all love you Papa.

The Holy Season of Lent at St. John’s Cathedral in Denver: A multimedia documentary

Click here for the multimedia documentary

Jana Ruth Gifford reflects during her confirmation into St. John’s Cathedral in Denver, Colo. on April 4, 2015. Several others were baptized, confirmed and received into the congregation on this Easter Vigil service that traditionally hosts such ceremonies.


Building a dream: Meow Wolf and the House of Eternal Return

A creative storm has been brewing in Santa Fe, N.M. and it’s about to be unleashed in an abandoned bowling alley on the edge of town.

Meow Wolf, the renowned Santa Fe arts production company, has found a home in the old Silva Lanes building for its first permanent attraction, “House of Eternal Return,” which opens March 17.

Matt King, 31, is one of Meow Wolf’s founders and the fabrication director on the project. He said it will take visitors into new realms which blur the lines between exhibition and adventure.

“How do you get people to look at art?” King asks, “This is the culmination of that idea. There is no separation of art and space.”


Matt King, a founder of Meow Wolf and lead of the fabrication team, observes the construction process of “House of Eternal Return” project which opens in Santa Fe, N.M. on March 17.

Inside the renovated 20,000 square foot building, located at 1352 Rufina Circle, visitors will enter the exhibit through a life-size Victorian home, complete with quaint front porch and a little front yard. The path exits the house in bizarre ways, including out the back of the refrigerator or crawling through the fireplace; transporting you into the main spectacle of 75 interconnected rooms full of interactive art. Visitors will even encounter a time travel agency: “Portal Bermuda.”

Vince Kadlubek, another Meow Wolf founder, hopes “House of Eternal Return” will spark the imagination of the public at large, rather than just the art scene.

“I am not terribly interested in how the project effects the art world, more so how we affect people. I want people to be reconnected with their creative selves.”

Fully-immersive, brilliantly detailed and ambitious are hallmarks of Meow Wolf projects, and King compares the narrative found throughout this exhibit to a choose your own adventure novel, where losing your way is the whole idea.

“That is our hope. When you are lost, you’re not sure if you’ve seen it all.”

Meow Wolf is literally banking on this concept, which they hope will entice people to make return visits to their first ever admissions-based exhibit.

Meow Wolf has a track record of successful, and varied, undertakings. In 2011 they unveiled “Due Return,” a giant wooden “interdimensional ship” that landed on an alien planet. It was a notable success, reeling in 25,000 visitors during its three month showing. “Omega Mart” came the following year. Replete with ironic inventory, the mock grocery store commented on consumerism and consumption, and incorporated the work of over 1000 local school kids. King said Meow Wolf has learned a lot from all of its previous projects.

“We’ve done it over and over to get us here to this. We took all of those ideas that have been proven to work and made them bigger and packed it all together.”

Erika Wanenmacher, 60, has lived in Santa Fe for over thirty years. She is one of 70 artists contributing to “House of Eternal Return” and says the promise that first drew her to Santa Fe decades earlier is now coming to life with Meow Wolf’s latest creation.

“I banked my whole career on this, not New York or Los Angeles,” she continues, “This is for real. For me, this feels like what I’ve been waiting for. It feels totally right.”


Erika Wanenmacher works in her Santa Fe, N.M. studio on one of her two art pieces for the “House of Eternal Return” exhibit opening on March 17. Wanenmacher is one of nearly 70 artsists contributing to the project.

But, for all its galleries and world-class reputation, Wanenmacher said Santa Fe has not always nurtured its own young enough. In years past, kids were leaving here in droves to bigger, trendier cities, hoping to find a creative scene to plug into. Meow Wolf emerged from this vacuum, serving as an outlet for the off-beat artists who felt stifled by the lack of representation in their own town.

Wanenmacher said thanks to Meow Wolf this high desert diaspora is now mellowing and the creative upstarts are sticking around.

“They are do it yourself kids, sucking up all the creative capital in Santa Fe.”

Nicholas Toll, 32, is one of those artists. A longtime Santa Fe local, Toll has spent the last couple years in Denver, where his family’s history in the state goes back six generations. When Toll was asked to help with this latest project, he jumped at the chance.  

“I have always loved Meow Wolf’s process, namely the opportunity to practice radical collaboration. In an ever busier, more populated world, collaboration is the key to gracefully surviving the madness.”

After years of running up and down I-25 between the two cities, Toll considers Santa Fe and Denver to be parts of the same artistic scene, co-exisiting within Meow Wolf’s ever present mantra of collaboration.  

“I think that Meow Wolf will definitely create a strong reason for all creatives to come around, and hopefully beget more of the same. It is very easy to imagine this sort of thing working great in Denver.”

Meow Wolf is proud of their standalone identity, but they are also keen to seek support from their community, a move which has paid off.   

“It’s DIY to the max. They’re smart enough to ask for help and they’re getting it,” Wanenmacher said.

King said Meow Wolf raised $100,000 through a Kickstarter campaign, and another $1.4 million of their $2.1 million dollar goal came mainly from investors. Major support for the project also came from notable Santa Fe resident and “Game of Thrones” creator George R. R. Martin, who purchased the Silva Lanes building for $800,000 dollars and put an additional $2.7 million dollars into improvements. Meow Wolf has a 10 year lease on the building from Martin.

“We’ve been lucky enough to have people in the community take a chance on us and invest,” King said.

Kadlubek also touted the citizens of Santa Fe, and Mayor Javier Gonzales, for their encouragement.

“Santa Fe has been our community since we began in 2008 and the people of Santa Fe have nurtured and created us, honestly.”

The story of “House of Eternal Return” actually coming to fruition has been a journey in itself. Caity Kennedy, 32, is the art director at Meow Wolf, a seemingly daunting position considering the immensity of this project. She was calm, however, saying it is a team effort and everyone has about five different roles.

“It’s like composition art, but on the most enormous scale.”

She likened her job to an explosion in reverse, taking a million tiny parts and bringing them together into an exhibit that organizers estimate will take 120 hours per visitor to fully experience. Kennedy said that after months of looking at the blueprints, it is all finally coming to life.

“These lines on paper for so long are being extruded into reality.”


Caity Kennedy, art director for “House of Eternal Return,” looks over the project’s blueprints in the art production warehouse in Santa Fe, N.M. on Sept. 10, 2015.

Amongst all the frantic energy and expansiveness of this production, you get the feeling that something really special is taking form here. Definitions are abandoned, grounded concepts uprooted, all in an effort to tighten the connection between being present and being engaged.

Meow Wolf’s fantasy world is becoming a reality and as it continues to be a magnet for creative misfits, it is also hoping to be an attraction for the masses.

Wanenmacher looked fulfilled saying she had found her people out here in the New Mexican desert.

“I know artists and communities around the world, but I don’t know artists and a community like this. It feels totally right. It’s going to get crazy.”


The Holy Season of Lent at St. John’s Cathedral in Denver: A multimedia documentary

Steven Tillinghast stands inside St. John’s Cathedral in Denver, Colo. after the Ash Wednesday service on Feb. 18, 2015. The ashes are imposed during the ceremony as a declaration of faith. This service marks the beginning of Lent, a 40 day period of solemn reflection which culminates on Easter Sunday. It is one of the holiest periods in the Christian calendar.

Follow this link to an in-depth, interactive documentary on one of Christianity’s holiest seasons as told through the renowned St. John’s Cathedral in Denver, Colo.

Remember Me, I’m gone. An ode to Lemmy.

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“I always knew the only way was never to live beyond today. They proved me right. They proved me wrong. But, they could never last this long.” -Lemmy

The king is dead, dashed from the world in his latter years, leaving a void, a hollowness in a world where he was a juggernaut. Lemmy “Ian” Kilmister died at the age of 70 on Dec. 28, 2015, a few days after his birthday, a few weeks after his band Motorhead’s final tour and forty years after he started a rock group that would inspire millions of rabid fans for decades.

Lem’s memorial service in Hollywood on Saturday, Jan. 9 was broadcasted live on the internet, as the international Motorhead family gathered to watch the final tribute to their beloved leader and dear friend.

In Denver, TRVE Brewing on South Broadway was the place where many went to watch the service. It’s a heavy metal themed, craft brewery bar – as good of place as any for such an event. The deep, skinny barroom was packed as the afternoon memorial began. There were plenty of leather jackets, Motorhead shirts and burly gents with beards in attendance. I was at the far end of the bar, right in front of the one television in the whole place, and as I looked around during the ceremony, I saw tender, melancholy gazes on everyone’s face as they stared at the TV.

There were all walks of life there, and all ages too. Lemmy had universal appeal, an uninhibited charisma. It was a bar chock full of people who most likely never met Lemmy yet felt close enough to him that they felt they needed to be there to honor their friend. What better tribute for Lemmy than for millions of people to congregate at the same time around the world to bid him a final farewell.

Lemmy paid no mind to boundaries. His music inspired bands across the board and his personal tastes were as vast as his intellect. He was a gruff looking, dark figured man, with his signature mutton chops, long black hair and a smoldering cigarette. But as rough cut as was his exterior, his personality was equally tender. He loved a good laugh and his closest mates couldn’t recall a time when Lemmy was ever anything less than a class act. One of Lemmy’s friends recalled him saying once, “Manners are free.”

Many of us naive youngsters had at least one “Lemmy weekend,” where we drank Jack and Cokes, smoked our faces off and partied for hours on end to live out or Motorhead rock n’ roll weekend, only to be laid up on the couch for days with hangovers of suicidal proportions. We failed in our ridiculous attempts to be like the old badass and we suffered rightly for it. There is only one Lemmy, just like there is only one Little Richard or one John Lennon.

There is a humanistic, emotional reaction for people at funerals. When Lemmy’s son gave the eulogy, everyone could relate to his words in some way. It was a son saying the last goodbye to his Dad. In the bar watching this, we all cried at some point. Tough guys, with strong faces teared up without shame. Funerals stir up emotions for those you have lost and remind you how much you will miss the one being honored. We all cried a bit for Lem, and a lot of us never shook his hand, shared a drink with him or even saw him perform live, but we knew him, we bonded with him and we mourned his death.

What was it about Lemmy that was so glorious? Was it his music, his persona, his intensity, his sincerity? It was all of that and more. He was mythic, with pop culture slogans like “Lemmy is God” or mock campaign shirts espousing “Lemmy for President.” They were cheeky statements but not entirely sarcastic. He was also incredibly affable. You could easily find, and talk with, him at the Rainbow Bar on the Sunset Strip playing his trusty video poker machine. He was a kind and a true individual who lived life on his own terms and to the absolute fullest. We all hope people will say wonderful stuff like this when we die, but in death, just as in life, it will be hard to meet Lemmy’s standard. RIP Lem.  




Cannabis-iness: A day in the life of one of Colorado’s largest marijuana dispensaries

Click here for link to full audio story

For those living in Colorado, and several other states, buying marijuana is not a big deal. You go to the dispensary, get your weed, or whatever cannabis-infused product you’re looking for, and go about your day. There are of course many laws regulating who can buy cannabis, where, when, the quantity and so on. Medical marijuana has been legal in Colorado since 2000, but recreational marijuana was legalized in the state only two years ago, on January 1st, 2014, to much fanfare and global media attention as it was the first time in the world that licensed stores could legally sell weed to basically anyone over the age of 21.

Boulder, Colorado has long been a bastion of the hippy movement and liberal countercultures. Most locals will tell you that weed has been a big part of the scene around here for decades. Terrapin Care Station is based in Boulder. It’s one of the largest cannabis retailers in Colorado and they were the first recreational cannabis dispensary to open in Boulder back in 2014.

Chris Woods is the owner, founder and president of Terrapin Care Station.  He said he’s worked every position in his business as it has grown immensely since it first opened in 2010 as a medical dispensary.

“It’s evolved a lot in the 6 years I’ve been doing this, I’ve done every job function within this company from doing books to bud tending to growing to trimming weed to acting as in house counsel.”

The company currently employs over 100 people, has four dispensaries, four cultivation facilities and is currently working on expanding the medicinal brand into Oregon and Massachusetts. Woods has been heavily involved in the bureaucracy of cannabis legalization, advocating for sensible laws and occasionally quarrelling with the city attorney’s office. In 2012, he was one of the largest financers in the successful campaign to pass Amendment 64 which regulates and taxes weed like alcohol and essentially opened the door for the “green rush” that is happening now in Colorado. Woods said the collaboration between retailers and regulators has helped legitimize the industry.

“I remember selling pot in zip lock bags in magic markers, dealing with questionable characters.  But I would say that the regulatory authorities have done a good job in weeding out the bad actors.”

Everyone takes their job seriously at Terrapin, but you can tell they also really love what they do. This sentiment is heard when talking with Woods and with the staff at the Terrapin’s flagship retail location at 1795 Folsom Street in Boulder. The dispensary manager Daniel Mullen said he felt drawn to the movement to legalize marijuana and, through regulation and keeping consumers informed, its benefits could extend beyond a physical experience.

“I really believe in the legalized marijuana. I believe in the medicinal properties and I believe what we are doing here is selling social change as opposed to really causing any problems.”


Terrapin’s retail stores can sell upwards of 10 pounds of weed on a given day and most of it is grown at the 15,000 square foot cultivation facility in Aurora, just west of Denver. Here, thousands of marijuana plants are perpetually grown from tiny clones into towering stalks six feet tall and are meticulously cared for by a team of growers. One of those growers is Ian Peak.

“We have a total of 3,000 plants including clone, veg and all the flowering…two flowering rooms.  It’s a continuous cycle, it never ends. It’s a lot of work but it’s a lot of fun,” Peak said.

A pointed skunky smell hangs in the thick, almost sticky, air inside the “veg room” of the warehouse. It’s a small forest of plants in here and not unlike a grocery in both size and layout, with rows and rows of plants as tall as Christmas trees. Their leaves fluttering in the breeze of fans and popping with precious buds in full bloom. They twinkle with trichomes, the THC resin the plant emits which gives it its psychoactive properties. This is a sure sign the plant is ready for harvest.

Christine Kirk, production manager for Terrapin Care Station, oversees the harvesters, packagers and various logistics in the “seed to sale” process which takes places here.

“We have a crew of harvesters that trim all of the parts of the plant that are not usable off, and get the buds ready to be dried and then pushed into production where we can get ready for sale.”

Back at the main office in Boulder, Chris Woods reflects on his personal commitment to this job. He said there are important compliance standards and public safety issues he considers priorities and that being involved in the legitimate organization and maintenance of the cannabis industry is most important to him.

“Every ounce of myself is part of this. It’s taking money out of the hands of drug dealers and putting it into a taxed and regulated environment and for that there’s nothing better I could be doing with my time and my money.”



Denver COP21 rally one of largest in nation

Follow link below to an audio report from the rally.

COP21 Denver Rally, Nov. 29, 2015.

An activist is seen at the Denver COP21 climate change rally on Nov. 29, 2015. The rally was held on the COP global meetings on Paris.

An estimated 500 people gathered in Denver’s City Park on Sunday, Nov. 29 as part of a global climate rally on the eve of the United Nations’ meeting in Paris on climate change, known as COP21. Over 2,000 communities around the world held similar rallies on this day and local organizers in Denver said theirs was the fourth largest in the nation, clear indication of Coloradans concern for climate awareness. This international campaign was spurred on after organizers in Paris were blocked from publicly gathering over security concerns following the terrorist attacks there earlier in the month.

Leanna Stoufer attended the Denver rally, and said climate change is an issue that truly affects everyone and that it is important for her to be present at these rallies, especially on behalf of those in Paris.

“We are all in this together. This makes me feel like I am part of humanity and taking action, not just for myself but for everyone else too.”

There were nearly a dozen environmental coalition partners who helped organized the Denver event. Peter Sawtell is the executive director of Eco-Justice Ministries, and was the main coordinator of the day’s event. Sawtell, along with many others in attendance, said climate change is a global issue with growing momentum but that the real change begins at the local level.

“The mobilization around the world, the growing cry for climate justice is what is going to bring about change in our world.”

ACLU of Colorado latest to unveil mobile justice app

Click the link to hear an interview with Natahan Woodliff-Stanley, executive director of ACLU. (

At a press conference held just outside the Denver Police Headquarters on Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado became the most recent state to launch its own mobile justice app, allowing users to securely record police activity, which uploads directly to the ACLU in real time. Nathan Woodliff-Stanley, Executive Director of the ACLU Colorado, says there are several cases of officers attempting to delete incriminating material from mobile devices and this app will prevent that from happening.  

“It is about accountability. It is about transparency. But, I don’t consider it to be anti-police,” Woodliff-Stanley said.

Colorado is the eighth state to implement its own mobile justice app, which includes a “witness” function that sends notifications of other active apps in the area, such as during a protest or indicating a recording is taking place. There is also a “report” feature that lets the user attach a detailed account to the video after the incident. Woodliff-Stanley says that this is a very important part of the process.

“We’ll pay a lot more attention to the videos that are accompanied by a report, than the ones that are not, and it also gives us greater context of what is going on there.”

Woodliff-Stanley said the hope for this app is to reduce violence in police encounters, for all parties involved, and to offer a platform to follow up on concerns of police brutality or racial profiling. He said that this app will keep the video in the private hands of the citizens so that officers can not limit or destroy the material to their advantage.

“There have been cases where police have actually confiscated phones or tablets and tried to erase what was on them. This app will prevent that from happening.”

Papa’s Passport Photo

I worked my way around the frame, finally landing on his eyes. His eyes. His look. I was having a staring contest with a passport photo from 1971. It was my idol and his portrait from some 40 years ago kept making me feel like a timid, confused puppy.

I stared at his picture, trying to comprehend him, a man I know so well – I think. My grandfather. Papa. His mass, his presence exuding from this simple photograph overwhelmed me. I don’t know why.

His sharp expression, matched by his crisp attire, blasted confidence. He’s a World War II vet, a B-17 pilot, a husband, a father. He’s the man. Thick tie, wide lapels, broad shoulders, a stern look, calm demeanor. Collected. He knows he’s the boss, but he’s not trying to boast. He’s not trying to do anything except get his passport photo made. It’s just how he is. Timeless.

He inspired his grandson to live up to his likeness, an adoring image you’d think maybe the kid made up in his head, but probably not when you see the photograph.

He was a tough, gritty, passionate, smart man. A husband. A leader. A guy people talked about for years, even if he hasn’t been around for a while. A man whose friend’s children know his name and admire him. Everyone around him is proud.

And now, he is frail, forgetful, tired. He shuffles around and naps and needs help getting out of his chair, but he is still alive. Very much alive. Laughing, joking, moving, living, but I don’t think the 94th birthday he had on Tuesday was his goal, nor was his 93rd or his 90th. I think making it through the war to his 23rd was though.

He lives up to everyday, meeting it the best he can, just like he has for the past nine decades. He’s seen plenty death. He’s not afraid of a good time or of the perils of life. He wasn’t scared then and he isn’t now. He still laughs a lot.

The Journey of Lent at St. John’s Cathedral: An Insight into the Christian holy season

Click here for an Interactive Multimedia Timeline.  


Ceremonial flames are lit, ashes imposed on the foreheads of the faithful and solemn prayers are recited. The high ceremonies and formalities of Lent commemorate the life, and death, of Jesus Christ and marks one the holiest seasons in the Christian calendar.

For nearly two months, beginning around mid-February, there are various church services unique to this season. There are gatherings in honor of The Last Supper and Jesus’s crucifixion, as well as joyous, colorful services on Easter Sunday which celebrate his resurrection. But what does all this religious pomp and circumstance represent? What does Lent mean to Christians and, honestly, how does the Easter Bunny fit into all this, if at all?

Lent is often stereotyped as 40 days of self-denial where people give up something as a sign of faith, the long stretch of discipline ending on Easter Sunday with its chocolate eggs and pastel colored everything.

Peter Eaton was the Dean of St. John’s Cathedral in Denver, an Episcopal church in Capitol Hill, for 13 years. He was recently ordained as the Bishop of Southeast Florida in May, 2015.  He said that Lent is a time of deep reflection for the church and a period of preparation for those being welcomed into the congregation.

“We give up things so we can focus more on our spiritual lives. It’s an important season, both for those who are preparing for their baptism still and those who are already Christian people,” Eaton said.

Lent is traditionally the time of year when new members of the church formally join the congregation, either through a receival ceremony, baptism or confirmation.  Steven Tillinghast was one of these people. He was received into St. John’s Cathedral during the Easter Vigil service on Saturday, April 4, 2015.  Tillinghast was raised Christian, but drifted away from organized religion as he got older. After many years of living in a spiritual drought, he found himself on a path with no clear direction and felt a bad ending was imminent.

“The charm and the certainty of not believing in anything, suddenly started becoming not very charming at all. I realized that if I didn’t really find a positive force, something really, really bad was going to happen.”

Tillinghast said that with a “weakened discipline of introspection,” he needed something divine that could tie it all together for him. He saw a modern, forward thinking denomination in the Episcopal church, he supported their stance on gender equality and acceptance of homosexuality, and he felt he had found his church.

“It has a sense of social justice. It’s all the things I’m looking for progressively,” he said.

Tillinghast joined more than 4,000 people who call St. John’s Cathedral their spiritual home, which was originally established in Denver in 1860. The current building, at the intersection of Washington Street and 14th Avenue, first opened its doors in 1911.

To some, Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) is what made Bourbon Street famous and it is just a wild party down in old New Orleans, but in fact it is a celebration connected directly to Lent. It is the day Christians indulge one last time before Lent begins the following day on Ash Wednesday, initiating 40 days of personal restraint and sacrifice.

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent. The service takes its name from the ashes imposed on the foreheads of worshippers as a sign of mortality and devotion to Christ. While the ashes are applied, the priests say, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

“It’s a rite that is meant to remind us that we need to approach our religious lives with a certain amount of humility. It’s a very moving, spare liturgy in the course of the Christian year,” Eaton said.  

Eaton said Lent then proceeds for weeks without any extraordinary happenings at the church, but their evocative, candle lit Wednesday evening Compline and Benediction service carries on. The Compline aspect is marked by meditation, incense and ominously beautiful chanting, while the Benediction part includes the singing of ancient hymns. This is a combination of two types of worship, both of which date back many centuries.


The homestretch of Lent begins with Palm Sunday, the first day of Holy Week, when Christians remembers Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem after fasting for 40 days in the desert. Palm fronds were laid on the ground by his followers as he entered the city, the gesture coming to define the day. This signifies the beginning of Jesus’s final days and a highly sacred time in the Christian faith.

“The point of Holy Week is to turn the church into a little Jerusalem,” Eaton said, “where we relive, with Jesus, the last week of his life.”

Monday and Tuesday of Holy Week are quiet days of devotion and ongoing preparations. Wednesday brings on the Tenebrae service, which is defined by a gradual extinguishing of candles on the altar until only one is left, representing the Lord, leaving the church is utter darkness but symbolizing God’s presence.


Maundy Thursday commemorates the day of the Last Supper, where Jesus gathered his 12 disciples for one final meal. Jesus knew his fate of crucifixion was inescapable. One of his disciples, Judas, lead a group of Roman soldiers to Jesus, who was wanted by the authorities as a blasphemist and false prophet. The bread and wine served this night is represented in the sacraments of communion.

Several days in Lent get their names from obvious sources, but the moniker “Good Friday” seems very odd, considering it marks the day of Jesus’s crucifixion and mortal death.  This service is bleak and sombre with a heavy atmosphere of melancholy. A huge wooden cross is carried into the cathedral and stood near the altar where the entire congregation, one by one, comes up to venerate the cross by kneeling down and touching or kissing it.

On the following day, The Easter Vigil begins at sundown. Everyone is given a small candle and gathers outside of the church for the lighting of a ceremonial flame.

“Fire is the symbol of life and resurrection, and so we begin the service of resurrection with lighting a new fire,” Eaton said.  

The large, ornate Paschal Candle is lit from this ceremonial flame and carried into the church where everyone then lights their candle from it and the entire church is bathed in candlelight. This  is the oldest Easter celebration of the Church, and is closely associated with the baptism and admission of new Christians.

Tillinghast was one of a two dozen people who were received into the church on this night. He said that when his time came to join the small group of priests and the Episcopal Bishop of Colorado in front of the church for the brief ceremony, a calmness came over him.

Deep shadows and flickering candlelight lit his way to the altar. Tillinghast knelt in front of the Bishop, the clergy encircled him and placed their hands on his shoulders as he bowed his head. The Bishop began the invocation. Prayers and blessings were softly spoken, and Tillinghast said that it was a revelatory moment.   

“It was the most comforting thing in the world. All time seemed to stop. It was the most comforting, reassuring experience that I’ve had.”

This emotional experience left Tillinghast feeling reassured that his long journey from “cold atheism” to an active member of the Episcopal faith was the right path for him.    

“I knew I was doing the right thing. I knew this was a turning point,” he said.

In a big change of mood and ambiance, Easter Sunday follows this service the next morning. Bright colors, flowers, boisterous choirs and exuberant children fill the church. Today celebrates Jesus’s resurrection and ascension into Heaven. Dean Eaton said that this service is a relatively modern invention in the church’s long history,  but a fun and popular service nonetheless which marks the end of Lenten journey.

Eaton said that Holy Week is an important time in the Christian year for engaging with the church’s members on a more personal level.

“We believe very strongly that the liturgies, particularly in Holy Week and Easter, are rites and rituals that speak deeply to the human longing,” Eaton continues, “I think that there is something deep in the heart of every person that longs for a relationship with God.”

The Episcopal Church is seen as a progressive Christian denomination. It openly accepts the LGBT community into its congregation, its clergy may be married and it has elevated women to some of the highest positions in its leadership. Eaton says that this openness should not be seen as unique, but rather as true Christian traits.

“Our community is varied and we like that. At the heart of it we can say, ‘We support the dignity of every human’ and allow that dignity to flourish.”

The journey of Lent includes many formalities, with symbolic gestures and impactful services defining this holy season, but Eaton says the church continues to have a single calling.

“Christianity really only has one core purpose and that is to bridge the gap between human beings and God.”