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Kurt and Sheree Beddingfield opened the doors of A Church to the public for their first official gathering since purchasing the historic building at 419 D St. that once housed the First Baptist Church of Salida. Approximately 300 people attended the event, which included a potluck dinner, music and a brief talk by Sheree.

“This is about people in the community getting together in a positive environment,” Kurt said. “Sheree is the minister, and I’m the janitor,” he laughed.

“We believe in the power of community to affect positive change and in the value of spiritual diversity,” Sheree said. “We see this as an opportunity to start a church based on community and connection that respects all beliefs.”

Sheree said she’s been reading Unitarian Universalist texts. “They’ve done a great job of bringing people together.”

So while Unitarian Universalist concepts and ideas will help shape A Church, Sheree said A Church will be “something completely new. … We prefer freedom from denominational constraints, and we want this to be completely organic.”

“It’ll be what people want it to be,” Kurt said.

When the Beddingfields first purchased the historic building, they envisioned using it for a combination of community gatherings and affordable housing. They soon learned that these proposed uses would require them to obtain a conditional use permit.

After the Salida Planning Commission approved the permit, seasonal resident Kyle Shulmeyer appealed the decision.

“We had no idea that there would be opposition to establishing a gathering place for the community,” Sheree said.

City council convened a quasi-judicial hearing presided over by former City Attorney Ben Kahn during the Sept. 19, 2017, city council meeting.

Following the hearing, Kahn, with input from former Mayor Jim LiVecchi, drafted a “written order” modifying the conditional use permit by adding several restrictions.

Kahn presented the order at the Oct. 3, 2017, city council meeting, where it was approved on a 4-3 vote with LiVecchi breaking the tie.

Given the restrictions adopted by city council, the Beddingfields decided to continue to use the building for its original purpose and established A Church as a nonprofit.

“We want to meet needs that aren’t being addressed in the community,” said Sheree, adding that she and Kurt support “beginning healing” and helping community members move past the bitterness of the November election.

Sheree mentioned several possible activities that could take place at A Church, including working with Mark Monroe and Jimmy Sellars to provide a place for events for teenagers, helping funnel resources to other local nonprofits, providing a quiet listening venue for live music and possibly establishing a Salida Civility Project.

The Beddingfields said their plan is to hold monthly services at A Church on Saturday evenings, but the next step is to remodel the building, which means the next gathering won’t take place until May.

“We think we can create something unique for Salida,” said Sheree, “and use this as a platform for people to do something valuable.”