The Christian Center of Park City, and its new space, is a gift to our community. |

Teri Orr: Mysterious ways…

Teri Orr

Park Record columnist Teri Orr was one of the speakers at Park City's March on Main. Photo by Nan Chalat Noaker
Park Record file photo

The clean lines and soothing monochromatic colors are no mistake. All the large windows filling each room with natural light are intentional. The spacious gathering room faces the mountains and offers an ever-changing landscape of nature showing off. There is an aura of serenity — both organic and deliberate. If you enter the space in a time of need you will be met with a bounty of services to help you make your way in a world that can make the formerly strong weak, the formerly employed in search. Here the hungry can find food and the homeless help to find a way to shelter.

There are all kinds of sheep and many shepherds.

The gift of the new space is a reflection of the good works of many people — longtime Utah names like Sorenson and Eccles — newer names like Zehner and Dreyfous. But at the core the Christian Center of Park City has been the vision of two humble humans who are first generation in their ability to be givers. Jim and Susan Swartz — whose names appear sometimes and more often not at all — on hospitals and art centers and shelters and quiet places from Palo Alto to Martha’s Vineyard and beyond — this project has been their dream and a work in progress for 20 years.

When Susan Swartz spoke at the ceremony this week, she said her family had come skiing in Park City in the mid ’80s. They had picked up this paper and read a story about a little boy with leukemia the whole town was trying to help. And Susan said at the opening, “I wanted to have a home in a town that cares that much.”

We were all so close then and we understood — in an unspoken way — what family and community looked like — even if many of us had not grown up with those emotional comforts.”

The boy’s name was Brett Mathews and he was 8 I think that year. He was the youngest brother of my daughter’s best friend. Through a series of unfortunate incidents the family had no insurance. So we did what Park City always does best — we set out to help. It was old school then — not 2,000 people lived here full time. So we had spaghetti dinners and car washes and coin jars at the 7-11 and Cole Sport. I don’t remember the exact number needed but it was enormous — maybe $60,000 to send Brett to the Pacific Northwest for a very experimental bone marrow transplant. The match was his half brother Ron — an all-sport star athlete. Scholarship folks all had their eyes on the tall, handsome young man. It was his senior year after all. But Ron took himself out of consideration and went to spend weeks with Brett to try and save his life. And he did, save his life.

Brett returned to town months later and we had a fire engine arrive at Parley’s Park with a life-size teddy bear riding shotgun to welcome him back home to the community. Nine months after his surgery, Brett died. His family asked me to speak for his funeral and it was the hardest thing I had ever done. Hundreds of people showed up at Treasure Mountain school — it had a space larger than all the churches. It felt like the whole town turned out. It was the saddest day.

We were all so close then and we understood — in an unspoken way — what family and community looked like — even if many of us had not grown up with those emotional comforts. The handful of churches did it all — baptized, married and buried, and acted as the social hub of the community. Hell, the Seder suppers were held for years in the parish hall of the tiny St. Mary’s church in Old Town.

Jim and Susan kept coming and skiing with their children. They would hike in the summers and their daughter was married right on the slope next to their home in Deer Valley. They quietly supported many causes. They helped fund the Eccles Center — believing the community needed a gathering place and the students needed a functioning high school auditorium.

About the same time they discovered in the late ’90s with the growth of town there was a gap forming, and though no one wanted to talk about it or address the issues — there were a growing number of people who needed assistance — a food pantry — counseling — a place to live in the winter. And so they funded a little storefront kind of ministry to meet people at their place of need — on Ironhorse Drive. And over the years the pantry grew and the counseling needs grew and the young people who came to town from other countries to work at the ski resorts found a place — once a week — where a great free meal was served and they met other kids — just like them — trying to find their way.

They outgrew the space and took over a building about a block away that had been a real estate office and formerly a bank. Gradually they grew their programs — especially the food bank and the counseling center and then — they just didn’t fit there anymore. There was too much need and not enough space. So they undertook renovating the building. They asked other known philanthropists to help them create a space with lines simply elegant and clean and bright with many rooms to listen and a giant room for gatherings and a thrift shop you could mistake for a boutique on Main Street — filled with designer labels — until you look at the modest price tags. The food pantry is especially thoughtful. It has been designed to look like a small market — with shopping carts and refrigerated cases of perishable goods — all donated to the center.

If you are not a faith-based person they don’t care. They love the stranger. The pilgrim. The other. It is an extraordinary gift to our community and it is open now to serve — to make any day feel like a welcoming Sunday in the Park…

Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.


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