Over the past two weeks, the Facebook page for the Village, a nondenominational "seeker" church in Denver's RiNo district, has seen a trickle of heartfelt farewells and laments, from "Gonna miss yall" and "This is sad" to one fan's plaintive "Why??????" Nine months after its launch -- and less than a month after "The Prodigal Pastor," our cover story on its controversial leader, Gil Jones -- the Village has ceased operations, closed its doors and auctioned off its equipment amid circumstances that Jones describes as "disheartening."
The church held its last service in the Glitterdome, a sprawling warehouse on Wynkoop Street that's also been used as a practice facility by the Denver Roller Dolls, on September 15.
The immediate cause, according to Jones, was a visit by a city fire inspector in response to a citizen call, which "put the owner of the warehouse on notice to provide occupancy permits for the Glitterdome, removing both us and the Roller Dolls from the building."
Yet the fledgling church had struggled in other ways long before the issue of possible fire code violations was ever raised, and additional factors may have played a role in its closure. As reported in my article, Jones is a charismatic but polarizing figure whose personal conduct has come under close scrutiny at several posts. He built Flatirons Community, a Bible-based nondenominational church in Lafayette, into one of the largest megachurches in the state, but left in 2005 after an extramarital affair with a female member of the congregation, who later wrote a book about the episode.
The since-divorced Jones was the lead pastor for several years at Pathways, a "seeker" church off Colfax that grew steadily under his stewardship. But last fall, he resigned that position under pressure from the board of elders and later publicly admitted to another sexual relationship with a Pathways member.
Although some other nondenominational pastors urged Jones not to rush into another ministry, he started the Village three months after leaving Pathways, and several dozen churchgoers followed him there. Jones envisioned his new church as a place of abundant grace and little finger-pointing; but his critics maintained that his emphasis on forgiveness cloaked a persistent self-destructive pattern.
In June, amid allegations of heavy drinking and juggling multiple relationships with women, several abusive text messages Jones sent to one ex-girlfriend became public when the woman sought a restraining order against him. The Village underwent considerable turmoil in its leadership as some supporters left over that episode and subsequent developments.
Continue for more about Gil Jones and the closure of Village Church. Jones has denied having a drinking problem and insisted that he was surrounded by "good people" at the Village who held him accountable for his actions. But shortly after the Westword article was published, Jones's associate pastor left for seminary school.
Jones himself canceled Sunday services three weeks ago, saying that he was "stranded in California" after performing a wedding there. He'd just started a new series of talks entitled "How to Stop Blowing Your Life Up" when the fire inspectors shut things down; other sources tell Westword that the church's imminent demise had been discussed among the remaining leadership even before that problem arose.
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"After 8 months we felt like The Village was a viable church with 200 people a part of the community, yet too fragile to be a sustainable one," Jones wrote in an e-mail to Westword.
"We felt like there were three reasons to move on: a failure to gain consistent momentum toward sustainable growth, the struggle to hire top-notch leadership at the staff level, and distractions like a citizen phone call to the fire marshal.... During a week in which thousands of people were being affected by massive flooding in Colorado, instead of mobilizing hundreds of volunteers to help those in need we were dealing with these types of issues and it was disheartening, to say the least. Closing The Village at this time seemed the prudent thing to do."
Jones didn't respond to questions about his own plans at this point. He posted a farewell to the "Village People" on the Facebook page, calling them "a wonderful community of people now moving on to bless other churches." Next to a photo of wine cascading into a glass, he added, "Make sure you pour one of these tonight (or your favorite drink) and salute an awesome year and a great church. Ciao Village!"
More from our Follow That Story archive: "Gil Jones, the prodigal pastor: Hear him admit that 'I messed up.'"