Changing of the guard at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church

Photo courtesy St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church
The Rev. Lyn Burns will join St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church as its interim rector while a permanent rector is sought.

By Sarah Riehm
St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church

On July 31, Father Doug Neel and his wife, Sally, retired from St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church after 12 years of service. In August, the Rev.Lyn “call me Lyn” Burns assumes Father Doug’s duties and Sarah Riehm steps into the role of music director.

Burns eagerly looks forward to her post as interim rector for a year while a permanent rector is sought. 

“I’ve known the Neels and their work at St. Pat’s for a number of years. I know it is a healthy, vibrant church under their leadership. My job during this interim time is to help St. Patrick’s grow into its future. I love these ‘in between’ spaces, where I can help a church deal with what I consider to be their wilderness journey. Just like the Israelites in the Old Testament, we will be navigating through this time of uncertainty, of unknowing. God calls us to deep reflection and listening to chart the course ahead. A transition time is potentially one of the most productive times to learn about and grow into who we are and whose we are. We must stay grounded and deeply connected to the Source of Love especially in this time of turmoil. Each of us as Christians today must allow ourselves to be formed by God in new ways. Especially now with COVID-19, we are all being changed whether we want to or not. Our God is a dynamic, changing, beckoning and very active God,” she said.

Burns was born and raised in South Africa. She left her country of birth in 1979, first for two years to Canada and then to the United States. She graduated from Virginia Theological Seminary in 2006 and then spent a year at the Mayo Clinic in the resident chaplaincy program. Since then, she has served in Episcopal churches across Colorado, including St. Ambrose in Boulder (March 2019 to now), St. Paul’s in Fort Collins, St. Charles in Fort Morgan and St. Benedict’s in La Veta. 

She feels especially called to ministries of social justice. At the height of apartheid, she left South Africa for political reasons and credits her time there for kindling her passion to promote justice for marginalized people. Currently, she serves on the Race Task Force for the Colorado Diocese.

Her approach to working in a new parish is highly collaborative. 

“I try to enter each new church very mindfully,” she said. Burns intends to spend considerable time in the coming weeks gathering input from church and community members. “The contribution that I hope to make at St. Pat’s includes deepening our spirituality as disciples of Christ, helping people discern and claim their spiritual gifts and listening to what God is calling us to become as the Body of Christ now, in this place, in this time. Church looks and feels quite different right now — for the time being, we are not able to sing, nor may we celebrate communion, which is such a central part of our Episcopal identity. One of my priorities will be to explore additional ways of connecting people by hosting live-streaming worship opportunities that include a virtual coffee hour, Bible study and book discussions.” 

Burns has two children — a daughter, Jess, in Boston, and a son, Stephen, in Telluride. She is also the proud new grandmother of 7-month-old Myles.

Burns’ first Sunday at St. Patrick’s will be on Aug. 23. Services are held at 8 and 10 a.m. For the next two Sundays, worship and congregational care will be led by the Rev. Tom Ashbrook, an active member at St. Patrick’s. 

The church is located at 225 South Pagosa Blvd. on the west end of town. If you wish to attend a service during this time of social distancing, please call the office to make a reservation (731-5801) or reserve through the church’s email registration system. Seating at each service is currently restricted to 40 people. Masks are required for entry and your temperature will be taken at the door. Please join the congregation of St. Patrick’s in welcoming Burns.

Photo courtesy St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church
Sarah Riehm, left, is the new music director at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church following the retirement of Sally Neel.

New music director

Riehm (pronounced Reem) took over as music director on Aug. 2. She will be playing organ, piano and harp, coordinating the popular monthly unplugged services and directing the choir when singing can safely resume. She and her husband, Chuck, vacationed in Pagosa Springs for seven years and moved here permanently when Chuck Riehm retired from IBM in March 2019. 

“I’ve been a church musician all my life,” said Riehm. 

Her first paid organist position began when her grandmother retired from the bench when Riehm was 10, at the First Baptist Church of Clinton, Iowa. She has been an organist, contemporary worship music leader and choir director in churches in the Dallas area, as well as Michigan and Connecticut. 

She has a deep love for traditional church music and hymns. Riehm also enjoys an eclectic mix of church music traditions, from the lovely southern harp tunes of Appalachia to bluegrass gospel, to the grand choral traditions of beloved English composer/conductors. 

She looks forward to discovering everyone’s favorite hymns and service music at St. Pat’s, as well as working with church members to provide special music until the choir can resume. 

As Burns said, “One of the most important things we can do during this interim time is to use music to provide familiarity and comfort.”

Most recently, Riehm has served as a substitute organist at the Community United Methodist Church in Pagosa, where she also sang alto in the choir. Last fall, she was the pianist for the Curtains Up Pagosa production of “Willy Wonka.” She played her concert harp in last December’s Heralds of Christmas concert and her Celtic harp in the March edition of Unplugged. 

She is a working playwright; her most recent production of the play “Bibo and Bertie,” about the last year in the life of Albert Einstein, was presented via Zoom by San Antonio’s Public Theater in June 2020. Her plays have been seen across the country, including New York’s historic Soho Theatre and the Kennedy Center. She also writes a daily blog based on the life and teachings of St. Hildegard von Bingen: 

This story was posted on August 8, 2020.