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New Mexico Presbyterian church celebrates 150 years of mission

First Presbyterian Church of Santa Fe marks historic milestone with worship, banquet

by Ray Kersting and Gregg Brekke | Presbyterian News Service

Jan Edmiston, co-moderator of the 222nd General Assembly of the PC(USA), preaches at the 150th anniversary service for First Presbyterian Church of Santa Fe. (Photo by William McConnell)

SANTA FE – National and regional leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) converged on Santa Fe, New Mexico, to join in the observance and celebration of the 150th anniversary of First Presbyterian Church. By all measures it was an unprecedented event.

The church is the oldest continuing Protestant congregation in New Mexico and Arizona (New Mexico Territory before statehood). Although Baptists attempted to establish a church earlier, their effort was abandoned and the ruins of the old adobe church building were purchased by Presbyterians on the site where the current building stands.

National leaders in Santa Fe for the mid-January celebration were the Rev. Jan Edmiston, co-moderator of the 222nd General Assembly of the PC(USA; Tony De La Rosa, interim executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency which oversees and coordinates work of the Church throughout the world; and Carol Winkler, national moderator of Presbyterian Women.

Regional leaders present included Bill McConnell, regional Mission Engagement Advisor; Conrad Rocha, executive of the Synod of the Southwest (Arizona and New Mexico); Marybeth Culpepper, moderator of the Synod of the Southwest; Loralei Kay, moderator of the Presbytery of Santa Fe; and Stephen Rhoades, stated clerk of the Presbytery of Santa Fe.

The Rev. Harry Eberts, pastor at First Presbyterian, believes the presence of so many church leaders speaks to the importance the Santa Fe congregation has played in the development of the region’s mission effort.

“We started as a mission church 150 years ago and we have been returning the favor ever since,” he says. “Currently one of the big issues in our state is refugees, and we hosted an event called ‘Refugee Speaks’ where refugees from Albuquerque came to share their stories.  Our sanctuary was packed, with the overflow listening in our chapel.  The stories brought tears to the eyes of many, including my own.”

In 1866, a letter apparently went to the mission board of the Presbyterian Church from the wife of the governor of the territory requesting a minister be sent. By the end of November the Rev. David McFarland stepped off the stage and a few days later led the first worship service in the Council Chamber of the Palace of the Governors. On January 6, 1867, the church was formally organized in the same Council Chambers.

Tony De La Rosa (left) exchanges a PC(USA) pin for a Santa Fe pin with the city’s mayor, Javier Gonzales, at a banquet celebrating the 150th anniversary of First Presbyterian Church of Santa Fe. (Photo provided)

Mission efforts began when McFarland established a school for children in his home within a few days of arriving. Presbyterian women in Auburn, New York, became interested in the education effort in Santa Fe and raised money to send the first teacher, Charity Gaston. Interest in the needs of the Southwest rapidly spread to other women’s groups and Presbyterian Women came into being for the purpose of supporting this work.

Presbyterian work in the Southwest that grew from the seed planted in Santa Fe includes:

  • Approximately 50 mission day schools in Northern New Mexico, Allison James mission boarding school in Santa Fe, and Menaul boarding school in Albuquerque. All but Menaul have been closed as public education came into the areas
  • Embudo Hospital in Dixon and its clinics in Penasco, Truchas, and San Luis, County; Mora Valley Clinic in Cleveland, New Mexico; and Ganado Hospital and training school in Ganado, Arizona. Some are now closed; others are under the auspices of other entities.

De La Rosa, a classmate of Eberts’ from Yale Divinity School, was the keynote speaker during the festive celebration banquet at the historic downtown La Fonda hotel, and Edmiston, at the invitation of the congregation, delivered the sermon at a Sunday worship service filled to capacity.

“The connectional church is key to our ongoing ministry and vitality,” says Ebert of the outpouring of support. “We can’t do this alone, nor were we ever supposed to think we could. We now have personal connections with the leadership of our denomination, including moderators from the Synod, presbytery, and the national organization of Presbyterian Women. Such relationships always prove vital because we know each other by name and from there, great things can happen…

“This entire weekend, I believe, strengthened our denominational connection and gave us a real sense of hope for the future before all of us.”

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