We are First. This is our story. Just like yours, it has some ups and downs. We’re glad our past has brought us to where we are today and we’re excited for the future before us.
The following was recorded by Susan Catherine (Bowers) Van Cleave, wife of J.W. Van Cleave, with additions by her granddaughter, June V. C. Saunders:
The first known effort to establish a New Testament Christian Church in Albuquerque was in 1901. Mr. N.B. McGhee, a Christian minister, is known to have preached several sermons on the Restoration Movement, but did not meet with sufficient encouragement to justify organizing a church. Nothing more was done until the fall of 1903 when Mrs. Grant Webster chanced to hear that Mrs. Elizabeth Fouts shared her Christian convictions. They discussed the local church situation and decided to see if they could find enough local interest to organize a Christian Women’s Board of Missions. Ten women assembled on October 8, 1903, and drew up a charter that they signed.
On October 14, 1903, Mrs. J. W. Van Cleave arrived by train with her two sons: Errett age 8 (named for Isaac Errett) and Otto Bowers, age 12. Her husband would arrive soon by wagon with the household furnishings. She was a very active Christian in New Market, Indiana, where she helped organize the New Testament church, and where her husband operated his own lumbery and pump business. She began at once to look for a church home in Albuquerque. She heard of the missionary meeting and attended the next meeting November 12th at the home of Hannah Roush.
Not surprisingly, therefore, the November gathering elected to call a meeting for November 24th at the home of Mr. and Mrs. H. J. Fouts to discuss church organization. At the meeting, just before Thanksgiving 1903, The First Christian Church of Albuquerque was organized.
The Articles of Incorporation were filled with the Secretary of the Territory of New Mexico at 2:00 p.m. on December 28, 1905, and the church agreed to pick up the option on the land at the corner of Gold and Broadway.
Now the work of raising the money to pay for the property and to build a building began in earnest. By January 4, 1906 when the church had paid the Van Cleave’s $500.00, a warranty deed was made to the Trustees of The First Christian Church and filed February 22, 1906, at 9:00 a.m., and duly recorded in book 42 of the Records and Conveyances, page 2; 71 Territory of New Mexico and County of Bernalillo.
Unable to build a church house such as the city demanded, the membership being exceedingly transient, a cottage that could be converted to a parsonage was first built and dedicated the first Lord’s Day of March 1906. Mr. J. H. Garrison came out from the Society office in St. Louis for the dedication.
As I look back over these first three years of church history, many memories crowd my mind. Those were days of earnest hard work, but the workers were faithful. Who can ever forget those first prayer meetings when everybody prayed as if they were talking to their Father in Heaven? Mrs. Elizabeth K. Fouts did more hard work for the church in these first years than most any other woman: visiting strangers, finding new people, caring for the sick, and always about her Master’s business. She, like so many others, moved away and was missed so very much. Many others crossed the great divide, all of them were faithful unto the end and their works follow them.
I have written this history of the first three year’s work of The Christian Church of Albuquerque to be filed for future reference. It is as correct as the early records and my personal recollection can make it. Trusting it may be of use in the future, I am your servant,
Mrs. Joseph W. Van Cleave
For almost a decade the church met in its cottage home. Among the church’s efforts were a choir, young people’s Christian Endeavor, a drama and elocution class, prayer meeting, and a boy’s club organized by Miss Emma Wodman and called the Knights of the Round Table attracting a diverse group of boys.
During these years the building committee continued to work toward erecting a church edifice suitable to the demands of the city. At last, on September 5, 1915, the handsome brick building was completed and ready to be dedicated. The ambitious dedication service was reported in the Sunday edition of “The Albuquerque Morning Journal” with the events glowingly described in the Monday edition. It was an all day affair beginning with Bible classes at 9:30 a.m., Dedication Services at 10:30 a.m., followed by a basket dinner in the new church basement where white linen clothes covered the tables. At 2:30 p.m. was the memorial service that included the communion, Christian Endeavor at 7 p.m. with a religious reading by Miss Nellie Crawford and vocal solo by Miss Charlotte Brixner, plus a diverse program. The final meeting at 8:00 p.m. was a Union Service. The minister at the time was Chas. Lemuel Dean, and the guest speaker was an evangelist from Lewistown, Iowa, named George L. Snively.
A great union choir of all churches led by Mr. Falkenberg and accompanied by Prof. E. Stanley Seder’s choice orchestra sang Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” from the Messiah and other selections including a special dedication hymn set to the tune of “Old Hundred.”
By 1915, the congregation was popularly called the Broadway Christian Church, but they remained the only Christian Church in the area. They were people dedicated to God and not to a building; they were soon to feel the fiery darts of Satan, but with our Lord’s help in adversity, they grew.
The following was compiled from notes and papers collected by Mrs. Laura (Boyle) Van Cleave, wife of Otto B. and mother of June (Mrs. Roy H. Saunders):
Mr. J.W. Van Cleave died in Albuquerque in May, 1916; his wife, Susan, followed in May, 1924. By that time, I, June VC. Saunders, was forming my own memories of the church. Under Bro. Guy we were introduced to Vacation Bible School where in 1923 I learned to sing, “Jesus Loves the Little Children” and “I Wash My Hands This Morning”. Under Bro. Drash the drama club provided me with a vivid picture of Hades with its fire and brimstone, and later a Christian program complete with a star that traveled miraculously to the manger. I remember, too, Wallace Mize’s readings.
More clearly, I recall B.R. Malone with his little mustache and sensitive eyes whose pleas to sinners brought my sister, Effie, to repentance. She told me later that she was only sorry she could not go forward often so he wouldn’t feel hurt. In those days of decision and change some members and some ministers were prone to be hurt, but Christ was victor. Early in the 1930’s, the Vawter Evangelistic Team came – at least twice. During one of these meetings, my brother, Chester, accepted Christ and I followed him. We were baptized the following evening in the baptistery newly decorated with a large painting of the River Jordan.
In the year 1934 a group of people, left the church and formed Central Christian Church, which met in the old Harold building on south Third Street. This church later became Monte Vista Christian Church.
The name of the church was changed back to First Christian Church in the year 1938.
In 1952, First Christian Church undertook a building project. The cottage next to the church was torn down, a new office and educational building built, and the front entrance on Broadway was remodeled. A lot of the work was done by the membership.
During the late 1950’s, a major youth rally was put on in Albuquerque with youth from First Christian, Ridgecrest Christian, North Second Street, and Marble Street Christian Church. Sam Stone, Jr. was a major speaker.
In May of 1960 a major split occurred in the church. Forty-five people that left started a new church in the Northeast Heights, called Central Christian Church. Central met in the Seventh Day Adventist building from May 8, 1960 until October 22, 1961, when they moved into their new building on Aztec NE. This church lasted into the fall of 1963. When this church closed its doors, there were still hard feelings and many of the people did not return to First, but went to many of the other churches in the area.
The church remained in the building at 122 Broadway SE for a little over 57 years, serving the community. During the 1960’s, with the changing neighborhood and the increasing crime rate in the area around the church, First Christian found themselves serving a congregation, which was living farther and farther from the church, while they were not serving the needs of the immediate neighborhood. As a result, membership began to decline. In 1969, the church decided that in order to reverse the downward trend and better serve their present members, they should relocate. At the same time, the North Albuquerque Christian Church discovered themselves in the same situation. In 1967, the average attendance for the morning worship service at First Christian was about 210 and by 1970 this had declined to about 180 souls.
In February 1970, both churches agreed to merge and form one strengthened church and First Christian leased their building to the city and moved into the facilities of the North Albuquerque Christian Church at 4616 Second Street NW until new property could be located and a new building built.
During the next two years, 5.45 acres of land was located on Montgomery Boulevard and construction of the new building was begun in April 1972. During this year, Brother Lloyd W. Dunn became the minister of the First Christian Church.
On February 3, 1973, the worship service for FCC began as usual. However, after a brief opening the congregation was informed that the conclusion of the service would be held in the new church building at 10101 Montgomery Boulevard. The entire church membership in attendance then proceeded to motorcade to the new facility where the services were completed.
The new building contained a floor area of about 10,6000 square feet, which contained a sanctuary that would seat approximately 330 people with an overflow area to seat another 100. Also there were sixteen classrooms to accommodate the Bible study classes.
Attendance continued to grow and by mid-1975 the average attendance at the morning worship service had reached about 260. At this point, the congregation approved construction of an expansion to the existing building. On March 6, 1977, the expanded church building was dedicated. The expansion area consists of about 19,000 square feet, which contains a new sanctuary seating approximately 650 people with an elevated choir area seating 50. It also contains an additional fourteen classrooms.
After moving into the new expanded facility, attendance to the Sunday morning worship has continued to grow. In 1977, average attendance reach 330. During 1978, a new Christian Church, Sierra Vista, was formed in the northeast are of Albuquerque from a core membership from FCC, which amounted to about 40 people. The November 1978, attendance indicated the FCC had recovered to almost the level of attendance before the establishment of the new church, with an average attendance of 320.