History of Our Church
Told by Rev. Ira E. Williams, Jr., Pastor 1962-1974

There was very little Protestant work in New Mexico, or much of the west, before the coming of the railroad. Most residents were Catholic, and the only transportation was by horseback. Distances made much evangelism difficult. However, two Methodist pastors were pioneers who braved the difficulties and created goodwill; one, Thomas Harwood, and the other, affectionately called Father Dyer.

Reverend Harwood established several churches, Peralta being the first one in the Albuquerque area. He and his wife were committed to the education of the young Hispanic population and established boarding schools for both boys and girls. Named for Reverend and Mrs. Harwood, these schools survived until the middle of the twentieth century.

The coming of the railroad to Albuquerque in 1879 changed the picture for Protestant work in New Mexico. On November 1, 1879, the Reverend N. Hewett Gale was sent to Albuquerque to start a Methodist congregation. On April 18, 1880, in the Bernalillo County Courthouse in Old Albuquerque Gale, along with five charter members and Reverend Harwood, now the Superintendent of Missions and Presiding Elder of the District, officially organized the First Methodist Episcopal Church.

Early services were in Old Town. Mrs. Alice Rutherford Oestreich, the first child to be baptized when the church was built in 1880, recalled to me in 1962 that her parents moved to Albuquerque in 1880, and were quite disconcerted to discover that the only services for Methodists were held in a saloon in Old Town with those attending seated on nail kegs. Reverend Gale and a Congregational minister, Reverend J.M. Ashley, then arranged for a room to be used jointly by their members at a shared expense.

In 1880, during Reverend Gale’s pastorate, construction was begun on a small adobe chapel (34 by 54 feet), that was erected at Third Street and Lead Avenue, where the present stone church now stands. Construction of the original adobe structure was completed in 1881, but was not dedicated until September 27, 1885. “The delay was due to the established policy of Methodist Churches of not dedicating a building for worship until the building is free of the original debt.” Albuquerque Journal, November 5, 1955.

Church membership increased rapidly. As the congregation grew it became apparent that the original church building was no longer adequate to accommodate the congregation. In 1904, the original little adobe church was torn down to make room for the current structure that occupies the northeast corner of the property. On January 8, 1905, this larger stone church, which still stands at Third and Lead, was dedicated.

Since construction of another new sanctuary in 1955, which occupies the west side of the block, the 1905 structure has continued to serve as an all purpose room called Fellowship Hall. The windows are a special treasure, reportedly designed by a master student of Louis Tiffany. The window inside the archives room is unique. It was given by members of the Women’s Auxiliary of the Grand Army of the Republic, whose symbols are shown in the panels. The window also reflects the Methodist Church in America that was divided preceding the Civil War into a Northern and a Southern branch over the issue of slavery. First Methodist Church was established by members of the Northern Methodist Episcopal Church. The churches united again in 1939 and the word, Episcopal, was dropped from the name that year.

The Sanctuary

Ground was broken on Sunday, October 10, 1954, for the majestic cruciform sanctuary on the west side of the block. Still known as the “new church,” this awe-inspiring house of worship was dedicated November 6, 1955. Constructed in the shape of the cross, the Spanish Colonial Revival style sanctuary is reflective of our unique southwestern cultures, incorporating features such as the red clay tile roof and turquoise colored designs on the massive ceiling beams. The more traditional architecture of the Education Building shares some elements of the same south-western style. Such as numerous arched doorways and red clay tile roof.

Education Building
In 1934, Wesley House, a parish hall, was constructed in the area now occupied by the courtyard. The Sunday School soon outgrew space in nearby vacant houses and the mortuary across Third Street to the east. In 1949, Wesley House was torn down to make way for the Education Building where Sunday School classes for both children and adults could be held. At the same time, plans were made to build the new sanctuary. The present courtyard area served as a parking lot for the members.

In time, that small parking lot located on the north side of the Education Building, was moved to the newly acquired (current parking) lot on the south side after the purchase of what was then an east/west alley that split the block. What had been the church parlor became the present Dillon Foyer (or Welcome Area) that serves as the main entrance to the building.

Then, in 1990, a new and larger church parlor was built in the Wesley Kids addition and continues to be used for receptions, meetings and a preparation place for weddings as well as a gathering place for bereaved families. Presently, the Dillon Foyer, named for Rev. Austin Dillon and graced by pictures of both Rev. Dillon and his beloved wife, Esther, contains the Welcome Desk that is staffed by friendly and helpful volunteers during the work week and on Sunday mornings.