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Our 
History

From a determined group of women in the 19th century to the pandemic in the 21st, we tell the story of the Episcopal Church in Socorro, New Mexico.

The convention of the national Episcopal Church in 1874 formed the Missionary District of New Mexico and Arizona.  The district’s bishops traveled widely establishing outposts.  The first was adventuresome Bishop George Dunlop, who died in office in 1888 at age 58.  In visits to Socorro he made in 1882, he found the agricultural and mineral-smelting town “growing fast.”  Socorro’s history dates from its being a resting place on the historic El Camino Road and becoming a Spanish settlement in 1816.  The arrival of the railroad in 1880 triggered the boom.  New residents, Bishop Dunlop found, included those hoping for an Episcopal church.  They had formed a Ladies’ Guild that had a fund for a church building.  A couple in the group donated two lots as the site, and the guild bought an adjoining lot to increase the size.  Dunlop’s successor was Miles Kendrick, in office from 1889 also to the end of his life in 1911 at age 75.  He reported to the district’s 1891 convocation that the Socorro mission “has come to the front” with a name, Epiphany; services on Sundays; and a Sunday school having six teachers and 30 students.

Bishop Kendrick officially organized Epiphany on April 8, 1891. The previous site intended for a church was exchanged for a more desirable one on Fisher Avenue just off Socorro’s Plaza.  A simple Gothic-style adobe structure seating 150 was built in the fall and ready for services on the first Sunday of 1892.  Its consecration took place as part of the district’s convocation held at Epiphany in November of 1893.  A nationwide financial crash that year brought long-lasting hard times to Socorro.  Thankfully, newly formed Epiphany managed to survive actually with a series of three short-term resident priests through the decade and into the new century.

Epiphany Episcopal Church in Socorro, NM, circa 1894. In theis black and white photo, a large group of children with a few adults are arranged standing and seated outside the church. On the right hand side, there is a horse drawn cart with two people seated. The building is in the middle of fields.

Epiphany's Sunday School children with their teachers, circa 1894. The church's first vicar, the Rev. Alfred Iliff, with his wife and infant is on the left. The photographer's wife, Myscie Smith is seated in the buggy, on the right. Image copyright: J.E. Smith Collection

The continuing highlights of our history are mostly taken from the account, “From Strength to Strength,” compiled in 2016 by parishioner Kathryn Albrecht:

  • Improvements in the church building made in 1901 were the plastering of the front and back walls, painting inside and out paid for by the indominable Ladies’ Guild and the installation of a large wood stove toward the front of the nave.  The church by then must have had an organ since records noted, “We pay $2 a month to an organist and have a good choir.”

  • In 1908 amazingly no priests were assigned to work in the district, but Sunday schools were being maintained including at Epiphany.  Bishop Kendrick asserted in his quarterly newsletter that the churches “are not dead at the root.  There is the flower and fruit of Sunday schools.”

 

  • After years of circuit-riding priests who held services in the district’s missions, Epiphany in 1921 again had a resident vicar, Father E. S. Doan.  He reportedly “came and went” over the next seven years.  The mission at the time claimed 31 parishioners.

  • In 1928 a legendary district missionary, Hunter “Preacher” Lewis, 1869-1948, took on being Epiphany’s priest-in-charge for the next 13 years as part of his circuit of missions that included one he established in Magdalena.  He came to the district in 1905 where he eventually rescued or established 21 missions.  He got around by rail or on foot.  His base was St. James in Mesilla, N.M.  His maverick approach to ministry increased Epiphany from its low point of six families when he started to 11 when he left, saying the work here “was the most encouraging I have done in the Rio Grande Valley.”

  • In 1952 the 78-year-old mission district became a full-fledged Episcopal diocese led by Bishop James Moss Stoney, 1888-1965.  He was elected to the office a decade earlier.  His consecration as a diocesan bishop took place in conjunction with the dedication of the diocese’s new cathedral, St. John’s, in downtown Albuquerque designed by preeminent New Mexico architect John Gaw Meem, 1894-1983.

Epiphany Episcopal Church in Socorro, NM under construction. The tower has been boarded, but otherwise just the timber fram is visible. There are two cars parked int he street.
Construction of our present church began in 1968.
  • In 1961 the adobe church on Fisher Avenue was bulging at the seams. The parishioners numbered 102, and 19 children were enrolled in the Sunday school. Property had been acquired on Leroy Place across from the campus of New Mexico Tech dating from 1889. Construction of a parish hall on the site began in 1968 and was occupied in ’69. Sunday’s Holy Eucharist services were held in the main Canterbury Room for the next 20 years.

  • In 1977 Hortense Bullock, a widow who lived next door to the parish hall, gave Epiphany her adobe house built in 1902. It became the vicarage. The first vicar to live there with his family during his eight-year tenure was Henry Bird. The house was eventually rented to tenants for needed income and sold in 2011 when in need of major repairs.

  • In 1982 Epiphany began using the Canterbury Room for a Transient Ministry that sheltered the homeless and marooned travelers. The mostly trouble-free ministry provided a place for the hundreds of guests to bathe, launder their clothes, prepare food stocked in the kitchen and get a good night’s sleep. It came to an end in 2002 over concerns about insurance coverage.

 

  • At about the same time, Epiphany became the home also of a congregation of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in Socorro, Hope Lutheran. Beneficial to both congregations, the rental arrangement continues to this day. The same is the case for the Socorro branch of the First Unitarian Church in Albuquerque established in 2007.

 

  • In the 1980s parishioner Dolores Coulson, widow of Socorro’s first physician-elected mayor Eugene Coulson, donated $10,000 as seed money for construction of a sanctuary to adjoin the parish hall. The fund had hardly grown for five years when a so-called “miracle” occurred in the receipt of a bequest of approximately $50,000. Soon the design by Albuquerque architect Richard “Toby” Pugh, an Episcopalian, took shape. The first service held in the completed structure was the Easter vigil on March 25, 1989. Bishop Terence “Terry” Kelshaw, who took office that year and served to 2004, officiated at its consecration.

  • Woodrow “Woody” Peabody served as vicar from 2002 through 2014. Like Preacher Lewis, whose tenure he matched, he had a maverick approach to ministry that saw growth in all aspects of Epiphany’s life. Not the least of his accomplishments was the restart of worship services in Magdalena that have mostly continued since. They previously took place in a chapel that Lewis built in 1916 named St. Mary’s and ended when the chapel was sold in 1945.

 

  • A workshop on social media held at a diocesan convention attended by Lois Phillips of Epiphany led her to launch the church’s Facebook page in 2009.  The page was primarily used to post announcements of services and events, photos, and brief inspirational messages.  The coronavirus pandemic that took hold in 2020 and shut down in-person Sunday services triggered the streaming of them on the page that has continued since plus an Evening Prayer service.   

  • The pandemic also brought about a pastoral care team that reached out to every family or individual in the church to check on their well-being and needs.  It has become an essential ministry representing the gospel in action that continues to this day.

 

  • Epiphany E-Notes, an email newsletter, was begun in March of 2021 and since been issued 10 times a year.  It covers the programs and people of Epiphany as well as what’s going on in the diocese, the national church, and the Anglican communion.  Its standing features include “Notes From the Bishop’s Committee.”

Copies of Kathyrn Albrecht's "From Strength to Strength: the First 125 Years of Epiphany Episcopal Church Socorro, New Mexico" are available from the church office for $10 (plus p&p).

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