In the late 1950s, the Board of American Missions of the Lutheran Church in America discerned a need for a Lutheran congregation in the capital city of Santa Fe, based on many requests from local residents. The Rev. Donald C. Simonton was chosen as Mission Developer, having come from a nine-year ministry in Albuquerque. This congregation took form through the energetic development work of this committed man.
In July, 1962, Pastor Simonton began a survey for members. On August 1, 1962, the Mission Board purchased a parsonage at 645 East Barcelona where Pastor Simonton and his wife, June, were established. They held a “Get-Acquainted” meeting at the La Posada, on October 7th.
The fledgling congregation held its first worship service on October 14, in a rented, metal building at 850 Early Street, and chose Christ as its patron, legally incorporating the church body as “Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church.” The building and its congregation became affectionately known as “St. Bendix” since the Quonset hut, leftover from WW II, had been a local Laundromat. Members even today fondly recall that appellation.
January 27, 1963, the Charter Membership Roles opened .By February 1963, the list of charter members stood at 48. By March 24, sixty –some adults having prepared themselves for membership by attending classes and signing the charter of the congregation, elected the first Church Council. They elected Monroe Alexander as their first Vice-President and adopted a Constitution. (Jay Herenberg followed Monroe as Vice-President.) A few weeks later, on Palm Sunday, April 7, the Service of Formal Organization took place, legally incorporating the congregation. They were warmly welcomed into the Rocky Mountain Synod by then “President” Leeland Stokes, (That title later is changed to Bishop,) and became “Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Such a tightly knit group of people, so happy to be part of the first mission of the Rocky Mountain Synod of the Lutheran Church in America, developed a spirit of community, collaboration, and mission that continues to grow stronger through the years. The seeds of Christ Church were truly being “sown in good soil. “ They continued to meet in “St. Bendix” and voted to purchase land to construct a building of their own. The land purchase of March 4, 1964, was a six-acre plot, originally part of the Spanish Land Grant of Sebastian De Vargas, and was listed at $15,000. It consisted of high ground valued at $1,000 an acre, and parts of an arroyo, considered unsuitable for building, at $500 an acre. The site was considered “on the outskirts” of town; hence, the very low cost, especially by today’s standards. On June 7, 1964 the Building Drive began on “Commitment Sunday.”
The construction contract was awarded to Modern Construction Company of Santa Fe for $73,528.52 in January, 1966, with the architectural firm of McHugh, Kidder, and Plattenberg. The community held a Ground Breaking Ceremony on January, 16, 1966, and a formal dedication on June 19.
Original architect’s drawings show a local Spanish colonial style structure of four separate buildings around a central patio with parking lots on six sides. The Sanctuary was planned to seat 150 people, larger than the congregation’s size warranted, but spacious enough to accommodate tourists, visitors, and college students who might attend.
It was in 1968 that Pastor Roger Pettinger accepted the call of Christ Church congregation and began his years of service to Christ through this community. He remained a vital servant here until 1974 when he left to engage in campus ministry at the University of Washington in Pulman, WA
In 1971, recognizing the needs of the farming community, the parish made money available to nearby farmers to bring their produce into town for sale to local residents, thus being instrumental in beginning the seasonal Farmer’s Market that flourishes today and is, in fact, self-supporting. Christ Lutheran Church Food Pantry evolved from this ministry and in 2013 alone, distributed of over 40,000 pounds of food to those in need.
Our church called the Rev. Benjamin A. Larzelere III on April 2, 1975 from St. Luke Parish in Albuquerque, where he served as Associate Pastor since 1972. He and his wife Beverly moved into the Parsonage, still on Barcelona, where their son Bart was born in 1977. He celebrated his first liturgy here on Easter Sunday 1975. Pastor Larzelere continues as our faithful and dedicated Shepherd today, giving freely of himself to meet the needs of our growing family and the community of Santa Fe.
Changes continued to affect our lives and our worship then as they do now. The Chancel area was remodeled in 1977, reflecting Martin Luther’s desire that the altar should not be against the wall, but enable the Celebrant to face the worshipping congregants. The Parish Council located a wood-carver from Las Vegas NM, who crafted the communion rail. Stories tell that it was a cash deal. He carved and then left. No one heard from him again. (Pastor Ben is certain it was St. Joseph—just as at the Loretto Chapel.) The rail was blessed along with the remodeled chancel and a new lectern.
The church continued to improve its worship space. Carpet was laid on the cold tile floor through the fundraising efforts of members. Pews were added in 1977, along with paving on the parking lots. An addition to the original building was completed in 1985, providing long needed classrooms and a fellowship area for the thriving parish.
The love and care of this parish family is evident in the hand-crafted furnishings that continue to be added through the years. Stained glass windows that depict the Beatitudes were crafted by Ray Polasky, a current member of our parish, along with the stained glass sanctuary lamp and processional cross. A credence table, sound system cabinet, and a closed-circuit video connection from the altar to the fellowship area were eventually added. The latter to enable parents of young children to participate in liturgy while caring for their young ones.
The first organ was an electric model. It was replaced with a Wicks, Job No 616 pipe organ, a gift captioned: “Christ Lutheran Church dedicate a new pipe organ on Sunday, at 3 p.m. The dedication concert will be played by Mark Davis who will explore the resources of the instrument. The Wicks organ was given to the congregation by O.G. Betancourt in memory of his mother Julia. Members of the congregation constructed a two chamber organ loft and installed the instrument. There are 304 pipes presently in the instrument and five miles of wire. 210 pipes are awaiting future installation.”
That organ had originally been used as a theatre organ in Dallas TX, and then by a Baptist church in Gladewater TX during the oil boom of the early 1930s. It was dedicated to Mrs. Julia Betancourt with great aplomb. Updated in 1985, a new “Great” section was built, and the organ was retired when the current Rodgers 950 was purchased.
As the congregation grew, it became necessary to repair and add to the facility. In the mid-1980s, the New Mexico State Highway Department requested several portions of our land for a “right of way” to improve St. Michael’s Drive access. This sale netted $98,000 that enabled us to add a new wood floor to the Sanctuary, carpet the Nave, and repaint the church. New stucco was added to the exterior to extend its life.
In 1993 we became a Reconciling in Christ Congregation affirming that we are welcoming of all persons regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or identity.
A Carillon was dedicated to the memory of Richard Taylor at the end of 1994, and an outdoor chapel was completed, thanks to a gift from the church youth group. The summer of 1999 brought a loan from the Lutheran Brotherhood to pay for purchase of a Rodger 950 organ, dedicated in 2000. With the same funding, the front entry area and patio were made handicap- accessible, and hard-scaped with brick to add to the beauty of our structure. Landscaping is added regularly.
In 2012 the congregation undertook an major construction project consisting of painting the Narthex, re-stuccoing the entire building, replacing the roof of the sanctuary and repaving the parking lot. We also said goodbye to Pastor Ben who retired after serving the congregation for 37 years.
We welcomed Pastor Kathryn Schlechter, as Intentional Interim Pastor in November of 2012. Pastor Kate has been guiding us through the interim process until a new permanent Pastor is called.