MCC El Paso's History: 1980 to Present
September 1980: Plaza Hotel
Our church started in fall of 1980 essentially in an Upper Room. A second floor ballroom was rented on Sunday mornings for services. It was neat to go through the lobby of the old hotel and ride the elevator up to the second floor for services. Carl Edward Jones was the founding pastor and found our next place to meet.
Oct 1980 – Aug 1981: St. Anne's Center
After a few weeks in the Plaza Hotel, the Episcopal church let us use the hall at St Anne's Center for free, a cost savings. Unfortunately, the building had gone unused for several years, but we found the two boards that are nailed together to make a cross. This was in early October, so heat was not a problem. I don't think we had electricity anyway.
Rev Jones let us know he would be leaving and Thanksgiving was his last service. We got Rev Fred Wright to preach for us by paying for his flights from Dallas. Unfortunately someone said the wrong thing to him at a Christmas party. He was gone by the end of the year.
As November turned into December we began to think
about heat, but found out that it would cost $800 to fix the
gas pipe, not in the budget. Most of the time that was not
too bad, Church was held at 1 PM and we could just wear
jackets. But it did catch up to us one day in January. We
were at the second Sunday after our second minister had
departed. It had snowed on Saturday night. The roof didn't leak too bad most of the time, but melting snow was a different story. The carpet was soaked. We wore our
jackets, but that really wasn't enough. I still remember the
sermon one on the members preached that Sunday. It was titled "Why are We Here?". But we left after church
quickly. Our third minister started in February. Father Bob Beal was leaving the Catholic church. He worked as news reporter for a day job. By late spring he got a better new anchor offer in Houston and moved there.
September, 1981: 2920 N. Piedras
The church was not holding service that first summer. El Paso sometimes shuts down for the summer and so did we. We regrouped the church in the fall and were looking for a new meeting place. We definitely wanted heat and electricity and after the summer we were interested in a swamp cooler too. We started looking at buildings and wound up with a storefront in the back corner for a brand new complex. Not having a lot of exposed windows was a plus. We finally made it, a solid roof, heat, electricity and cooling. We even had parking out front! Now, to look
for our fourth pastor. We advertised and Rev Lowell Clark
replied. He came to El Paso. After some time Lowell did
not fit well with the congregation. He left our church, but
stayed in town and started another church for a time.
We would not have a pastor for a couple of years,
Several programs were from recordings of Phil Donahue
shows on contemporary topics. Later services featured old printed sermons by a pastor in Fort Worth. They were a little long and had to be edited for time. Armando, a doctor from Juarez did the communion part of the service.
March, 1983: 3828 N. Piedras
Our next move was our first home as an MCC church. We had been without a pastor for about a year and a half. The thinking was that we should get a cheaper building and save the money for when we got a pastor. We would up further north on Piedras street. This location was somewhat small. It had two good sized bathrooms that we would envy from our old location. But they were 25% of the total space. The rest of the space was wide, but only about four rows deep. It had refrigerated air, a wall unit. But we had to turn it off because it made too much noise during the service. This building was significant because it was the location where we became one of only a few congregations to join MCC as a congregation. Fred Harris had served as pastor
in Dallas. He made a trip to El Paso to talk to us about
MCC in May, 1983.
August, 1984: 2201 Mills Ave:
After a little over a year of being with MCC, our first MCC pastors came to El Paso. Right after membership classes, getting a new building became the second order of business. The building dated from about 1906, but was well built and had been maintained. It took use about a year and a half to get the funds to put a curtain across the back of the sanctuary were the garage door to the warehouse was. It was probably the largest space we have ever had as a church. The offices next to the warehouse space provided room for a fellowship hall, pastor's office, two rest rooms, a storage basement, a sound booth and another office.
The two tone green paint inside looked fine, but
everyone was having a cow about the color scheme.
Anyway, a hasty decision was made to repaint. When they started trying to clean the old paint to repaint, it came off in large chunks. Apparently it was genuine 1950s. That lead to the first problem in our new facility. We had already committed to $150 more than we could afford for monthly rent. Within a week or so we also got six hundred and some dollars worth of bills for materials in the fixing up, none of which I was aware of before hand. This was a sad omen of the financial direction of our church for the next six years.
Under Joyce, we had a complete service for the
fist time. She had experience leading another MCC in
Princeton, NJ. She made tapes of religious music because we did not have a pianist. We got a live sermon each week. We even had a sound booth and head phones for Spanish translation. Services were still at 1 PM.
Treasurer was about the only office we had. That continued right up through joining MCC. That was about it for organization. Those who came regularly got known as the Core Group. Joyce and Carol set up our first church board with elected members. Our fifth anniversary came about this time. It went by unmarked.
We had fundraisers to help pay the bills. We did
several women's dances. El Paso lacked women's
spaces. We also had a big dance down at the Westin
Camino Real. The hotel didn't have a problem with us.
Unfortunately a unit of El Paso Electic owned the building.
A couple of weeks before the dance they demanded a
$5,000 deposit. We already had the publicity out and ticket sales were underway. Several individuals chipped in. Of course we got the deposit back and everyone got their money. It was paid the night of the dance. That left several of people downtown late at night with way too much cash.
Later the swamp cooler got so bad it had to be
replaced. We found out this was somehow our
responsibility. We went down to McKinney wrecking and
bought a used cooler. Several people helped take it back
to the church and put it in. Before that I never though of
being in a gay chuch including free dyke lessons.
I think Texas street is close to a tie with McRae for the
location we have had the longest. Toward the end we
could not meet the rent, but the landlord gave us a discount the last year. Unfortunately the saga of Texas Street is not over for me yet. We got a pipe organ donated while we were down there which we sold to Arin who was in the Military. When he transferred, the shutters were left in El Paso. They are still in my garage. Arin calls me from Kentucky about once a year, but so far plans for him to come get they have not borne fruit.
Summer 1989: Member's house
As we moved out of Texas Street, we knew Carol was
being transferred in her military job. Richard volunteered to let us meet in his living room down on North Loop. We
were looking into getting our first real church building and
need to save money. Both of his cocker spaniels were real nice, but the cat was antisocial and stayed by herself in the garage.
Summer 1989: Chaparral
This was the first real church building we have been in,
with a baptistry and everything. It was Carol's last dream
for the church as she knew she was leaving. She had
become interested in Chaparral and I think actually bought
a couple of lots out there. At one time she had the idea we could build a church out there ourselves. Remember, her dad had taught her carpentry.
With her leaving, this would be impossible, but they had
discovered a church out there that was for rent. It had been vacant for some time, but the price was right, $200 per month. And to top it off, the landlord was willing to put in a brand new septic tank for us. The church had been build by people for up in Chaparral. It was cinder block and needed some cleaning up after having been vacant. It was a church building, but not too luxurious. It did have a baptistry but we never used. Decor was somewhat rustic. It had exposed beams and you could see straight up to the bottom of the roof. The floor was unpainted cement. Actually, I don't think there was much interior paint except in the sanctuary.
We moved out there in the late summer, so that building
came with propane lessons. Heating was a propane fired
heater in the back(no gas lines out there). We got a
heating contractor out to look at the furnace. But first we
had to get some propane. After a call to the vendor the
tank was filled for $68. Two weeks later, no propane. They filled the tank, but did not check for leaks. They said of course they could check for leaks if we asked. Even so, we only got a quarter of a thank After that, though we did have heating for the winter.
We spent our tenth anniversary as a church in that
building. Jerry, a member of the congregation was an
excellent cook. He made us a picnic dinner that Sunday. The location proved to be too far out of town for most
people and we dwindled down to 10 people again. It didn't seem that far out. In any case, we needed a new location.
Summer 1990: 914 E Yandell
About this time the old Southwest Aids Committee moved out of their building on Yandell to a new facility with apartments and a hospice on Mescalero. Fr Tony Bengert had become our pastor out in Chaparral. He knew about this building. The rent on Yandellas going to be much higher, $500. Tony offered to take a cut in his salary so we could afford the rent. We were not going to last much longer in Chaparral. The new building wasn't luxurious, but it was across from a park and in-town to boot. All together not a bad location. The facility had a sanctuary, a pastor's office and a lounge as we called it then. We had what we needed.
We did have to sandbag the front door a couple of summers. That was before they improved the drainage downtown. Back when I 10 would sometimes flood. We had to use sandbags. Fr Tony got a new assignment from the Catholic church. Rick Schisler had been coming to our church. He used to be a Methodist minister in Arkansas till they found out he was gay. He was working for a hospital and rebuilding his life.
After Rick had been our pastor a while, we outgrew the facility on Yandell. We tried to get the landlord to rent us
the 916 location to expand into, but he used that for junk storage. He wouldn't agree so we had to move. We almost got another real church. The Unity Congregation moved out of their old building and wanted to rent it. The had people interested in the Sunday school rooms, so we thought we might rent the sanctuary and bookstore. That would have been $800 a month. The refrigerated air would have been nice, Rick really wanted it. But that would have pushed the cost even higher in the summer. The Jesuits got there first with the $800.
After some searching, we found a building. I didn't mind the two tone green on Texas street, but the bright yellow pegboard was a bit much. Thankfully that was taken
out about a year later. The refrigerated air was nice but
expensive. The subject of air conditioner management
came up on the pastor's evaluation a couple of times. We did have a couple of repair bills, but the whole thing never did go out.
Rick also worked a lot on a Spanish ministry. Again we had people who could translate. As well, a study group me in his home over in Juarez. Later on the District gave us some financing. It helped us pay the rent and gave the spanish group a place to meet.
Rick had the idea for us to go down to Creel in Mexico. Several of us went down on the bus to Chihuahua City. Then we took the train to Creel. We hired a guide to
show us the copper canyon, but somehow we did not ever get to the real canyon. The trip was fun anyway. Later on, Rick decided to go on to Phoenix. We had not searched for pastors for over a decade. A pastoral search committee was assembled and we began to define our needs and put a booklet together.
Jonathan and I went to the District Conference that
spring. That was the first one for me. The new District
Coordinator explained why churches like ours should not
exist. The next day I took up an offer of a box lunch. People from the three churches without pastors were there. Two churches had real problems and oh yeah, we needed to find a pastor. Later that summer Rev Kellie came to fill in. She had come back from a sabbatical. She was looking for a pastorate.