HISTORY OF WESTMINSTER PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH CLOVIS, NEW MEXICO
It was decided that Clovis needed two Presbyterian Churches. This was not a decision made by a group of malcontents. After a favorable survey of Clovis undertaken by church members from West Texas churches and from First Presbyterian Church of Clovis, the Presbytery of the Southwest (of the Presbyterian Church in the United States) began the organization of the second church. The Session of First Church enlisted some members who would like to assist in this endeavor, along with other people in the community.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a perpetual story in the Sierra Blanca Presbytery that Westminster was formed because of a split in First Church of Clovis. Hopefully this history forever will lay that rumor to rest.
In fact, a number of members of First Church -- and the Presbytery of the Southwest -- gave financial help with gifts and loans during our early years. Hymnals, the communion set, and the collection plates were given to us by First Church, and their parlor was used for our Session meetings before we had our building. Truthfully, without this support, Westminster would have had a much more difficult time getting started and eventually becoming self-sustaining.
We are the last remaining charter members attending Westminster, which is why we are the authors of this writing. We had been members of First Church for about a year, when we decided to help form Westminster. Because the new church would be built three blocks from where we were living, it seemed natural to be members at this location. It was with some sadness that we left our friends at First Church.
No building. No Session. No Board of Deacons. No UPW. No Mariners. No traditions. No typewriter. No copier (mimeograph). No budget. In the beginning (1964), there was the Steering Committee. We met for the first time on September 28th with Charles E. Somervill, Jr., the new pastor, in the apartment of Chuck and Ramona, his wife. The original Steering Committee consisted for the following couples: Frank and Cavita Dillon, Paul and Marion Erckman, Max and Anabelle Ford, Cliff and Pat Hardy, Gene and Mary Wall, Elgin and Shirley Mallory, and Harry and Mona Pomeroy.
If your membership has been only in an organized church, then you might not appreciate all the details in getting a new church started. Dick Schmidt, the Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of the Southwest, helped to set up the functions of the committee: A). to organize and supervise all church activities; B). to initiate a program of evangelistic visitation; C). to supervise the budget; and D). to schedule a long-range program.
Our first set-back came when we presented a budget to Dick Schmidt. It was also the first time we came to realize that Executive Presbyters can become red-faced and highly agitated. Our budget was too short-ranged: a typewriter, a mimeograph, paper, and a few other incidentals. Dick suggested that we also include the Pastor’s Salary, housing, travel (even though the Presbytery was currently paying this), rent for a meeting place, Sunday School materials, music, and so on. When we presented a typical church budget to Dick, we had a sick feeling that the church would never get started. All of the Steering Committee were young couples with families,and our salaries were middle-class at best. Dick, now feeling pleased with our endeavors, assured us that we would get financial help from Presbytery.
Trinity Lutheran Church was also just beginning, and they rented the Women’s Club building for Sunday worship before we could. However, we found a church-like building, complete with electric organ, pews, and carpeted floors on the corner of Prince and Manana for our worship place. It was Our Chapel of Memories, now known as Steed-Todd Mortuary. Like the early church in Rome, it was our “Catacombs.” Of course the Chapel of Memories had no control over when they had business, so some Sundays, even in the winter, we would find the air conditioning system on whenever “some body” was there. We used the “viewing rooms” for Sunday School classes, making adjustments when necessary. Fortunately, the children didn’t find the casket room until the next to the last Sunday we met there. When they did, we heard that one young lad climbed into a casket to try it out.
October 18, 1964 was our first church service in the Chapel. We couldn’t use the mortuary for potluck suppers or weekday meetings, so we met at the homes of the Steering Committee members. Once a month, on Saturday afternoon, we would drive to Farwell, Texas to bowl. A manse was provided for the Somervills at 1008 West Christopher.
The Commission to Organize a Church in Clovis for the Presbytery of the Southwest met in the parlor of First Church at 6:00 P.M. on Sunday, January 31, 1965. The convenor, Frank Crown, examined the nominated elders for Westminster. A Pastor Nominating Committee was appointed, consisting of the Steering Committee, except that Carol and Jack McChesney replaced the Hardys who had moved. At 7:00 P.M. in the sanctuary, the church was constituted with 40 out of 52 charter members present. At this time we voted “Westminster” to be our name. During the reception held in the fellowship hall, a lady remarked to the new session that they were the youngest group of elders that she had ever seen -- since none were over 40 years old.
A Building Committee of six members was appointed on May 16, 1965. Thanks to their work with various groups and individuals -- from the Presbytery of the Southwest, an architect, and interested people from First Church -- our building process started. Minutes from a Joint Meeting with Sessions of First and Westminster Presbyterian Churches dated April 13, 1965 reporting on a corporation meeting of First Church held on March 14th states:
“1) Thornton Street property be deeded to Westminster when they are ready to build;
2) The property to be used only for church or church related activity, otherwise the property reverts to First Church.
3) The reversion will not be in the deed, but will be made as an agreement between the two sessions.”
Part II followed in the minutes with the written agreement and the reasons for it. It was accepted by Westminster. The amount of land was four and a half acres (“4.27 more or less”).
On January 15, 1967 the congregation approved a loan of $25,000 from State Savings and Loan Association of Clovis. Eventually the total cost of the Sanctuary building would be $75,000, which was financed through a loan from the Presbytery and gifts from friends. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held on July 9, 1967.
The first use of our building was on January 14, 1968. This structure consisted of a large hexagonally shaped room that was divided by a wall, making half for the sanctuary, and the other half for the fellowship hall. The rest of the structure contained three classrooms, the pastor’s study, and efficiency kitchen, and two rest rooms. Two weeks later, on January 28th, the building dedication took place.
Chuck Somervill left in August 1968 to serve as an assistant pastor in Lubbock, and a Pastor Nominating Committee began looking for our second minister. From Kansas City came Gilbert L. Hill with his wife, Melva, two sons, and daughter. Gil was installed on March 8, 1969.
Gil’s first effort was in increase the growth of the church by bringing in new members. One frustrating problem that he encountered was not with the increase in membership, but rather trying to get the session to agree on a church sign. It seemed that we could not agree on what type to build and where to place it. One of the elders had a load of bricks stored in his garage, but months passed without reaching an agreement. Finally, out of desperation, letters were purchased and put on the outside wall of the sanctuary. The bricks ended up serving another purpose.
During a Saturday workday in April 1971, sledgehammers were taken to the temporary wall between the sanctuary and fellowship hall. We were getting too large to hold services in the half-hexagon. Two new wings were begun, and by October 1971 we had additional classrooms and a new fellowship hall at a cost of $28,000. One of the new wings became a nursery that had a room with built in cribs, and a room for the todlers with a door between the two rooms and a bathroom.
On November 21, 1971, Westminster became a member of the Presbytery of Pecos Valley, Synod of New Mexico, United Presbyterian Church U.S.A. This made it easier for several New Mexico churches to attend Presbytery meetings, because the Presbytery of the Southwest was very large, and travel to the eastern edges of this Presbytery was a long, arduous trip.
By the end of 1972, our membership had grown to 112. In January 1973, there was a reorganization of the Presbytery and Synod, and Westminster became part of the new Synod of the Southwest and the Presbytery of Sierra Blanca.
Gil Hill instituted a Wednesday morning Bible study for the members, and a tape ministry was begun for both shut-ins and people who wished to have copies of the Sunday worship service. He also brought in people to conduct workshops on the Christian Family. Westminster became a very loving and concerned church. We began a Deacon’s Fund to help individuals and families who had financial problems. We also contributed to sponsoring children overseas, and missionaries. A Puppet Ministry was active, and this group presented moralistic skits to our church and to others in the Clovis community. Westminster also began the Prayer Chain, which is still active in praying for individuals or families that have crises. A very active youth group kept our teenagers busy. Friendship Circle, Westminster’s UPW (United Presbyterian Women), did a cookbook that contained recipes from our members.
For several years, a Progressive Dinner for adults became a tradition on December 31. Each course of the meal was at a different home of our members, with the desert course celebrating the New Year.
In order to have a strong Christian family unit, we felt that the husband should be the spiritual head (Ephesians 5:22-33). Although Westminster did have women on session, it was felt that if a woman was an elder, then it would be difficult for the husband to be the “spiritual head” of the family. Therefore, as their term of office expired, the women were replaced by men. Obviously, after General Assembly made it mandatory that women serve on session, Westminster had a definite problem. By 1980, the Presbytery of Sierra Blanca expressed that they were very concerned that we had no women on session.
Westminster also became “charismatic” during the 1970’s. The congregation was “spirit-filled,” and the worship service took on an uncharacteristic bent -- not typically “Presbyterian.” We sang very lively praise songs, and some raised their arms. There were healing services in addition to the regular worship services, and also small groups, or “cells,” were formed to meet in members homes during week nights. Slowly, but definitely, there was the beginning of a polarization in Westminster.
The church sold the manse to the Hills in January 1977 and gave a housing allowance, because we felt that when a pastor retired, he would not have a home of his own if the church had provided a manse.
A third building addition began in April 1978 for a fellowship hall, full kitchen, two restrooms, and two offices -- for a secretary and the pastor’s study. This addition was dedicated on November 11, 1978. Because seating was lacking, in December we bought new chairs -- with cushions -- for the sanctuary, and moved the old chairs to the fellowship hall. The pastor’s study was moved from the main Sanctuary building to the new fellowship hall. Long before, somewhere along the way, the classroom next to the pastor’s study in the main building had become a nursery and a divided door was installed so parents could see what was going on, but small children could not get out, and that room later became a library when the nursery was moved to one of the wings built in the second building phase. The pastor’s study in the main building became a “quiet room” and a place for choir and music needs.
With the war in Vietnam over and many refugees homeless, First Presbyterian and Westminster Churches helped in sponsoring some of these people. On January 7, 1980, the first family arrived in Clovis. Within a few months they were self-supporting, but we did have problems helping them deal wit the cultural shock.
Although Westminster seemed to be doing well and had a membership of 91, many of whom were tithing, the church had polarized into two groups -- those who were tolerant with almost everything, and those who wanted to expand the charismatic movement. The latter group began to challenge Gil Hill on his leadership, and because there was no way to make a reconciliation, they began to leave the church. By December 1980, Westminster’s membership had fallen to 59.
Through all the years of Gil’s tenure, Melva shared her beautiful singing voice. Part of each year Melva’s mother, Rose Clough, lived with them.
During Gil’s tenure he had only one funeral. He also had a unique situation in that he walked his daughter, Pam, down the aisle, then turned around (literally) and performed the ceremony to marry her to Gary Hamilton. He also married his son David to Jeannie Morris. He performed the marriages of many children of members even after his tenure ended, including our two daughters.
On April 6, 1981, Gil Hill asked to be dismissed from his pastoral call as of May 1, 1981. Frank Crown served as moderator and part-time pastor from May until August. Then in August, Dick Kroeger began serving as interim.
Wesley McCullough (Mack) Moore was called as our third pastor on June 6, 1982, and installed on July 4, 1982. Mack brought his wife, Kathy, and a daughter and son from Albuquerque. It was on January 9, 1983 that Mack told the session that he was going to accept a call from the Mountain Ministry, and asked that his pastoral relationship be dissolved as of January 11th.
Dick Kroeger began serving as moderator on January 23, 1983. On April 18, 1983 the session voted Larry Null to serve as pulpit supply beginning on May 8th. On April 24th, the session voted that the church facilities could be used for Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous directed by Larry. This was known as Westminster Project, and helped many people who were substance-dependant in Clovis. After Larry’s death his widow, Betty, continued the program and was later aided by her second husband, Ray Eskridge.
Westminster called our fourth pastor, Nicholas B. Bosworth, on September 25, 1983 from Watsonville, California of the San Jose Presbytery. Nick’s previous work had been in Korea in a Presbyterian Missionary School. He began serving as our moderator on November 28th and he was installed on February 19, 1984.
Circumstances came to light which caused the Presbytery of Sierra Blanca to remove Nick Bosworth from our pulpit on June 24, 1984. John McClelland began to serve us as part-time stated supply pastor on July 15, 1984.
Harold (Harry) Ray Hurt, our fifth pastor, was called from Childress, Texas on April 28, 1985, and he was installed on August 25. He and his wife Judy had children who were married, but they soon filled their home serving as foster parents for children in Clovis. Harry had once been a woodworking teacher, so not only did he work in trying to rebuild the church membership, but also constructed several items for the church -- a Bible stand and a display case for the Gifts to the Church book, to mention a few.
In the summer of l987, Harry became ill, and when he realized that his recuperation might be lengthy, he asked for a six month leave of absence in September. Paul Russell began serving as interim supply pastor on October 19, 1987. Harry Hurt was still not able to return to the pulpit after his leave of absence, and he dissolved his relationship with Westminster in June 1988.
We began to look for a “tent maker,” a part-time pastor to serve our small church. We were not large enough to financially support a full time pastor. There were a couple of people who interviewed, but we could not find someone for this position.
Paul Russell was called to Santa Fe as an interim in June 1988, so Westminster was able to use the Cannon AFB Chaplains, Frank Sherman and Richard Knowles, to fill the pulpit on the Sundays they were not on duty. According to Session minutes, Frank Sherman preached Sept. 10, 1989, and that was the beginning of Frank’s association with Westminster. The situation might have continued, except the Base Commander ordered the chaplains not to serve the community on their off Sundays. Frank last preached July 29, 1990 and at that time Yoking with First Church Portales was discussed.
In order to continue with a regular pastor, the Presbytery of Sierra Blanca suggested that Dr. C. J. (“Jerry”) Windsor of First Church, Portales, serve in a yoked position with his church and ours. At a congregational meeting, First Presbyterian Church, Portales, allowed Jerry to serve Westminster in this role for a period of 18 to 24 months. Jerry served from 28 September 1990 to 29 February 1992.
An overture from First Presbyterian Church, Clovis that we merge theirs and our churches was received by our Session. Scott King, pastor of First Church in Clovis, moderated the joint Session meeting to work out the agreement for merging. After several months, it was mutually decided that a merger of the two churches was not possible. Westminster decided to hire Dr. Frank Sherman as pastor, in a part time position when he retired from the U. S. Air Force. Frank started on March 1, 1992. His wife, Carolyn, who had been playing the organ for us for several months, became our official music director and organist. Westminster is continuing to serve the Clovis community.
~ Harry Pomeroy, Clovis, NM, June 1995 ~ (continued below)
As our seventh pastor, the Rev. Dr. Frank W. Sherman served Westminster part-time, while he worked at a local radio station. He was stated supply, and became moderator 28 September 1996. Occasionally when delivering the sermon, he would use different voices and use props -- like a lady’s hat -- to add more color to his message.
Carolyn continued serving as choir director and organist, and developed a superb group of singers. The congregation enjoyed many special programs, especially during the Christmas and Easter seasons.
Tenebrae services were continued for Good Friday. Frank used a black drape and crown of thorns on the cross for the Tenebrae service of darkness. For Maundy Thursday he created a garden setting with cloth covered tables adorned with fruit as well as communion service in front of the chancel and invited the congregation in small groups for communion. Some Maundy Thursday services, an authentic Passover meal was served followed by Holy Communion. Palm Sunday there were palms strewn in the aisle and on the communion table. Easter saw the chancel area lined with fresh lillies donated by members in memory or honor of loved ones, and a white drape on the cross. We have also joined with other community churches for combined Easter-week services.
Christmas found the sanctuary decorated with drapes of green garlands made by a member, a large crèche donated by a family was at the foot of the cross, while many poinsettias donated by members in memory or honor of loved ones adorned the chancel. There were also two Christmas trees -- one on each side of the chancel. The Advent Candle ceremony was impressive with a different family each Sunday lighting the candles. Two of our members collect and clean teddy bears throughout the year and have created the Waldo Bear Ministry which continues and expands. During the Christmas season, members sing carols at nursing homes in Clovis and Farwell, TX and distribute the Waldo bears to the residents. Authentic luminarias lined the front walk for the midnight Christmas Eve service when the weather permitted, though in recent years they were discontinued for various reasons, including services being cancelled because of treacherous ice.
New hymnals were gotten for the congregation to use, and the responsive readings were also used every Sunday. New blue carpeting was installed in the sanctuary and the metal chair cushions were reupholstered by members using a harmonizing blue fabric, and the sanctuary walls were painted a very pale ice blue, creating a serene setting. Many years ago wrought iron pieces were made by Bobby Jordan for use in the sanctuary and Fellowship Hall.
Children’s time during the morning worship was established. The puppet ministry was revived and expanded (named “Wuppets”) and would present programs for special events. For a few summers, Westminster played in a church softball league. Relay for Life -- the cancer walk -- has had teams from our church participate. We have helped with the food bank, and in February, the church youth helped in the Souper Bowl in collecting money and food items from the congregation. Some of our members have helped with Meals on Wheels and some volunteer their time at the hospital as Auxillians. Westminster has a ministry of sending care packages to troops overseas.
The prayer chain, which started decades ago, has always been an
important part of Westminster. At the present time an extension of it in the form of e-mail is overseen by one of our members. She passes on prayer requests for not only Westminster’s prayers but other lists as well, and it has become world-wide.
In August we join with First Presbyterian Church, Clovis and have “Church in the Park,” which met at Ned Houk Park. The last few years the churches have alternated using their Fellowship Halls instead of the park.
In 1997, members and friends of Westminster donated custom-made stained glass windows for the sanctuary exterior windows and on either side of the interior main doors. These were given in memory or honor of loved ones.
A major renovation was done to the fellowship hall and to the kitchen, which was brought up to commercial standards/code so we could have fund-raising dinners. For most of Frank Sherman’s tenure in the autumn “Miss Lillian’s Cowboy Stew” and in the spring “Papa Lou’s Spaghetti Dinner” became major fund raisers. After the renovation the hall was named Dunster Hall in honor of Tim and Amy Dunster who gave continued and generous financial help to Westminster after Tim’s military assignment moved them from Clovis.
A church bell in memory of Lawrence Null, who served as pulpit supply for awhile in 1983, and with his wife, Betty, founded Westminster project, was installed in the remodeled patio and is rung every Sunday morning. A lighted church sign was donated so that information could be displayed to the community. Christian and American flags on stands inside the sanctuary, were donated by members who were being moved by the military many years ago. In memory of Jerry Wallace a permanent telescoping flag pole was installed outside the main front door to the church and during Sunday services the American and Christian flags are flown.
After an association with Westminster of almost 21 years, of which eighteen years and four months were as our pastor, Frank Sherman retired, and he and Carolyn moved to San Antonio, Texas. His tenure ended 30 June 2010.
Our eighth pastor, Cristabelle (“Cris”) Mosende Russell started November 1, 2010, as part-time stated supply. She stays in Clovis Saturday evening through Wednesday noon, then commutes to Lovington, NM, where her husband is pastor of the Presbyterian church there.
~ Harry & Mona Pomeroy, January 5, 2011 ~