The Baptist Comeback
The first Protestant society in the southwest was established at Santa Fe, in July 1849, under the auspice of the Baptist Home Mission Society. Reverend Hiram Walter Read was the missionary appointed to the work; the renowned pioneer, circuit-riding preacher. He determinedly brought the town’s first melodeon musical instrument here – a three month journey in a covered wagon. He spoke on the public square, he met with serious opposition, he did not run and he remained to do a great historical work in New Mexico and also Texas and Arizona.
In 1850, some Baptist missionaries reached Santa Fe on their way to California. They had been sent out by the Home Mission society of New York to do evangelistic work among the gold seekers of the West. After a brief stay in the city of “Holy Faith”, these pioneer preachers were convinced that Santa Fe and the surrounding county were wonderful possibilities for a free gospel. They appealed to the Home Mission Society for permission and funds to establish the work. The challenge was accepted and the call of the gospel was heard on the Plaza.
A Baptist church was organized in 1850, the first Protestant work in what is now New Mexico. In 1852, Samuel Gorman and his family of four arrived in New Mexico to bring the gospel to New Mexico. They did most of their work in the Laguna Pueblo but Samuel evangelized a wide swatch of New Mexico on horseback. After several years at Laguna, Samuel was transferred to Santa Fe to lead all the Baptist work in the territory. However, living in Santa Fe during the civil war had a profound effect on the family and they moved to Canton, Ohio. In 1853, the Reverend Louis Smith came as a missionary but with the breaking out of the great rebellion, the mission was abandoned in New Mexico. A small church was built but after a few years of progress, a disloyal representative of the Home Mission Society sold the property to the Presbyterians. For the next fifty years, there were no Baptist organizations in Santa Fe.
Fast forward to 1880 and a new start must be made. That start would have to be made at new locations, namely: Las Vegas, Raton, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque. Baptists were no longer the first. They were second everywhere. Read’s day had passed, not without value, but the day that was now ahead was to number among it missionaries, many volunteer workers, as well as, paid workers – both truly zealous for missions. Thirty years had passed since the first Baptist sermon was given on the old plaza of Santa Fe.
This period of New Mexico history must recognize the contributions of certain leaders, the impact of those whose personalities stand high in the annals of this state. H.W. Wingate has been mentioned as the first missionary after the resumption of the work in 1880. Before the close of the nineteenth century, Green, Hill, Hunter and Newberry; S.Y. Jackson, R.P. Pope, Bruce Kinney, William Tuck, and J.H. Thompson took their place in a valiant labor, the reach of which has been felt across the years. Numbers of churches and strength of membership, it seemed, had achieved a point of guaranteed success as far as there can be a surely of existence.
One of these missionaries, S.Y. Jackson Baptist in the Lincoln Association, had been designated “Sunday School Secretary”, and although his work was voluntary, it could be a first on this emphasis in the whole of the West.
Churches organized in 1892 were Hope, Zion Hill, Hopewell, Elkhorn, Lookout, Eddy, and Eagle Creek, into the first association that had in it such spiritual patriarchs as John Hunter, M.E. Cordell, S.Y. Jackson and W.E. Newton, men with Christian stride and height to match the sky kissed hills among which they labored.
Some of the creations of this association are of high historical value. Lincoln, for instance:
a. Set up the first associational missionary in the employment of R.P. Pope.
b. Put afield the first colporteur in the person of S.Y. Jackson.
c. Sponsored the first school for higher learning in the organization of the New Mexico Baptist College, Alamogordo.
d. Initiated the first movement for the Territorial Convention, organized in 1900 at Las Cruces, New Mexico.
e. Pioneered, by and far, the largest number of churches of any New Mexico Association.
f. Produced the first paper in the territorial area, “The Southwest Baptist.”
g. Edited the first associated minutes, dating back to 1892; a purse-size edition of eight pages.
A brief examination of missions may prove of value to the reader at this juncture of history. A report in the minutes of the Lincoln Baptist Association, 1905, is extraordinarily engaging. Written by S. Y. Jackson and Y.F. Barnett, an enlightening document would be expected, but few more devoted missionaries have ever graced New Mexico’s list of immortals than these two.
Five years ago (1900) there were five Baptist meeting houses, now there are twenty-two with others under construction. Five years ago, we had no Mexican Baptist churches, now there are six with two others awaiting organization. Five years ago the Baptist numerical strength numbered 800 in the territory, now Baptist will number 2000. Yet there remains twelve important towns, including the Capital (Santa Fe), without a single church. We need $1,600 to close the year free of debt. The total amount expended by the Territorial Convention during the year is $12,000 in approximation. May we push on to capture the entire territory!