Oldest Church in Southwest Celebrates 150 Years of History

( [email protected] ) Oct 31, 2003 10:34 AM EST

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The First Baptist Church in Albuquerque, the foremost non-Catholic church of the Southwest, celebrated its 150th year anniversary, Oct. 19.

"Our church will thrive as long as the River of Life flows in our midst and as long as our feet are firmly planted on a mountain called 'Calvary,' " said Steve Taylor, the current pastor of First Baptist.

"Occasionally it does us good to 'look back' and consider our heritage in order that we may 'live forward' with the legacy of a solid foundation," Taylor told church members Oct. 19.

First Baptist in Albuquerque, founded in Oct. 10, 1853 by pastor Hiram Walter Read who stood upon the motto: “Deo Volente – God willing.

In 1854, Read's wife, Alzina, was severely injured and Read turned the Albuquerque flock over to another missionary, Samuel Gorman, and took his wife to Boston. Read would serve as a doctor and chaplain in the Civil War, during which he was captured by the Confederates and sentenced to hang for treason. After a daring rescue by Union troops, in 1863 he was sent by President Lincoln to help set up the territorial government in Arizona, where he would be captured by Apaches, threatened with death by fire, but then spared. After the war, he served as a missionary and a pastor in Missouri.

In 1880, at age 60, Read went to Nevada to pastor a church for two years, before accepting a position in El Paso as general missionary for the American Publication and Bible Society to New Mexico, Arizona, West Texas and the two northern provinces of Mexico.

The church's first building was erected in 1891 under the leadership of Pastor John H. Thompson. The church would worship there until 1927, when it went "underground" for 10 years, meeting in the basement of its current building. In 1937, Pastor H.A. Zimmerman led the church to build the auditorium that is still in use today.

According to Taylor, he has many similarities with Read, the most important of them, "a passion for reaching people with a passionate love for the Lord and for his purpose in the church."

Emphasizing the “promise and potential” the church continues to have, Taylor said he hopes First Baptist can “impact the lives of those around with the transforming truth of the gospel."