At the 2017 Southwest Conference Annual Meeting, Conference Minister Bill Lyons shared news that a new church start was anticipated in Taos, New Mexico. Today the SWC is sharing the good news with you that a core group of people excited to begin a new progressive and open & affirming United Church of Christ congregation in Taos has gathered under the leadership of founding pastor Rev. Pamela Shepherd. This is her story of their beginning.
by Rev. Pamela Shepherd
Jerry came by to take measurements for a cabinet he is building. He sat in my living room, staring at Taos Mountain, and he began to explain why, spiritual as he is, he wants nothing to do with the Church. He was raised Catholic and he loved God. But as his adolescent sexuality revealed itself as gay, the priest he’d known and trusted all of his life told him that if he acted on his sexual urges he would burn forever in hell.
By the time he is done sharing his story, Jerry had joined our new faith community. He’s a singer, it turns out, who sometimes was a cantor for a small Jewish congregation. God has sent a Cantor for our newly-forming church.
The conversations all seem to start the same: the person I’m meeting tells me a story. Their story is about how they were raised in the church, and then how the church broke their heart, and what happened that led to them losing their faith. Not that they lost their faith in God, exactly. They didn’t lose faith that Justice is possible, or in Mercy, or in Love, or Peace, or in God. They just lost faith in the Church as they knew it. Recovering Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Evangelicals, and Fundamentalists—they each have a story about leaving the church, and how the church broke their heart.
When I told a local pastor friend about our new church start, he laughed and said, “Oh, You’ve got the Nones and the Dones.” He means people who say “none” when they are asked their religion, and ones who thought they were “done” with church. The Nones and the Dones—I think that describes us. Our new church start in Taos, New Mexico, is the last door on the left at the far edge of mainstream, Christianity.
Our plan is simple: six months of monthly meetings focused on social justice work. In August it will be a Backpack Sunday – an event for the Taos Community to discuss immigration and assemble daypacks with clothing, shoes, and toiletries for ones being deported. In September the whole Taos community is invited to our Taos Community Café – multicultural world-café-style conversations about the future of Taos. And then we will bless the animals and the Cosmos in an October Sunday morning liturgy focused on creation care and climate change. Three months later we will launch weekly Sunday worship and begin to advertise our new church.
When people hear what we are doing, they ask, “Where is your church? When do you meet? Where’s your building?”
“We don’t know yet,” I have to say. “Do you know a space we might rent? It can be really rustic, but it has to be beautiful. In this artist mountain town Beauty is another name for God.
It is high summer in Taos, New Mexico, the beginning of the monsoon season. Soon we will have daily afternoon rainstorms. But for now the clouds simply gather, they haven’t organized yet. My days are like these New Mexico clouds: gathering, gathering, gathering, in faith and hope and fear that something here is starting, something is about to begin. My prayers are elemental now.
- Thank You
- I’m scared
- We need a space to rent that is beautiful
- We need diverse leaders
- We need money
- We need musicians
- We need someone who can set up our financial systems
- Please tell us how we begin
The writer Anne Lamott wrote that we only need three prayers: Help, Thanks, and Wow! “It’s your church, God,” I pray often. After a lifetime of self-sufficiency and competence, I am talking to God like a child.
Yet, like the first clouds in our July sky, people keep gathering. Something new begins to form. The Southwest Conference UCC gave us our first grant. A family foundation gave us two thousand dollars. Early local supporters have given
$15,790. An old friend, a recovering Episcopalian, sent five hundred dollars to help launch a church she may never see. We had our first leadership council meeting and opened a bank account. Something is gathering and forming.
We argued about church names, and made pages of possible names on a list. I suggest Beloved Community, and it is shot-down by everyone; somebody said, “Too Oprah!”
It is hard to name a just-forming church. We settle, provisionally, on Taos UCC. We think maybe it will stand for, Taos United Community Church.
Everything is new. Everything is the first time. Every choice that we make feels provisional. We are putting structures and plans and a name in place for the people who are not here yet. But we keep meeting people who are hungry for a faith community like ours. They keep coming. And they will rewrite and revise the things that we do for as long as this church exists.
Our first church leadership council met under an apple tree at a restaurant just off Taos Plaza. A knife tap on a water glass called us to order. Consensus affirmed our first decisions. Then we celebrated with lunch and the prayer that God will build through us a community of faith that will be a gift to our town.
I think of our faith ancestors who crossed an ocean on the Mayflower to found new forms of their religion. I think of them meeting together on the voyage and choosing to covenant together in what came to be called the Mayflower Compact: We will abide by the laws that we ourselves have made.
Yet our church cannot exist alone. We need your help. We need the help and support and prayers of all the Southwest Conference churches. We need financial expertise to help us build wise and transparent financial systems. We need wise and diverse leadership so that we can grow into the truly multi-cultural, multiracial church God is calling us to be. We need the $20,000 we wrote into our budget as coming from somewhere, but we haven’t identified where yet. And most of all, we need your prayers, your simple prayers, and the prayers of your faith communities. Please put us on your prayer lists and ask God to guide and bless us. Dear God, bless and guide Taos UCC. God, thank you for their courage. Wow.
After prayerful and careful review of the ministry plan for Taos UCC, the Committee on Church & Ministry B recommended that the SWC Executive Board commit funding and support to this new church start. A start up grant of $10,000 was authorized and the SWC will match contributions raised by Taos UCC 2:1 up to an additional $20K from the conference this year. If you would like to support the launch of Taos UCC, please send your tax-deductible contributions to: Taos UCC, PO Box 1084, Taos, NM 87571. If there are other ways you would like to help and support us, please call Rev. Pamela Shepherd at 575-770-4894 or email her at email@example.com.