Let the rivers run
Originating high atop Elk Mountain, the Gallinas River flows southeast through upper Gallinas Canyon past Montezuma’s hot springs straight through the heart of Las Vegas, New Mexico as it courses toward the Pecos River, luring expert fishers along its winding path.
Not to mention great pastors.
Or at least that’s the way that Karyl Lyne, clerk of session of the First United Presbyterian Church of Las Vegas, tells it.
Lyne, who with her husband Patrick Rucker were drawn to Las Vegas from Portales following their retirement 20 years ago from the faculty/staff of Eastern New Mexico University, says it’s “astonishing how much our little church gives to the town, including great pastors like our current one, Katie Palmer.”
Palmer — a former instructor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where she taught required writing courses — found the pull of Las Vegas surprisingly hard to resist. The small but mighty Gallinas carried her straight to the church, where a focus on water initiatives was a natural.
“Because we live in Northern New Mexico, we’re particularly sensitive to the importance of access to water,” said Lyne, who is also a past chair of the church’s Mission and Peacemaking Committee. “Some members of our congregation have wells or catchment systems and home filtration systems and depend on rain and snow for water. Other members, because they live on ranches, are very aware of water especially because they have livestock. It’s for all of those reasons that our church has always chosen a Presbyterian Giving Catalog project having to do with water.”
Now in its seventh, record-breaking year, the Presbyterian Giving Catalog — which is available both in print and online as well as for immediate download in Spanish and Korean — is filled with a wide variety of gifts that provide real and positive impact around the world, including aid for refugees, ways to end hunger and access to clean water.
Like Palmer, her predecessors at the church were just as mission and community minded. She was immediately preceded by the Rev. Randy Campbell, who is now the church’s pastor emeritus. Prior to Campbell, the congregation was served by a group of commissioned lay pastors called Los Mensajeros, who, as a group, served three area churches alongside a minister of Word and Sacrament. This group included none other than John Detterick, a ruling elder who had returned home to his native Las Vegas after leading the General Assembly Council (now the Presbyterian Mission Agency) for eight years and, before that, the Board of Pensions for five. Detterick, who set a high bar for the Las Vegas church’s engagement with the community, died on Feb. 16 at the age of 80.
“When Katie first came to Las Vegas five years ago, whenever she would strike up a conversation in town and introduce herself as our pastor, invariably the person would say, ‘That’s the church that started the Samaritan House Shelter or the CROP Walk or Housing Opportunities Programs for Elders [HOPE],’” Lyne said. “We are known for that in the community.”
Like Detterick, Lyne, Rucker and many others who were drawn to the area’s scenic beauty and rich history, when it came time for Palmer — who first completed the commissioned lay pastor program offered by the Presbytery of Plains and Peaks before ultimately graduating from the Iliff School of Theology — to seek her first ordained call, she was so struck by First United Presbyterian Church’s online ministry profile that she decided to apply. A subsequent visit to Las Vegas only confirmed what she already knew in her heart.
“When I went down to this little town to look around, I turned to my husband and said, ‘This could work,’” Palmer recalled. “I had already fallen in love with Las Vegas, and the church community is phenomenal.”
With some 80 members on its rolls, First United Presbyterian Church attracts half again as many “friends” of the congregation to its worship services and other programs, due in large part to the many institutions of higher education in the area.
In fact, it was a young woman from the development office of one of the nearby universities who coined the slogan for the church’s first water-related project out of the Presbyterian Giving Catalog, titling the successful drive, “Let’s Give a Dam!”
For two to three years, the church literally “gave a dam,” just one of several water-related projects that had been featured in the Giving Catalog. Then, because so many in the region depend upon pumped water, they migrated their giving efforts to a Garden Well.
But because the congregation is known not only for its community activism but also for its generous mission giving, Lyne said that first some careful calendaring was in order so as not to conflict with any of the PC(USA)’s Special Offerings, of which they participate in all four. The congregation has also accepted the denomination’s Matthew 25 invitation.
“Initially, I’m not quite sure why, but these giving projects always seemed to fall at Christmas time,” Lyne recalled. “Perhaps it was because at one time we participated in Mathew’s Market, an alternative gift fair which happened at Christmas time. Because our wise treasurer made the suggestion two years ago that we not do the Giving Catalog project in December since it would coincide with the Christmas Joy Offering, our committee decided to move the Giving Catalog Project of a Garden Well to July, when there aren’t any other national offerings. We promoted the Garden Well Project as a ‘Christmas in July’ giving opportunity, which raised $1,890 for a total of 1.26 wells. Not only was it fun, but it also spread the giving requests to our congregation out across the year. I think we’ll continue this practice.”
In the meantime, Palmer and others from the church are once again following their hearts — and the Gallinas River — by mobilizing a committee of community organizers, which has adopted a small area where the river flows through town.
“Las Vegas already had a river walk, and now, as part of the rewinding of the river to make it more hospitable to wildlife and to better manage it,” explained Palmer, “Friends of the Gallinas River Park are turning the area around the walk into a city park. We have also joined with a number of others from all different backgrounds and faith traditions to create the Unity Orchard, the steering committee for which is mostly made up of folks from our church. Our church has a long history of doing just that — including the community in a number of ways.”
As the world prepares to celebrate World Water Day on March 22, First United Presbyterian Church is more than ready.
“Let’s plant trees,” Palmer exclaimed. “Let’s bring schools and churches together to learn about orchards. Let’s gather at the river and watch this all blossom into something wonderful for our community.”
Now is the time to unite with thousands of others using the Presbyterian Giving Catalog to support the ministries closest to their hearts: feeding the hungry, comforting the brokenhearted and sharing our faith with young and old. Give today by clicking here.
This was published for Presbyterian News Service on March 15, 2021.