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A Brief History of the Episcopal Church of St. Mary, Albuquerque, New Mexico
St. Mary’s is unique in that it is a relatively new parish, with a congregation comprised of members of two former parishes that no longer exist. Both of these congregations were traditional, conservative, and Anglo-Catholic, and one in particular was quite high church. St. Mary’s has maintained the same conservative stance since it was formed in 1989, and in fact, it has become a refuge for Episcopalians from other parishes in town that have taken a more liberal attitude regarding sexual behavior and church leadership. St. Mary’s is one of only two parishes in Albuquerque and one of only a few churches in the diocese that utilize vergers in an official capacity.  [Since 2009, the use of vergers has virtually disappeared.]

St. Matthew’s, the older of the two parishes, maintained a much more stable membership than St. Aidan’s. Its members were generally older and remained in the parish, and its liturgical style was High Church. Because of its proximity to Kirtland Air Force Base, St. Aidan’s served a number of military families, and for this reason its membership was more transitory. The liturgical style of St. Aidan’s was more moderate than that of St. Matthew’s, and the membership grew tremendously during the 1960s and early 1970s.

When the two parishes were combined by Bishop Kelshaw in 1989, there was some dissension, as the two congregations found it difficult to shed their individual identities and come together as a separate and distinct congregation. St. Matthew’s was forced to relinquish its building, as it found itself in the position of not being able to expand in the location it occupied at that time. St. Aidan’s was without a Rector at that time, and the Rector of St. Matthew’s, the Rev. Thomas Wand, became the first Rector of St. Mary’s, remaining there for about a year during the consolidation period. During the next two years, while under the direction of an Interim Rector, St. Mary’s developed a parish profile, and a new Rector was called.

St. Mary’s struggled as its own parish for several years, having five rectors or interim rectors during the 15 years since its formation. It was during the tenure of the Rev. Robert Nagiel (from 1998 through 2006) that it began to flourish and develop its own identity. More than one-half of the current members of St. Mary’s were not members of either St. Aidan’s or St. Matthew’s.

Below is a brief history of the physical building (originally St. Aidan’s) and the clergy that have served St. Mary’s.

  • The main church itself was constructed in 1965, with the Rev. Albert Tarbell (formerly of St. John’s Cathedral) negotiating the purchase of the land and the construction of the building.
  • The education wing was added in 1968.
  • The parish hall, library, music room, and the offices were added in 1987.
  • On August 14, 1989, under the direction of Bishop Kelshaw, St. Aidan’s merged with St. Matthew’s to become St. Mary’s, and the new parish took root in the building that had been St. Aidan’s.
  • The clergy that have served St. Mary’s from 1989 are included in the list of clergy (below).
  • Church membership and lay participation have fluctuated during the past 15 years, and it has been during the past few years that both have increased steadily. St. Mary’s has established its identity within the diocese, and with that will come not only increased membership but also increased lay leadership across all ministries.
  • St. Aidan’s originated September, 1961.
  • First service in church on Chelwood Park Blvd., NE: December, 1965.
  • Parish hall and offices addition: September, 1987.
  • Merger of St. Aidan’s and St. Matthew’s: August, 1989.
  • Written by the Rev. Patricia Soukup

On June 2, 2010 St. Mary’s was officially enrolled as a Stephen Ministry parish. This followed four months of discernment by Fr. Jim and the Vestry as to where the Lord was leading the parish in responding to our pastoral needs. Information about Stephen Ministries, based in Saint Louis, Missouri can be found on the Ministries Page of this website, and on the Related Links page. In July Mary Stearns attended the Leadership Training Course in Dallas, Texas to join Fr. Jim as a Stephen Leader for the parish. Dale Buchanan, Connie Burgner, Jonny Cronican, Norman Dowdy, Nancy House, Jeannine Hunter, Rosalie Rice, and Joyce Tripp were the first eight Stephen Ministers in the history of St. Mary’s and they were commissioned on Sunday, December 12, 2010 after fifty hours of training by Mary and Fr. Jim.

On March 19, 2013 the Parish Hall was renamed Tarbell Community Hall in honor of Fr. Albert W. Tarbell. Fr. Tarbell was, before being ordained, instrumental in the establishment of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church. As an Episcopal priest he became Vicar of St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church in 1962. St. Aidan’s (what we know as St. Mary’s) grew to become one of the larger parishes in the Diocese of the Rio Grande. In August of 1989 St. Matthew’s and St. Aidan’s merged to become the Episcopal Church of St. Mary. Fr. Tarbell’s involvement in the history of St. Mary’s goes all the way back to the beginning in December of 1963, by which time he had decided to accept the appointment as vicar of St. Aidan’s. At the time there was no church building, no permanent home, no money, and not many communicants; just a sense of calling on Fr. Tarbell’s part to do this. In November of 1964 Fr. Tarbell presented an application to the city zoning committee requesting approval for use of R-1 zoned lots for church purposes (the present site). Ground breaking for the church was May 30, 1965. Fr. Tarbell requested a loan of $50,000 from the diocese, and $15,000 from the National Episcopal Church headquarters in New York.

The building went ahead and on Sunday, December 12, 1965 the first services were held in the new church building. The parish grew and by 1967 it was clear that the first unit of the church building was inadequate to take care of the educational needs and that additional church school space was required. The construction was finished in 1968 with Fr. Tarbell involved with the purchase of the land and the construction. Somewhere along the line, Fr. Tarbell had purchased 2.65 acres of the land east of the church on his own. On March 14, 1977 the Vestry decided to buy the land from Fr. Tarbell at about two-thirds of its market value at the time. Several years after the purchase of the present church site, Fr. Tarbell bought the adjoining land in his own name in order to protect the church property from possible nearby commercialization or unsuitable development. At the time the plot was appraised at $115,000. Fr. Tarbell agreed to sell it to the church for $84,0004. Years later, the money was invested in building the parish hall in 1987.  [1 1] This information was gleaned from George Fitzpatrick, A Brief History of St. Aidan’s Episcopal Chruch, (1977).

25th Anniversary Year – 2014
It was November of 2013 that Dean Larranaga, of Aguamatic Landscape Company, presented his proposal for redoing the landscaping on the west and south sides of the parking lot. That was just a plan, however, and the Vestry wanted to seek other bids for the project. By the December 2013 Vestry meeting, after reviewing two other bids, the Vestry drew up a letter of intent with Aguamatic Landscaping stipulating the proposed amount of $38,000, contingent upon the Vestry soliciting funds to pay for the project, and guaranteeing the price for one year of the accepted proposed design. The signed letter of intent by the Vestry was signed by Dean and returned to the office within a week. By February 2014 over 50% of the needed funds had been raised. In early April Fr. Hunter called Dean to discuss with him how we could get the project rolling. It was then that he suggested a two phase plan for the project, doing the Chelwood Park Boulevard section first. He also lowered his bid from $38,000 to $36,000 (fortunately, Dean did not insist on the stipulated $38,000). We had the funds for that, so starting on April 30, 2014, and over the next nine days, the property was transformed into the beautiful frontage we have today.

This was not the project of any one person. Without our Lord’s inspiration of the idea and guidance in carrying it out, it would not have happened. To begin with, then, we thank our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We also thank the 48 individuals, couples, and families, along with 25 companies, organizations, and groups (including the Brotherhood of St. Andrew and the St. Elizabeth’s Guild) who made memorial donations to realize our dream.

On December 1, 2014 the landscape project was completed. This included repairing the irrigation system to the trees that are in the parking lot.

By the end of 2014, our 25th Anniversary Year, much had been completed by the members of the parish to mark this milestone. The landscaping project, was completed within twelve months, coffee mugs, T-shirts and Polo Shirts were sold, a big gathering on August 17th (the date closest to the August 14 date of St. Mary’s establishment) with the Young At Heart Choir was held, Katy Schacht’s original commissioned composition entitled Make a Joyful Noise unto the Lord was first performed on July 20, 2014, the dedication of the flag pole was held on Flag Day, June 14, 2014 with the U.S. Naval Sea Cadets, and modifications to the Sunday Bulletin, the Magnificat, and our stationary with “25 Years of Serving Our Lord 1989-2014” were made at the beginning of the year.

Clergy of the Episcopal Church of St. Mary

  • The Rev. John L. Whitsell: 9/61 – 12/63 (1st Vicar of St. Aidan’s)
  • The Rev. Albert W. Tarbell: 2/64 – 7/78 (2nd Vicar and, on August 7, 1967, 1st Rector of St. Aidan’s)
  • Supply Clergy: 8/78 – 11/78
  • The Rev. Layton P. Zimmer: 12/78 – 7/88 (2nd Rector of St. Aidan’s)
  • Supply Clergy: 8/88 – 7/89
  • The Rev. Thomas C. Wand: 8/89 – 12/90 (Last Rector of St. Matthew’s and 1st Rector of the Episcopal Church of St. Mary)
  • The Rev. Carl Gockley (Interim): 12/90 – 8/92
  • The Rev. David Clark: 9/92 – 12/95 (2nd Rector of the Episcopal Church of St. Mary)
  • The Rev. Richard J. Anderson (Interim): 1/96 – 3/98
  • The Rev. Robert J. Nagiel: 4/98 – 12/06 (3rd Rector of the Episcopal Church of St. Mary)
  • The Rev. Gary Meade (Interim): 1/07 – 11/07
  • The Rev. James W. Hunter: 1/08 – Present (4th Rector of the Episcopal Church of St. Mary)