Beginning with the Rev. David Reiter, the First Presbyterian Church of Santa Fe experienced a series of stable, long-term pastorates.
Present Sanctuary Designed by Meem
During the pastorate of A. G. Tozer, the present sanctuary was designed by famous architect John Gaw Meem. It was built in 1939 by contractor Fred Grill, a well-known Santa Fe builder.
First Presbyterian was built at the same time that Cristo Rey Catholic Church, also designed by Meem, was being built. Archbishop Gerkin consulted regularly with Tozer and church leader Paul A. F. Walter on the Presbyterian project. The Archbishop also had two priests on the Presbyterian site to track development of the church.
A Colorful, Creative Contractor
Grill claimed to have lost ten thousand dollars in the project but was willing to do so because he said that he had done many things that would not look good in print and wanted to do something to square his account in “the last roundup.” Grill spoke a melodious language of mule driver variety, and it was said in Santa Fe that only the Archbishop and Tozer could speak his language.
An interesting note is that since money was in very short supply, there arose a problem of how to pay to have carving done on the beams and corbels. Contractor Grill learned that a group of Mexican woodcarvers were in jail and their tools in hock for some wrong they had done. Tozer arranged with the police to bring them to the job and to carve the beams under police escort for a sum of about $150.
Church Growth in the 1940s
During the World War II years with Rev. Ken Keeler as pastor, the church grew from 283 members to 665. The manse became the church office and church school space. A new Austin organ was installed. The pastor traveled to Los Alamos weekly to lead worship services in the secret facility for scientists and military persons there. The church became one of the first in the country to have a handbell choir.
Hart Hall was built in 1948. It adjoined Pope Hall and contained classroom and fellowship space.
NM Separation of Church and State
In 1948, the famous Dixon School Case (Zellers v. Huff) was filed in New Mexico. Protestant parents contested New Mexico’s use of nuns and priests to teach in public schools. The whole nation watched the three year court struggle. The case was settled by the New Mexico Supreme Court, which banned such activities, supporting the separation of church and state.