A very brief history of Christ Church Episcopal, Laredo, Texas
In November of 1846, the Mexican Presidio in Laredo, was occupied by Capt. Mirabeau Lamar, part of Zachary Taylor’s army which fought the U.S. war with Mexico. The Fort was later renamed Fort McIntosh. It was a U.S. fort until the outbreak of the Civil War when it was occupied by the Confederacy. Through that time, Episcopal Services were held occasionally at Fort McIntosh, but never with regularity. Following the Civil War, during the period of Reconstruction, the Fort was garrisoned with soldiers from Company D of the Twenty-fifth Infantry, an African American unit.
There is not much record of gatherings of Episcopalians until 1881.
In 1880 or 1881, Mrs. George C. Woodman, Sr., requested a visit to Laredo from the newly appointed Episcopal Bishop of West Texas. Bishop Robert W.S. Elliot came to Laredo via the newly opened railroad, on Feb 20, 1881. Two adults and five children were baptized, and an unknown number confirmed. Episcopal Services had been held occasionally at Fort McIntosh, but never with regularity. However, the first vestry of Christ Church had three officers from the fort, and close association with the church continued for many years.
Later that night, in that same courtroom at the Sunday night service, $1000 was raised for a church building. William Adams donated a lot on Farragut Street, and later the congregation bought the adjoining lot from him for $50. The Bishop encouraged the fledgling congregation to keep raising money but forbid them to use card games or raffles to do so.
The first Rector, Mr. M. Chapin, was here for six months. I can only guess as to how the bishop persuaded him to come. He went back to New York, but for many years continued to contribute to the life and ministry of Christ Church.
By the summer 1882, Yellow Fever was raging along the Rio Bravo, and Bishop Elliot came and spent his six weeks of vacation serving the parish here in Laredo. Clergy vacations were more strenuous in those days!
By March of 1883 the first wedding in the new building took place. Much of the building was finished, but the floor was not yet laid. Planks had to be laid over the open beams for a temporary floor when Miss Dora Gertrude Burdick and Thomas O. Philibert , came up from Monterrey to be married in the new church building.
By June of that year, regular worship began at the church on the corner of Farragut and Davis streets.
For the next several years the parish was served by pastors who stayed a few months and in a few cases a year, and in a very few cases almost two years.
In April of 1886, after a rather heated election, the Democrats calling themselves the “Botas” and the Republicans calling themselves the “Guaraches” both staged parades which degenerated quickly into a shooting match. A number of the Vestry members and parishioners of Christ Church were involved in the melee. Perhaps explains the very short tenure of the new pastor, the Rev. C.W. Hoge, who came in March, just a month before the shooting started, and left in early July the same year!
By June of 1888 the beloved Good Shepherd window had been installed. Rumor has it that Christ Church and Church of the Good Shepherd in Corpus Christi had both ordered windows from the same company and that somehow the one for Corpus was installed in the original church building on Farragut street. That window and many others were installed in the small chapel at 2320 Lane.
In 1894, the Church was blessed by the tenure of the Rev. J.W. Ward, who spent 14 years serving Christ Church till his retirement in 1910. He is buried in the city cemetery on Meadows street.
Just a few years after the Rev. Ward retired, in 1913, the Rev. Charles W. Cook came to Laredo from New York. His tenure of 24 years helped shape Christ Church in ways that still resonate today. He and his wife Mabel’s children, Mary Cook and Ralph Cook were life long members of this parish, and their legacy continues through the many lives they touched. The entire Cook family are buried in the City Cemetery in Laredo.
The Rev. Cook’s wife’s sister, Deaconess Bickford, was a tireless minister here in this community, and ministered faithfully in this community for many years.
And so, the church at Davis and Farragut continued and grew. During the first World War, the parish records show a large number of names with military ranks attached to them, and a number of burials of young men preparing for the war in Europe who died in training accidents at the Fort.
After the Rev. Charles Cook retired, the Rev. William X Smith arrived. This young energetic man wooed the organist, Miss Alice Perkins who had recently returned home to Laredo after receiving a degree from the American Conservatory in Chicago. They married in 1940. When the Rev. Smith accepted a call to a church in California in 1941, the vestry minutes mourn the loss of their organist. (The record does not show whether they were sorry the rector left!)
Another Smith, the Rev. Benjamin Smith guided the parish through the years of World War II, and again the names of some military men begin to show up, this time due to the men training at the Laredo Army Air Field.
In 1953, the Rev. Richard I. Urban and his wife arrived. Through the 50’s and 60’s, for 16 years he guided Christ Church. By the early 60’s the parish was convinced that a move was necessary and began the plans for moving from downtown to our current location in the Height’s neighborhood. John Snyder, Horace Watson, Harry Sames, David Slaughter and other men on the vestry worked with the rector to make the move a reality. (In those days only men could be on the vestry!)
Episcopalians love their buildings and the major memorials of the old church, including the altar, the windows, many of the pews, and two hand carved pieces that the Rev. Cook had produced, were installed in the chapel here.
Then through the 1970’s the Rev. Joseph Sheldon was rector. During his tenure the country and the church went through major changes. The Vietnam war was becoming even more unpopular, and the social unrest that began in the 60’s seemed to grow rather than diminish.
It was during Joe Sheldon’s tenure that most of the stained glass windows in our current building were installed. It was also during this time that the vestry minutes begin to show that the air conditioning began to have problems! Father Joe’s annual addresses list Evangelism, Stewardship, and Worship as the main goals for the parish.
Episcopalians may love their buildings, but they love their prayer book even more, and it fell upon Rev. Sheldon to guide the church in adopting the new 1979 Book of Common Prayer. He also guided the parish through all the controversy that surrounded the ordination of women to the priesthood.
In 1982, The Rev. Eulalio, (Lalo), Luna came to Christ Church. He inherited the task of helping the church through the changes of the previous decade. Lalo’s deep love of Christ, and his calm demeanor helped a great deal in helping the church continue to move forward in ministry. Over the next few years he sought to put prayer and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ at the heart of Christ Church.
In 1988 The Rev. Alan Conkling arrived in Laredo. The parish records begin to show the first regular services in Spanish began during his tenure. Services in Spanish are scattered through the records, but Alan began them in earnest, and they continue to this day.
In 1993, another New Yorker was called to Christ Church. The Rev. Alfonso Narvaez. He and his wife Dabney brought new energy to Christ Church. During the the Rev. Narvaez’s time, our food outreach program, New Leaven became a ministry serving more than 400 families a month with food. Al also helped form the Habitat for Humanity affiliate here in Laredo. And during his time with help from Dr. Ray Keck and others, the parish raised the money to have a new pipe organ installed.
After his retirement in August of 1998, the parish sought new leadership. In 1999, the Rev. Sherridan Walker, was called to be the rector of Christ Church. Sherridan was the first woman pastor at Christ Church. Children’s ministry was undertaken with renewed energy, and a revitalization of parish facilities took place.
At the end of December 2003, The Rev. Walker left to take another call. And in September of 2004, the current rector, the Rev. Paul Frey began his tenure at Christ Church.