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Labor of love in Las Cruces
By: Stephanie Guadian
LAS CRUCES, N.M. - Pastor Rickey Taylor isn't the only new thing at Phillips Chapel, the oldest African American church in Las Cruces.
Volunteer John Hyndman says the church was much more than a place of worship for the community.
"This is where they had their social dinners and they had church at least 2 nights or days a week. And maybe more often than that," said John Hyndman.
Volunteers, New Mexico State professors and students have been working for about 3 years to restore the 102-year-old building.
Under cement plaster, the group revealed the building's original adobe walls. They also refinished the wood floors and replaced the glass windows.
The chapel was built in 1911 -- and used as a schoolhouse during segregation in the 1920s and 1930s.
"Apparently, the kids showed up to the school where it was and they said you don't go to school here anymore. They told their parents and everybody gathered here at the church to find out what to do. And they decided to have the school here," said Hyndman.
Decades later, the mostly elderly congregation could not keep up with the needed repairs. The volunteers -- using only donations -- are now almost finished restoring Phillips Chapel to its original state. Among the final touches is the front door. The wood is coming from Canada and is almost as old as the Christian Methodist Episcopal church.
The chapel is once again open and that's thanks enough for those who made it possible.
"It's touching to me in a way that's hard to describe. This church has so much history and so much tradition in it. It's a labor of love," said Hyndman.
The church is located in the Mesquite Street original town site historic district. Volunteers say they are about 95 percent done with the restorations. Donations are still being accepted.