El Pueblito United Methodist Church, founded in 1960, is a humble house of worship staffed with humble workers. Yet its Taos community outreach is powerful. Its building is not a huge, campus-style church. In fact, it was originally a gas station, then a bar and café, and was eventually purchased by the New Mexico Methodist Conference in 1960. Pastor Steve Wiard has served El Pueblito United Methodist Church since 1997.
El Pueblito dubs itself a guilt-free zone. The church and its congregation are open, inclusive and progressive. This little church by the side of the road has often been there for people without a church connection. When there are babies to be baptized, memorial services to be held, family members to be visited in the hospital, jail, or nursing home, people call El Pueblito.
When the LGBT community wanted to celebrate the lives of the victims killed in the Orlando shooting, that service was held at El Pueblito with the congregation, the community, and many community leaders.
Another example of El Pueblito’s outreach is the Easter Sunrise Service held every year at the Gorge Bridge. The people who gather there are a congregation all its own, composed of all elements of the greater Taos community.
A hand-up, not a handout
Widely known for its Shared Table outreach ministry, El Pueblito has sponsored a food distribution pantry since 1994. On the 2nd and 4th Wednesday of every month (11:00 a.m. to noon in El Prado and 2 to 3:00 p.m. at Ranchos Presbyterian Church), anyone in need can come and help themselves to food commodities, basic health care items, and even school supplies for children.
El Pueblito partners with Taos Presbyterian and Ranchos Presbyterian churches to deliver Shared Table’s services. In 2017, Shared Table distributed free food and items to approximately 14,000 people. To put that number in perspective, Wiard explained, “We help about 400-600 individuals every two weeks, just over 1,000 people a month. That’s equivalent to about 10 percent of the town’s population.”
The power of volunteers
Wiard continually emphasized that, “Having only a minimal staff, Shared Table would not be possible without the church members and the Taos community members who consistently volunteer to help and to donate food and funds.” After the morning in El Prado, the Shared Table van is driven south to the Ranchos Presbyterian Church where other volunteers distribute food and goods to people from the Ranchos and Talpa areas.
Wiard pointed out that Shared Table has good credibility in the community. “People know about us. It’s about meeting the needs of people who are on the margins, who are working two jobs and need a little extra,” said Wiard. “We never want anyone to go hungry or feel desperate.”
After 21 years of serving as El Pueblito’s Pastor and the Director of Shared Table, Wiard retires on July 1 and a new pastor will lead the congregation. He and his wife Eileen will remain active members of the Taos community.
Cheri Lyon has been appointed to lead the church forward beginning July 1. She and her husband Ron Dykhuizen will be moving here from Albuquerque where she currently serves as pastor (beginning in 2004) at Grace United Methodist Church.
Prior to entering ministry, Cheri served as a public health educator for the Indian Health Service providing community and school-based health education programs for tribal members in the 19 pueblos (including Taos Pueblo), two Apache and three Navajo chapters in New Mexico for 12 years. She ended her career with the Indian Health Service as the Chief Executive Officer of the Albuquerque Service Unit providing health care to reservation- and urban-based American Indians.
“I am enthused about working with people of faith to contribute to the well being of the community of Taos.”
Church on the Mesa: April 22 at Taos Mesa Brewing
On Sunday, April 22 at 11 a.m., El Pueblito holds its third annual “Church on the Mesa” at Taos Mesa Brewing (20 ABC Mesa Rd.), which is near the Gorge Bridge. This is a fundraiser for El Pueblito and Shared Table. There is no admission but donations will be accepted and an offering will be taken during the worship service. Immediately following worship, the brewery opens for lunch.
“In addition to our members who attend regularly, occasionally we get some curious agnostics and some friendly atheists who want to do ‘a church different.’ People have said to me: ‘I really don’t do church. But if I did church, I’d come to El Pueblito,’” said Wiard.
The greater Taos community is cordially invited to attend. For any who wish to donate, mail a check to El Pueblito UMC, P.O. Box 2047, Ranchos de Taos, NM 87557 or Shared Table, P.O. Box 895, Ranchos de Taos, NM 87557.