VEGUITA — Up on a hill, overlooking the sprawling desert is a church set between the “Leaving Veguita and Entering Los Nutrias” signs on N.M. 304.
If you’re southbound and in a hurry, you could easily miss the Chihuahua Bible Chapel, not knowing it’s been a deeply rooted part of the community for four decades.
Starting with a single building heated by a wood stove and an outhouse, the church has grown both as a facility and as a source of support for the community through its numerous ministries.
This weekend, Oct. 28-30, the chapel is holding a celebration of it’s 40th year serving the spiritual needs of the community.
“Everything about this really is His story. That 40 years ago, David and Audrey Handley — who are wonderful people — but they did not come up with the good idea to start a church,” said CBC Pastor Len Ridley. “It was the Lord’s idea, and the first ones he called into that were David and Audrey, and they faithfully stepped into that role.”
David recalls that while the Lord made it possible to build the initial building, the church was still lacking someone to preach. Undeterred, the couple used 16mm films to bring the word of God to the early services.
The first service was a bit unique, held on Oct. 31, 1982. Four people were there, including David and Audrey, who sang.
Eventually, Len was called to the pulpit and he now delivers regular sermons firmly based in scripture.
The chapel puts a great deal of focus on children, Len said, with David and Audrey hosting Sunday school and Vacation Bible Schools at their home down the hill before the church had sufficient space.
Visitors to the church are often confused because the congregation has developed deep relationships among members that children don’t always sit with their families during services.
“We moved here when my daughter was 5,” said CBC member Laurie Duffy. “Her memories are of having extra grandparents to hug and sit with during church. Those are special relationships for her because her grandparents are a bit far away, in Michigan and Deming.”
Len says children have always been a focus of the church, and taken seriously and listened to.
“People who come here should always know that during any service there will probably be a baby making noise. I believe that when Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, there were probably some babies that were making noise,” Len said with a laugh.
The front door to the chapel that welcomes the congregation is symbolic of the church’s guiding mission, topped with a sign that reads “Servants Entrance.” The door itself is never locked. In fact, it doesn’t even have a locking mechanism.
“I personally thought ‘What good is the church of it’s always locked other than, for Sunday morning,’” David said.
The chapel has several ministries but at least one of them came about through need and not a plan. In 1986, a man dying of cancer approached church leaders and asked if he could be buried behind the church.
“It wasn’t a church board saying we need a cemetery. It hadn’t even crossed our minds,” Len said. “But we looked into it and found we could. A cemetery was created and cemetery ministry began. We had no idea how much of a ministry it would be. There isn’t a family from the church that doesn’t lose someone.”
Although there have been offers made of backhoes and other equipment made to the ministry, the men of the church still dig the graves by hand.
The spring of 1989 was a milestone year, with the installation of indoor rest rooms.
“Before, when I preached, nobody left. But the minute we got flush toilets, I couldn’t compete with that and a water fountain,” Len chuckled.
When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down indoor services, the congregation of CBC moved outside.
“We brought our sound system out. We had a flatbed of pickups that we stood in,” Len said. “We did all we could to comply and respect (the COVID mandates) but at the same time, I think we realized more and more just how essential, how important, that the fellowship is.”
Like many houses of worship, they also turned to Facebook Live broadcasts to keep their congregation connected, given that there were people with health concerns and other reasons for not wanting to attend in person services.
“All of a sudden we had online Bible studies that were going on,” Len said, noting the sessions drew people from as far away as Pennsylvania. “As a result, it increased our footprint and the Lords footprint.”