Reaching out to share God’s message

Pastor Ray Perkins, Crestone Baptist Church

The generosity and vision of a traveling grocery salesman from Alamosa led to the establishment of a sturdy brick church for the Baptist community in Crestone more than 35 years ago. Today, as then, that same vision of spreading God’s message and being of service continues to inspire members of Crestone Baptist Church to reach out to the greater Crestone community, notes its minister, Pastor Ray Perkins.

With classically clean lines, a partial stone facade and white spire, the church is a longtime landmark near the entrance to the Baca. Its roadside sign, whose message is changed periodically with help from congregant Betty Speer, beckons to drivers with welcoming and sometimes amusing lines, such as the recent: “Sign Broken—Message Inside!”

There was a time in the congregation’s history, however, when such a sturdy, permanent church home was just a dream. In the mid-20th century, Crestone’s small Baptist community suffered a series of calamities that left it without a place to gather. First, a severe storm did irreparable damage to the congregation’s old church in town. Another church was built, but it was destroyed by fire.  By that time, in the 1960s, mining in the mountains above Crestone had declined, the town’s economy was on the skids and the area’s population had not yet begun to grow through the Baca development. Unable to fund construction of a new church, members were meeting for worship in an old, unused store. Then the old store burned down.

Exterior Baptist Church

Not long afterward, a grocery salesman named Roland Thalman from Alamosa was making deliveries to the Pioneer store in Crestone when the owner and longtime local resident W. J. Hutchinson told him about the latest fire. It had happened on a Christmas Eve. Along with the building, all the gifts for children and other preparations for Christmas celebration were lost. Pastor Perkins learned about the sad events after becoming involved with the church four years ago. “It was a terrible thing,” he says of the fire.

Roland Thalman thought so too. He was so disturbed by the misfortunes of the little Christian congregation that when 20 acres of land at the corner of County Road T came up for sale in the late 1960s, he bought it. He then resold 17 acres and gave three acres and proceeds from the sale of the rest of the land to the congregation to establish a permanent church home. The church was constructed by teams of Christian volunteers who came from as far away as Texas and Kansas. Volunteers also later built the log parsonage that sits behind the church.

In 1975 the new structure became home to Crestone Baptist Church, with initial sponsorship by College Heights Baptist Church in Alamosa. A few years ago the minister at Crestone Baptist attempted to steer the church in a more inclusive direction, renaming it the Sangre de Cristo Christian Church of Crestone and reframing its mission as a community Christian fellowship. But the church soon returned to its Southern Baptist roots and reclaimed its original name.

Ray Perkins, who grew up in Texarkana, Texas, joined a Youth for Christ group as a teen and later pursued his dream of becoming a Baptist minister. He attended East Texas Baptist College and Southwestern Theological Seminary and was ordained in the Southern Baptist Church. Over the years Ray served as pastor for five churches in Texas and California—the last for 15 years in Tyler, TX—before retiring in 2001. Ray’s wife, Lynda, grew up in Raton, NM and was drawn to the mountain climate of Colorado, a major factor in the couple’s decision to settle in Poncha Springs.

Crestone Baptist Church float for the Forth of July parade.

In 2007 Ray accepted a call to serve as interim pastor at Crestone Baptist Church, where he led the congregation for six months. Then, two years ago when the church again was between ministers, he returned. In his warm East Texas drawl, the genial white-haired pastor explains that the heart of the Southern Baptist approach is a strong adherence to the Bible as the “center of our instructions for worship and serving the Lord. We believe in a personal relationship with Christ, every day.” He adds that one of his favorite Bible passages is from Colossians (3:11): Christ is all and in all.

Under Pastor Perkins’ leadership, Crestone Baptist also is focusing on reaching out to the local community through activities such as a free children’s carnival in August, a Mother’s Day weekend free car inspection service and other events. In the past, depending on the congregation’s ability, the church has helped out with such things as firewood and food for a few families in need.

Prayer Circle

One of the wonderful qualities of the church’s small congregation—currently between 20 and 30 worshippers—is its “real sweet fellowship,” Ray remarks. That fellowship includes a potluck supper, Bible study and mid-week service every Wednesday evening beginning at 5pm.  On Sundays, Bible study for all ages begins at 10am with worship at 11am. A potluck meal also is shared after the service on the first Sunday of each month.

For Christmas, Crestone Baptist invites everyone to join the congregation for a special party, meal and winter clothing giveaway at the church on Saturday, Dec. 17. At noon, Sloppy Joes, hot dogs, chips and drinks will be served, and at 1pm Santa Claus will arrive with treats for kids. Free winter coats, hats, gloves and scarves for children and adults also will be given away. (The church welcomes donations of warm outerwear for this event.) Christmas service will take place on Sunday, Dec. 25 with Bible study at 10am and worship at 11am.

For more information, call Pastor Ray Perkins at 719-539-4671.