San Miguel Mission, Socorro, NM (Exterior)

San Miguel Mission, Socorro, New Mexico, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: San Miguel Mission
Location: Socorro, New Mexico, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 5 April 2015, 10:00am

The building

The mission was established either in 1598 or 1626, depending on which historical account one chooses to believe, and was originally named Nuestra Señora de Perpetuo Socorro (Our Lady of Perpetual Help). That church was destroyed in 1680, and the present building is a reconstruction dating from 1821. Thus, the Mission's claim to be "the oldest Catholic church in the United States" is not exactly true. According to legend, the Mission was attacked by Apache Indians in the early 19th century but the attackers suddenly retreated. When questioned, one captured Apache said that they had been driven off by a winged figure brandishing a gleaming sword. Believing the figure to be St Michael the Archangel, the Bishop of Durango, Mexico (under whose jurisdiction the Mission was at the time) changed the name of the mission to San Miguel. The Mission has been recently renovated with help from the Hilton family (hotel magnate Conrad Hilton went to school in Socorro) and it looks brand new. There is very little adornment on the walls, but some of the statuary is just lovely. Most of the parish's religious services are held not in the Mission, but in the gymnasium of the adjacent multi-purpose building (as was today's service). There, a stage on the far right side accommodates the singers, and the altar is on the long side about mid-court, with folding chairs facing the altar. Curtains behind the altar mask the corrugated metal walls of the building and provide a modicum of decor.

The church

They have prayer groups, a bereavement ministry, a ministry to the needy, and a chapter of the Legion of Mary. There is also something called St Joseph's Carpenters and a campus ministry, although the Mission's website does not say what the carpenters do or on what campus the ministry ministers. I would assume it is the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (Conrad Hilton's old alma mater), which is the only institute of higher learning in town.

The neighborhood

Socorro is a city located slightly to the southwest of the center point of New Mexico, on the historic El Camino Real, the old colonial trail that winds across the desert. The section of the trail just outside Socorro was known as La Jornada del Muerto (the Journey of Death) due to the harsh environs. Established by Spanish settlers in 1598, Socorro was abandoned in 1680 and not resettled until 1815. It remained a sleepy little outpost until the American Civil War, when it served as the site of an army fort. The coming of the railroad in the 1880s brought miners, merchants and cattlemen to the area. Today, in addition to the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Socorro is home to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. Also located here is Spaceport America, described as "the world's first purpose-built commercial spaceport," although regularly scheduled service to Mars and beyond has yet to commence. In the immediate neighborhood of the Mission are a commercial center and well-maintained established residences.

The cast

The Revd Andy Pavlak, pastor, and an unnamed deacon.

What was the name of the service?

Easter Sunday Mass.

How full was the building?

Completely full – about 170 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?


Was your pew comfortable?

No pews – it was a folding chair, providing the level of comfort (or lack thereof) customary for such furniture.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Everyone wishing happy Easter to one another.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Gather Comprehensive hymnal.

What musical instruments were played?


Did anything distract you?

Yes and No. there were some crying children, but that's hardly news. Also, the sound system emphasized random words with a moderate boom.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

A reverentially celebrated Catholic mass. Lots of music – but see below. The priest made a special effort to connect with the children present, which was nice to see.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

9 – The sort of message you would expect on Easter Sunday, well delivered.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Every year we celebrate our Savior. Savor the moment. Proclaim the good news of the Resurrection.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The hymns were all old familiar chestnuts – it was good to be hearing and singing them once again. However ...

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The choir sang mostly off-key and didn't seem very enthusiastic at all. The two of us out-sang them!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

We talked to a man who said the Mission was open, so we visited the main mission building and took pictures.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was none. Everyone was pretty much gone in a flash.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

3 – It was nice for a visit, but although the Mission is very historic, it wont be my regular church.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

It was good to see so many happy people at Easter.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

How well the gymnasium transformed itself into a chapel.

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