Old church closes for good

Eldred Brown, who lives 12 miles east of the church in Texas, pauses as he looks around the Rosedale Baptist Church in Bellview. Brown and other church members helped clean up the church Tuesday for a final service that will be held Oct. 2.

Tova Fruchtman

BELLVIEW — About 35 miles north of Clovis, amidst wind-blown fields as far as the eye can see, sits a small white church and the Bellview Post Office.
Once a vibrant center for farmers and school teachers in the area, a layer of dust now covers the church’s pews, the black boards in the Sunday school room are blank and the worship hall — once filled with singing — is silent.
But on Oct. 2 the dust will be gone, and warm, once-familiar bodies will fill pews for the final service at the Rosedale Baptist Church, which will close for good after 64 years.
Lucy Harrison and Earnest Brown are preparing the church for the event — cleaning, turning on the electricity and compiling a history.
Members of the Rosedale Baptist Church met for the first time on Nov. 17, 1940, when Hollene and Bellview Baptist churches combined.
The Hollene Church did not have a pastor, and the Bellview church did, and just between the two towns a new school was being built.
The school was called Rosedale School because the Rosedale family donated the land between Hollene and Bellview that the school was built on.
People won’t find Rosedale on a map because another town called Rosedale — now a ghost town in Socorro County — already exists in New Mexico.
With about 100 charter members, by the early 1950s the church had reached its peak enrollment, but the town’s population declined rapidly after that point.
“The dust bowl of the early ‘50s destroyed farming and the school just dwindled until it closed in 1955,” Brown said.
The church membership began to dwindle away, too, they said.
“The era of small farms ended. Economically it went kaput,” Harrison said. “People just moved away, moved away, moved away.”
“Other families that grew up here went to do things in other places,” she said. “It wound up being just old people.”
Brown added, “without youth, you have nothing.”
Though the church was small it never lacked a giving congregation, longtime members say. Harrison had a plaque the church had won for donating the most money to the Baptist mission per capita.
Even so, the small church left lots of work for the few members. “As years went by, everybody had to do everything,” Harrison said. “I do not sing, and on occasion I led the singing. That’s the funniest thing — me leading singing.”
As more and more people moved away church members thought about joining elsewhere, but five older members said they wouldn’t consider going anywhere else.
Those five were the base of the congregation for decades, and allowed the small church to remain operational.
As of last year all five members had died.
Brown remains one of 25 members still left on the church’s roster.
“When I get this done I’m going to join the church in Hereford,” Brown said.
Harrison said that they hope to have at least 100 people at the official closing of the church. “I’ve been surprised about the response we got from younger people,” she said.
Some people have even requested a pew or a song book as a souvenir from the old building, Harrison said.
Brown said they are not sure what they are going to do with the land, but said a scout from “Believe In Me” — a movie being filmed in eastern New Mexico — came to look at the church and may use it to shoot one of their scenes.
Harrison said she hopes many of the old members will show up to the final service, but noted that she hasn’t been able to locate everyone.
“There’s so many people we’ve missed,” she said. “We’re trying to end the church with dignity.”