Visitors Chapel may be the oldest black church in El Paso. It was established through the western movements of the evangelistic efforts of the early church. The minor controversy surrounding its place in local church history is the result of a contemporary misconception of ethnic labeling in the 18th and 19th century. The AME Church was born in the 18th century when the preference of free blacks was to be known as Africans. The choice of polite society in America for most of the 19th century (also most of the 20th century) was to refer to the black children of slavery as “colored people,” but those black people who achieved freedom preferred to claim for themselves the ethnic title of Africans. “Colored,” to these people was a denial that they had any cultural origins. The abolishment of slavery in the northern states, along with the seemingly fair treatment of ex-slaves in the north, made the tolerance of the phrase “colored people” more palatable; however, the preference of the black people to be known as free Africans did not wane until after the end of the civil war. With the end of the war came the activity of a federal government recognition “colored people” or Negro. Generally, black people embraced their new designation, but the AME Church kept its 18th century name.
The “Colored” Methodist Church out of which Second Baptist Church was founded in 1885 was the African Methodist Episcopal Church in El Paso congregated by “colored people.” The pastor of the “colored” church was Rev. Thomas Grigsby, a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, who was assigned to El Paso in the 1883 by the Central Texas Conference of the Tenth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Inc.
The exact date of the organization of Visitors Chapel is not known; however, we do know that the church was organized in the summer of 1885 in the home of Mr. Joseph Smith, the father of the late Mrs. Mary Smith Hurtz (the first Negro born in El Paso). The initial meeting of the Central Texas Conference in 1883 named Rev. Thomas Grigsby as pastor to El Paso. His obvious mission was to establish an AME Church in El Paso.
The first church building (the Home of Mr. J. Smith) was located between San Antonio and Overland Streets on Stanton Street. In 1888 the church moved to Oregon and Main Streets in an abandoned Blacksmith Shop.
Afterwards, the place of worship was on the second floor of an old fire department building located on West Overland and Santa Fe Streets. In 1893 a lot was purchased on Florence Street between Second and Third Streets and an adobe church was erected. The primary funding for this building came from the sale of one of the donated Tays lots plus the sale of another lot purchased in 1885. This structure was completed in 1900 and the little adobe Church was named Visitors Chapel.
In 1927, Rev. Thomas Clement was sent to pastor the church. Rev. L.C. Browning was sent to El Paso in 1938. Under his Pastorate, the church was sold to the Housing Authority and lots on Ora (now Estrella) and East Missouri were purchased and the present building was erected.
Rev. H.G. Sanders was appointed as Pastor in 1951. Then, in 1952, Rev. P. O. Sadler Jr (22 years after his father had served) was assigned as Pastor of the church.
In 1954, Visitors Chapel was again graced with the assignment of Rev. B. F. Stewart who, thirty years prior had served as Pastor. Rev. W. L. Brown was assigned as Pastor of Visitors Chapel in 1971.
Rev. S. L. Greene was assigned on November 7, 1982. The Northwest Annual Conference was held in August 1984 with Rt. Rev. Rembert Stokes, Presiding Bishop. Visitors Chapel celebrated its One Hundredth Anniversary on July 27-28, 1985 with then Mayor Jonathan W. Rogers proclaiming these dates as “Visitors Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church Days” in El Paso.
Visitors Chapel and the El Paso Community were graced with the presence and key-note speaker, the Bishop of the Tenth Episcopal District, Rt. Rev. John R. Bryant, on October 11, 1991 for “A Salute to the African-American Male,” chaired by Brother Alfred D. Fielder.
In March 1991, a Baby Grand Piano was donated to the church by our now deceased loving long time pianist, Mrs. Minnie Haywood.
Rev. Fred A. Williams was assigned as pastor of Visitors Chapel in November 1992.
Rev. Thomas Ates was assigned to Visitors Chapel in November 1995. In 1997 the bulletin board was removed to make way for the Fellowship Hall and the bell sits atop this church addition. The new Fellowship Hall was named after one of the members, Miss Adeline “Lynn” Chancellor. Lynn loss her battle with cancer, but gained her place in the Lords Kingdom. Her posthumous donation paved the way for the construction.
Rev. Valerie Cooper assumed the charge of Visitors Chapel in November 1998. Rev. Keith Ray assumed the charge of Visitors Chapel in 2002. Rev. Ates returned to Pastor Visitors Chapel in 2005.
In 2007, Pastor Jack D. Fields Sr., assumed the Pastorate leadership at Visitors Chapel AME Church. Under his leadership and guidance the church added new laptops, new printers, overhead projector, new sound booth and sound system, new carpet, renovated basement, new piano, new chairs in the fellowship hall, beautification to the sanctuary (painting) (new doors), new pulpit furnishings, beautification of the vestibule and bathrooms, new kitchen appliances, new candle lighters, and new microphones. Let the next years continue to be successful.
May the future of Visitors Chapel be as bright as our past; May our footprints be caught in the realm of progress and may we continue to be a beacon of light for this community. Let us leave a loving legacy for those who will follow us. May God continue to bless and prosper the ministry and membership of Visitors Chapel AME Church and may each one continue to work in His service.
GOD BLESS VISITORS CHAPEL.
Our motto at Visitors Chapel AME Church is: “If God Can’t Do It; It Can’t Be Done!!!