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Sacred Spaces

“The most sacred place of the heart is the place of prayer. If we would only pray – out under the stars – in the heat of the day – in the cool of the day – in the city – in the home – in the desert – in time of trouble – in time of health – at all times ... how helpful it is to climb the hill, to get out under the stars, to meet and mingle with other people.”
—Roger B. Sherman, “Sacred Places of the Heart.” Sermon, 1962.

Roger Sherman and Ralph Hall camp together to plan their upcoming Sunday school missionary program. (Photographs by Frederick R. Thorne for the Board of National Missions, 1946.) [Image no. 4121]

To the cowboy and ranch families living far out in the remote landscapes of the American Southwest, Presbyterian mobile ministers Ralph J. Hall (1891-1973) and Roger B. Sherman (b. 1892) were legendary men. They eschewed the pulpit for the saddle and preferred to meet their congregants under the stars rather than within a church building.

Portraits of Ralph J. Hall (left), 1950, and Roger Sherman (right), 1944. [Image no. 4290 and 4291]

Often traveling hundreds of miles on horseback, they would arrive on the doorsteps of families so isolated they had never stepped foot inside of a church, read a Bible, or heard a sermon. After arriving in a new community, they worked tirelessly among the cowboys and ranchers, rounding up and branding their cattle, to earn a place in their small communities. Though they erected many chapels, churches, and church schools, their most enduring work lives on through the communities they established outside of traditional church structures.

View the short film Little Cowboy Americans, the story of Rev. Ralph J. Hall (1891-1973), Rev. Roger B. Sherman (b. 1892), and Sunday school missions in the American Southwest. Presented by the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Board of National Missions, 1945.

Before becoming a minister, Ralph Hall was, first and foremost, a cowboy. Raised on a cattle ranch in the western plains of Texas, he understood the loneliness that came with ranch life and found inspiration in the work of a traveling minister who arrived one day on his family’s doorstep.

Ralph Hall arrives at a family’s home. (Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Board of National Missions, 1947.) [Image no. 4009]

When the residents of his little town crowded inside a schoolhouse to hear the minister’s sermon, “there was a spirit of awe and reverence about it all” that he never forgot. Hall dreamed of becoming a missionary for the Presbyterian Church but an eye condition discouraged him from pursuing a seminary education. Soon after he left home at the age of eighteen to become a lay missionary, the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Presbytery of El Paso became aware of Hall and realized that his inability to baptize or provide communion services was a hindrance to his work. The presbytery ordained him in 1916, and in 1925, he was appointed the synodical missionary for the entire state of New Mexico. By 1940, he was the supervisor for all Sunday school missionary work west of the Mississippi River.

Ralph Hall (center) visits a family’s home. (Photograph by Frederick R. Thorne for the Board of National Missions, ca. 1940s.) [Image no. 4004]

In A Sunday School Missionary’s Dream That Came True, Ralph Hall describes his work in Lindrith, New Mexico, which led to the building of a church, manse, and health center there.

Ralph J. Hall, A Sunday School Missionary’s Dream That Came True (Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Board of National Missions publication, 1940.) Click for full image. [Image no. 4545]

The Presbyterian Church at Lindrith, New Mexico, in 1949. [Image no. 4037]

Roger Sherman was raised on a ranch in Lubbock, Texas, where he and Ralph Hall later met and formed a lifelong friendship. Hall converted Sherman and convinced him to become a lay minister for the Presbyterian Church. In 1929, Sherman began missionary work in Nevada. Two years later, the Presbytery of Pecos Valley transferred him to New Mexico, where he worked side by side with Hall. Despite never finishing high school or pursuing seminary training, the presbytery ordained him in 1939.

Ralph Hall (top) and Roger Sherman (bottom) reenact Hall’s conversion of Sherman. (Photograph by Frederick R. Thorne for the Board of National Missions, ca. 1940s.) Click for full image. [Image no. 4019]

In 1948, Sherman acquired a permanent ministry at the First Presbyterian Church (now Community Presbyterian Church) in Magdalena, New Mexico, a church which he helped to build.

Roger Sherman stands in front of the Community Presbyterian Church in Magdalena, New Mexico, 1953. Click for full image. [Image no. 4041]

Cover of Missionary Biography No. 2: Cowpoke Preacher. Reprinted from Christian Herald, 1955. Click for full image. [Image no. 4551]

On January 1, 1940, Ralph Hall, R. Everett King (Director of the Department of Sunday School Missions), and cowboy Joe Evans met in the Hotel Del Norte in El Paso, Texas, to plan the first Ranchmen’s Camp Meeting: an event featuring guest preachers, Bible study, singing, and meals cooked over a fire.

[Left to right] R. Everett King, Ralph Hall, and Joe Evans reenact their 1940 meeting in Hotel Del Norte in El Paso to arrange for the first cowboy camp meeting for the film The Cowboys’ Hitchin' Post. (Photograph by Frederick R. Thorne for the Board of National Missions, 1946.) [Image no. 4018]

They based their idea on the Bloys Camp Meeting, founded in 1890 by Presbyterian minister William B. Bloys (d. 1917) and held in the Davis Mountains of Texas ever since.

In The Cowboys’ Hitchin’ Post Joe M. Evans tells the origin story of the Bloys and Ranchmen Camp Meetings (El Paso, Texas, 1946.) Click for full image. [Image no. 4550]

After scouting the New Mexico landscape for a location, they settled on Nogal Mesa—a beautiful high pine mountain site near Carrizozo, New Mexico. Despite the lack of water on the mesa, little money for food or supplies, and no advertisement beyond word of mouth, the meeting was a huge success. By 1964, camp meetings were formed in six states and attendance exceeded 20,000. Though sponsored by the Presbyterian Church, camp meetings were and remain interdenominational.

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