It all began in 1867 when an Episcopal layman and his wife arrived in the dusty village of Franklin on the banks of the Rio Grande. Early pioneer Gaylord Judd Clarke yearned for the comfort of his church. Mornings and evenings on each Sunday he read the Episcopal service to those who joined him in his parlor. Yet this did not suffice. In time he traveled to Austin, Texas to ask Bishop Gregg to send a minister to the growing frontier community which would become El Paso.
In 1870 Parson Joseph Wilkin Tays traveled to the small town of about 800 people where he built the first Church of Saint Clement. This mission was the first Protestant church between Santa Fe, New Mexico and Brownsville, Texas. Gaylord Clarke had chosen the name in honor of his son Clement who had died as a child and for whom he mourned, and for the third Bishop of Rome. The first church consisted of a two-room adobe, the material available to Tays. It stood between Mesa and North Oregon Streets. Parson Tays lived in one room and made the larger room a chapel.
In 1871 two events occurred. A copper bell for the church was cast in Paso del Norte, Mexico (now Juarez), and, though cracked, it can be seen today in the narthex of the church. Tragedy struck in this Wild West town when that good man, Gaylord Clarke, was shot and killed by a stray bullet as he stepped out onto his own front porch.
The second church, constructed of wood, stood on Mesa Street and was largely built by Parson Tays himself. In 1882 he finished his task and the church became known as “The Little Watch Tower on the Rio Grande.” This brave and creative minister died of smallpox in 1882 after presiding at the burial of a man who died of the disease.
From 1892 until 1902 The Rev. Mayo Cabell Martin served at the Church of St. Clement. A learned, gentle man, he brought his own grace and refinement to the people of the church. His decedents still attend St. Clement.
In 1907 the cornerstone of the present church was laid. It was laid in the shape of an “E”, and was actually made by three stones. During the opening ceremony the choir marched across the temporary flooring of the Church property to the inspiring processional “The Church’s One Foundation”. Designed in the Neo-Gothic style, the beauty of the church was enhanced by many stained glass windows and a Tiffany glass mosaic. This was only the beginning. Throughout the years many dedicated people, both parishioners and clergy, continued to increase the beauty of the church. The beloved Rev. B. M. G. Williams served in the capacity of lay pastor and then as an ordained minister for decades. During the 1930’s, under the guidance of The Rev. Clarence Horner, Easter Chapel, named for a former rector, Henry Easter, was created as a special place for small weddings, baptisms and private prayer.
During 1946 through 1950, a variety of donors raised the money to build McKee Chapel, honoring the dedicated layman, Mr. R. E. McKee, and Williams Hall, named for The Rev. B.M.G. Williams. The latter stood adjacent to the older Kendrick Hall which had served many purposes: Sunday night gatherings for young people, the Ormsbee Men’s Club and the Lenten Enchilada Luncheons (made famous by Anna Grace Mayfield). Under the leadership of the Rector, The Rev. Robert T. Gibson, St. Clement’s Parish School was founded in 1958. It began as a day school with only a few students and limited grades, and has continued to increase in size and excellence and currently is one of the finest private Christian schools in the El Paso/Juarez community.
The Rev. Ron Thomson served as Rector during the decades of great change, from 1973 until 1997. It was he who headed the vibrant spiritual growth during these years when Faith Alive became a defining event in the life of the parish. He was succeeded in 1998 until 2005 by the vibrant and well-loved Rev. Philip Jones. The church was served faithfully by The Rev. William Francis as priest in charge until August, 2006, when The Rev. William C. Cobb was called to serve as rector.
The Church of St. Clement, recalling its own beginning as a mission, in turn helped start St. Anne’s Mission, St. Alban’s, St. Christopher’s, All Saints, and St. Francis on the Hill. On September 16, 2007, the congregation prayerfully and overwhelmingly voted to separate from the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande (TEC). We are a founding member congregation of the Anglican Diocese of the Southwest, which became a Diocese in Formation in June, 2011, and an official diocese of the Anglican Church in North America in June, 2013. Whose House We Are is a history of the Church of St. Clement by Melanie Wayne and other authors, which is available online or in our library.