By Kate Anderson
Albuquerque, New Mexico is home to the studios of entertainment giant, Netflix. Just across the street is a small community of Baptist believers who meet on the campus of the University of New Mexico. They pride themselves on the freedom of the soul, the autonomy of the local church, grace and a Christian faith that holds compassion and community at the forefront.
The church calls Rev. Bill Sloan and Rev. Dr. Sheila Klopfer their pastors. Sloan is a man of Baptist principles who felt the calling of leadership through much of his life. In his career, he has served as a church planter, ministering to congregations in Texas, California, Georgia, Nebraska, Florida and now New Mexico. Like many of us in Baptist life, he experienced the internal struggle of remaining connected to his lifelong denomination but then could no longer find peace in sustaining that connection. Bill noted that some of the denominational limitations on women in ministry became a tipping point for him.
In 2018, Bill and his wife, Laurie, moved to New Mexico without any certainty of where his calling to ministry would lead him. After their move, he found a position with Heartland Hospice as a chaplain to continue his service in vocational ministry.
Sheila Klopfer transitioned to Albuquerque in 2020 because she wanted to be closer to her family. Sheila has an eight-year-old son, Toby. She was initially uncertain about the transition across the country but trusted that she felt a call drawing her closer to her family and ministry. Sheila also wanted to make certain her son was able to build relationships with his grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. She expressed gratitude for the call to serve as co-pastor of Del Sol Church.
She was ordained to the gospel ministry on October 3, 2021. Sheila and Toby are blessed to have the rest of their family alongside them at Del Sol. When asked about what was most meaningful to her, Sheila shared that the communal mindset was probably the most meaningful part of church life for her. “I like that we all pitch in and make it work; it’s very meaningful in that way. I like the idea that my son is part of a church which affirms women in ministry and honors what I contribute as much as it does the men who preach and teach.”
Sheila’s sister, Lorene Garcia, and her husband Greg initiated the conversation of discernment with Bill and Sheila. For months, the group engaged in conversation, prayer and thoughtful consideration of how they might begin an inclusive congregation in the Albuquerque area. Their discernment and creative work brought the community of Del Sol Church to life on Palm Sunday in 2020 in the height of the pandemic.
Through the spring and summer months, they met outside to distance themselves and protect one another. They quickly caught the eye of the community around them. Each Sunday, they purchased 60 breakfast burritos from a local coffee shop.
“I don’t think we ever ate all 60 of them, but that shop knew that we were coming to get a big order and they could count on that for Sundays,” Pastor Bill said. Since its inception, it’s evident that the congregation has acted as a thoughtful and contributing member of their community.
A popular movement across churches is to be relevant to the community, ensuring their existence positively contributes to the world around them. Del Sol Church does not simply impact its community, but exists within the hearts and souls of their neighbors. The church has no building, but finds a hospitable welcome among the community. They exist through the grace of people who may or may not be Christian. Believers and non-believers alike continue to provide resources to nurture this family of faith. This community shares a space with the students and administration of the University of New Mexico, occasionally gathering at local coffee shops or delis. The congregation collaborates in supporting local mission endeavors with Cooperative Baptist Fellowship partners.
Across the street from this multibillion-dollar facet of the film industry (Netflix), this gathering of 35 to 40 people meets to affirm their belief in God and dedicate themselves to living according to the Gospel. “I hope we will always be viewed as a progressive church that welcomes people no matter where they are in life because that’s what Jesus did,” Pastor Bill said.
Richard Egan once wrote, “The foundation of trust is the reciprocity of need.” It appears that Del Sol has entered a covenant of care with the neighbors around them. In these relationships, they have planted the seeds of vulnerability, trust and leadership that beautifully embody the message of Christ. May we all be as courageous as Del Sol even when it causes us to reimagine our formal church’s relationships so that whether we see or understand the world with a like-minded perception, we remain members of one another.