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Handmade doors from Yukon bridge timber final touch in restoration of historic church

The restoration of a 102-year-old Las Cruces church is nearly complete. The final event of the restoration will be the hanging of two giant handmade doors in the front of Phillips Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the city's first African American church.

Construction of the doors has begun with pieces of wood transported from the Yukon Territory, Canada. In the coming weeks, Watson MacKinnon, a specialized master woodworker from the Yukon has volunteered his labor as a "joiner," and will craft the 7-foot tall doors out of the recycled vintage bridge timbers.

"I am looking forward to that glorious moment, when we enter the restored church through those doors," said Clarence Fielder, a history professor emeritus from New Mexico State University who attended the church as a child and spearheaded the restoration efforts.

Although work on the building is not complete, services are already underway. Pastor Rickey Taylor leads the congregation every Sunday at 10 a.m. at the chapel. All are welcome to attend.

The pastor recently presented a check for $1,000 from Bishop James B. Walker of the Arizona and New Mexico Region Christian Methodist Episcopal Church toward completion of the restoration to Fielder, also an Elder and Steward of the chapel.

"I've attended Phillips Chapel all my life," Fielder said.

The chapel sits on the corner of North Tornillo Street and Lucero Avenue within the Mesquite Street Historic District in an ethnically mixed neighborhood of Hispanics and African Americans.

Fielder and an NMSU graduate student nominated the building to the State Register of Cultural Projects and the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.

Restoration of Phillips Chapel began in 2009 with help from NMSU and Dona Ana Community College professors and students and volunteers from the community working together to restore the adobe structure.

Phillips Chapel will host the third annual Christmas Gospel Concert at 7 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 13 featuring the New Mexico State University Gospel Choir under the direction of Bobbie Green. All are invited to attend and donations will be accepted.

Organizers of the Phillips Chapel Restoration Group hope to walk through the doors of the completely restored chapel by early January.