By Tova Fruchtman
Long-time area residents might remember a preacher who went door to door recruiting people for his church. Hoyt Welch is 90 now, and still in God’s service.
While health problems prevent him from preaching these days, Welch was honored by the Baptist Convention of New Mexico in October.
An $11,000 yearly scholarship to Eastern New Mexico University was named “The Welch Fund” and will go to students studying in the religion department.
Welch, who said he has paid scholarships for students in the past, said he was surprised to get the award.
“It’s amazing the things I was honored (with) … without a seminary degree,” he said.
Welch and his wife Bertha accepted the award together, which was appropriate because he said Bertha has played an integral part in his success as a preacher.
“When I left Belen to go to Eunice (as church pastor in the early 1950s) the chairman deacon said to me ‘Hoyt, we won’t have any trouble replacing you. There’s plenty of Southern Baptist preachers. But we can’t replace Bertha,” Welch said. “We worked together. I had the best preacher’s wife anybody ever had.”
The self-proclaimed “country preacher” only quit serving as interim pastor to churches throughout the state two years ago.
“The Lord’s been awful good to me. There’s just no question about it. Potentials weren’t great, but the Lord blessed,” he said.
Welch said he was called to preach when he was 14; at 18, he decided he wasn’t going to answer the call.
“ I did everything that you can think of that was wrong,” he said.
Then, when he was 23, he married Bertha Sheridan; two years later his mother gave them a Bible for Christmas, Welch said.
“I read that Bible, asked God to forgive me for my sins and surrendered to preach.”
That’s when the Welches moved to Clovis, and he began school at Eastern New Mexico College (now ENMU). While he was in school, Welch preached at House and Center, and once he graduated from Eastern in 1944, he said he became the 15th preacher in 16 years at the First Baptist Church in Belen (later Rosedale Baptist Church).
“They fired preachers. They tried to fire me, but the church had doubled after one year and I pastored there for eight years,” Welch said.
From there he moved to Eunice, then to Phillips, Texas, and then back to Clovis to start Sandia Baptist in 1963. After retiring as pastor at Sandia in 1980, Welch served as interim preacher in 24 churches in New Mexico and Texas.
At all of his churches Welch said he was successful, baptizing many new members and increasing church attendance — often doubling it.
“He was really strong on going door to door and just talking to people and inviting them to church,” said Reba Loring Camp, a member of Sandia Baptist Church. “He literally just canvassed the neighborhood.”
When Camp graduated college her first job was as youth director and church secretary at First Baptist Church in Eunice. She worked for Welch. Later, in Clovis she joined Sandia Baptist Church. She said it was Welch’s personality that kept people coming back.
“He’s a very caring person, that would be the next thing that helped the church to grow,” Camp said. “If there was someone in need, he saw to it that they got help.”