The Hillside Community Church, Albuquerque, NM
DR. Susan Nettleton
Susan’s spiritual wanderings began in early life as her family visited Protestant Sunday services (preached by uncles) in small town churches in Texas and their own neighborhood Methodist Church in urban Houston. Her path unfolded in exploration of esoteric metaphysical traditions, Unity and other New Thought traditions, meditation and yogic practices, Buddhist and Hindu reading, art and alternative healing. It led her to a B.A. in Political Science and Education at the University of Houston, followed by an M.D. at Baylor College of Medicine. Then the path turned to New Mexico with a 4- year residency in psychiatry at UNM and further spiritual study. It meandered through work as a psychiatrist and ordination as a minister through Brooks Divinity School in Denver (Divine Science).
What often looked and felt like two diverging paths revealed itself to be a path of integration, with no model, and no way to follow it, except to become it. She left the practice of medicine to be Associate Minister of Hillside Church in partnership with Larry, keeping her medical license updated, and designing workshops, classes, and counseling approaches as an unusual “spiritual public health” program in Albuquerque. Unexpectedly, life shifted again with the extraordinary appearance of the enigmatic teacher, U.G. Krishnamurti. She sums it up this way: “My life, my identity, disassembled; then over time, it re-assembled itself but in a different configuration. What that is, is what I do.”
dr. Larry Morris (1939-2015)
Larry’s spiritual journey is known to many through his great talent for storytelling. His Sunday talks were often highlighted with comedic anecdotes of personal, but very human, shortcomings in pursuit of the spiritual life. It took time and much experience to find his unique way of expressing his path. That path began with his childhood years traveling by train from the various places his parents lived (California, Texas, New Mexico) to visit his Orthodox Jewish grandparents in Chicago, his earliest home. At 18 it led him to the Air Force and Korea, where he was first exposed to Eastern culture.
His path returned him to New Mexico to attend UNM, eventually earning a PhD in English in the area of spiritual literature. During the years at UNM, he had spiritual experiences, began meditating, traveled and studied in India, spent time writing a novel in Mexico, was a Wurlitzer Foundation artist-in-residence in Taos, moved to San Francisco, returned again to school, wrote for a local spiritual magazine, interviewing and hosting many traveling spiritual teachers and speakers who lectured in Albuquerque. He taught meditation and other spiritual classes in the community, and was ordained through Brooks Divinity School. When he completed his PhD, he spent 3 years as a professor at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, where he again hosted various spiritual and cultural events, and taught meditation.
He returned to Albuquerque to become a full-time minister. He developed a radio platform, “The Positive Thought for the Day,” that gained statewide recognition. Along with his humor, he expressed his spiritual journey through poetry, drawing influence from many sources, from the Beats to Chinese “rivers and mountains” poetry. His encounter with U.G. Krishnamurti began a 21-year spiritual relationship, which inspired a new level of creativity and expression. Larry declared it: “The end of seeking.”
Hillside Community Church evolved from an Albuquerque non-profit spiritual association formed in 1972 by Helen Brungardt. That early organization was dedicated to “helping man comprehend his purpose in life, primarily through religious and educational inspiration.”
In early 1982, Dr. Larry Morris left his position at Eastern New Mexico University to return to Albuquerque and accept the call to assume leadership of the organization, with Dr. Susan Nettleton as the Board President. In the year that followed, they made a long-term commitment to grow from a spiritual study group to a 21st -century church. The name was formally changed to Hillside Community Church.
For several years the church met in a variety of locations: offices, hotel meeting rooms, a high school auditorium, a vacated temple, TVI meeting rooms, hospital class rooms and a chapel, Dr. Nettleton’s office, and a church fellowship hall. In 1986, Susan was ordained and became Associate Minister. That same year, the church built its own church building and further defined itself as committed to “successfully expressing God’s Presence in everyday living as embodied in the best of Eastern and Western spiritual traditions.” It became a call to “contribute to the transformation of the world through the spiritual awakening of individuals.”
The church provided a large variety of services: two Sunday morning services, a Wednesday evening meditation service, spiritual counseling, prayer ministry, and the drive-time radio spot featuring a “Positive Thought for the Day” every weekday evening. It became a community of individuals sharing a spiritual journey with others of like mind in an atmosphere of freedom and joy. In 30 years, Larry and Susan taught hundreds of classes and workshops including Meditation and Advanced Meditation, Self-esteem, Divorce Recovery, Overcoming Depression, Forgiveness, Creativity, Raja Yoga, Spiritual Healing, Surrender, How to Let Go, Jesus-Buddha-Krishna and various other topics on world religions and spiritual living.
In 1995, the first church building was sold and Hillside purchased a much larger facility, expanding its classes with other teachers that could offer Hatha Yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong and other traditions. Hillside created a number of unique annual events most notably the “Celebration of Light Services” --a combined winter celebration of Christmas, Hanukah and Divali with music, food and inspiration from the three traditions, the Christmas Eve “Celebration of Innocence” with local poets reading original poetry written for the evening, a jazz band and singer providing music, interspersed with caroling, prayer and meditation, and the New Year’s Eve Healing of Memories service, with guided meditation on forgiveness and release of past experiences in preparation for the New Year. These community-wide events were held for 20 years.
By 2010, Larry and Susan had made the decision to steadily scale back programs and services over time and retain their focus of spiritual nourishment for the individual path. The building was sold in 2015, and Larry Morris passed away. Susan Nettleton continues to lead a Sunday service once a month and offer spiritual counseling.
Thousands of people from all walks of life and backgrounds have attended Hillside. It has been an incredible spiritual adventure. We hope The Hillside Source will continue to provide nourishment in the full spirit of the Hillside Community.
schedule of services
The Hillside Community Church currently holds services, led by Dr. Susan Nettleton, on a varying schedule at the New Mexico School of Music Recital Hall at 11:00 a.m. Music by Don Rood (piano) and Debi Johnson (singer)- Childcare provided
the next service will be held August 25, 2019 with Dr. Susan Nettleton.
August 25: “Living Grace” (11:00 A.m.)
New Mexico School of Music, 136-J in the Washington Square Center, Washington SE and Central.
For more information, please contact us by phone or email here.