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Brief History of UUCP

According to a favorite legend, our congregation was born when Isabelle Johnson put an ad in the local newspaper inviting any religious liberals who happened to live in the area to meet in her living room the following Sunday and seven people showed up!

The true story is slightly less colorful: In 1946, the Reverend Lon Ray Call, Minister at Large for the Unitarian Association, was sent to Phoenix for three months to start a church, and Isabelle agreed to be secretary. She did indeed handle the newspaper publicity and called the meeting (which was attended by thirty-seven not seven people), and she is still celebrated as the original founder of our congregation. It was not until January, 1947 that regular Sunday services and classes for children were held in a local school building. When classes became too crowded, everyone simply moved outside, or ‘in one case, to the back of a teacher’s station wagon!

1947 – On March 2 the new congregation incorporates as “First Unitarian Church of Phoenix.” The Rev. Call is the acting minister; the Rev. Laurence Plank is called as the first settled minister. He organizes non-denominational, integrated Sunday evening discussion groups at YWCA that serves to influence AZ legislature by constitutional amendment to desegregate Arizona Schools.

1949 – The Church calls the Reverend John Findly, a liberal, who is active in social issues. Reverend Findley opposed the Korean conflict.

1950 – McCarthyism threatens the congregation, and pressures force the Church to move three times. In order to provide a permanent home for the church, Mimi Muth offers a rent-free site, and a building designed by another member, Gene Michaud, is constructed for only $ 1,100.

1951 – Members dedicate their new building: the SW Ministerial group holds its conference here, and a second building for the church school is constructed.

1954 – The members call a new minister, the Reverend Dr. Burdette Backus, who dies in 1955.

1957 – The Reverend Dr. Arthur Olsen takes the pulpit, and Peg Gooding volunteers to head the Religious Education Department.

1959 – The Church purchases ten acres of property, at that time far out in the country with a dirt road for access, for $40,000. After money is donated for a building, Dr. Olsen first talks to Frank Lloyd Wright about designing the building, and finds him very enthusiastic, but unfortunately, the famous architect dies before making a single sketch. The building committee then turns to Blaine Drake, an early apprentice of Wright’s at Tallesin West, and Drake designs the present building.

Early 1960s – Beginning in the early sixties, our congregation forms a committee to work on racial integration issues in Phoenix.  Many members also march and picket the State House in favor of a public accommodations law. These efforts, spearheaded by the local NAACP, are ultimately successful.

1961 – The first service is held at the new address on Lincoln Drive in Paradise Valley (at the time part of Phoenix, now a separate township).

Following the merger of Unitarian and Universalists, members elect to change the name to the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Phoenix.

The UU Early Education Cooperative (EEC) preschool is founded.

1963 – Dr. Olsen leaves to take a position with the UUA, and the Reverend Raymond G. Manker is called as minister.

In the fall, Reverend Manker gives the first of many sermons demonstrating support for the Civil Rights movement. In conjunction with this service, Dr. Eugene Grigsby suggests using the Sanctuary walls to present an art show.

1964 – Reverend Manker and the Phoenix congregation help to create a new church in Tempe, now the Valley UU Church in Chandler.

Church members help to send Reverend Manker to Alabama to march with Dr. Martn Luther King, Jr. from Selma to Montgomery.

1965 – The Church adds a new Sunday School wing to their building.

1968 – The congregation dedicates “That Which Might Have Been,” a garden sculpture, created by John Henry Waddell, as a memorial to the four girls who died in the Birmingham church bombing.

UUCP begins its long history with Booker T Washington Child Development Center. The Congregation helps to secure a vacant lot upon which the preschool is built. Members serve on the Booker T Washington Board,

1973 – The Desert View Learning Center (DVLC) is founded and makes the Congregation its home.

1974 – The UU Foundation of Phoenix is established with the goal of providing financial security for the church.

1976 – Planning begins for a wilderness retreat (later realized in the Sierra Ancha Wilderness UU Religious Association SAWUURA).

Kids Kamp is founded, offering a summer camp based on UU principles to members and the community,

1978 – The first land for SAWUURA is purchased.

1982 – A building fund drive is initiated to pay off the mortgage and take care of some needed capital repair A joyful mortgage-burning party is held on the patio.

1989 – We successfully establish and complete a fund drive to cover the expenses of calling a new minister.

1990 – Reverend Manker retires after 27 years as our minister, and the Reverend Bettye Doty becomes interim minister. Reverend Manker is now our congregation’s Minister Emeritus.

1991 – The Reverend Fritz Hudson is called to be our settled minister.

1997 – The 50th anniversary of the official founding of the Church is celebrated with a special luncheon, speakers and entertainment.

A congregational survey is undertaken in the spring of 1997 in an effort to evaluate the health of the congregation. Several members from non-Christian backgrounds question the inclusion of Church in our name. The Congregation votes to change its name to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix and opts to remove First from its name.

Musician Connie Clemons Jahrmarkt joins as Music Director.

1998 – Reverend Hudson accepts a call to serve in Lincoln, Nebraska, UUCP selects Reverend Linda Bunyard to serve as Interim Minister.

1999 – Under the guidance of Reverend Bunyard, the congregation adopts the Mission Statement and the Shared Ministry Covenant, which reflect not only our dreams for the ministry of our congregation but also our commitment to being an integral part of that ministry.

A Ministerial Search Committee is formed in the spring.

2000 –  The Reverend John Burciaga is called as our settled minister in May. He is our first Latino minister. We officially become a Welcoming Congregation.

2003 –  Lisa Casey, our DRE for a number of years is succeeded by Kim St. Clair, who becomes the Director of Religious Education. A high school teacher, Kim further improves the Children’s and Adult education programs.

2004-05 – During Reverend Burciaga’s tenure, an ambitious building project is initiated for which we raised $650,000 in pledges to remodel our building and make it universally accessible. We hire an architect and begin the lengthy process of developing the plans and getting township approval.

2005 – The Reverend Burciaga, who led us for the five years he had promised, moves on to interim ministry in New Hampshire in the spring of 2005. A search committee is formed to find a new settled minister. The Reverend Jean L. Wahlstrom arrives in the fall as Interim Minister. A Finance Committee is formed and we succeed at getting our finances in good working order.

2006 – UUCP administrator, Karen Metcalf leaves and is succeeded by Heidi Parmenter. We enthusiastically start on a five-year strategic plan built around the core vision of building religious community.

The Board of Trustees moves to a Policy Board structure and the Bylaws are changed to reflect this.

2007 – The Rev. Roberta Haskin becomes our Interim Minister. Her husband, Dennis Haskin starts the STARS program to improve our welcoming ministry. The first of the planned building improvements are made. A group of 57 people, most from UUCP, march in the Gay Pride Parade and win the “Pride Stroll” Award as the best walking group in the parade.

2008 – In April, The Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray is called to be our first settled woman minister. Paradise Valley approves the final plans for the building improvements. We have 82 people walk in the UUCP group at the Pride Parade. In May, the combined choirs of UUCP and Valley UU present Sources: The UU Cantata. In September a special service is held to commemorate the bombing in Birmingham. In October, our Romanian partner church minister and congregation president and their wives visit.

2009 – Membership growth prompts the addition of a second service. UUCP receives the Bennett Award from the UUA for Social Action and hosts the first ever TransForm Arizona conference. Connie Jahrmarkt, music director, is among the first group of music professionals certified by the Unitarian Universalist Association.

2010 – The Immigration Task Force helps coordinate activities in response to the anti-immigrant Arizona Senate Bill1070. 500 UU’s from Arizona and around the country gather in Phoenix, with UUCP hosting, to join in the 50,000+ person march to protest SB 1070. The first UUCP auction is held in November.

2011 – UUCP supports the Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray in taking on a one year commitment to work half time for UUCP, and half time for the UUA to create the Arizona Immigration Ministry (AZIM) to help plan a successful Justice General Assembly in Phoenix, scheduled for June 2012. Sandy Weir is hired to lead AZIM, working with human rights partners in Arizona. The Rev. Linda Lawrence is made Assistant Minister in July. She provides pastoral care, occasionally leads worship, and directs Membership and Adult Faith Development Ministries.

2012 – General Assembly, Justice GA, is held in Phoenix with a focus on immigration issues and migrant rights with the culminating witness event a 2,000 person candlelight vigil outside Tent City Jail. Anne Byrne is hired as Director of Children’s Ministries in June.

2013 – Began monthly themes for services and programs. UUF support for a development program. Benjie Messer hired as music director.

2014 – A standing Stewardship Committee is formed.  Renovation of sanctuary and lobby with new chairs, carpeting, paint and video screens. UUF creation of the legacy giving society Chalice Keepers. Choir director Connie Jahrmarkt resigns.

2015 – Linda Lawrence and Anne Byrne leave and Emrys Staton becomes Intern Minister and Katie Resendiz Director of Children’s Ministries. A decision is made not to operate the EEC preschool. A Vision Task Force began work. Margaret Herrick left the UUF a substantial legacy bringing the total to over $1 million. Cluster ministries began a pulpit exchange. The music program expanded with several small groups.

2016 – Rev. Susan is invited by the UUA Presidential Search Committee to run for UUA President. When her nomination for President became public, we ended our Associate Minister hiring process and were given permission to hire Emrys Staton, our Ministerial Intern, to serve as full time Director of Justice and Pastoral ministry. A successful Stewardship Campaign enables expansion of staff and programs. We embark on the planning for a Major Capital Campaign. A new Vision is adopted by the Congregation in June. An Arts and Craft Fair returns after a several year hiatus.

2017 – The Rev Susan Frederick-Gray is elected president of the UUA. The Rev. Margret O’Neall begins her two year term as Interim Minister. There is a successful combined stewardship and capital campaign and plans for
renovation are created. A new Green Sanctuary Team and Legislative Justice Team are formed. The congregational lending library is expanded in December.

2018 – Former congregational administrator Heidi Parmenter resigns and is succeeded by Lora Gustafson. Anthony N. Johnson joins the staff as director for congregational life. A ministerial search committee is formed to find and recommend a new settled minister. A men’s group is started and an inclusion team is formed. We begin a new Living Our Vision EveryDay Faith Development program, the Racial Justice Collaborative. We adopt a new pathway to membership. We break ground for a renovation project in December.

2019 – We lose two staff members, Geoff Anderla, office assistant and Janine Gelsinger, director of membership and welcoming ministries. The renovation project includes new HVAC, new patio, and new upper parking lot. Board moves to Hotchkiss governance model. We call the Rev. Christine Dance to be our settled minister and she arrives on August 1, 2019.

2020 – Lora Gustafson resigns and Stephanie Breidel-Vigil is hired as our Business Administrator. The rest of the year is defined by the COVID-19 pandemic, our learning to adjust to new technology and increasing our levels of pastoral care to include our everyday lives. The Congregation closes the campus to all activities the week of March 10. All worship services and coffee hours become live online immediately. Zoom becomes our connection for all programming. Virtual weekly activities and Kids Kamp engage congregants of every age. Neighborhood Groups are activated to keep in touch. As congregants grieve not being together and worry about their own health and that of their loved ones, the congregation explores deeper conversations about more vulnerable topics—like death, liminal space, ambiguous grief as well as the moral implications of the pandemic.  The intimacy of being virtually in each others’ homes, sharing our struggles, our enhanced Lay Pastoral Care program and Rev. Dance’s compassionate presence leads to a more pastoral tone for the year. In addition, the death of George Floyd, the support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the disproportionate effects of the pandemic on the communities of color during this tremendous time give us even more to contemplate. We expand our technology skills quickly, such as incorporating videos for musical performances. Worship viewing expands greatly and people attend from beyond our state borders. UUA General Assembly goes virtual and our Music Director, Benjie Messer, is the General Assembly Music Director. We work collaboratively with other UU congregations around the Country sharing our programming and minister. Our social justice work continues through collaborations with UUJAZ and supporting the Navajo Nation with donation drives and drop-offs at the Reservation in NE AZ. The website redesign is started. Cristobal Varela is hired as a part-time Communications and Technology Coordinator. We are still physically closed at year’s end.