Here are some of the highlights of UUCP’s development over the years, beginning in 1947. Visit our main history page and/or check out the history documents in the sidebar for more information.
1947 – 1956
1947 – On March 2, the new congregation incorporates as “Unitarian Church of Phoenix.” The Rev. Lon Ray 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 that YWCA that serve 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 – 1966
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 Taliesin 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.
1967 – 1976
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,
1977 – 1986
1978 – The first land for Sierra Ancha Wilderness UU Religious Association (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.
1987 – 1996
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 – 2006
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 – 2016
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 Bill 1070. 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 – 2020
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.
2021 – 2021 was a year that should go down in the UUCP History books. The congregation building was closed for worship and meetings for the ENTIRE year due to the pandemic. It looked like the pandemic would be receding at the beginning of the summer, but then new Delta and Omicron variants arrived, making the pandemic the lead issue for the rest of 2021.
The congregation continued to respond in creative and innovative ways. Almost all of the programs that existed before the pandemic continued online, and many people found the online format more accessible and a great way to get to know people in deeper, more meaningful ways. Other folks missed being in person and Zoom worship and meetings weren’t as rich for them, so they took some distance from the congregation, although promised to return when in-person worship returned. In addition, programming that was added right after the pandemic began—including Monday morning meditation, Death Cafe, Lunch with the Minister and online coffee hour—continued through the whole year. New people continued to find us, join us virtually, and even become members without ever having been inside the building.
The other factor complicating 2021 was the re-paving of the parking lot, a project that was started in June of 2021 but wasn’t officially paved and striped until January 21, 2022, due to permitting issues with the town of Paradise Valley, worker shortages, concrete shortages, COVID and myriad other issues. So even if the congregation could have opened, there was not parking to do so.
The roles of the staff continued to change. The area with the biggest impact was Children’s Ministry. The pandemic hit families with children very hard, with online school and so much Zoom learning. Children’s Ministry programming got creative and responded with more personal faith development for families, the Navigators scouting program, and other fun programming that may engage kids. Coming of Age was introduced virtually in 2021 to continue through the 2022 year, with the kids bonding and virtually decorating an online space in a program called Gather. Our Director of Children’s Ministry had a two month sabbatical. It was our first staff sabbatical and as a result, the Personnel Advisory Committee worked on a staff sabbatical policy that the board will be reviewing in 2022.
In 2021, the music was all virtual as well. Our Music Director, Benjie Messer, directed several virtual choir pieces, adding several other congregations in the Arizona area to our choir, in an effort to help smaller, struggling congregations. While many choir members missed singing in person and some didn’t like recording “solos” in their living rooms, the congregation adored when new choir pieces appeared.
While we planned, re-planned and cancelled planning, we purchased equipment for new technology and multi-platform worship capabilities to continue live-streaming as an on-going feature. We hired part-time camera/streaming and sound personnel to assist with the multi-platform technology. Through a grant program, we were able to add four electric car charging stations to the upper parking lot. We also launched a new website and started moving all Congregational documents into Google Workspace, to maintain continuous and complete documentation of our activities. Every team and committee was urged to update their charter and make sure they had a covenant.
The congregation continued to provide food and supplies for the Navajo Nation and build relationships with folks there, including a youth group working to better the living conditions of people on the reservation. We also provided Christmas presents for a family at the Maryland School who were refugees from Uganda.
2021 was the year that the Congregation passed the 8th Principle, affirming our commitment to dismantle racism and oppression. Much of the programming in the fall of 2021 focused on what that meant for us as a congregation, including a monthly sermon series on the characteristics of white supremacy culture.
The congregation celebrated the arrival of vaccines in early 2021 and there was a high rate of vaccination in the congregation. Despite that, many of our congregants got ill with the Delta and Omicron variants, although luckily none of the cases were serious or required hospitalization. The congregation is fortunate that they did not have any members die from COVID in the time of the pandemic, although some beloved members did die and the congregation learned how to do outdoor memorial services and memorial services (and a notable wedding of our Board president) via Zoom!
For further detailed information, please see our annual reports.
2022 – We had three different ways of doing worship—online with the worship team in the sanctuary, in-person outside, and then in April inside with masks while still offering streaming online.
UUCP continued to be committed to offering multi-platform services. We added new staff people to manage the technical aspects of streaming/online worship: Danny Doyle managing our streaming and cameras and Jade Barger managing sound. We hired Nick Laux as communications coordinator.
In the music program in the spring we had a series of guest artists. In March, the choir started singing together after two years off. UUCP member and former music director Connie Jahrmarkt offered to accompany the choir on a volunteer basis. In the summer singing was still only done by the choir with the congregation humming. In the fall small groups gradually began to regroup for key services and in December the congregation began singing hymns together again, masked.
In-person Children’s Ministries resumed. The long-delayed Installation of Rev. Christine Dance took place on September 17 along with a celebration of the 75th anniversary of our congregation. We had our first in-person holidays for two years: Water Communion, Dia de los Muertos and Christmas.
There was contextual change in how we reach people. With the new website, with Zoom and YouTube services, we got a lot of visitors who had already watched us and felt a part of our community before they ever stepped into the building. This led to a different kind of familiarity with the congregation than previously.