Earl H. Brooks was elected Chairman of the Steering Committee and subsequent meetings were held in the Brooks garage at 6740 Casas Adobes Road. With a favorable decision toward the new church, the first worship service was held on Sunday, October 26th, 1958 in the “Nanini Quarters,” the guesthouse of the Nanini Ranch, then the Nordale residence. There were 28 persons in attendance. Dr. James E. Robinson, Pastor of Visitation of the First Congregational Church, led the worship service. Pastor Robinson continued with these services until November 16th when Dr. Phillip E. Gregory, retired minister of the First Congregational Church of Laguna Beach, California was called to be interim minister. Soon the guesthouse on the Nordale property was not large enough and services were moved to the Brooks garage. By Christmas 1958 the congregation had grown to 104.
As 1959 opened concern was focused on finding a permanent place for worship and the hiring of a permanent minister. As Dr. Gregory had announced that he was only available until February 1959 the latter task had to be attended to first. On January 5th, Mrs. Joseph Nordale, Chairman of the Pastoral Committee, wrote to the Rev. George C. Vance, pastor of the First Congregational Church of Tucson, inviting him to become pastor of the new church in Casas Adobes. On January 12th Rev. Vance replied in the affirmative pending his release from his current position. His release was granted and Rev. Vance came to the pastorate of the new church on February 16, 1959. The second concern was solved on February 12th when the Church Building Society of the Congregational Churches announced that it had purchased the Nanini-Nordale properties from Sam Nanini for a purchase price of $100,000 payable over five years. Sam Nanini contributed $25,000 to assist the project.
The Nanini property became both the church and the parsonage. The first worship service was held in the living room of the former Nanini ranch house on February 22, 1959. The Sunday school met for the first time that Sunday and other organizations of the church soon followed – the Women’s Fellowship, the Pilgrim Fellowship of the senior high young people and the Pioneer Fellowship of the junior high group, for example. The first official business meeting of the congregation was held on April 26, 1959 when officers were elected. Earl H. Brooks became the first Moderator of the new congregation. At that meeting the decision was made to petition the Arizona Association of Congregational Churches for membership. The properties of the church were dedicated on October 25, 1959 and in that month land was cleared on the eastern part of the property for a parking lot and an entrance to Oracle Road.
In 1960 the first sanctuary of the church was the living room and bedroom area of the ranch house. It was capable of seating 150. The first of what would be three organs to be installed in the church was dedicated in January 1960. This was a Baldwin electronic organ given by Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Randall in memory of their grandson – Don Simmons. By-laws were established and, on May 17,th the church was incorporated in the State of Arizona as the Casas Adobes Community Congregational Church, a non-profit corporation. January 8, 1961 was the first Sunday that had two worship services to accommodate the growing congregation. Late in 1961 a fund drive, Funds for the Future, was held to raise $25,000 of which $16,000 was to be used to pay off the mortgage, $7,000 was to be used to expand the sanctuary and $1,500 was to be sent to the Conference for their capital expansion fund. In 1962 a parsonage was purchased for the Vances at 1129 W. San Martin Drive.
By 1964 seven new churches had started operations in the Casas Adobes area putting pressure on the allegiance of our congregation and the opportunity for growth. Accordingly, in 1963 the Trustees voted not to spend the Funds for the Future monies to expand the sanctuary but rather to formulate a long-range plan for the development of the property. A poll of the congregation was taken and the majority of the congregation felt that new or changed facilities were required and the Long Term Planning Committee was charged with developing the plans for a new sanctuary. For its first 10 years the church operated as an independent community Congregational church. In 1968 the congregation voted to become affiliated with the United Church of Christ. The name Casas Adobes Community Congregational Church was continued until the early 1980s when it was shortened to Casas Adobes Congregational Church.
The United Church of Christ
The United Church of Christ (UCC) was formed in 1957 by the union of two denominations, the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches. While many churches have preferred to emphasize the UCC affiliation in their name, Casas Adobes continues to choose to emphasize its congregational heritage and theology.
"God is still speaking," as prominently displayed in our church, is the slogan of the identity, branding, and advertising campaign of the United Church of Christ.
In 2007 the church officially adopted the “Open and Affirming” policy of the UCC meaning that persons of all ages, minorities and sexual orientations are welcome in our congregation.
The Church Edifice
In 1967, under the leadership of Russ Secor, Chairman of the Building Committee, and of Bart Marshall, Chairman of the Architectural Committee, a plan was drawn up and presented to the congregation for the edifice that stands today as the sanctuary of the church. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held on Sunday, December 24, 1967 led by Moderator, Floyd Sedlmayr. The Nanini guesthouse and the swimming pool were demolished to make way for the new building, leaving the ranch house for use as a Fellowship Hall and Sunday school rooms. Construction was started on January 10, 1968 and the building was occupied for the first time on Sunday, August 11, 1968. The new sanctuary was designed to have a permanent seating capacity of 300, with an additional 50 in the choir loft. The design was in keeping with the Italian-Spanish architecture of the Nanini Ranch, with whitewashed walls, sweeping arches and red tile roof. A main feature of the building design was the openness of the east side of the sanctuary looking out on the courtyard of the ranch house with its carpet of grass and a splashing Spanish fountain in the center. In the ensuing years the various fixtures that distinguish the sanctuary today were added – the stained glass windows, the distinctive twisted cross, designed by parishioner, Betty Shaffer, and the wrought iron lighting fixtures and candelabra. The most recent piece to be added, in 2007, was the wrought iron United Church of Christ emblem fabricated by church member Tom Mardian. The three child angels on the baptistery wall were painted by famous Tucson artist, Ted De Grazia, in remembrance of Rev. Vance’s granddaughter, Bonnie Marshall, who died as a young child. The Baldwin organ was installed in the new building; however, by 1975 it was evident that a new organ was needed. At this time it was learned that internationally famed organ architect, Dr. William H. Barnes, who had retired to Tucson, was about to move back to his native Chicago and was looking for a buyer for his home organ. Accordingly, with the help of Jeanette Manley, the organ was purchased from Dr. Barnes and dedicated on January 25, 1976. Parishioner, Bill Dresher oversaw the installation of the organ. Jared Jacobson, a protégé of Dr. Barnes and now a well-known organist in San Diego, was the guest artist. The organ designed by Dr. Barnes was unique in that it was the very first combination electronic/pipe organ ever built. Rodgers Organ Company supplied the keyboard and electronic stops while the Teller Organ Company provided the wind box and pipes. This organ served the congregation until July 1993, when it became too difficult to service and the present state-of-the-art 3-manual Rodgers 960D Classic organ was installed. The new organ was dedicated October 27, 1993 with the internationally acclaimed organist Hector Olivera at the keyboard.
Two new offices were added to the physical plant in 1980. By this time a growing population of young people in the congregation indicated the need for an expanded Sunday school facility. Accordingly, in 1986 a building committee was formed under the leadership of Hubert James. A plan that emulated but enlarged upon the Nanini ranch house was submitted to the congregation and approved and construction began. The new building complex, which houses the Fellowship Hall, kitchen, classrooms, library, and chapel, was built and was dedicated on October 30, 1988. The patio, with its Bullard Memorial Fountain and the distinctive copper hood from the Nanini kitchen, were retained and became a part of the new building complex. The new building also provided a permanent rehearsal home for the chancel choirs and for the bell choirs. With the hiring of Rev. Ray Plumlee in 1982 the parsonage was sold and Ray and subsequent ministers were given a housing allowance.
Following the tradition of the early New England churches which have a cemetery for their deceased parishioners, in 2000 the church added a columbarium, designed by Chris Sternberg, to the east end of the property. Several church members have been inurned in our columbarium.
The Casas Adobes Congregational Church has been fortunate in its ability to attract outstanding senior ministers and associate ministers, each bringing a different set of talents to the congregation.
Rev. George Vance -- 1959 - 1970
Rev. Vance had held five pastorates before becoming the founding pastor of Casas Adobes Community Congregational Church, the last being that of the oldest Protestant Church in the southwest – The First Congregational Church of Tucson. He was a fond lover of baseball and fly-fishing and brought experience and stability to the early years of the new church. George and Geri, his wife, were beloved by all in the congregation. In his retirement, Rev. Vance continued to be an active member of the church until he passed away in 1987.
Rev. James W. Zwerg -- 1970 - 1978
Rev. Zwerg was famous for his participation as a college student in the Freedom March in Selma, Alabama where he and his friend (now a U.S. Senator) John Lewis, almost lost their lives. He had become a minister at the urging of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Prior to coming to Tucson he had ministered to two congregations in a small town in Wisconsin – each 20 miles from his house. After five years of “ministerial commuting” he accepted the calling to the Casas Adobes Community Congregational Church. Jim was a vibrant minister who catered to the young people of the church. He often accompanied his sermons with a rendition from his guitar. During his term he was successful in doubling the membership, paying off the church’s mortgage and establishing an endowment fund. He also was elected to be Moderator of the Southwest Conference of the United Church of Christ. Jim is retired and lives in Tucson.
Rev. Donald D. Rowland -- 1978 - 1981
With the resignation of Rev. Zwerg the congregation recruited Rev. Rowland who had served a variety of churches along the west coast and was last the pastor of the Neighborhood Congregational Church in Phoenix. Don had a keen interest in social, political and biblical history and had spent time in the Holy Land. He too had a keen interest in baseball and fly-fishing. Rev. Rowland’s specific accomplishments at Casas Adobes were to further dignify the worship service with emphasis on theology, roots and sacraments; to increase the mission and evangelism work; to stress the ecumenical work and to improve Conference participation. Don and his wife, Caroline, are retired in Bozeman, Montana.
Rev. Ray Plumlee -- 1981 - 1991
Rev. Plumlee came to this church as an interim minister in 1981 and, in a somewhat unusual move on January 3, 1982 he was called to be the senior minister. Originally a Methodist minister, he turned to Congregationalism after becoming worn out by too many moves dictated by the Methodist Bishop. He came to Tucson after serving at a church in Litchfield Park, Arizona. Ray was known for his ability to work with new churches and difficult situations. During his tenure at Casas Adobes he was successful in raising the money for and building the new Sunday school/office complex that we enjoy today. Following his retirement in 1990 he went on to start a new church in Green Valley (1990-1993) and one in Montana (1993). In 1993 Ray was selected to be Minister Emeritus at Casas Adobes. He is retired and lives here in Tucson.
Rev. Dr. David W. Smith -- 1991 - 2001
Rev. Smith was the first New Englander to serve the congregation. Born in Wakefield, Massachusetts, he served churches in Maine, Massachusetts, New York and in Manchester and London, England. He admittedly came to Tucson for the warm climate. David’s wife, Sarah, is an accomplished pianist and the Steinway piano in the sanctuary was added during his tenure. After “retiring” at age 65 he moved back to New England where he became the minister of the Brookline Community Church in New Hampshire. He currently teaches six months of the year at the University of Maine and intends to winter in Tucson.
Rev. Bruce Van Roekel -- 2003 - 2008
Rev. Van Roekel came to us from Iowa. Originally an elementary school teacher he taught in Anchorage, Alaska and Puyallup, Washington. When there was a retirement on the family farm he returned to Iowa to operate the farm. After 13 years of farming he made the decision to enter the ministry. He moved the family to St Louis, where he attended the Eden Theological Seminary. Upon graduation he served the U.C.C church in St. Charles Missouri for six years before coming to Tucson. Bruce’s wife, Marilyn, is an accomplished musician and has played the organ in churches since she was 13.
Rev. Lee Milligan – August 2010 - May 2016
Rev. Lee John Milligan came to Casas Adobes after eighteen years of ordained ministry, the previous twelve spent at Church of the Painted Hills UCC here in Tucson. He graduated in 1991 from Andover Newton Theological School in Massachusetts with a Masters of Divinity degree and spent his first six years in ministry as pastor of the Arlington Community UCC in Arlington, NE.
Pastor Lee received training in spiritual direction at Phoenix’s Kino Institute of Theology’s Art of Spiritual Direction: An Ecumenical Program and at the Hesychia School for Spiritual Direction at the Redemptorist Renewal Center here in Tucson. He also has been trained in group spiritual direction as a participant in the Called Back to the Well program for clergy renewal of the Samaritan Counseling Center in Albuquerque, NM. In a different field, he has completed the Certificate Course in Non-Profit Management at Creighton University in Omaha, NE, and Survival School: Church Leadership Training out of Phoenix.
Pastor Lee has always been active in the UCC beyond the parish, serving on the Committee on Church and ministry for the Omaha Association and the Southwest Conference of the UCC and as both Vice-President and President of the Omaha Association. He also served as Moderator-Elect for the Southwest Conference in 2010.
Other skills he brought to ministry here include playing guitar and art appreciation. He and his wife Teresa Hager enjoy movies and novels together, and Lee does well cooking vegetarian food for them both. At one time their household has included as many as seven cats, but they now live with only one.
Searching for a new Senior Minister
Our Search Committee is actively searching for our new Senior Minister. Stay tuned!
Rev. Allen Cunningham – also served as Director of Christian Education -- 1987- September 1988
Rev. Ken Crouch – served as Director of Christian Education prior to his ordination in February 1991-- 1989 - 1995
Rev. Marie Bacchiocchi – primary responsibilities are programming, Christian Education (for children and adults), and growth and development -- October 2007 - March 2012
The early operation of the church functioned under a Church Council, which met monthly. The first Bylaws were adopted on April 22, 1960 in preparation for filing for incorporation. The first formalized structure was adopted at the time of the new building in June 1968 in the form of a “Board of Trustees” and a “Board” responsibility for each church activity and responsibility. In 1996 the Bylaws were changed to create a “Council” for church government that replaced the Board of Trustees. The Council consists of the officers and the various committee chairmen who are responsible for the operation of the church and its programs.
The strength of any church is its programs and Casas Adobes has excelled in this. Many of the present programs originated during the early days of the new church – the Sunday school, the Chancel Choir, Women’s Fellowship, the Coffee Fellowship and the Mason Memorial Library were such.
Sunday School – The first Sunday school met on February 22, 1959. Three groups convened - preschool, grades one thru four and grades five thru eight. There were 15 pupils in attendance that first Sunday. However, by April, enrollment had reached 55 and a Sunday school superintendent was appointed. Over the years various church members and hired specialists have served as our Youth Program Director or Director of Christian Education: Fred Hodkins -- 1971-1974 Suzanne Rood -- 1977-1980 Mary McDonald -- 1980 - 1988 Nancy Gruhl -- acting Director -- summer 1988 Rev. Warren Jones -- interim Director -- 1995 - 1996 Dean Schoff -- 1996 - 2001 Carla Koenig -- 2001 - 2006 Dora Radin -- 2006 - 2007
Music – The first Chancel choir was organized in September 1959 with T. J. Wilson as its director. In July 1961 Reg Redman was hired as choir director, a job that he held for nearly twenty years. In the fall of 1964 a junior choir, “Kids of the Kingdom,” was organized. Charlotte Marshal organized a cherub choir for the very young. During this period there were a number of musical cantatas for both children and adults, including one entitled “It’s Cool in the Furnace.” Charlotte Marshall directed and Sandy Nelson did a superb job of accompanying. On May 22, 2007 a number of the Chancel Choir members joined with other choir members in the region and sang Antonio Vivaldi's "Gloria" in Carnegie Hall in New York City. The present Chancel Choir, under the direction of Darryl King, is a vital part of the Sunday services.
Dorothy Goodwin was the first organist. Jeanette Manley, appointed as organist in 1960, was the longest serving organist when she retired in 1976. Since that time the church has had a succession of outstanding organists: Verda Roberts, Maxine Fifer, Barbara Smith, Rick Parks and currently, Marilyn Van Roekel. Thanks to the benevolence of Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Biehl and others several octaves of English hand bells were purchased. Youth and adult bell choirs were organized in 1967 under the directorship of Marilyn “Lynn” Hauck. During the 1970s the youth bell choir, The Bells of the Twisted Cross, became nationally noted by their regional and national tours. In 1975 the youth bell choir united with the choir from Mount of Olives Lutheran church, in Phoenix, for a cross-country concert tour under the name of the Grand Canyon State Ringers. The bell choir also has performed with the Tucson Boys Chorus in their Christmas concert. The adult and youth bell choirs have continued with monthly performances in the Sunday service for many years and under a succession of directors – Lynn Hauck, Marianne Sarver, Laura Payne, Glen Miller, Margi Zearley and Darryl King. Nancy Gruhl and others in the congregation the church contributed additional instruments such that the church now owns eight octaves of bells plus several octaves of Choirchime® instruments.
In 1988 a Sunday afternoon concert series was begun as a community outreach program. A number of outstanding local musicians, many from the University of Arizona, have performed in the Casas Adobes Concert Series to the enjoyment of church members and the local community.
In February 1998 the music program hosted the First International Tucson Early Music Festival, which was directed by Dr. Charles Warner.
The benevolences program was began in 1976 with a budget of $4,200, which went to help support the Girls Club, the YMCA, “Opening Doors,” “People Lifting People,” Church World Missions and a subscription to the National Geographic for a school in Rhodesia. The Board of Missions was formed in 1978 under the chairmanship of Albert Laue. For many years the church operated on a “two envelope” system wherein the donor specified the distribution of contributions to the church between “Church Support” and “Missions” and the benevolences budget was determined in this way. In 2004 the church adopted a unified budget policy such that all contributions go into the General Fund and then are distributed by individual program needs.
Historically, the funds administered by the Missions Committee have been distributed in two categories:
- Conference dues – dues based on church membership for the operation of the UCC
- Our Church’s Wider Mission, funds sent to the UCC for mission purposes
- Southwest Mission Fund, funds for new UCC church starts in the southwest.
Funds that are provided to local, regional, national and international groups for mission purposes.
In addition, the Committee has supported several non-budgetary fund drives on behalf of the UCC that are run at various times of the year:
- One Great Hour of Sharing – a fund that supports UCC relief, refuge and development ministry worldwide
- Neighbors in Need – a UCC fund that supports needy within the U.S. One-third goes to the Council for American Indian Ministry.
- Christmas Fund – a UCC fund that provides supplemental monies for pension and health insurance premiums to low-income retirees.
- Strengthen the Church – a UCC fund for the establishment of new churches and invigorating existing congregations
The Missions Committee also has been the host for the Angel Tree program – collection and distribution of Christmas gifts to children of prison inmates - and has collected school supplies for the Keeling Elementary School.
Casas Adobes Fellowship
The Casas Adobes Fellowship was formed in 2004 as a merger of the Women’s Fellowship and the Men’s Fellowship. Many of the programs of both organizations were retained. The Fellowship’s principal activities are an Annual Rummage Sale in the fall and in alternate years, the Spring Fashion Show Luncheon or the All Church Brunch. Proceeds go to local charities. The group holds monthly luncheons with speakers.
The first official meeting of the Women’s Fellowship was on November 12, 1959 when Mrs. Florence Fovargue was elected President. The Fellowship offered both benevolent and social activities. The Women’s Fellowship itself is steeped in early Congregational Church history with the first women’s missionary society, the Boston Female Society for Missionary Purposes, founded in 1800.
Unlike the women, the men of the church waited until 1974 before forming the Men’s Fellowship. Since it’s beginning, the Men’s Fellowship has played an active role in Habitat for Humanity. They also participated in the Community Food Bank, the Blood Drive and raised funds for a number of charities. Due to declining participation the group disbanded in 2002.
Formed in 1974, The Congregators was a group that had no age or marital status limits and hosted a variety of social activities. It has been inactive since 2006.
Mason Memorial Library
A lending library was formed in 1959 under the guidance of Orpha Mason for whom the present library is named. Orpha was noted for having established library systems in a number of local public school districts. She was the first church librarian and was involved with the library until she died at 104 in 1999. Today the Mason Memorial Library is one of the finest church libraries in the southwest with over 5000 volumes in its collection.
The Coffee Fellowship, held weekly between services, has been an integral part of the church since it’s founding. The first Coffee Fellowship was held on March 8, 1959 on the patio of the church at 10:30 AM preceding the 11:00 o’clock service.
The church focused on its youth from the very beginning. The first meeting of the senior high youth was on Sunday, April 15, 1959 and became the Pilgrim Fellowship. The following Sunday the junior high group met and became the Pioneer Fellowship. Outdoor activities always drew a large number of youth. In the 1960s and 1970s Pat and Dick Hine and Marylou and Paul Duffey often led junior and senior high school youth backpacking into Aravaipa Canyon near Kearney, Arizona. As indicated above, the youth of the church have always been a major part of the music program of the church.
Beginning in 1984 the church hosted a scouting program, which was under the leadership of Jim and Nancy Gruhl and Carolyn Crouch. There were Brownies, Girl Scouts, Boy Scout Troop 216, Explorer Post 2731 and Sea Explorer Ship 5. Annual dinners of the scouts, hosted by the church until 2004, typically had between 100 and 200 participants.
The Casas Adobes Fine Arts Academy
In 1997 a fine arts program, the Casas Adobes Fine Arts Academy, was established with the aid of Director of Music and choir director, Dean Scoff. Originally in partnership with the El Rio Neighborhood Center, in 2004 it was converted from a separate organization within the church to a program of the church and separated from the El Rio Neighborhood Center for potential liability reasons. Classes included music lessons in a number of instruments, watercolor lessons, sacred dance and lyrical dance, musical theater and a continuation of the creative writing program. The latter had been established in 1990 as the Thought Processors who, in 1994 published a book, “Voices of the Coyote – an Anthology.” Today, the program includes classes in art, cooking, creative writing and music and is under the direction of Matt Rinaldi.
The 50th Anniversary Committee has compiled this booklet with information provided by the Historical Committee and other resources.