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A Short History of The Church of the Painted Hills


A Cooperative Beginning

The Church of the Painted Hills was founded in the spring of 1974, conducting it’s initial services and programs at the Brichta Elementary School on the west side of Tucson. The founding Pastor was the Reverend Dr. DeWitt J. Brady, who was called by the Southwest Conference of the United Church of Christ (UCC) in the fall of 1973 to start a new church on the west side of Tucson. This area, in the foothills of the Tucson Mountains, was believed to have great potential for future growth . At that time three denominations, the UCC, the Disciples of Christ, and the United Presbyterian Church, had agreed to cooperate in the forming of new churches in the Southwestern region of the United States. For this purpose, they had formed a working group known as the Interfaith Coalition on Mission Strategy (ICOMS). The ICOMS group worked to identify areas of the Southwestern U.S. with the potential to support new church startups. Each new church started by this group received the assistance of all three denominations and each, in turn, would affiliate with one of the three denominations. The Church of the Painted Hills was designated to be a UCC Church and was to be located on land donated by Douglas and Alice Holsclaw, near the intersection of West Speedway Boulevard and Painted Hills Road. The Holsclaws, members of First Congregational Church-Tucson, had invested in land in the Tucson Mountains area many years prior to the founding of this Church. They were great supporters of the University of Arizona, and of their own church, First Congregational Church of Tucson.

In 1973, Dr. Brady received the call from Conference Minister Rev. Henry Culbertson of the Southwest Conference of the UCC, asking him to be the organizing and founding Pastor of a new church in Tucson, Arizona, which later became known as The Church of the Painted Hills, United Church of Christ (CPH). Dr. Brady arrived in Tucson in the Fall of 1973 and immediately began work to organize the new church and to interview potential new members in the Tucson Mountains area. A survey was conducted on the west side of Tucson in January of 1974, led by Dr. Brady and assisted by many of the clergy and members of the supporting congregations. During this time, Dr. Brady interviewed many of those who came to be the founding members of the new church, which was initially referred to as The United Protestant Church of West Tucson.

Many of the local churches provided assistance to CPH during it’s startup phase, providing help in canvassing neighborhoods, organizing the initial worship services, supplying soloists, ushers, hymnals, altar supplies, and also commissioning some of their own members as Charter Members of the new church. Particularly helpful were the First Christian, Broadway Christian, First Congregational, Casas Adobes Congregational and Rincon Congregational churches.

The Early Days

Initially, worship services of the new Church were held at Brichta School, the first such service being held on the first Sunday of Lent - March 3,1974 at 10:00am. There were 35 attendees at this first service, including guests. By Pentecost Sunday, fifty days after Easter, the new church had fifty members. The first congregational meeting was held on March 31, 1974. One of the items of business at this meeting was to vote on the permanent name for the new Church. The name “The Church of the Painted Hills, United Church of Christ” was adopted by the congregation.

On April 8, 1974, a committee was formed to consider a constitution for the Church. On June 23, 1974, the congregation approved and adopted the proposed constitution. The congregation also approved a proposed 1974 budget, as prepared by the Southwest Conference of the UCC. At this same meeting, the Rev. Dr. DeWitt J. Brady accepted the call of The Church of the Painted Hills to become its first permanent Pastor.

Another very important event in this first year of CPH was the marriage of Dr. Brady to Ms. Jean Houston of Toronto, which generated considerable excitement among the new congregation! Together, Joe and Jean Brady served our Church loyally and extremely well over a period of many years.

While meeting as a church at Brichta School during this first year, the new congregation began to consider the needs for a permanent facility for the Church. On June 26, 1974, a meeting was held to consider a concept that had been developed jointly between Rev. Henry Culbertson of the Southwest Conference and Robert Hirschberger of the Architecture Department of Arizona State University. This proposed first building was an unusual concept….a relocatable church facility! The concept encompassed a modular building which would be constructed in sections at a manufacturing location and then assembled on the premises of the new church, serving as a multipurpose building, sanctuary-fellowship hall-education facility, for a limited period of time. Once the new church had developed sufficient resources to build a “permanent” structure, the relocatable building would be moved to the site of yet another new church in the region.

Although the relocatable aspect of this modular building proved to be unfeasible from an economic standpoint, the structure itself has proven to be very durable and serviceable. In 1982, an adjacent Education Building was completed. At that time, a kitchen was added to the original multipurpose building and the outside of that building was stuccoed to protect against the elements. In that same year, additional land was added to the church property, again the gift of the Holsclaws. This made possible the addition of a much larger parking area on the east side of the Church. In 1998, the original multipurpose building was extensively renovated and expanded with an enlarged sanctuary, a new narthex, and much enlarged office space. This original building, as modified, continues to serve as the Sanctuary and administrative center of the church.

Our Musical Heritage

The first pianist for the new church was Marylyn Tobey. The first organist was Mary Saler, a graduate of Westminster Choir School in Princeton, NJ. The first choir director was Mona Toombs, a member of Southside Presbyterian Church, who donated her services to CPH for a number of years. Next to serve, in the dual roles of organist and choir director, was Elizabeth Morath, a graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Oberlin, OH. Upon the retirement of Mrs. Morath, a search committee was appointed by Dr. Brady to find her replacement or replacements. A posting of these two positions at the University of Arizona School of Music led to the discovery of Shirley and Jim O‘Brien, both members of the teaching staff of the U of A. Shirley, a Professor of Home Economics, and Jim, a Professor of Music, served CPH for a remarkable 17 years as organist and choir director, respectively. Following their eventual retirement from these positions, Don East, a member of Broadway Christian Church at the time, stepped into the gap and did an excellent job of leading the music program. He also lent his considerable expertise to the improvement of the sound systems of the Church during this time. The next permanent Choir Director was Kimberley van Weelden, a candidate for the Doctorate in Music at the U of A. Kimberley served CPH very competently until her graduation, at which time she accepted a position at Florida State University. Again, Don East stepped into the gap and did an outstanding job. During the tenures of Don East and Kimberley van Weelden, Doris Seames, a member of CPH, contributed much time, and her outstanding talents, as organist/pianist. Jane Smith, a Ph.D. candidate in Music from the U of A, joined CPH as organist in 1999 and continued to serve in this position until June of 2004, always doing a wonderful job. At the close of her tenure, Dr. Brian Ebie, of the University of Arizona Music Department, joined us as Organist. Brian took a leave of absence and has since relocated to Ohio where, among other pursuits, he renovates and repairs pipe organs. Michael Wilson then served ably as our Pianist for a time. Following that, David Craig became our full time Pianist and also added the role of Bell Choir Director to his responsibilities. Our creative and energetic Choir Director, Linus Lerner, who is a post-doctoral student in Music at the U of A, joined the CPH staff in 2002. Both Linus and David continue to raise the high standard of excellence in music at CPH.

Our Pastoral Leadership: A Short History

Following a most successful tenure of 13+ years at CPH, Dr. Brady elected to retire from his position at CPH, completing his pastorate here on May 15, 1987. Upon Dr. Brady’s retirement, the Church was on a sound footing with strong lay leadership and a solid financial situation. He was the Pastor Emeritus of The Church of the Painted Hills until his death in 2007.

Following the retirement of Dr. Brady in 1987, CPH called Rev. Lester Smith as Interim Pastor. Rev. Smith, and his wife Ellie, served diligently and well at CPH until the arrival of the second permanent Pastor, Rev. David W. Cutting. Rev. Cutting came to CPH from the Brentwood Congregational Church (UCC) in the St. Louis area, assuming his duties on March 15, 1988 with the clear objective of establishing a pre-school in the education facilities at CPH, which had been constructed to meet the requirements of this usage. The Painted Hills Pre-School was in fact established, largely as a result of the untiring efforts of Mary Ann Wahrer, with the support of many members and friends of CPH. The Painted Hills Pre-School functioned effectively for several years, providing a useful service to the community. It was unfortunately necessary to terminate the operation of this preschool in 1999 for financial reasons. Another initiative during Rev. Cutting’s tenure was the offering of our facilities to shelter the homeless, with our members providing food and companionship to those less fortunate than us. Also during the tenure of Rev. Cutting, CPH funded and sponsored it’s first Habitat for Humanity home. Many of the congregation of CPH were involved in this project, assisting with the construction of this and other Habitat homes and providing support to the family receiving the home. On March 10, 1996, Rev. Cutting accepted the call of a church near Houston, TX.

His replacement, Interim Pastor David Trask of Phoenix, maintained CPH as a strong force in the community during his tenure, serving from March 11, 1996 until November 30, 1997. The first Habitat for Humanity home funded and sponsored by CPH was dedicated in the Fall of 1996. Dr. Trask led our successful efforts to become an Open and Affirming Congregation, welcoming all who seek to be Christians. Also during this time, a plan was developed for the extensive refurbishing of the CPH sanctuary, and the renovation work was begun. During this renovation, CPH held combined services with First Congregational Church in their excellent facilities at University and 2nd Avenue. This was another example of the wonderful support that CPH has received from other churches in the Tucson area.

On November 30, 1997, Rev. Lee J. Milligan accepted the call of CPH, becoming the third permanent Pastor of the Church. Rev. Milligan, known affectionately as Pastor Lee, came to CPH from Arlington Community Church, United Church of Christ, in Arlington, NE. Following his arrival at CPH, the congregation continued to worship jointly with the First Congregational Church, until the dedication of the newly renovated CPH sanctuary on February 22, 1998. Pastor Lee brought a distinctly new style to worship services of the CPH congregation. This has included greater use of drama, including a dramatic style of presenting the Holy Scriptures (from memory), which has received a very enthusiastic response from both the congregation and numerous visitors. Pastor Lee has also taken the lead in initiating the use of more contemporary music in worship, including a special contemporary worship service and the Team Worship musical group, which specializes in upbeat contemporary worship music. The overall music program at CPH continues to be strong and of very high quality. Since Pastor Lee’s arrival, CPH has been even more actively involved in the Habitat for Humanity program, funding and provided workers for a second Habitat home and participating with other religious bodies in funding and building two additional homes. Pastor Lee served for two years as Coordinator of the Habitat Interfaith initiatives, resulting in two homes being funded and built by the cooperating faith groups. The Church also strongly supports the Community Food Bank and numerous other charitable causes aimed at improving the quality of life for all disadvantaged people in our community and around the world. Pastor Lee continues to work for stronger involvement with college-age young people at Pima College and the University of Arizona. He and a group of UCC pastors from southern Arizona communities have formed the musical group “The Picking Pastors”, each pastor playing a stringed instrument and singing a variety of folk songs and other musical numbers with the group. Their efforts have been directed toward fund-raising, including especially the support of Campus Christian activities.

The Church of the Painted Hills is currently studying how it can position itself to serve others even more effectively, striving to turn itself “Inside Out“ and become, proactively, a “Church For Others“.