Historical View of First Church & UCC

Please take a moment and view the storied history of First Church and United Church of Christ

The United Church of Christ is a blend of four principal traditions—Congregational, Christian, Evangelical, and Reformed. Each of these traditions has left a mark on U.S. religious and political history. ;xNLx;;xNLx;First Church UCC located in Downtown Phoenix has boldly embraced these rich traditions since 1917, when the church was founded.

1700-01-01 00:00:00

An Early Stand Against Slavery

Congregationalists are among the first Americans to take a stand against slavery. The Rev. Samuel Sewall writes the first anti-slavery pamphlet in America, "The Selling of Joseph." Sewall lays the foundation for the abolitionist movement that comes more than a century later.

1773-09-01 00:00:00

First Published African American Poet

A young member of the Old South congregation, Phillis Wheatley, becomes the first published African American author. "Poems on Various Subjects" is a sensation, and Wheatley gains her freedom from slavery soon after. Modern African American poet Alice Walker says of her: "[She] kept alive, in so many of our ancestors, the notion of song."

1785-01-01 00:00:00

First Ordained African American Pastor

Lemuel Haynes is the first African American ordained by a Protestant denomination. He becomes a world-renowned preacher and writer.

1810-04-16 21:33:11

First Foreign Mission Society

America's first foreign mission society, the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions (ABCFM) is formed by Congregationalists in Massachusetts

1839-04-16 21:33:11

A Defining Moment for the Abolitionist Movement

Enslaved Africans break their chains and seize control of the schooner Amistad. Their freedom is short-lived, and they are held in a Connecticut jail while the ship's owners sue to have them returned as property. The case becomes a defining moment for the movement to abolish slavery. Congregationalists and other Christians organize a campaign to free the captives. The Supreme Court rules the captives are not property, and the Africans regain their freedom.

1840-04-16 21:33:11

First United Church in U.S. History

A meeting of pastors in Missouri forms the first united church in U.S. history—the Evangelical Synod. It unites two Protestant traditions that have been separated for centuries: Lutheran and Reformed. The Evangelicals believe in the power of tradition, but also in spiritual freedom. "Rigid ceremony and strong condemnation of others are terrible things to me," one of them writes.

1846-04-16 21:33:11

First Integrated Anti-Slavery Society

The Amistad case is a spur to the conscience of Congregationalists who believe no human being should be a slave. In 1846 Lewis Tappan, one of the Amistad organizers, organizes the American Missionary Association—the first anti-slavery society in the U.S. with multiracial leadership.

1853-04-16 21:33:11

First Woman Pastor

Antoinette Brown is the first woman since New Testament times ordained as a Christian minister, and perhaps the first woman in history elected to serve a Christian congregation as pastor. At her ordination a friend, Methodist minister Luther Lee, defends "a woman's right to preach the Gospel." He quotes the New Testament: "There is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

1917-07-01 00:00:00

First Congregational Church Formation

The membership formally established the First Congregational Church of Phoenix AZ, on July 1, 1917.

1923-04-16 21:33:11

Initial Church Construction

This initial church was constructed ca. 1923. It was a modest Mission Revival building, consistent with the architectural styles prevalent in Phoenix at the time. This church would serve for the next 20 years, but there was ongoing discussion to expand the building during the 1930’s. The congregation grew in membership, but there was never adequate funding to expand the building.

1942-10-25 21:33:11

Completion of Initial Version of New Structure

The initial version of the new structure for the First Congregational Church was completed in May of 1942, and dedicated on October 25, 1942. (Arizona Republic, Oct 26, 1942.) The building was a very traditional “Colonial” church form, clearly designed to emulate the designs of the Georgian and Federal style meetinghouses built along the eastern seaboard in the eighteenth century, and throughout the northeastern states well in to the mid-nineteenth century.

1943-04-16 21:33:11

The 'Serenity Prayer'

Evangelical and Reformed theologian Reinhold Niebuhr preaches a sermon that introduces the world to the now famous Serenity Prayer: "God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other."

1947-01-01 00:00:00

First Congregational United Church of Christ Home to AA Groups

In the late 40's, First Congregational United Church of Christ Phoenix was the first congregation to open its doors to AA meetings in Phoenix. To this day, First Church hosts AA and NA meetings throughout the week.

1951-01-01 00:00:00

God and Freedom Medal

A highlight in 1951 was our God and Freedom Medal, sent world-wide, which earned the men’s Club the First Place Freedom Award in 1954 and national recognition. The Medal was carried by many famous personalities over the years.

1952-12-01 21:33:11

Expansion Project

The rapidly expanding membership required the expansion of the 1942 building, which would occur in 1952. A sketch of the sanctuary enlargement proposed by Phoenix architect Harold Ekman appeared in the Arizona Republic, January 19, 1952. A similar sketch appeared in AZ Builder/Contractor magazine on February 1952 noting that a wing was to be added on the east and west sides to gain larger seating capacity, an increase from 200 to 400 persons.

1953-04-16 21:33:11

Helped Start North Church

Our Church helped start North Church (now Church of the Beatitudes) in 1953.

1953-12-23 21:33:11

Steeple Enlargement

The final change to the church came with the addition of the new steeple the following year. It was also designed by Harold Ekman. A permit for the steeple was issued on October 13, 1953. The steeple was completed on December 23, 1953. The addition of the steeple yielded the appearance of the church building as it stands now, completing the architectural image of the classic New England meetinghouse with the tall spire that had been envisioned by the congregation, and Dr. Smith, in the 1930s.

1956-01-01 21:33:11

Final Additions to First Church Campus

Following the completion of the sanctuary, the Church was entering another phase of growth, both in membership, and in the related programming and social activities. Until this time, these functions were housed in the original church building from 1923. Another Phoenix architectural firm, Weaver and Drover conceived the master plan, which located buildings to the east of the main church and created a square shaped courtyard. The buildings are physically attached at the north end of the church. Two buildings were completed, one in 1956 and the other 1958. They were designed by Richard Drover of the firm of Weaver and Drover. Both are one story, blonde-brick buildings with a gable roof. They have very modest Classical detailing. The final building, designed by Pierson, Miller, Ware and Associates essentially matches the prior buildings. The final structure was completed and ready for occupancy in 1968.

1957-04-16 21:33:11

Spiritual and Ethnic Traditions Unite

The United Church of Christ is born when the Evangelical and Reformed Church unites with the Congregational Christian Churches. The new community embraces a rich variety of spiritual traditions and embraces believers of African, Asian, Pacific, Latin American, Native American and European descent.

1959-04-16 21:33:11

Historic Ruling That Airwaves are Public History

Southern television stations impose a news blackout on the growing civil rights movement, and Martin Luther King Jr. asks the UCC to intervene. Everett Parker of the UCC's Office of Communication organizes churches and wins in Federal court a ruling that the airwaves are public, not private property. The decision leads to a proliferation of people of color in television studios and newsrooms.

1960-04-16 21:33:11

Became First Congregational United Church of Christ

First Congregational church was changed to the First Congregational United Church of Christ of Phoenix, Arizona, in 1960, when we joined the UCC.

1972-04-16 21:33:11

Ordination of First Openly Gay Minister

The UCC's Golden Gate Association ordains the first openly gay person as a minister in a mainline Protestant denomination: the Rev. William R. Johnson. In the following three decades, General Synod urges equal rights for homosexual citizens and calls on congregations to welcome gay, lesbian and bisexual members.

1976-04-16 21:33:11

First African American Leader of an Integrated Denomination

General Synod elects the Rev. Joseph H. Evans president of the United Church of Christ. He becomes the first African American leader of a racially integrated mainline church in the United States.

1979-01-01 00:00:00

Hospice of the Valley

In 1979 First Congregational United Church of Christ Phoenix served as the first home for Hospice of the Valley after their initial organizing stage. Offices, training and support were offered from our Campus

1982-09-01 00:00:00

Interfaith Cooperative Ministries

In the fall of 1982, Founding Member, First Congregational UCC Phoenix, became the initial home to the formalized Interfaith Cooperative Ministries, which is now known as ICM Food & Clothing Bank. Rev. Leroy Calbom was the first "acting" Chair of the organization.

1992-11-01 21:33:11

Pastor Stephen Wayles

Reverend Stephen Wayles was hired and was the pastor of First Congregational UCC for many years!

1995-04-16 21:33:11

Singing a New Song

The United Church of Christ publishes The New Century Hymnal—the only hymnal released by a Christian church that honors in equal measure both male and female images of God. Although its poetry is contemporary, its theology is traditional. "We acknowledge the limitations of our words while we confess that in Jesus Christ the Word of God became flesh and lived within history," writes Thomas Dipko, a UCC executive who played a key role in shaping the new hymnal.

1995-08-01 21:33:11

Arizona School for the Arts Location

First Congregational Church of Christ Phoenix becomes the primary location for the Arizona School for the Arts, the premier performing arts high school in Arizona.

2003-01-19 21:33:11

"Open & Affirming" Declaration

Following guidelines of the United Church of Christ to attract and accept expansion of membership from the Phoenix L.G.B.T.Q. community, First Church became an "Open & Affirming" congregation.

2014-01-01 00:00:00

Senior Pastor James Pennington

Reverend James Pennington joins First Church UCC as its Senior Pastor.

2014-02-16 00:00:00

Radically Inclusive "Open & Affirming" Declaration

First Congregational UCC Phoenix amends it's original "Open & Affirming" Statement adopted in 2003 to make a bolder statement in welcoming all.

2017-01-26 21:33:11

First Church Sanctuary Declaration

The First Congregational United Church of Christ near McDowell Road and Third Street in Phoenix held an event January 26th dedicated to showing its support for immigrants.“In times of crises people of faith have to return to ancient traditions. Refugees in the Roman Empire found sanctuary in Christian churches. Slaves in precivil war United States found sanctuary in the Underground Railroad and congregations across the country. Political refugees from the civil wars in Central America found sanctuary in over 500 churches in the United States when our federal government failed to offer asylum or refuge under existing laws," said First Church pastor James Pennington in a statement. "First Church joins the many congregations already offering sanctuary today in the face of one of the most urgent and large scale humanitarian crisis in the United States."

2017-08-22 00:00:00

Unity Vigil & March

On August 22nd, First Church UCC hosted a peaceful prayer vigil and march to St. Mary's Basilica around the corner from the Phoenix Convention center where President Trump was holding a rally. Well over 500 people attended the prayer vigil and approximately 700 people participated in the march through downtown Phoenix!

2017-12-03 00:00:00

Centennial Celebration!

Celebrating a Century of Faith in Action

Historical View of First Church & UCC

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