The Church at Litchfield Park
A House of Prayer for All People
The Church at Litchfield Park
300 North Old Litchfield Road
Litchfield Park, AZ 85340
Page updated Tue Jul 11
The Church at Litchfield Park is conceived of war and born of cotton.
It exists by a deal for a hotel bar, is patterned after a gambling den, and is built of mud.
Paul W. Litchfield, by a stroke of incredible good fortune, was the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company official chosen to set up its cotton production operation in Arizona, and build the town we now know as Litchfield Park. His vision, beneficence, and wide-ranging talents created a beautiful oasis in the sweltering desert.
Part of his plan was a non-denominational church for the residence of the Protestant religions. Mr. Litchfield was raised Unitarian and it was his religious belief that God is an all-inclusive Unity.
In 1916, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company needed of a new source of long-staple cotton, which provided the strong fibers used in the manufacture of its tires. This particular variety had been available only from Georgia and Egypt. The boll weevil decimated the Georgia crop and World War I German submarines greatly reduced the supply from Egypt.
Paul W. Litchfield, a Goodyear executive, was sent to the Phoenix, Arizona area with the objective of interesting ranchers in the cultivation of cotton. Failing to gain their enthusiasm, Goodyear Tire and Rubber, through Litchfield's urging, formed a subsidiary to purchase land and convert it to cotton production.
Litchfield was appointed President of the new company, and some 36,000 acres were purchased for cotton growing in the general Salt River Valley area, including 5,000 acres near the present site of Litchfield Park, and known as Litchfield Ranch. A concentrated effort was launched in 1917 to convert the Litchfield Ranch into a major cotton producing property, and in just two years the cotton harvest reached 6,734,000 pounds.
A temporary public school was established in what had been a cook shack, with 11 pupils under the tutelage of Mrs. Mable Padgett, wife of Litchfield Ranch Operations Manager John W. Padget. Mrs. Padget conducted the first Sunday School on October 14, 1917 in the same makeshift building.
Seeking a place for worship, company managers and workers wanted to expand the Sunday School. On March 27, 1938 the Padgetts and others, including two key Goodyear managers, Kenneth McMicken and Arthur Zieske, adopted a constitution and by-laws for a non-denominational church, and asked Zieske to serve as chairman.
They needed a building, though, so they approached Paul Litchfield for funding.
The immediate problem was that the Goodyear Board, having felt the brunt of the Great Depression, was withdrawing funds from Arizona. If Paul Litchfield had not risen to become president of Goodyear by then, the plans for a church at that time might have been doomed.
Mr. Litchfield was an enthusiastic supporter of the church. He was adamantly opposed, though, to a bar and cocktail lounge at Goodyear’s Organization House, a resort which by that time had been renamed The Wigwam.
The Wigwam’s manager, who had been pressing to make the resort more profitable, had convinced many on the Goodyear Board that a bar was a good idea. Mr. Litchfield, a man of strict moral principles, compromised to strike a deal with the Board. Funds would be allocated for his church and the Wigwam would have its bar.
Mr. Litchfield played a significant role in the design of the church. Despite his moral principals, he found inspiration for the inside of the sanctuary in a gambling casino in Ensenada, Mexico. He combined his own drawing of it with a newspaper photo of an early mission and turned it over to Goodyear engineers.
Ground was broken for the building of the Church of Litchfield Park on September 10, 1939. The dirt dug out to create the foundation was used on the site to make the adobe brick for the walls. The sanctuary was completed on December 10, 1939, a mere three months later. The bell for the tower was brought from San Diego by Mr. Litchfield.
The Church blended ideally into the village that its founder had planned, combining a reverence for the past with a practical outlook for the future. The church was done in the graceful style of the early missions of the southwest; yet it was spacious enough to accommodate the entire population of Litchfield Park, which then numbered about 200.
The Church has expanded several times since the sanctuary was completed. A colonnade was built in 1946 to provide classrooms and a kitchen. Five years later another wing for a pastoral office and an area where social functions could be held was completed, and this was called Zieske Hall.
After owning and maintaining the Church for over 30 years, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber deeded the building and land to the membership on October 27, 1971.
Because of Church growth in the next decade, the sanctuary was expanded in the 1980’s. The work was done so skillfully that it is virtually impossible to discern where the original adobe sanctuary ends and the addition begins.
About that time Pastor Judson Souers was called to be the pastor, a position he served for approximately 20 years. He still lives in the community and serves as Pastor Emeritus.
An activities center, which includes a kitchen and a worship area, was named “Souers Hall” in his honor, after “Pastor Jud” retired from full-time ministry.
The senior pastor now is Rev. Dale L. Hopely, Jr. The other pastoral staff includes Rev. Lynne Kammeraad, Associate Pastor, and Rev. Kerri Sandusky, Associate Pastor. In October, 2012, Rev. Sandusky became the first minister to be ordained by the Church, the congregation unanimously ratifying her candidacy.
Begun as a non-denominational church, The Church now refers to itself as interdenominational, a place where the various denominational traditions of its worshippers are celebrated.
Today the Church has a myriad of special worship opportunities, programs for fellowship and service for visitors as well as its members, and outreach missions. Its facilities also host over 20 community organizations. Having grown up alongside Litchfield Park and its surrounding area, it strives to be an important addition to the spirit of the community.
There are several historical photos in our slide show below:
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