Ray Plumlee was ordained by the United Methodist Church, California-Nevada Conference. Prior to coming here, he had served as a school administrator in both Missouri and south of Tucson.
In a newspaper interview he was quoted as saying, “If Goodyear Farms had not carried this Church the past 33 years it probably would have collapsed. In all fairness to them, I feel that our Church now is going to become more meaningful, more relevant to the people in our community who are interested in our Church more than ever before, because it is now our church”.
Rev. Plumlee and the Church Council had approached the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company with an offer to purchase the land and buildings. Up until then it was a company church in a company town. In 1971 the Church was deeded over to the congregation outright.
He was incredibly involved with the community, including the Maryvale Samaritan Hospital’s Chaplaincy Program, the Governor’s Advisory Council on Drug Abuse and Alcohol, the Arizona Ecumenical Council, Shriners, and Rotary.
The Church first gave scholarships to students at Agua Fria High School in 1970. For many years the Women’s Christian Service Fellowship also added funding. A Scholarship Committee seeks candidates from the Agua Fria Union High School District, who are then screened and interviewed, and recipients are chosen. Since its inception it was designed as a local mission with the goals to meet the needs of students in the local community. This program continues today.
Rev. Plumlee and the Church Council had approached the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in 1970 with the request to purchase the Church and land from the Company. Mr. Litchfield chose to make both a gift to the congregation.
On November 21, 1971, Goodyear’s Chief Counsel, Arden Firestone, and Goodyear Farms General Manager, George Busey, blessed the Church with this benevolent gesture. Mr. Firestone ended his presentation by saying, “...I feel both humble and proud to stand in Mr. Litchfield’s rightful place today as Goodyear’s representative at this service. We hope that you shall always be proud of and preserve and treasure this edifice to the Glory of God.” Roger Nelson, council chairman, accepted the documents which transferred this church property to the congregation.
The Church Council then rewrote the constitution to be in line with the Articles of Incorporation. They created the bicameral form of government with the Board of Directors responsible for the corporate affairs and the Church Council responsible for the spiritual affairs.
Once the Church was transferred to the congregation, 1971 was the first year of a Stewardship Campaign. The year before the transfer the Church budget was $16,775. The first year’s budget grew 72% to $28,845. The budget included salaries, insurance, building maintenance, lawn care - all that was required of a church. It was not an easy task. Their total pledge amounted to $25,537 from 71 pledges, of which 62 were from member families. They followed up with teams visiting those who hadn’t pledged.
Each year following there have been Stewardship Campaigns including: Pass the Hat; Pony Express; Stewardship is a Good Investment; We are Family: Christ, Compassion and Community; The Lemonade Stewardship Drive; Assurance of Support; and more recently a Pledge from the Heart; Faith, Hope and Love; Heart to Heart Ambassador Program; and Forward by Faith.
The faceted glass windows in the sanctuary were gifts from the congregation. Ken L. Toney, of Glassart Studios in Scottsdale, was commissioned to design and create the nine main faceted stained-glass windows and the two praying hands windows. Rev. Plumlee and Mr. Toney collaborated in selecting two symbolic Christian images for the center of each of the nave windows. The windows are in three pieces with the top flower flanked by doves and foliage repeated in each window. Members of the congregation funded the windows in memory of others, they cost $1,800 each.
In 1980, with the expansion of the sanctuary, Maureen McGuire was hired to design and accomplish the faceted rose window over the altar. It cost $790, plus shipping and installation. It was dedicated by Sylvia Adams, charter member, in memory of her husband William G. Adams.
The faceted music window in the bell tower room was done in 1986, also by Maureen McGuire. It was dedicated at a memorial service September 1986, by family and friends.
The arabesque window over the front door was originally a leaded glass window of Jesus. Over the years the sun had eroded the window. In 2017, it was replaced with The Trinity Window of faceted glass design to highlight the “all Christian” nature of the church with the yellow cross, trinity knot, and red heart.
The cross was donated as a memorial by Thomas and Joan Heim. Joan was the Church secretary at the time. The inscription on the back is “To Our Children Charles, Thomas, and Kathryn.” Initially the cross was hung over dorsal curtains. During the sanctuary renovation in 1984 the cross was attached to the wall but later was encased in wood by Joe Smith, Church member, and made to stand on the altar.
Christmas 1974 was the first Hanging of the Greens. Long time members, Sally and Tom Harris, got the idea from some bailing wire in their stables. They covered them with greens and hung them on the cow bell lights. Over the years more decorations were added to the sanctuary. The women decorated the church but left the wreaths in the front along the kneeling railing. The congregation was invited and Hanging of the Greens became a special service.
Reverend Plumlee began the tradition by talking about traditions, customs and songs of the seasons followed by nine families hanging the wreaths on the cowbell lights in the sanctuary. This completed the decorating and ushered in the season. The women added the Tasting Party, with cookies and Wassail, following the service.
This Christmas service was held annually for 42 years. In 2017, instead of a separate event, immediately following the 10:45 a.m. service, all were invited to help with decorating the sanctuary for Christmas. The wreaths were placed along with the other decorations.
The earliest documentation of Confirmation is 1976 with Rev. Plumlee. He noted in the newsletter that he was creating a new format, one that would engage the youth, centered around the Statement of Faith, and “experience being the church, rather than just learning about it.” He included visiting churches of other faiths.
Through the years, the other pastors had their own focus but they all were the “process through which young people make a commitment to give their lives to the Lord.” Currently, the youth are grade 8 and up and spend six weeks with discussion and visitations to other churches. They are confirmed at the Palm Sunday service, baptized if not already, and entered into the Church membership.
The initial fountain in front of the church was constructed of terracotta bowls and donated in 1976 as a memorial. By 1987 it had deteriorated, and Women’s Christian Service Fellowship voted to fund a replacement that looked the same. Impossible to find, they purchased a more modern fountain. In 2011 the fountain had mechanical and maintenance problems and was replaced with the current fountain with a pool of water. It was also given as a memorial.
In the early years of the church the women enjoyed the Electa Owen Sunday School Class and there is a picture of Rev. Ostergren with the men of the Men’s Church.
In the 1977 Mission Bell newsletter there is a Bible Study on the calendar for Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. led by Reverend Plumlee. Although there were other Bible study opportunities, Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. continued through every pastor since Rev. Plumlee.
Rev. Souers related Bible passages to everyday lives. Rev. Hopely led a study of Joshua and in 2017 it was a 15+ week study consisting of a series of journeys through the Old and New Testaments.
Throughout the 2000's there were many short, specific Bible Studies presented; for example, the Disciple Program, Spiritual Gifts, and Daily Guidelines for Wise Living.
The Deacons were established at a Special Congregational Meeting on April 30, 1978, to give the pastor dedicated, called, trained lay people to assist in the ministry and mission of the church. The deacons became the pastor’s right hand for various activities, both regular and unexpected.
Their responsibilities include assisting with Holy Communion in Church, at home, or hospital; visiting members and friends; participating in the Sunday service; ushering for funerals or memorial services; witnessing for Christ; and setting a personal example of Christianity.
Thirteen members finished the 18 hours of training and were accepted by the Church Board, the Church Council, and the congregation. Rev. Plumlee accepted the resolution adopted by the Church Council, “That those who select to participate as Deacons, and satisfactorily complete the training programs, and are approved by the Council and pastor, be ordained by The Church at Litchfield Park at a special meeting and be set apart to carry on the duties and functions of a Deacon.”
The vote was 38 yes and one no, with five people abstaining. Today there are nearly 100 active Deacons who serve the needs of the church, and 44 Emeriti Deacons.