February 8, 2006 - The late Rev. Charles Madinger's reasons for assuming pastoral leadership of the Marana Community Christian Church were almost prophetic - telling the story his church would face even beyond his own time.

"The Marana parish covers a large territory," he stated in a March 1955 newspaper article. "It is a rapidly expanding community and our first effort will be the securing of ground and building for the new congregation which was established two years ago."

The congregation, which traces its roots back to 1952, held meetings inside the Marana Grade School auditorium back then, though its members sought a full-time pastor who could assist them in building a sanctuary of their own. They turned to Madinger, who helped Wilcox build its Christian church a decade earlier.

Fifty years later, the Marana Community Christian Church still stands on the corner of Grier and Sandario roads, where the congregation converted an old ranch house into a nondenominational church in 1956. They chose the site after buying a piece of land in an area old-timers referred to as "Honeaville," which they decided against building on because it was too sandy.

The Marana church, which quickly became a pillar in the community, has stood the test of time and its congregation continues to thrive today. However, its new leaders know the small church couldn't possibly serve the needs of all 250,000 people expected to inhabit Marana in the coming decades. The 60-plus people who fill the pews each Sunday are already cozy enough.

Suddenly, Madinger's words from another life are being repeated almost verbatim. Today's church leaders are searching for a new full-time pastor to lead the congregation as they develop a new church and community center, while continuing to serve the rapidly growing town of Marana.

Developers of Rancho Marana, a master-planned community now underway south of Barnett Road, have responded to the church's prayers. They've promised to donate some property within their development, where the church could have a new sanctuary built in a few short years.

"We're very much akin to the residential development that's going on in Marana and we have been fortunate in having five acres of land donated to us," said Harry Christman, 84, chairman of the church's outreach committee. "The intention will be to serve all of the new residents of the Marana area, if they choose to participate."

Church leaders tell the story of their bold plans for tomorrow in a pamphlet they've published, titled, "Our Future Story."

They envision a new sanctuary that will accommodate several hundred worshipers on a Southwestern-style campus. They have hopes of developing a community center, complete with a stage, classrooms, commercial kitchen, lounges, lobbies, music room, administrative offices and workrooms.

It's here that they plan to open a new day care and infant care center with outdoor play areas. The center would offer programs for several church and community groups, as well as Sunday school and midweek Bible studies.

"Our vision would be to serve the Marana community by providing humanitarian services, as well as religious opportunities for all denominations," said Christman, a member of the church for more than 20 years.

Interest groups for both men and women could range from a cigar club to yoga and tai chi. Meanwhile, they hope to build a Christian Center for the Arts, which could feature a 200-seat theater for drama productions, music concerts, art shows and after-school programs.

"My education, experience and background is engineering construction and I have a tremendous desire to feel like I've assisted in the development of something of this sort," said Christman, who sits up front at almost every Marana Town Council meeting to make sure he's in tune with the town's plans for growth and that his church is included in those plans.

Darline Johns, head of the church board of trustees, has been coming to the church since the early 1970s. She, too, wants to see the church in which she was married in 1979 remain a fixture in Marana.

"We just have all kinds of plans for this church and this community," said the church elder. "I think this church has a bright future ahead and we're going to be involved in the community, as we always have been."

The church got its start in 1952 when Christians from six different denominations came together to form a church that would serve their community and welcome people of all backgrounds. Community service has always been the emphasis of the church and its mission.

It's hard to say whether the 17 families who founded the church had any idea just how fruitful their efforts would prove to be in future years. But as was their mission, the seeds they planted in those early years brought forth fruit - some hundredfold, some sixtyfold and some thirtyfold.

They were farmers, ranchers and school teachers who entrenched themselves in the community - launching its first health clinic, helping to start a community food bank and opening a day care center. Those organizations are known today as the Marana Health Center, the Marana Community Food Bank and the Community Christian Preschool of Marana.

As the church celebrates its 53rd birthday this week, having officially organized Feb. 8, 1953, many are reminded of its history and the large impact such a small congregation had on the quaint community of Marana.

"The Community Christian Church is basically the founding organization of the Marana Health Center," said former Mayor Ora Harn, who served as director of the center for many years, though she wasn't a member of the church. "The early beginners of the Christian Community Church, or at least when I came in contact with them, were really people who cared about this community and were out there helping those who were less fortunate and really struggling in their lives."

The women of the church made doughnuts each week, which they sold on the street to raise money for the church. They were not only the church life of the community but also the social life of the community.

"They got together to play bridge and they had a group of women that were basically the cotton blossom ladies who did a lot of social work in the community," Harn said. "It was a really active church and the heart of the Marana community."

Bernice Hinton, 84, one of the church's earliest members, said she moved to Marana in the early 1950s and quickly joined the efforts she saw underway. She served as a Sunday school teacher while her husband was instrumental in getting the health clinic started.

"What made it special to me was their concern for the community. That's why we named it a community church," said Hinton, who now lives in an assisted care facility in Tucson with her husband, Duncan, 87.

The couple stayed members of the church for 45 years until old age caught up to them in recent years. Even when they moved to east Tucson, though, they still made the 27-mile drive to church every Sunday for many years.

The church's founders said there wasn't a "mainline" Christian church in their community beforehand. There were others that catered specifically to the area's Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and Southern Baptists, but the Marana Community Christian Church brought people of many denominations together - rather than letting the community remain divided by denomination.

"The church has always cared a lot about the community, which to me is what Christianity is all about," Hinton said.

The church's affiliations lie with The Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, whose creed is faith in Jesus Christ. Communion is central to their worship, and everyone is encouraged to participate each Sunday, said Rev. George Tolman, the church's interim pastor for the past six months.

"It's an inclusive church," said Tolman, 84, who said he's witnessed the congregation grow by about a dozen members since August. "We just try to serve the community."

Derryl Dumermuth, 81, and his wife Wanda stopped inside the church on a recent Sunday morning during a visit to Marana, the area they lived in 43 years ago. They were instrumental in founding the church, though they've since moved to California.

The couple said they were in town one last time to visit their old church friends, the Hintons, before they're no longer able to make the drive. The trip brought back memories of their days in Marana, back before there was electricity and before there were more than five phones in town.

"When we were here, the town was not incorporated," Dumermuth said. "And the mayor now is Ed Honea and he was in one of our Bible school classes."

"And Vice Mayor Herbert Kai, I gave piano lessons to him," added Wanda, who was the church's organist and choir director for 10 years, as well as head of the Bible school.

They were shocked to see hundreds of homes sprouting on the farmland once owned by their friends, the Gladdens, also early members of the church. The farm they once knew is now a master-planned community, aptly named Gladden Farms, which will boast several thousand homes when finished.

Dumermuth, an early church elder, was principal of Marana High School, which he said had about 65 students when he left. Marana Schools Superintendent O.H. Oldfather, namesake of The Oldfather Inn on Ina Road, also was one of the early church elders.

"We used to say he was the old elder and I was the young elder," Dumermuth joked.

The Dumermuths were among several families, including the Gladdens, Hintons, Smiths, Gillespies, Oldfathers, Anways and Manns who got the church on its feet.

Wilda Postel, 69, was part of the Saunders family that also played a significant role in the church's early days. The Prescott resident was still in high school when the church started and remembers joining the church choir.

"Wanda Dumermuth was just this wonderful person who insisted we should have a choir and my mother was the only person who could carry a tune," she joked. "But we all sang and she directed that choir like we were somebody else."

The church's first Sunday School meeting was held in the old Marana High School auditorium on Oct. 12, 1952. Worship services began in November that year.

The First Christian Church of Tucson sponsored the formation of the church, whose first preachers were lay leaders and chaplains from the Marana Air Base.

The church bought four acres of property and the house it converted from Harold Reyher in 1956. The church still stands there today on Grier Road, which was known back then as "Lateral 8" and ran along an open irrigation ditch.

During the summer of 1962, a parsonage was built on a corner of the church property. On March 20, 1966, the congregation dedicated the present sanctuary building.

It was during those early years that the church saw a need to not only bring ministry, but also medical care to migrant farm workers. The church arranged for volunteer doctors to come out from Tucson twice a month and later provided a two-room building for a health clinic.

In 1964, the church allowed the lease of its land for $1 a year to build a six-room health clinic. The center was staffed on a volunteer basis before the church sought grants to fund full-time medical personnel and construct a new building.

The church started the forerunner to the Marana Community Food Bank in 1976, one year before Marana incorporated. A thrift center also grew from its efforts and provided used clothing for low-income families.

The Reyher house was razed in 1977 to make way for a new community building, which now houses the church's Children's Center, where it operates a thriving Christian preschool program. In 1985, the land on which the health clinic building and the parsonage stood was sold to the Marana Health Center to expand its services.

The church served as a command post for the Red Cross during the violent floods of 1983, when the Santa Cruz River overflowed during a storm that killed several people and caused thousands of dollars in damage. Fate may have been on the church's side as it managed to stay dry.

"They were just out of the path enough that the water kind of went around that area," said Harn, who lived just down the street and saw her own house flood. "The Red Cross and all the meals were set up at the Community Christian Church. Some of the area flooded but the church kind of stayed up higher and out of the way."

As the community has continually changed, so has the congregation, though its mission remains the same.

Church members like snowbird resident Al Swingley, who considers the church his sanctuary five months out of the year, say it's the spirit of the Marana Community Christian Church and its congregation that keeps them coming back.

"It's just a warm church. Everybody cares for everybody," said Darryl Churchill, 59, who plays guitar in the church's music group.

Church members continue to stay active with the Marana Health Center, the Marana Senior Center and the Community Food Bank. Members of the congregation are common faces in the community and at Marana's Founders Day events. They went Christmas caroling in Gladden Farms this past holiday season and say they plan to do the same when new residential communities arrive in Marana.

Christman said the church can be proud of its past, but it can't rest on its laurels. The church has to look to the future now and its leaders will have to decide whether to sell the current property to help fund a new church.

While the small church has changed and will continue to grow and evolve, Christman said, "I think the proven thing that has not changed, and will not change, is it's a community-minded church."

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