Barbara Peterson had the unique ecumenical background to become the founder of Interfaith Community Services, now celebrating 25 years of service. She was:
• Raised Swedish Covenant and attended a church-related high school in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
• Graduated from Presbyterian-related Macalester College in St. Paul, majoring in elementary education.
• Married and later divorced a United Church of Christ pastor while living in a Chicago suburb.
• Graduated from Methodist-affiliated Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill.
So, it wasn't so surprising that then-Rev. Barbara Smith decided, as a single mother of four children, ages 8 to 15, to accept a multi-denomination position at the University of Arizona in May 1978, shortly after graduating from seminary.
"It was my 40th birthday," she recalls of the move to Tucson, "and my responsibilities were with the UCC, Presbyterian and Disciples of Christ students."
Pastor Smith worked the campus position for four years. "During that time (in 1980), we were able to get holistic health pioneer Grainger Westberg to come here (from Chicago) for a one-week seminar about his belief that true healing involves the body, mind and spirit."
Dr. Westberg was founder of the nationwide parish nurse movement in the early 1980s, linking the health care system to many faith communities. A Lutheran clergyman, he also founded 13 holistic healthcare centers in Illinois.
"I'd always been interested in holistic medicine, and that seemed to reinforce my focus in workplace years here," Smith said.
Two years later, that experience helped her shift to a spiritual counselor role at the former Alvernon Family Clinic (1982-84) and finally to an associate pastor role at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church.. One of her two responsibilities there: older adult ministry.
"We had an all-day workshop, examining old-age issues – help in the home with food and many other things," she remembers. "We discovered many things with that process.
"It also reaffirmed that we are all one in God, and raised the question, 'Why can't we (different congregations) do these things together?'"
Thus the 1985 beginning of Northwest Interfaith Center, which, in early 2005, was changed to Interfaith Community Services because its current scope had expanded to the Greater Tucson community.
"Four congregations (Capilla del Sol Christian Church, Casas Adobes Congregational United Church of Christ, St. Mark's United Methodist Church and St. Andrews) had been working together on a telecare program at that time." Telecare had volunteer callers checking daily with homebound persons living alone.
That was the starting core for ICS. Cortaro Vista Community Church and Third Church of Christ the Scientist came shortly thereafter. Now the ICS network is a still-growing 56 faith communities and more than 600 volunteer workers.
In calendar 2009, ICS provided 49,708 individual services to 36,300 persons. More than 98 percent of the outreach organization's clients fall under the federal poverty guidelines.
"As we learn more about other faiths," says Smith, 72, who married St. Andrew's member John Anderson in 1996, "I've always believed we become stronger in our own faith."
The first ICS challenge was a food bank operation after a phone call to then-Tucson Food Bank director Punch Wood brought the message: "There are hungry people out there (in the northern Tucson tier)." Then volunteer care services to the homebound and a Good Samaritan emergency assistance program.
"Within five years, we knew well that this program was going to make it," says Smith, who remembers only six persons came for food during ICS' first week. "It took on a life of its own."
Early days found ICS headquartered in a trailer – "Andy's Annex" – in the St. Andrew's parking lot. The program's first year had 25 to 50 volunteer workers, she recalls. In March 2001, the organization moved to its present location on the grounds of Christ the King Episcopal Church, 2800 Ina Road.
Over its 25-year history, three persons – Smith-Anderson (1985-92), June Head (1992-2002) and Bonnie Kampa (2002-present) have led the way. "I've always been the visionary-type person, June helped us become financially stable with grant writing, and Bonnie has brought a real professional perspective to the organization."
Interestingly, ICS always has remained focused on a three-word mission – Love, Cooperation, Service. "That's really a prayer for the world, isn't it?" says Smith-Anderson, who retired from St. Andrew's in mid-1999.
ICS has room Nov. 11
Openings still exist for one of Interfaith Community Services' major fund-raising and friend-raising projects – the 'We Care' Golf Classic Nov. 11 at Tucson National Golf Course.
Single player cost, including a Mexican buffet, is $150 for the scramble event. Foursome cost is $600. A $250,000 hole-in-one shootout event also is planned. For more information, call Diane Luber, ICS development director, at 297-2738.
A special concert Oct. 11 at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church to commemorate ICS' 25th anniversary already is sold out. That event will feature two Native American artists – Grammy-nominated flutist R. Carlos Nakai and classical guitarist Gabriel Ayala.