Our Beginning

by Reverend Marc Hayden

In 1987, l was just one-year past seminary graduation and ordination and serving at Church of the Beatitudes in Phoenix. lt was an exciting and challenging time. I was the junior member of a clergy team of six, in one of our denomination’s flagship congregations. l had been called to Church of the Beatitudes to provide pastoral leadership in ministry with children, youth, and families with young children. At my arrival, the plans for a Youth Center were being finalized and the construction underway. A major effort of mine was to organize programming for this new facility for children and youth. In addition to the responsibilities in my area of service were various other tasks that were passed down the chain of command to the new kid on staff. I was having so much fun being in my first full-time position in such a vital ministry with such talented and committed people l gladly performed any duty that came my way. For instance, no one else wanted to deliver the invocation for the Arizona State University Football Kick-off Luncheon, I did the praying and ASU went on to win the Rose Bowl, now that was some kind of prayer! Also that year, I was asked to welcome and pick-up three pastors at the airport who were coming to Phoenix to interview for the position of new church start pastor of a satellite that Church of the Beatitudes was planting in Scottsdale. I was plenty busy in my area of ministry and never gave much thought to this initiative. I was merely an interested observer who occasionally heard a report about the satellite idea during staff meetings.

As it turns out, none of the three candidates was a good match for the position. In the fall of 1987, my boss called me into his office and changed my life forever by uttering these words, “Marc, as you know we have engaged in a nationwide search for the pastor to begin the satellite in Scottsdale. It has occurred to me that the right person was here all along—you.”

I took a ride to Scottsdale to see the community, the site that had already been purchased, and to visit with Herb Drinkwater, a Beatitudes member and the Mayor of Scottsdale. It didn’t take but a moment to know where we belonged and in January of 1988, at the Church of the Beatitudes Board meeting, I was approved as the founding pastor of Congregational Church of the Valley.

Throughout 1988, I spent my time with my feet in two places: half spent at Beatitudes wrapping up unfinished business; and half devoted to planning and organizing for the new church. The key tasks for the new church included: recruiting an organizing committee, recruiting Beatitudes families who lived in the northeast part of the valley to dedicate two years to being the leaders and workers in the satellite as we got started, getting a constitution and bylaws together, choosing a church name, finding a place to worship, figuring out a marketing plan, and finding a place for the Hayden family to live in Scottsdale. To be perfectly honest I did not have any grand plan to follow, but God is good and I it with some really great people. Two amazing things happened in 1988: an excellent, experienced and wise group of people agreed to serve on the Organizing Committee; and, a dozen highly dedicated families agreed to serve alongside of my own family as the church got started.

I have never served with a finer group of people than the Organizing Committee. That team included: Mayor Herb Drinkwater, Pat Blair (real estate broker), Stephanie Nowack (at the time the chief executive for the Valley of the Sun United Way), Paul Wentworth (attorney), Rollin Stark (accountant), Barnie Garmire (retired chief of police of Miami and Tucson) and Vern Swaback (architect). They brought a wealth of knowledge, experience and wisdom that was invaluable. Though I was young and inexperienced they were gracious and supportive beyond what l deserved. I was truly honored to serve with them.

Similar accolades are appropriate for those dozen families from Beatitudes who agreed to roll up their sleeves and get the church started. Though none of them lived in the immediate neighborhood of the new church they graciously signed on to invite their neighbors, to serve as ushers, greeters, teachers, nursery attendants, choir members, committee chairs, organizers, helpers, as well as giving financially. They served enthusiastically and faithfully and when the two-year commitment that I had asked of them expired they all decided to stay on as founding members of the church. Without the support of Church of the Beatitudes and the devotion of those who served on the Organizing Committee and as organizing members Congregational Church of the Valley United Church of Christ would never have gotten off the ground.

January 1989, my young family and I moved into a new home in Scottsdale. Most meetings, study groups, choir rehearsal, fellowship events, even Vacation Bible School were held in our home. Our family embraced our new church family and welcomed all who entered our home with a warm smile and something good to eat! My patient wife, Julie, our unofficial staffer, was also invaluable in developing our ministry with children — which were in abundance in our young family-oriented community! And did l mention that my office was at home plus all the stuff that was needed to set-up and tear-down worship and Christian education in our temporary location, the Mayo Clinic?

Despite what has been rumored, it is not true that the Mayo Clinic was chosen as our temporary site because my preaching could make people sick. it just so happens that the auditorium at the Scottsdale location of the Mayo Clinic, which was opening at about the same time as CCOV, was named for longtime Beatitudes member, Dr. Ashton Taylor and seemed to be the sign we needed. In addition, Mayor Drinkwater had worked closely with the administrators of Mayo Clinic in order to bring this world-renowned clinic to Scottsdale. I am not sure I mentioned that we would be using a large waiting area for a nursery and children’s ministry during worship or that we would be hiding Easter eggs in the main entrance landscaping. As a new church start pastor, I learned in quick fashion that sometimes it is better to ask forgiveness than permission.

We got the word out about the church with articles and ads in the local papers and magazines, with neighborhood canvassing, some direct mailings, and most effectively with our folks inviting their friends and neighbors. I also attended any community meeting that would have me and allow me to offer an invitation to the new church, as well as praying for a host of City of Scottsdale events. God bless Herb Drinkwater! I was proud to be introduced by him as his pastor for invocations at everything from City Council meetings to new park openings. Stephanie Nowack was also strategic on behalf of her church. Julie and I enjoyed some delicious meals at United Way banquets where I delivered the invocation and met lots of movers and shakers who I introduced to our new church.

On the first Sunday of Lent, 1989, our first service of worship was held. Well over a hundred people were in attendance that first Sunday, including a large number of well-wishers from Church of the Beatitudes. More importantly, 70 people returned the following Sunday! What a relief, there were actually people to make the dream of Congregational Church of the Valley a reality.

Our efforts in those early years were all about building—building a congregation, building relationships, building ministries with the congregation, building a name and identity in the community, building values for mission and stewardship, and building plans for buildings. Yet I can tell you, we made a lot of memories in those first few years

  • a live nativity in the courtyard — which in hindsight didn’t include thinking about clean up
  • sweat equity of many members —- and none of us were experts — that gave us purple thumbs but a place to worship
  • progressive dinners and the Thanksgiving Day feast that was delivered cheerfully by the women’s fellowship and the Grace of God
  • Seeing the entire congregation attending one of Mayor Drinkwater’s re-election parties
  • the joyful sounds of our children’s choir
  • family camps in Prescott, hiking and hayrides
    concerts and Jazzercise — we tried it all
  • and welcoming the return of our faithful Snowbirds bringing back to us the spirit of appreciation and commitment that continues to warm my heart even after so many years.

Yes, we encountered plenty of challenges but thankfully a cooperative and hopeful spirit prevailed. With hard work, faithful commitment from the congregation, the moral and financial support of Church of the Beatitudes, a generous gift from Union Congregational Church whose ending provided some seed money for our beginning, and divine grace and providence we managed to witness the creation of a self-sustaining congregation, get on-site with the first phase of buildings, begin a preschool, and be enriched by ministries of worship, education, fellowship, service and outreach.

The needs of aging parents prompted our return to the Midwest after just five years at the new church. a was a very difficult decision but one we felt was necessary. We miss our Arizona family but know you have made an indelible mark on our hearts with your faith and love.

We are so grateful that Congregational Church of the Valley remains a vital congregation and we salute and continue to pray for the current staff and congregation. Julie and I send our warmest regards and our very best wishes. It was an honor to have played a role in planting some seeds of faith. May the love of God, the grace of Christ and power of the Holy Spirit be with you always!