Rim Country residents are helping Payson’s first church, Community Presbyterian, celebrate its 75th anniversary at events that have taken place throughout the year.
Most recently the church hosted a Fall Festival full of fun and entertainment Oct. 16 and the members and guests of the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce at a mixer Oct. 20.
Activities honoring the anniversary began with a special worship service Sunday, April 11 and will conclude with a commemorative celebration Nov. 21.
Over the years the Payson Roundup has published a number of different articles on the historic church.
Using those resources and those held by the church, with the help of its current pastor, Charles Proudfoot, who has a bachelor’s degree in history, the story of the town’s oldest place of worship has been pieced together.
The Presbytery of Southern Arizona gave Community Presbyterian its charter April 10, 1935. It had a congregation of 34 members. The receipt of the charter culminated 16 years of work and a presence in the community by the 1st Presbyterian Church of Globe with a Sunday School Outreach Mission at the Payson church’s current location at 800 W. Main St.
Most of the money for the 1935 construction of the log building came from a woman in Phoenix, Ella Mitchell. She donated $1,200 in memory of her dead husband and then contributed a leather-bound pulpit Bible in the memory of her daughter, who was also deceased.
Mitchell also gave the church a communion table, two pulpit chairs and more.
Proudfoot said the money basically paid for the entire construction, combined with the contribution of logs from Frank Owens, whose sons Keith and Kerm later founded Owens Bros. Lumber.
Consequently, according to an article published in the Aug. 13, 1980 Payson Roundup, the church was first called Mitchell Memorial Church.
Several interim pastors came to Payson to tend the fledgling Presbyterian flock, but in the summer of 1935, the first permanent pastor was assigned to the community. A newly minted minister — and newly married — James B. Glenn, a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary (at Princeton University, New Jersey), came to Payson and became the church’s founding pastor. He and Charles Poling of the 1st Presbyterian Church of Phoenix gave the first sermons in the church.
Proudfoot said the church archive doesn’t have the exact sermons preached, but it does have the reference material that might have been used at the time. One of those works has a suggested service of dedication, so he is guessing that would have been the blueprint used at that first service.
Proudfoot and his congregation members organizing the anniversary events are trying to craft a program that will be as close to the original service of commission as possible for the Nov. 21 event topping off the year of celebration.
The log building that housed the first church is still standing, but it has been remodeled numerous times to accommodate the Child Learning Center.
So, the members of the church are building a backdrop of the front of the first church and will place it at the front of the current sanctuary for the delivery of the Nov. 21 service.
There are still elements from the old log church in the new building. The leather-bound pulpit Bible donated by Ella Mitchell has pride of place, though the King James Version is no longer used in services, and the church’s wooden pews are from the original church.
The Nov. 21 service will include a message delivered by the Rev. Jose Olagues, who presently serves as associate executive for congregational resourcing for Grand Canyon Presbytery. Another highlight of the special service will be an original hymn, composed by Nancy Preuss, the church’s organist and pianist.