Mennonites in Arizona are not widely known, but our history in the state dates back to the early 40’s with the advent of the first congregations in the Phoenix valley.

Chapters of Shalom

In 1966 a representative from the General Conference Mennonite Church (a predecessor denomination to what is now Mennonite Church USA) visited Tucson to explore the feasibility of establishing a church. In 1967 the Western District of the General Conference Mennonite Church and the Southwest Mennonite Conference of the Mennonite Church (the other predecessor denomination to MC USA) to discuss the possibility of joining together to establish a church in Tucson. The two conferences began planting a Church in Tucson the following year. Tucson Mennonite Fellowship was formed in the fall of 1967. However, many Mennonites in Tucson were involved in other churches, and the group met on an infrequent basis.

A few months after Tucson Mennonite Fellowship was established in the sixties, Elster Wallace bought a building at 6044 E. 30th Street forming a separate church, Evangel Mennonite Church, with Nathan Oglesby and Elster Wallace as co-pastors. Evangel joined both the Pacific District Conference and the Southwest Mennonite Conference and received subsidies from both conferences. Evangel was incorporated in 1976. Evangel began a radio program in the first year and ran a bus ministry to transport people to church functions.

Tucson Mennonite Fellowship began regular meetings in members’ homes. In 1973, Tucson Mennonite Fellowship joined both the Southwest Conference of the Mennonite Church and the Pacific District Conference of the General Conference Church.

Tucson Mennonite Fellowship was incorporated in April 1976.

Tucson Mennonite Fellowship became too large to meet in homes and in November 1976 began meeting in a Sunday School room at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church. In 1977 James Wenger accepted half time pastoral responsibilities

Other Mennonite organizations and groups grew and flourished in Tucson as well.

  • Casa de Esperanza, a group home for juveniles was established in May 1975 with Tucson Mennonite Fellowship as the controlling body.
  • A Mennonite Student Organization was established at the University of Arizona with Dr. Jacob Redekop as a faculty advisor.
  • A Voluntary Service Unit, under the auspices of the Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church, was established in 1973 to work with Evangel, although Unit members chose which congregation they attended. Unit volunteers worked with Traditional Indian Alliance, Gospel Rescue Mission, Housing Development Corporation, Jewish Community Center, Casa de Esperanza, and House of Samuel, a home for Indian Children.
James and Faith Wenger, members of Tucson Mennonite Fellowship, also participated in the Evangel congregation and became the bridge to merging the two groups in 1978 with the endorsement of Nathan Oglesby, who resigned as Evangel’s pastor because of poor health. James Wenger served as interim pastor during the transition.

In February 1978 Shalom Mennonite Fellowship became the official name of the newly formed group. The proposed constitution and bylaws were accepted as presented at the same meeting. Charter membership of 34 persons was drawn up in March 1978.

Incorporation was attained in August 1978.

After the two congregations merged, a winter program for adults was added with a primary focus on home repair for qualified persons as specified by the terms of block grants from the city of Tucson and Pima County.

By 1988 the program was expanded to include a focus on working with refugees and immigration under the Tucson Ecumenical Council and the Tucson Ecumenical Council for Legal Assistance. The Community Home Repair Project of Arizona has become its own entity, but depends upon both long term and short term volunteers provided though Mennonite Mission Network. Volunteers work at the Community Food Bank and on border issues as well.