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
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 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.
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.
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.