St James was founded in 1950 and has served as a light for central Tucson during that time.
The St. James Story
An Early History of Our Church
St. James United Methodist Church came into being as a result of a long-felt need to have a Methodist Church located on the north side of Tucson to carry on the work of the Lord there.
It was in March 1944 that the Tucson District Superintendent, Frank Williams, obtained the approval of the Conference Board of Missions to purchase property in Northeast Tucson for developing a new church. A committee of local churchmen was formed to investigate suitable locations for a new church in the “fastest growing section of Tucson.” Direct organizing action, however, was not immediate. There were delays. The war (WW II) was still an undecided issue. Materials for building were not available at that time.
Six years later, an appeal to Dr. Alva Hutchinson of the General Board of Missions and Church Extension, brought the following telegram on March 13, 1950: TWELVE HUNDRED DOLLARS APPROVED NORTHEAST TUCSON BEGINNING MARCH FIRST. With that first grant of financial help plus additional assistance from the Conference, the Tucson District Superintendent appointed Rev. Clovis B. Snider to begin the essential work of planning for a new church, selecting a good location, organizing a congregation, and holding church services.
The first tasks were to select a church site and also begin holding worship services somewhere. Armed with a city map and a clipboard, Rev. Snider began the work of surveying the north side area for a suitable place to build a church. Mr. H. A. Arnold, a veteran map-maker for Tucson, compiled a written analysis of population trends with a recommendation on best locations. Two ministers with church location experience were also conducted. It was the combined opinion of these men that we should try to locate as near to Campbell Avenue and Ft Lowell as possible.
The land on which our church is built belonged to Captain Joseph Rice of the Tucson Police Department. Captain Rice offered to sell and we agree to buy two acres – lots 1 and 2 facing Campbell Avenue at Lind Road – for $7,000. The Church Extension Society in Phoenix gave us the first $1,000 which was used for the down payment. The Conference Board of Missions and Church Extension generously agreed to pay off the $6,000 balance in twelve months. This gift of two acres of land was a great boost to our nascent church!
It soon became evident that two acres of land would not provide enough space for parking facilities and future expansion. In late 1950, a third one-acre parcel of land was therefore purchased from Captain Rice for $2,300 and by the Spring of 1954, another one-acre parcel – just west of the first three – was purchased by the church for $2,500 giving us a total of four acres in “Block 28 of Richland Heights Addition.
Another step in conjunction with selecting a building site was to find a name for the new church! After crossing off names that were already being used by other Methodist churches in Tucson, Rev. Snider compiled a list of names which could be used and asked the membership to mark their choice of name from this suggested list. The name “St. James” soon led all the rest! The list was submitted to the Tucson Methodist Ministers and “St. James” was their unanimous choice!
Meantime, a suitable temporary place to hold worship services and Sunday school classes had to be found. For the first four years (1950-1954), the Amphitheater Junior High School building was rented for Sunday morning church school and worship service. The minister’s home was used for most other meetings. There was choir rehearsal each Thursday evening, MYF each Sunday night, Official Board once a month, and many other gatherings, large and small. The Snider home was a busy place!
The very first worship service was held at 11:00 AM Sunday morning in the Amphitheater Junior High School building on April 23, 1950. All the Tucson newspapers and radio stations were quite generous in giving us space and time for advertising our worship services at Amphi. One thousand announcement cards were mailed out. Russell Hughes had gathered together a number of singers and had a good choir that Sunday. They sang the very appropriate anthems, “Thou Hast Been King to Me, O Lord,” and “Peace Came into My Heart.” The hymns were “Holy, Holy, Holy” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” and “Near to the Heart of God.” The sermon was entitled “Your First Duty” using Scripture readings from Psalms 91: 1-7 and Luke 17: 20-21. Sixty-four people were there for that first worship service to praise the Lord!
During those early days at Amphi, the pulpit scarf – with its cross and crown symbolism – was the only outward sign that a Christian gathering was taking place! Since there were no hymn books, we printed the hymns in the Sunday Bulletin for several weeks. Soon, however, there were enough gifts of Methodist hymnals to supply our congregation. The Mother’s Class of Catalina Methodist Church was particularly generous in their contribution to the Hymnal Fund.
These highlights from our 1950 first-year history are interesting:
March 13 Starting grant from Conference Board of Missions
March 15 Rev. Clovis B. Snider appointed as first pastor.
April 23 First Worship Service at Amphi.
Sept. 10 First Sunday school class held at Amphi.
Sept. 17 Charter Service – St. James officially chartered.
Sept. 24 Woman’s Society of Christian Service organized
Nov. 3 Building Fund Started
On November 3, 1950, the Official Board voted to start a Building and Improvement Fund. The first Sunday of each month thereafter designated as “Building Fund Sunday” and by May 9, 1951, the Fund had reached $1,108.86 – our first $1,000! Shortly, thereafter, the Rev. John H. Saltman was assigned to lead us in a two-week financial campaign which resulted in a total giving of more than $13,000 – enough to begin some serious preparation for actual building construction! A Building Committee was elected and charged with obtaining an architect and then working with the architect on church construction plans to be submitted to the congregation. This committee selected Edwin Westberg of Pasadena, California as architect and Russell Hastings was employed as local supervising architect. The construction firm of Cravon Hague were low bidders and were awarded the contract to build our new church. Price: $61,481! Ground-breaking ceremonies were held on July 11, 1954 and the contractor began digging the foundation trenches the very next day. St. Janes was to have the distinction of being the 1st Methodist church north of Speedway Blvd!
We held our first worship service3s in the new church sanctuary on Sunday, December 19, 1954 – one service at 8:30 AM and the second one at 10:55 AM. On February 6, 1955, the Consecration Service was held with District Superintendent Clarence Wagner preaching at the first service and Bishop Gerald Kennedy preaching at the second service. We finally had our new church – still unfinished but nonetheless beautiful – dedicated to the work of the Lord. Halleluiah!