A Brief History of Immanuel Presbyterian Church
by Rev. Bob Seel, Parish Associate Emeritus

On September 1, 1964, the Rev. Richard Ohden began ringing doorbells of prospective members, as he set out to organize a new church, Immanuel United Presbyterian Church of Tucson, Arizona. The Rev. Mr. Ohden, appointed as the organizing pastor by the Board of National Missions and the Presbytery of Southern Arizona, led the first worship service at Marshall Elementary School on October 18, 1964. The first Sunday school was also held there on January 1, 1965.

One year later, on October 31, 1965, Immanuel was officially organized with 82 members. The members officially elected and installed the Rev. Richard Ohden as pastor. The Session met at his home, at 632 S. Camino Seco, for that year.

The Session studied several properties in East Tucson presented in a survey that had been held in 1957. On January 10, 1967, the Session selected and purchased, for $35,000, the lot at the corner of East 22nd Street and Brown. On October 6, 1968, the ground breaking ceremony was held, and construction began on the first church building. The floor plan of this single building included a series of rooms on the east side to house the pastor’s office, the church office, a kitchen, and several classrooms. The sanctuary occupied the west side. To those who were not present during the early stages on Immanuel’s growth, this explains the existence of all the doors on the east side of the current sanctuary.

By Christmas Eve 1968 the building had walls, but little else. So the congregation gathered under the stars for the first worship service within the walls.

On March 2, 1969, Immanuel held its first full worship service and celebrated Holy Communion in the new sanctuary at 9252 E. 22nd Street, this time with a roof, but with no heat. But with the warm spirit of the congregation, no one was cold. On October 26, 1969, on the fourth anniversary of the church’s organization, a special Service of Dedication was held at 4:00 pm, with the Rev. Glen McGee preaching. Ms. Barbara Cook, Presbytery Moderator, the Rev. James T. Weber of the Tucson Ecumenical Council, and the Rev. Robert V. Chapman, Field Director for the Board of National Missions, and the Rev. Richard Ohden, were in attendance, along with 152 members and friends.

By 1982, Immanuel had outgrown a single building. A new structure was added. First called the Christian Education Building, it later became church offices. In 1987, the church office and the pastor´s study were moved to the Administration Building. In that same year, the sanctuary was remodeled, walls and partitions were removed, new paint, new carpeting, and a new pulpit, communion table and baptismal font were installed. This present sanctuary can seat 330 people comfortably. The Administration Building was dedicated on October 31, 1982, the church´s 17th anniversary.

In January 1984, the Rev. Ohden retired and Immanuel began its first search for a new pastor. During that year, Dr. Glen McGee led worship services with his unique humor and style. Then on October 14, 1984, the Rev. Fred Wood was installed as pastor, continuing here until his retirement in June 2005. Under Pastor Wood’s leadership the church was called to expand its mission work, seeking to help the homeless and hungry in the community. The commitment to the House of Neighborly Service that had been made when the church was first organized, was affirmed. Other mission work included projects such as Eastside Advocates for Resettlement, refugee family resettlement, Casa Maria lunches, Habitat for Humanity, the Ulster Project, and border ministry for establishing Presbyterian churches in northern Mexico.

In 1989, the present Christian Education Building, now  Towner Hall, was named after the Rev. Margaret Towner, the first Presbyterian woman to be ordained, was completed. It has a nursery, seven classrooms a small kitchen, restrooms, and a shower for the church’s ministry with homeless persons and visiting groups. This project also included the paving of an additional parking lot and landscaping the church grounds. Also in 1989, Immanuel established a Memorial Garden on the west side of the Sanctuary, a modern day version of the New England cemetery. This quiet garden offers a final resting place and a peaceful setting for meditation. Then in 2000, the church purchased two acres just east of our parking lot. This will provide room for additional parking as well as land for using our imagination for future ministries. At present, it is the location of a labyrinth and a desert trail.

In 1995, the Rev. Valerie Moore became Immanuel’s first Associate Pastor, serving until June 2004. The Rev. Lisa Hickman served as Youth Minister from 2001 to 2004, while her husband, Jason, was campus minister at the University of Arizona. For 6 years the church enjoyed the expertise and service of two Parish Associates, Revs. Bob and Betty May Seel. When Betty May died suddenly in September 2004, Bob accepted a six-month teaching position in a Presbyterian Seminary in Barranquilla, Colombia, starting in July 2005. After the Rev. Fred Wood’s retirement in June 2005, the Revs. Richard and Kathryn Pyke served as interim pastors for 30 months while the church conducted a mission study and searched for a new pastor. The Rev. John C. Tittle was joyfully received in February 2008.

On Pentecost 2003, the church broke ground for two new buildings, and in December 2004, Witherspoon Hall and Knox Hall were completed. Knox Hall contains a senior high youth room with a small kitchen area, and a choir room. Witherspoon Hall contains 5 classrooms and a full size kitchen. As in Towner Hall, all the classrooms in Witherspoon are separated by collapsible room dividers, and when the entire room is opened up for activities such as the church’s Thanksgiving Dinner, nearly 200 can be seated for dinner.

A beautiful courtyard was designed in the space between the new and older buildings, and it has become a gathering place for the whole congregation at special times, as well as a recreational space for teenagers on Sunday evenings. In the fall of 2008, the Session decided to name the buildings on the Immanuel Presbyterian Church campus after four significant leaders. So you might know them a bit, here are brief biographies of each.

Biographical Sketches of John Knox, John Witherspoon, Sheldon Jackson, and Margaret Towner

Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Immanuel Presbyterian Church seeks to be a congregation that grows in service as a living witness to the love of Jesus Christ.

Created November 2009. Updated March 2018.