The Arizona Ecumenical Council was preceded for twenty-three years by the Arizona Council of Churches (ACC), established in 1948.
These were significant years of ecumenical development worldwide. The World Council of Churches was formed in 1948, the national Council of Churches of Christ in the USA in 1950. Vatican II convened from 1962 to 1965. These post World War II years also saw the federal government pouring its resources into rebuilding the nation’s social institutions. The setting was ripe for progress.
And the ACC was ready for the challenge. It opened an office, hired staff as needed: Lou Eaton, Dick Muterspaugh, Frank Durand and others, went to work.
Using primarily NCCC and Office of Economic Opportunity funds, an ambitious Migrant Opportunities Program (MOP) was initiated under the energetic leadership of the Rev. Harold Lundgren, an American Baptist minister. Clinics, day care centers, schools and community centers were set up at eleven migrant camps around the state.
Starting in 1966 and continuing into the early ’70s, summer camping experiences were provided to migrant children.
The Department of Labor also granted funds to set up a Skills Training Opportunity Program (STOP) under the guidance of late Rev. George L. Phearson, assisted by Hector Zavaleta, Frank Osuna, Carlos Gutierrez, and the Rev. Ray Dugan.
During this time, the ACC began to serve public institutions, enlisting chaplains for hospitals and prisons. Its centerpiece project was generating funds to build a chapel at Boys Ranch, a school for disadvantaged children.
In 1957, the Arizona Council of Churches sponsored thirty Hungarian refugees.
In the early ’60s, the ACC co-sponsored a Billy Graham Crusade in Phoenix. The audience filled one side of the ASU stadium several nights in a row.
The Inauguration of the Arizona Ecumenical Council
Change came in 1968-69. The Rev. Dr. Richard Smith, Executive of the Presbyterian Synod of the Southwest accepted the presidency of the ACC with the understanding that radical changes were pending. Faith and Order conversations with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson under Bishop Green and Monsignor Donahoe were pursued. Dr. Culver Nelson, a UCC clergyman from Phoenix, took the lead for ACC. The Diocese was now ready to join with its Protestant brothers and sisters. The Council was redesigned and new bylaws written. The result was that the ACC transitioned to the Arizona Ecumenical Council, with new Bylaws.
The new structure of the AEC was simultaneously broader and tighter than that of the predecessor. The Council became an association of denominational judicatories rather than a federation of individual executives, local clergy, congregations and ecumenical groups. The inclusion of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson, the Diocese of Gallup, and the Diocese of Phoenix, which formed in December of that same year, 1969, also contributed greatly to Council prestige, program potential and resources. Altogether, nine denominations were represented as charter members: American Baptist, Church of the Brethren, The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Episcopalian, Lutheran Church in America, Roman Catholic, United Church of Christ, United Methodist and United Presbyterian.
As the Arizona Ecumenical Council, the most visible ecumenical event of the ’80s was the 1987 visit of Pope John Paul II to Phoenix, and his audience with ecumenical executives at the Cathedral.
Throughout the years, AEC has worked on Social Concerns, Political Action, Peace Advocacy, Central American Refugee Crisis, Disaster Response, Native American Ministries, Theological Dialogue, Interfaith Dialogue, Public Policy, Earth Care and many other efforts.
Summarized from “The Net Was Not Torn” An Historical Sketch of the Arizona Ecumenical Council 1969-1989
Arizona Faith Network
In 2015, the Board voted to revise and rename the organization as Arizona Faith Network. With the hiring of the new Executive Director, a Presbyterian, Rev. Erin Tamayo, AFN dedicated itself to becoming and interreligious organization, one which committed its mission to both civil dialogue and social transformation. Thus in 2015, AFN was born with the mission of “Bringing together People of Faith, under the inspiration of God, as a bridge to understanding and action- Being Together, Talking Together, Acting Together.”
Since 2015 AFN has undergone an annual process of developing a mission focus for its work. This process provides direction to the work of AFN and has included the following topics: Municipal ID Project (1 PHX ID)(2015), Economic Inequality (2016-2017), Faith, Equity & Inclusion (2018), and Criminal Legal Reform (2019-2020).
In the summer of 2017, Dr. Jannah Scott, a leader of First Institutional Baptist Church of Phoenix, was hired as an Interim Executive Director. Dr. Scott helped AFN to refine its vision & mission and restructure the organizational bylaws. In January of 2019, Rev. Katie Sexton, an ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister, was hired as the new Executive Director of Arizona Faith Network. The work of a new strategic direction of AFN was launched in January of 2019.
Leadership over the Years
Louis Eaton 1957-1970
David Reed 1970-1977
Robert Chapman 1977-1978
Executive Board 1978-1985
Arlo Nau 1985-1993
Paul Eppinger 1993-2002
Jan Olav Flaaten 2002-2012
Bjorn Petersen 2012-2012
Executive Board 2013-2014
Erin Tamayo 2015-2017 (Arizona Faith Network)
Jannah Scott 2017-2018
Katie Sexton 2019-
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