St. Raphael in the Valley was formed in early 1958 as a mission church in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona. The first service, on July 20, 1958, was Morning Prayer led by Lay Reader Fred Talmadge. The Senior Warden was J. T. Suagee. By May 1959 the founding members had purchased a little general store on Union Street, which they converted into a church consisting of a vestibule, a sanctuary, a vesting room and a restroom. The first vicar began work in January 1960.
Church membership ebbed and flowed throughout the years. By the end of the 20th century, church membership had declined, and the members began looking at ways to move forward.
At about this time, also, we took a good look at our small building, land-locked in a neighborhood where people had a hard time finding us. After two years of discernment and discussion, the congregation committed to buying land from Quiburi Mission and building a new church. A chapter of ECW was formed, and this group spearheaded a building fund campaign. The Diocese committed funds from the sale of the Chapel of the Resurrection in Tucson to our project. In 2012 the Building Committee received approval from the Bishop’s Committee and the Diocese on the plans for the new church, and construction began and was completed.
At about this time, St. Raphael perceived a call to embrace the concept of a combined Episcopal and ELCA Lutheran congregation. Our numbers soon included ELCA Lutherans in the area who needed a spiritual home. For a few years, we shared a pastor with Trinity Lutheran in Willcox until that congregation was disbanded.
Our services have evolved from alternating Episcopal and Lutheran liturgies month-by-month to using nationally established shared liturgical materials, so that we truly do not distinguish between our members based on their religious background. We welcome everyone, and we have many in the congregation who come from other religious traditions who find a home here.
Today, St. Raphael is mortgage-free, thanks to the generosity of two church members, one who paid the balance of what was owed on the land, and the other who paid the building mortgage. We hope one day to build more space, but for now we are working on developing our outdoor worship space: the Rose Garden and a planned gazebo worship space near the Labyrinth.
Our original church was on a busy residential street. During the 1990’s, the congregation began wishing for windows that would be beautiful but would provide privacy from the street. We thought stained glass would be nice, but the price, of course, was prohibitive. Our vicar at that time, Father Bill Johnson, stumbled upon a solution for us.
A church in Tucson had suffered fire damage and was replacing its stained-glass windows. The artist who was building these windows had leftover glass, and Father Bill prevailed upon him to construct eight modest windows from the leftovers. Each pane is different from the others, and all are beautiful! We brought the windows with us when we moved to the new church. Set into the East wall, behind the altar, they channel the morning sun gloriously.