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Founding Pastor Bufkin Oliver was one of the “Mississippi Mafia” – a group of 28 white Methodist clergy in Mississippi who signed the “Born of Conviction” public declaration opposing segregation and Jim Crow laws in 1963 – most of whom left the state under threats of violence and death. Dayspring began the same year as a mission church, Christ Chapel, under Rev. Oliver’s leadership at Tempe Mortuary.
Eventually property was purchased across the street on Southern Ave. and two buildings were constructed. Rev. Ed Grant was appointed pastor in 1965 and Christ Chapel was officially incorporated on May 8, 1967. A vibrant and diverse community, worship was characterized as “innovative” and “experimental,” and offered in the round. Education, service and music opportunities expanded as the fellowship grew. The preschool was established in 1971.
Rev. Marshall Lindsay became pastor in 1974. Membership grew with Tempe’s expansion. Children’s programs were bursting at the seams. A decision was made to relocate and expand. With fundraising and loans, a generous gift of farmland on Elliot Road by members Earl and Marvel Schlick and a lot of faith, the decision was made to move. In 1979, after a painful process, the church changed its name to Dayspring United Methodist Church.
The former property on Southern was sold, and the congregation met at the new Corona del Sol High School and continued with fundraising, member growth and programming for about two years. The new site was surrounded by farmland that developed rapidly during the expansion of Tempe in the 1980’s. The first buildings on Elliot Rd. were a sanctuary (now Fellowship Hall), some office space, a kitchen and several classrooms surrounding a courtyard.
In May of 1981, the congregation paraded from its old site on Southern to the new location. The cross outside connected the past with its new beginning. L. Michael Kelley became Director of Music in 1982. When Rev. Lindsay preached on the occasion of Dayspring’s 30th Anniversary, he highlighted the justice work of the church during his tenure, including its support of Planned Parenthood – despite vociferous opposition from other pastors and churches in the East Valley.
Dayspring grew with Tempe in the 1980’s, and its service, outreach, education, and music programming were expanded. The Rev. Dr. Bert Lewis was appointed as pastor in 1984. Soon it was standing room only at both services on Sundays and there wasn’t enough room for Sunday School or other programs to develop. Dayspring moved forward with plans for expansion and fundraising and dedicated its new facilities on September 11, 1988.
In 1985 Rev. Lori Martin-DeWitt became Dayspring’s first associate pastor. Rev. Sharon Telford followed in 1990 and Rev. Condé Blevin in 1994. Membership increased, programs flourished and the church grew missions and outreach based on the strengths and passion of both members and pastors. Medical teams were sent to Mexico, members worked with UMOM expansion and youth began service projects outside the community. Music ministries dramatically increased and began summer European tours. Rev. Shirley Ramsey (Wells) and Rev. Anthony Tang were added as associates in 1997. Spiritual formation, adult education, children and youth activities were expanded. A public statement of welcome of all – including LGBT persons – was adopted and published throughout church literature.
In 2000, Dr. Lewis retired and Rev. Tom Kiracofe was appointed as senior minister. Music, worship, missions, and education remained strong. However, Dayspring – like the UMC at large – was challenged with a declining membership, major budget issues and church facilities in need of renovation from years of heavy use. The church began a long process of refinancing debt, refocusing mission, increasing giving, refining ministries, and improving facilities. Family Promise and Stephen Ministry were added, along with office space for Valley Interfaith Project. In 2002, Rev. Tang left and Rev. Melanie Dobson-Hughes arrived.
After the retirement of Rev. Kiracofe in 2004, the Rev. Dr. Jane Tews became Dayspring’s first female senior pastor. A “pastor’s pastor,” Dr. Tews was a consummate preacher, and membership increased and debts were refinanced and retired, with continued campus rehab including renovation of the patio and the sanctuary. Rev. Dobson-Hughes and Rev. Shirley Wells left and Rev. George Smoot joined the staff. He further strengthened the youth program and had a gift for information technology. Rev. L. Michael Kelley was also commissioned during this time. Space was offered to Alcoholics Anonymous and PFLAG for meetings and Open Table started at Dayspring in the late 2000’s. Domestic violence intervention programs increased. Wednesday Evening Fellowship combined choir rehearsals and education with good eating and fellowship. The mission statement was refreshed and the strategic plan was revised.
Dayspring experienced a devastating loss in 2013 when Rev. Dr. Tews died following a major stroke while battling cancer. The entire community and Conference were deeply shaken. Rev. Smoot retired and Rev. Joel Bullock became the new associate that same year. Rev. Marvin Arnpriester was appointed as interim senior pastor. It was a time of mourning and healing for the community and, under his leadership, Dayspring completed a renovation of the Fellowship Hall, reviewed its operations, and expanded offices for new youth leadership. A new branding effort commenced and Dayspring’s strengths were reaffirmed:
Rev. Jeff Procter-Murphy was appointed lead pastor in 2014. He brings a passion for interfaith dialogue, adult theological education and a desire to reach those who have been alienated by the church. An alternative worship service was started in January 2015 and that March, Dayspring affiliated with the Reconciling Ministries Network. In the fall of 2015, a successful capital campaign raised $1 million in pledges, allowing numerous improvements to the campus and support for several of Dayspring’s missions: including UMOM, the medical/dental clinic at Tochimizolco, and Habitat for Humanity.
Dayspring’s history is still being written but our legacy includes the manifold gifts of our members, pastors, and so many unnamed staff. In January 2017 Dayspring UMC received the M.L.K. Diversity Award from the City of Tempe. (Dayspring also received the award in 2008, and two of its pastors have been recognized individually for their efforts at fostering diversity.) We believe that when you embrace diversity, you embrace God. The next 50 years hold the promise of being the best yet as we seek to be a spiritual community for all people.