History Page 4

At 8:00AM the same day, the bishop celebrated the Holy Communion assisted by the Rev. Arthur Lewis. At this service, the first class of confirmands was presented for confirmation. The “juniors” in the class were Judy Buwen, Mary Gordon, Susanne McCoy, Nancy Northcutt, Sandra Rippey, Susan Sasse, Laurie Stewart, Douglas Sheldon, and Mildred Watson. The adults were Ann Carter, Orville Buttenhoff, Janet Stewart, and Esther Yale.  The confirmation was held despite the fact that two lessons remained to be completed. The hymns were “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today”, “O Jesus, I Have Promised”, “Alleluia, Alleluia, The Strife Is O’er,” and “Come Ye Faithful, Raise The Strain” played by Geraldine Rippey on the organ. It being the first time an Episcopal service was graced with organ music.

As a preface to the story that comes next, let me say something about the title of this work. In the 11 th century when the First Crusade was preached, a phrase was in use to describe why men should leave castle, farm or business, and family to walk half way across the known world to fight the Saracen and free the Holy Sepulcher. That phrase was “Deus Vult” or “God Wills It.”  It was an imperative that could not be logically explained, but was, rather, a divine reason. As you read what follows, you might come to the same conclusion I have reached that the only reasonable motto for St. Stephen’s is “Deus Vult.”

The story of the actual founding of St. Stephen’s is powerfully told primarily by Mrs. Arvo (Allyne) Niemi, a lady of unsurpassed, almost Old Testament, vision and determination who relates:

“We arrived at Fort Huachuca in the month of September, 1958 from Chicago. Father Arthur Lewis of St. Paul’s in Tombstone, Arizona was the auxiliary chaplain furnished or paid a stipend by the United States Defense Department’s Chaplain Fund to serve members of the Episcopal faith in the Greater Huachuca Area using a chapel located on the grounds of Fort Huachuca.

After several months of attending the services each Sunday, rumor reached my husband and I about the security obstacle for automobiles passing through the main gate. Without an 1.0. tag and car insurance, numerous people wishing to attend the Episcopal Service were turned away.  The” red tape” was bothersome to ranchers driving many miles as well as civilians not connected with the Electronic Proving Ground’s program.

Then too, I thought all responsibility for maintaining a church of our faith should not fall on the Defense Department which in reality was the taxpayers. So upon the first visit of Bishop Kinsolving (after our arrival), I asked why we couldn’t have a mission off post. To which, he replied “Money.”  Must add here, the Bishop knew me from a girl of twelve years old. He was a very handsome young man when they visited my grandfather, the Rev. J. Wilmer Turner, in 1915 or thereabouts.

It was with the Bishop’s blessing that I initiated the “Buy a Brick” campaign with the goal of a thousand dollars. Then we were to return to the Bishop for further assistance and advice upon establishing “off post” a church.”

From another article:

“…Mrs. Niemi launched a “Buy a Brick” campaign on February 1 5, 1959. Announced at the first Episcopal services ever held in Sierra Vista, in, of all unlikely places, the Roller Rink, the first brick of the 15 sold that day was purchased by Mayor Rudolph Steffan for his grandson, William.  33 people attended that service. It scarcely augured victory. I! (It is interesting that no such location is indicated in the Register of Church
Services.”

Returning to Allyne Niemi:

“Father Lewis was my inspiration.”  Immediately, we permitted Father Lewis to set up an office in our quarters located on Grierson Avenue, Fort Huachuca. A large bedroom with desk, bookcases and telephone was his to use for all church business, also a place to rest when making parish calls. He was privileged to go and come as the need arose, also to make his afternoon `pot of tea’ if we were not at home.  In other words, our home was his home. We worked closely together scouring the countryside for Episcopalians. We prayed together and kept faith as friction and misunderstanding developed. All members on post were not cooperative and bitterly talked against the project. The subject was almost taboo especially among ranking officers.”

One is left to conjecture why this should have been such a “hot” topic.  Was it due to the relative isolation of Fort Huachuca and the fact that upper echelon post residents were psychologically living in each other’s back pockets? Did Allyne Niemi’s obvious enthusiasm rub the less enthusiastic the wrong way?

Picking up the story:

“Encouragement came from the most unexpected sources. Friends visiting us would buy two hundred bricks or more.”

But, despite the encouragement, there was the persistent fear that goals would not be achieved and the contributions would have to be returned.  As she writes of a Sunday, probably in early April 1959:

“On Sunday morning after church and the congregation gathering for brunch in the Officers’ Club, Father Lewis and I entered the dining room alone to pray for God’s help and divine guidance. We decided to announce the futility of succeeding in our Drive for the Building Fund”.  It was a heart-rending decision. As we opened the dining room doors, a dear friend (Mrs. Walter Bryant), a Christian Scientist, greeted me saying ‘I’ve been trying to reach you for a week to give this (envelope) to you.’ Immediately leaving. I stepped aside for people to enter the dining room, Father Lewis, greeting and welcoming young and old across from me the ever priestly vicar. Face was sad knowing that the hour had arrived to inform the loyal Episcopal members that our building fund was a lost cause.

Upon opening the envelope given to me, I suddenly realized God had answered our prayers. He had given us a sign to carry on. For in my hand I was holding a check for $500.00 pushing us over our goal of a thousand dollars. From that moment forward, we never lost faith again. The church became a reality.”

In (April) 1959.. .the Bishop’s Committee made the pilgrimage to Phoenix to visit the Bishop.  The purpose was to ask permission to build a church in Sierra Vista. We had several locations. There were seven of us including Father Lewis. A Gertrude Saunders, I remember Juanita Furbush, Maxine Sheets, Bill Steffan arid wife and baby son, William and myself.

The Bishop was not receptive to our request saying he “wanted no more missions at that time in the Arizona Diocese.”  Leaving for lunch, crestfallen, I stopped at the Bishop’s secretary’s desk and told her I would return all monies contributed to the building of an Episcopal Church to the givers upon returning to Sierra Vista.
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