History of Christ Church of the Ascension

CHRISTMAS EVE, 1963, saw the first worship service of Christ Church of the Ascension, then the newest mission of the Diocese of Arizona. A small group of approximately fifty people asked The Reverend Canon George McNeill Ray to be the Vicar of the Mission. The first location was an old abandoned movie and television studio at 5100 N. 40th Street. An overflow crowd attended the first service – 273 people – and 103 people attended on Christmas Day. Bishop Harte complimented the Mission by presiding at both services.

Early in 1965 the Bishop’s Committee decided that another location should be found. At the end of 1965, the mission was granted parish status and Canon Ray became CCA’s first Rector. In addition, the church acquired the 8 ¼ acres on which the church is now located, half of which was a gift from the Margaret (“Peggy”) Johnson Goldwater Trust.

The search for the new Rector resulted in a call to The Rev. Dan J. Gerrard and in March, 1966, Father Gerrard (affectionately called “Padre”) became the Church’s second Rector, a position he would occupy for 22 years.

Padre and the Building Committee secured the services of the well-known architect, Bennie Gonzales, to design the entire campus of the future Church. Following this plan, the first building erected on the Church’s “own ground” was dedicated on November 19, 1967. The building, consisting of a Parish Hall/temporary worship area, offices and classrooms, was named “Craig Hall” in honor of Canon Craig. Later, on Sunday, February 23, 1975, the main Church building was dedicated and consecrated.

Further fund drives in the 1980s were launched to renovate classrooms and to improve the space between Craig Hall and the Church by creating a Courtyard. At the same time (1980 - 1982) the Memorial Garden Project began. The Garden was privately funded and continues operating today on outside resources, but is answerable to the Vestry. The Memorial Garden Trustee Committee members are elected by the Parish.

Father Gerrard retired the end of June 1988. The Rev. Dr. Harvey G. (“Jerry”) Cook, Ph.D., was called as the third rector in November 1989. In addition to his ministry with the Episcopal Church, Jerry was also an active military chaplain reservist, holding the rank of Captain in the U.S. Navy. Father Cook oversaw construction of more improvements and on April 6, 1997, the new parish hall, named Rectors Hall to honor all the Rectors of the Church (past, present and future) was dedicated.

Jerry Cook retired in June 1998. The Rev. Kenneth J. G. Semon became the Church’s 4th Rector on February 1, 1999. Fr. Semon quickly undertook the final development of the Church’s campus with the construction of The Canon Dan Gerrard Christian Education Center, a separate Chapel for CCA children and Church School children, as well as a major renovation of the interior of the Church, changing from a Southwestern decor to a more traditional cathedral style, including a marble reredos.

Christ Church School opened in the new facilities in September, 2003. The enrollment is currently (Fall, 2012) 180 students from 18 months through 2nd grade, with 31 staff members.

Fr. Semon resigned in August 2007 and Bishop Smith appointed The Rev. Phillip A. Jackson as Priest-In-Charge. Fr. Phil assumed his duties on October 1, 2007. In less than a year, the Vestry asked Fr. Phil to become permanent Rector. He agreed, and he is now the fifth Rector of the Church.

Today Christ Church of the Ascension offers worship services in the Episcopal tradition, along with a variety of other Christian activities for all persons, of all ages, and of many different persuasions, including choir, gift and book shop, library, book club, Bible studies, dinners, musical and theatrical programs, trips for teens, and outreach programs of all kinds. Friends and newcomers are sincerely welcome at the Church every day of the week and every week of the year. Come worship with us!

Christ Church of the Ascension is located in Paradise Valley, a community in Phoenix AZ.