Our Story

+History

On November 22, 1958, the first meeting of what would later come to be known as the Northeast Phoenix Church was held. This church was planted by members of the Phoenix Central Church and is today known as the Camelback Seventh-day Adventist Church. The group organized on January 3rd, 1959 with 110 charter members. Of the original group only four still retain membership at Camelback, including Ruth Barraclough, Ken Bursey, Patricia Klett King and Juanita McRae.

The first meeting place of the new congregation was Aldergate Methodist Church at 3530 N. 32nd St. in Phoenix. In September of 1960, they moved to new quarters at Mount of Olives Lutheran Church at 1340 N. 16th St. (Next door to our present day Community Service Center). Prayer meetings were held at various locations including the home of Mrs. Gladys Sherman, the mobile home recreation hall of Mr. and Mrs. Ray Cave and the Fellowship Church at 36th St. and McDowell Rd. The name “Northeast Phoenix Church” was used until a permanent location was chosen for the future building.

Elder Glenn Fillman was the first pastor, sharing his time between the Phoenix Central and Camelback congregations. Elder Arthur A. Douglas became Camelbacks first full time pastor in 1959, serving with his wife, Mary Alice until 1961. Under his leadership, the first property was purchased and plans were made to build. The vote to purchase the property at 5902 E. Camelback Rd. was taken on March 8th, 1959 and the name was changed to Camelback SDA Church on May 5th of that year. Architects preliminary drawings for Phase 1 of the building project were shown to the church board in May of 1960. During the summer of 1960 the Missionary Volunteer (MV) Society organized under the leadership of Dr. James Bursey.

Elder Ed Jones and his wife, Ruth, served from 1961-1966. During their tenure a new Pathfinder Club first met on May 14th, 1962 with Howard Lawson as its’ leader, the northwest corner of the present property was purchased (with a $12,000 loan from Mr. & Mrs. Chris Tange) to provide additional parking and the Rotunda (the initial phase of the building project) was completed and used for the first time on October 18th, 1963. Designated as the “Youth Rotunda,” the name was later changed to “Camelback Fellowship Rotunda” The second phase of the building project was the Education building, which was completed in March of 1965. It now houses classrooms for children, youth, young adult and adult Sabbath School divisions as well as designated Pathfinder and Community Service rooms. All services were held in the new complex from that time forward.

Elder Charles Cook served as Pastor with his wife, Pat, from 1966-1969. In 1966 negotiations were opened to buy the old house that sat where the sanctuary now stands. The land was eventually purchased in 1969. Elder Cook advocated for a strong and useful Pathfinder Club, which has flourished under various leadership over the years.

Elder Dwight Wallack served as Pastor with his wife, Ann, from 1969-1971. Prior to completion, the Sanctuary building plans were interrupted in 1970 to build the Camelback-Thunderbird Elementary School, the name of which was later changed to Thunderbird-Camelback Elementary (TCE). The school was completed in 1971 at a cost of $105,000 and hundreds of hours of donated labor. The Rotunda and the Education Building at the church were paid off and the Education building was dedicated on November 13th, 1971.

In 1971, Elder James Hardin and his wife, Ellen, came to Camelback Church with a vision and excellent administrative ability. In 1972, the Coolidge Seventh-day Adventist Church was placed under the sponsorship of the Camelback SDA Church, at the time of this writing that sponsorship is no longer in place. Preliminary plans for the new sanctuary were approved on March 2nd, 1974 and construction began October 15th, 1974. Phoenix architect Stanley M. Stein and his associate, L. Martha Rudat, provided the architectural drawings and rendered their expertise throughout construction. Richard Henzel of Omega Corporation, Walla Walla, WA, was construction superintendent. During Pastor Hardin’s tenure the church began it’s now famous child evangelism program of Neighborhood Bible Clubs and expanded Vacation Bible School. Attendance in 1975 was 320! During their four-year term of service, the church exceeded 500 members.

Elder Walter R. Brown and his wife, Diane, arrived from Jackson, Mississippi in January of 1976. On March 27th, 1976 we celebrated our first Sabbath in our new Sanctuary! Elder Brown and his family served the church lovingly and with great dedication for the next three years, bearing the great financial responsibility of the new building, while leading the church in many outreach functions, including several cooking schools, which were an important part of church ministry during those years.

In March of 1979, Elder Eugene E. Johnson and his wife, Rose came from North Carolina to pastor at Camelback Church. The Johnsons actively promoted the church and enlarged our congregation through several evangelistic efforts. Elder Johnson’s enthusiasm and devotion to the individual’s needs endeared him greatly to his church family. The Johnsons accepted a call to Nashville, TN and left Camelback in June of 1983.

Elder Larry Dittberner and his wife, Lois, came to Camelback from Eugene, OR in July of 1983 and served until 1989. It was in 1983-84 that the goal was set to pay off the mortgage on the Sanctuary. This goal was realized in August of 1984 through sacrificial giving of the membership and finished by a generous gift from a church member in memory of Dr. W. James Bursey. The Dittberners accepted a call in late 1989 to pastor at the Peoria-Sun City church in West Phoenix.

Elder Ray Mitchell and his wife, Robyn, came to Camelback from the Vallejo Drive Church in Glendale, CA. on February 3rd, 1990. Pastor Ray and his family endeared themselves to the people of Camelback by their prayerful, loving care and sincere concern for the congregation and theirs friends as well. When the Mitchells arrived, the church membership stood at 468. By August of 1994, when Pastor Mitchell gave his farewell sermon, the membership was officially 674. Through Pastor Ray and Robyn’s godly Christian witness a significant portion of the Phoenix non-SDA religious community has a more positive impression of Seventh-day Adventists. Pastor Mitchell and his family accepted a call to be the senior Pastor of the Pacific Union College Church in Angwin, CA.

On July 15th, 1990, Camelback Church welcomed Pastor Mike Leno and his family. Pastor Mike joined our pastoral staff as the Youth & Family Ministries Pastor. The Leno’s came to us from the Midvale Park SDA Church in Tucson, AZ. The Leno family was the initiators of our Children’s Church program, which began in 1991. Children’s Church has been a special blessing to the children of Camelback. Many children from other churches around the Valley have come to witness the enacted parables, the singing, and all of the other activities associated with Children’s Church. Pastors Mitchell and Leno also initiated our Small Group Ministries program.

Dr. Ivan Blake and his wife, Elvira, came to Camelback for the first time on Homecoming Sabbath, December 23rd, 1994 and were very amazed at the large crowd that greeted them. The Blake family came to us from South Africa by way of New York, where they pastored for a time. Prior to coming to Camelback, they pastored the Urbandale Church in Battle Creek, MI. On January 1st, 1997, Elvera became an employee of the Arizona Conference and served as Camelback’s first official Pastoral Assistant. Pastor Blake gave his farewell sermon on November 13th, 1999. When the Blake’s came to Camelback the membership was 674 and when they left the membership had risen to 947.

On November 23rd, 1996 Camelback Church welcomed the new Youth & Family Ministries Pastor, Bobby McGhee to our pastoral staff. Bobby had lived in the Phoenix area in the early 1960’s and we were so happy to have him join our church family. Pastor McGhee left Camelback in 2001 to become the Pastor of the Adventist Worship Center.

Elder Charles White and his wife, Dianne, accepted the invitation to serve as Senior Pastor at Camelback Church in 1999. Pastor White gave his first sermon at Camelback on February 5th, 2000. Dianne served with Charles as part-time Pastoral Assistant. Camelback Church saw many changes while under the leadership of Pastor White. In 2013 the Sanctuary underwent a major renovation including replacing all of the pews, new carpet, paint and other major upgrades. This renovation was made possible by an endowment from the estate of long-time church member Henry Bruner. Additionally, through work by a dedicated committee and the generosity and diligence of the church membership, the church parking lot underwent a complete re-surfacing, re-striping and the addition of designated handicap parking, which was completely paid for before Pastor White went into semi-retirement in June of 2015. During his long tenure at Camelback Church, Pastor White worked with a number of Associate and Youth & Family Pastors, mentoring young pastors and leading by example.

In 1999 Pastor Tony Arias and his wife, Mistee joined our church family directly from Seminary at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, MI. The Arias’ made a fine contribution to our church programs while with us. Tony preached his final message at Camelback on January 19th, 2002. In October of 2001 we were blessed to have Matthew and Heather Vixie join our pastoral team. Pastor Matthew was a great help to our church as the Associate Pastor, helping out with the Youth program until a full time Youth and Family pastor could be found. In August of 2004 Pastor Vixie was invited to pastor the Safford/Wilcox churches. In 2002, Camelback welcomed our new Youth Pastor, Keith Perrin, and his wife, Janelle. Keith led the Camelback youth program for just over a year.

In July of 2004, Benjamin Lundquist was called to fill the position of Youth Pastor and remained in that position until 2013 when he was called by the Arizona Conference to head the Young Adult Ministries program for the state. While at Camelback, Ben married Kimberly Burks and they later had two children. The Lindquists were dearly loved by the Camelback Church family and are sorely missed. In early 2016, Pastor Ben and his family left Arizona to take a position as head of the Young Adult Ministries program for the Oregon Conference.

In 2007 Steve Salsberry and his wife Nila came to Camelback from the Paradise Church in Sacramento, CA. Steve served as Associate Pastor, was involved in several outreach programs and helped start the “Room 7” Sabbath School class. Pastor Steve is remembered fondly for one very memorable sermon illustration that involved several “actors” planted within the congregation. Pastor Salsberry accepted a call to pastor the Gilbert & Payson churches in 2013.

In 2013 Pastor Abel Santiago came to Camelback as Associate Pastor from the Gilbert & Payson churches. On March 1st, 2013 he married Julie Jewett. In 2016 Pastor Santiago and his wife accepted a call to pastor the Springerville Church in northern Arizona.

In 2013 Pastor Jackie James joined the Camelback pastoral staff as Youth Pastor. Pastor James came to Camelback from a position at Southern Adventist University. He has a background in Education and holds a degree in Theology from SAU. In 2015 Jackie married his wife Lauryl who is a licensed Physical Therapist. In 2015 Pastor James accepted the position of Associate Pastor for Camelback Church. In late 2016 "Pastor Jackie" accepted a call to the Meadow Glade Church in Battleground, WA. Pastor James made a lasting impact at Camelback, he and Lauryl will be sorely missed.

In the summer of 2016 Camelback Church was blessed to have Pastor Lou Fitting accept a call to be Senior Pastor and Pastor Mark Sulger accept a call to be the Youth & Family Pastor for Camelback SDA Church. Pastor Fitting is joined in ministry by his wife Kara and comes to us from the Prescott SDA Church. Pastor Sulger is joined in ministry by his wife Pam and their two children. The Sulgers come to us from the Green Valley Church in southern Arizona. The Camelback Church family welcomes them and looks forward to the exciting work to be done in the service of our Lord. The members of the Camelback Seventh-day Adventist Church have been and continue to be greatly blessed by all of our leadership families and we thank God for sending them to us.

Portions of this account of the history of the Camelback Seventh-day Adventist Church were originally written by longtime church clerk Verna Driver, revised on 8-17-2004 and span the time period from 1958-2004. The original text has been edited. *

+Mission

Our Mission statement is simple: To know of God’s love, grow in His love, and show His love.

God initiates this relationship and we are the responders. We can either choose to accept his offer or reject it. What draws us to Him is His unconditional love exemplified in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. (1 John 3:16 “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothersand sisters.” 1 John 4:7 “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” 1 John 4:19 “We love because he first loved us.” Etc.)

+What We Believe

As a Christian church, Seventh-day Adventists are a faith y rooted in the beliefs described by the Holy Scriptures. Adventists describe these beliefs in the following ways:

God's greatest desire is for you to see a clear picture of His character. When you see Him clearly, you will find His love irresistible. For many, "seeing God clearly" requires that they see God's face. However, how He looks is not the issue. Seeing and understanding His character is what's most important. The more clearly we understand Him, the more we will find His love irresistible. As we begin to experience His love, our own lives will begin to make more sense. God most clearly reveals His character in three great events. The first is His creation of man and woman--and His giving them the freedom of choice. He created humans with the ability to choose to love Him or to hate Him! The death of Jesus Christ, God's only Son, on the cross as our substitute is the second great event. In that act He paid the penalty we deserve for our hateful choices toward God and His ways. Jesus' death guarantees forgiveness for those choices and allows us to spend eternity with Him. The third event confirms the first two and fills every heart with hope: Christ's tomb is empty! He is alive, living to fill us with His love! Jesus' disciple John wrote that if everyone wrote all the stories they knew about Jesus, the whole world could not contain them. Our knowledge of God helps us understand His love, character, and grace. Experiencing that love begins a lifelong adventure in growth and service. This knowledge and experience powers our mission to tell the world about His love and His offer of salvation.

Scripture is a road map. The Bible is God's voice, speaking His love personally to you today. The Bible speaks the Creator's directions to us, like a detailed road map that clearly shows the exit ramp directly into heaven. It is also much like an owner's manual for a life ready to be lived on the cutting edge of liberty. Sometimes His voice speaks through stories, such as those of David and Goliath, Ruth and Boaz, Naaman's little servant girl, Christ on the cross, and fisherman Peter learning how to tend sheep. Some of these stories teach us how to handle the troubles we face each day. Others fill us with hope and peace. Each of them is like a personal letter from God to you. Portions of Scripture are direct instructions and laws from God such as the Ten Commandments, recorded in Exodus 20. These tell us more about God and His expectations for us. When people asked Jesus to summarize these commands, He focused on the way God's love affects the way we live. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul," He said. "And love your neighbor as you love yourself." On other pages the Bible gives God's practical advice and encouragement through parables, lists, promises, and warnings. Amazingly, though many different writers throughout thousands of years wrote the Bible, each page describes the same God in ways we can understand and apply in our lives today. This book is always His voice talking personally to anyone who is willing to read and hear. God loves us even when we choose to reject His love. In those times He allows us to walk away into the life of our own choices. Yet He is still there, always ready to redeem us from the results of our decisions.

Jesus is the one who never changes in a universe that always does. Jesus is Creator, Sustainer, Saviour, Friend, God's Son, and God Himself! Everything in this world is always changing, even our desires, interests, skills, and body shapes. But Jesus? He's consistent. He's always the same. Sure, He's always surprising us and touching our lives in thousands of new and different ways, but His character is unchanging. He's God's Son, the Creator, our Saviour, and Friend. Jesus has promised to be all of that, and more, for each of us. We can trust His promises because He is God. When the words of Colossians say "in Him all things hold together" (1:17, NIV) that includes everything in our lives. He keeps us whole when the enemy is trying to make us fall apart. Seventh-day Adventists believe that Jesus is one of the three persons, called the Trinity, who make up our one God. The Bible describes Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit as each being committed to our growth as Christians and to our salvation as their children. They made this salvation possible when Jesus came to Bethlehem as a human baby. He lived a life perfectly in accord with God's will and then died innocently for all of our sins. He was placed in a borrowed tomb, but He came back to life three days later. Now he is in heaven interceding with the Father for us, preparing for our deliverance from sin and death. When everything may be falling apart, when you feel totally alone in the universe, Jesus is right there in the center of it all, offering personal peace and hope. Allow Him into your life. He immediately begins "remodeling" who you are and how you live. Jesus, in fact, is busily transforming His followers into accurate representatives of God's character. Look to Jesus, and you'll be looking into the understanding and loving face of God.

God's vision for you is life as He lives it! God loves you, and wants to give you the highest quality of life imaginable. No, not a second-rate existence somewhere on earth, but the highest quality of life imaginable, here and in eternity with Him! That's what God wants us to have. The best! This is why He provides church families where we can belong. This is why He gives each of us special gifts and talents, so we can live life fully. Amazingly, this is why He's concerned about what you're doing, when you're doing it, and how you relate to Him. God doesn't want anything to get in the way of our friendship. He especially doesn't want us to get involved in anything damaging or hurtful. He's like a loving father or a good big brother. He's someone who loves you so much that He's always looking out for you. When God designed you, He included special talents and skills that will help you become a uniquely valuable individual. These may be your ability to teach, your love for others, or your leadership skills. Still, whatever special gifts you have received, God has also provided all of the energy and wisdom necessary for you to use them well. By the way, how God feels about death is part of the quality life He offers. For followers of Christ, death holds no fear. Remember, Jesus defeated death on Calvary and has given us freedom from death. Cemeteries, then, are filled with followers of God who are in the "peaceful pause before the resurrection." Yes, they are dead, but that death holds no power over their future. Jesus is coming to take them (and those of us who are still living) HOME! Death is almost like a wintery promise of spring. The Seventh-day Adventist faith in today and in the future comes from seeing this life "overflowing" with hope! Because love is the key aspect of His character, God is also deeply into gratitude. Before we even finish saying thank you, He's already busy sending more blessings.

In the heart of God is a place you can experience as home. God loves you, and wants to spend time with you personally, one on one, as two close friends. Because you and God are friends, you will spend time together as friends do. Each morning you'll share a hello and a hug and discuss how you can face the day's events together. Throughout the day you'll talk with Him about how you feel. You'll laugh with Him at funny things and ache with Him over sadness and hurts. It's pleasant being God's friend, able to snuggle comfortably into the safety of your relationship. You can always trust Him to treat you well, because He loves you. The seventh day (Saturday) is an extra-special part of the relationship. The Bible, from Genesis through Revelation, describes the seventh day as the one day God has set aside for focused fellowship with His people. God has named that day "Sabbath" and asked us to spend it with Him. "Remember the sabbath day," He says, "to keep it holy." The Sabbath is a whole day to deepen our friendship with the Creator of the universe! A day when we're together, Jesus with us and us with Jesus. There's another great truth about friendship with God. It doesn't end in a cemetery; for God is planning a homecoming better than anything we can dream. A homecoming filled with angels, trumpets, Jesus, and resurrections! He's promised to being His followers, those who have accepted the offer of His life-changing love, from this earth to His home, a place He calls heaven. A place where our friendship can go on growing forever, endlessly, joyfully! God keeps a family album-and your picture is in it.

  • God loves you and has a plan for your life.
  • God's love is about you. Personally.
  • God made you and has a very special plan for your life.

It's a plan that will fill you with hope, love, peace, and activity. In fact, when Christ paid the penalty for sin on the cross, that gave Him the right to claim you as His own. As a result, you can experience His love and priceless salvation freely and fully without limit.

By the way, pictures of everyone fill that album: Nepalese, Brazilians, Nigerians, Yupiks, and Germans, people of every nation, culture, background, gender, hair color, and foot size. In God's eyes all are equally "children of the King"!

Salvation? God cleans away all our sins and replaces them with His goodness. We don't have to be "good" for Him to accept us. Nevertheless, we must accept His promise and allow Him to clean out everything the enemy has left in us. Then we begin to experience the transforming power of His love. It's like a giant war: one side pulling us toward empty pleasure and destruction, and God urging us to accept His offer of peace and purpose.

Remember, Jesus has already won the war. He is victorious! We celebrate His victory in our lives when we participate in the Lord's Supper. This meal includes three symbols:

Foot washing (which symbolizes our commitment to love others as Jesus loves us), bread ("This bread is my flesh," Jesus said, "which I will give for the life of the world," John 6:51, NIV), and wine or grape juice ("Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life." John 6:54, NIV)

To help us understand how God can transform us into His children, Jesus modeled the process of baptism for us. Baptism symbolized dying to self and coming alive in Jesus. Seventh-day Adventists practice full immersion baptism because by being fully buried beneath the water we symbolize that God's grace fully fills us with His new life for the future. Through baptism we are truly born again in Jesus. Eternal life, peace, purpose, forgiveness, transforming grace, hope: Everything He promises is ours, because He's offering it and He's shown we can trust Him to do exactly as He promises. Accept His gifts, and you immediately become an active part of His family, and He joyfully becomes part of yours.

+Vision

Our vision for the present and the future here at the Camelback Seventh-day Adventist Church is “Building relationships for Eternity (the Kingdom)”

The idea behind the vision is that we desire to be in relationship with God forever and we desire to have that same relationship with others for eternity who chose to be in relationship with God.