Roland Brammeier, upon taking the helm of Tucson Metropolitan Ministries in 1975, reportedly said: “Three hymns and a prayer on Sunday morning is not the answer for churches.”
For the next decade, he showed Tucson what the answer should be.
Brammeier had attended Nebraska Wesleyan University and Iliff School of Theology in Denver and served churches in California and Arizona before coming to Tucson in 1971 as associate pastor to Catalina United Methodist Church.
He also had served on, created or led dozens of community programs: Highway Chaplain on Route 66 in Needles, Calif.; programs on mental health, Head Start, PTAs, adult education, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4-H, Meals on Wheels, Board of Trustees for the ASU Student Union, the VISTA advisory board and many more.
His infectious joy and sense of humor – particularly laughing at himself – surely strengthened his ability to serve.
During his early years in ministry, he recalled walking through church one afternoon and looking in the John Wesley Lounge, where he found a nude couple making love.
He stammered, “Uh . . . uh, are you members here?” In unison, they replied, “No.” When sharing this story, he rhetorically asked, “Why did I ask them that?”
As Rev. Brammeier transitioned from pastor at Catalina UMC to becoming the first director of TMM, he worked with the YWCA (emblematic of his faith in action), at which time he is quoted as saying, “Ministers can speak the word all the time – but if they’re not acting the word, they’re in trouble.”
And act he did.
As he would say, TMM was a shared dream that came about by a wonderful team of volunteers and staff. It was “one of the WOWS in my life.”
Its task as the arm of the United Methodist Church was to be involved in everything that has anything to do with people in need, regardless of religious affiliation – or lack of it.
The multitude of services growing from his visionary leadership include four children’s day care centers, Community Food Bank, Community Organization for Personal Enrichment (COPE, begun as a place mental health outpatients meet and receive help with day-to-day problems), Senior Community Center, Urban Tours for awareness of needs, Indian Relief Center, Emergency Relief (cash assistance to families in need, which evolved into Traveler’s Aid , now part of the Primavera Foundation), Border Ministries, Miracle Square (independent living for senior and disabled adult with supportive services), Share Home Project (home sharing for seniors), Brewster Center for Women, now within Emerge Center.
Beyond direct leadership, Roland and TMM were interactive with more than 100 Tucson social service agencies. The list of his involvement in the community reads like a director of human services, but Roland would be the first to say he did not do these things; it was with the Tucson community these services and programs came into being.
Roland also took delight in helping the new arrivals, as when we arrived in Tucson in August 1977, in a Volkswagen bus with three kids, two dogs, no jobs nor home, and little cash in our pockets! He was our savior!
His walls were covered with awards and recognitions: Alumni Achievement Award from Nebraska Wesleyan, Outstanding Citizen of the Community by the National Association of Social Workers, Man of the Year by the Tucson Advertising Club, Bishop’s Award for Leadership, Iliff School of Theology Alumnus of the Year, Jefferson Award (a national recognition honoring community and public service), and many, many more.
Displayed among all those awards and certificates was a plaque with pictorial barbed-wire fence and the words, “He who straddles the fence usually has a sore crotch.”
That Nebraskan farm boy never, ever straddled fences.
Leaving Tucson in 1985, Roland accepted the position of district superintendent (essentially, a pastor to pastors) for the United Methodist Church in the Los Angeles area.
After four years, he returned to his native Nebraska. Ten years ago, he returned to Arizona to serve as pastor to the Lake View United Methodist Church in Sun City.
At the time of his death on March 29, 2009, he was continuing his activism working with United Methodist Outreach Ministries in downtown Phoenix.
After 10 years working in Mexico, Punch directed Tucson’s Community Food Bank for 25 years, retiring in 2003. He now volunteers with nonprofits and enjoys country life with wife Casey. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org