Monday, October 6

The Razing of a Small Town Church

My mom forwarded me this article regarding the demolition of the building that once was home to the Hepler Christian Church. Hepler, KS is the community where my parents grew up, where their parents and grandparents farmed. It is where they graduated from high school (my mom was the only girl among the seven graduates in the class of 1956 and dad graduated in 1958) before the high school was closed in 1960. Hepler is where so many of the memories of my childhood are based - being at my grandparents, playing with my cousins, "marching" in the Fourth of July parade, visiting the cemetery where so many of my relatives (most of whom I never knew) were buried.

And attending the Hepler Christian Church, which was founded (and the building built) in 1881. It was the church that my mom and dad grew up attending. It was where they were married by Miss Jean Minnich, the rare woman minister who served several small congregation in southeast Kansas back in the 1950's and 60's. I remember going to Sunday School in the old school house they had attached to the back of the building. I remember my grandfather leading the singing on Sunday mornings. I remember the string of student preachers from Ozark Bible College who would hone their skills on the patient folks in that congregation. Though I don't think I ever preached there, I sang a lot of duets and quartets there, as well as played my trumpet. I remember the ringing of the church bell and having to go to the outhouse outside the building when nature called. I remember the Christmas tree and popcorn balls and bags of candy at Christmas time. My aunt and uncle lived catty-cornered from the church, and another aunt and uncle lived in the house next to them.

But, outside of the cemetery, all of my family is gone from Hepler now. There are no schools, little business, and few people left in the town. Strangers will in one of my grandparents' house and the other grandparents' house has been torn down. Hepler Christian Church quit having services in 2001 because there just weren't the people left to pay the bills and keep up the building. And now it is gone, too.

Over the years that I have been doing campus ministry, and relying on churches and individuals for prayer and financial support, we have had a few of those who supported us shut down operations. And I can think of at least a couple more congregations that I know well that may very well follow suit before too long.

The reasons for such things are numerous. Sometimes it is like Hepler - a church in a small town that sees most of the young people leave and only the older folks remain and they slowly pass one to their glory. Sometimes it is because of the changing demographics of their area and the congregations inability (or unwillingness) to adapt to the changes. Sometimes it is because of sinful acts or sinful attitudes among those in the church.

But whatever the case, it is always sad. No matter how large the church, it was a major part of the lives of people - where they were married and buried, where friends gathered, and needs were met. And it was a sad day last month in Hepler when the bulldozer tore through the walls of a building that once was full of people who loved God and each other and that was home to a congregation that helped shape the life of a community.


With the release of Bill Maher's movie, Religulous, this article from the Wall Street Journal is very interesting. Studies show that irreligious people are more likely to be superstitious and believe in the paranormal and pseudoscience.

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