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A Heritage of Faith
Thursday 30th of June 2011 08:45 AM
uncategorized

By Kim L. Fritzemeier

KFRM Central Kansas Reporter

Farm Wife along the Stafford/Reno County Line

Note - While this blog post talks about a specific small, rural church, I hope it conjures up memories of churches in which readers have been a part during their lifetimes. With a few rural churches closing each year, it may do us good to remember the past, as we look to the future of our rural communities. As the childhood song goes, "The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a dwelling place, the church is a people."

It's a bittersweet moment to say goodbye to a childhood church. On June 26, after we sang the familiar words to Blest Be the Tie That Binds, we gathered to share stories and memories about the Byers United Methodist Church, the church that has been a touchstone in the community since 1905.

It was the home of my ancestors. The membership rolls include the names of many of my family members, including my great-great-grandfather/grandmother, Mr. and Mrs. J.J. Moore, who joined with my Dad's Dad, Lester Moore, at Christmas time in 1924
and the names of my mother and her sister Merlene in 1949 (albeit with my mom's name misspelled).


The Byers United Methodist Church was my church home for the first 15 years of my life.
My parents carried me in the door as an infant. It was also the church of their childhood, since both grew up in the Byers community. They got married there in 1953.

And they were there at the closing service almost 58 years later.

The beautiful stained glass windows which adorn the sanctuary glowed in the light then and now.

My family's roots in the rural church ran deep. One of the pews had the names of a grandfather and an uncle I never knew. Both were killed in separate accidents when my Dad was just a boy.


And on the other side of the aisle, we always sat in the vicinity of the Shelby Neelly Family pew. Last Sunday, I insisted we move to that side of the church because it just "felt" right.

It's where my Grandma always had butter rum and wild cherry Lifesavers for wiggly kids. And her hankies could magically transform into a sleeping baby.

At the Byers UMC, we trick-or-treated for UNICEF. We had our little UNICEF milk cartons to collect change at the same time we collected homemade popcorn balls and Halloween candies.

My youngest sister remembers knocking this lighted picture of Jesus off the wall as a kid roughhousing with another little girl. It survived. She wasn't the only one to get in trouble at church. It only took one trip down the church aisle with my Dad during a church service to remember the expectations for pew behavior.

We sang around the downstairs piano for opening exercises, and I learned classic children's Bible songs like Deep and Wide, Oh Be Careful, This Little Light of Mine and Do Lord! And then years later, I taught them to my own children and my little Sunday School pupils.

It's where we put our birthday money in a white plastic birthday cake during opening exercises. And we dropped our offering coins in a white, steepled church. Another worshiper and I looked in closets and in drawers last Sunday, searching for those cheap plastic memories. We only found this wooden imitation. Maybe other children have a memory of sticking their offering in its wooden slot.

It's where we circled the sanctuary and sang Silent Night to the glow of candlelight.

Even as memories tumbled back, we all realized it was time to close the doors. Though the register listed 23 on the membership rolls, only a literal handful of people came through the doors each Sunday.

I liked the litany we shared during the service. It said, in part:

Blessed be the name of God, whose Word has long been proclaimed within this hallowed place.
We give you thanks, O God.
As generations have prayed theirs prayers and sung your praises here, your Spirit has blessed countless worshipers.
We give you thanks, O God.
From within these walls, many have gone out to serve You in the world.
We give you thanks, O God.
As we go now from this house into a further journey of faith,
We give you thanks, O God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Rest in peace, Byers United Methodist Church.

1905-2011
(This church building was dedicated in 1947.)

The Byers church was one in a three-point charge called the Unity Parish. On Sunday, another sister church, the Cullison UMC, also closed its doors as a worship center. Only the Iuka UMC remains.

 

 
   Respond to this Entry
 
Response 1
Friday 1st of July 2011 09:58:42 AM
Submitted by: Paula
Losing a church is so sad. A neighboring community just lost theirs a couple of months ago. I keep hoping and praying we can keep our little church open, but it gets harder all the time.
 
Response 2
Monday 4th of July 2011 07:08:39 AM
Submitted by: Paul
This was a great post. It also brings back memories of my younger days as a Pastor's kid while living in the Oklahoma panhandle. Thanks again for your post.
 
Response 3
Monday 4th of July 2011 08:07:39 AM
Submitted by: Kim
Thanks Paula and Paul for your responses. I had hoped that it would bring back memories for other people who grew up in church families across this part of the country. Paula, I wish I knew the solution to again filling our church pews. It's a subject we debate at my church, too. At my current church at Stafford, we became a two-point charge last year in an effort to remain viable. Thanks to you both for taking time to comment!

 
 
 
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