Archive for Thursday, August 11, 2005

Methodist church to celebrate 150 years

August 11, 2005

Before Baldwin City was a town, Baker University was founded and even before Kansas became a state, the First United Methodist Church began its congregation in a small cabin east of Signal Oak Park in 1855.

The church, which became 150 years old July 22, will be celebrating its 150th anniversary Sunday.

"It is very exciting, because this church has a unique history," said Kirby Hayes, former pastor. "The church actually predated Baker University. It's had a great role in eastern Kansas for many years."

The church is planning an all-day celebration Sunday, which includes a meal after the service and activities for children. The Rev. Scott Jones will be the preacher for the day and will be teaching a class on Methodism for adults in the morning. The 150th celebration was delayed so Rev. Jones could be here Sunday.

"I'm excited to see who will turn out," the Rev. Pam Morrison, church pastor, said. "I hope we have a great turnout."

Copies of a book about the church and its history will also be passed out Sunday. The book was created by a group of church members and details the history of the church.

A choir of history

The choir, which usually doesn't sing in the summer, will be performing at Sunday's service. Hayes is a member of the choir and was also a member of the Baker choir when he went to school there in 1953-1957.

Hayes said the Baker choir used to be the main choir for the church and almost all students attended the services.

"The Baker choir in those days was the choir all winter for the church," Hayes said. "I sang in the choir back then. All of the fraternities and sororities would come and that church would be filled with students."

Morrison knows the celebration is also about the people who helped the church survive for this long.

"It's just so tremendous to celebrate that and to think about the church buildings and the people who have worked hard before us," Morrison said.

Hayes served the longest term of any pastor at the church. He served 13 years at the church, 1982-1994.

"I loved being the pastor," Hayes said. "I had a lot of meetings and a lot of experiences there. I met a lot of great people that have been there."

'It's a big deal'

Baker University Music Department Chair John Buehler, former choir director for the church, said he knows of other churches celebrating the same number of years, but those churches aren't in his town.

"There are a number of other churches in the Kansas conference, that have celebrated 150 years," Buehler said. "But I'm not living in those towns. This is my town and it's a big deal."

Buehler was the choir director of the church from 1984 to 1987 and again from 1991 to 2003. He enjoyed his time as director for many reasons.

"It was one of the best things I have ever done in my life," Buehler said. "It's a very important part of my religious life, but mostly because I got to be in active worship with the same group of people every week. For me, that was the key to what we did as the church choir."

The First United Methodist Church means many things to Buehler.

"It's a sacred place in my life," Buehler said. "It's also a performance venue in my job. Very often the concerts for the music department are done in the church sanctuary, because of the organ or size of the audience."

The church also stands as a different type of structure in Baldwin City.

"It's an example of unusual architecture in my community," Buehler said. "There is no other building in town like that. From the architecture standpoint with the gothic arch and from the standpoint with the stained-glass windows. It's a different piece of architecture in my community."

Church life cycles

Buehler also said the church represents the life cycle of the community.

"I've been there when folks have died and we said our good-byes," Buehler said. "My family got married in that church. Our kids grew up in that church. I've seen babies baptized then married in that church. It's really a center of life for the community."

Buehler said he has studied over in England where 150 years isn't celebrated much, because many churches have existed for more than 1,000 years. But he said 150 years is something special for this community.

"When we think of 150 years ago here, that was before Custer's Last Stand and other events we think of as long passed in our history," Buehler said. "So, 150 years here is a real watershed. It's a real significant point of celebration. I think there are few points in our community that are 150 years old. It ought to be important to the whole community, whether they go to church there or not."

Many buildings

Many years of history and changes surround the church, which has been a part of six different buildings. The first meeting to organize the church took place at Henry Barricklow's cabin in 1855. For the next three years, services were held in the cabins of individual settlers.

In November 1858, a new building was being used by the church. It was built as part of Baker's campus, but was located off the campus. The building is now the Old Castle Museum.

After 10 years, the church moved into a new stone building on the north side of Baker's campus. The building, Pulliam Hall, is used as the communications building for Baker. The church stayed in the building for 17 years.

The church moved into Centenary Hall on Baker's campus in 1885. The building was also used for classes during the week. But in December 1898, it was decided to try and build a new brick church off the campus.

A new brick church was completed in 1904 and was located at the corner of Eighth and Grove streets. It served as the church's location until it was destroyed by fire in 1930.

The congregation returned to Centenary Hall from 1930 to 1932 while the church was being rebuilt. In 1932, the church was reopened with a brand-new stone building, which is still being used today.

Window on the world

The church has a large stained-glass window on the west side of the building. Buehler said the light coming in through the window can look interesting at a certain time of day.

"If you go in there reasonably late in the afternoon when the sun is coming through the stained-glass windows, and look at the pews from the front of the church, you can see where people's sweat stained backs were," Buehler said. "It's almost like seeing ghosts."

Buehler said the university and church have grown further apart while still holding on to many ties.

"It's been different over the generations of the church," Buehler said. "Now a days, it's unusual when we have no Baker students in church Sunday, but it's also very unusual when we have very many. I think it used to have much more close ties to the university community, but I know it has several close ties. It certainly anchors the corner of the university physically. I think maybe also spiritually and socially."

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