Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Cloud of Witnesses

Almost 90 years ago, the parishioners at Stafford Methodist Church began building a church. It was different than other churches of its time. There was no church steeple, and, from the outside, naysayers thought it looked more like a school or auditorium than a house of worship.
But, build it, they did. Parishioners brought their teams of horses to dig out the basement. The more handy among them laid forms and started pouring in concrete for the 18 steps that would lead to a new sanctuary, a design patterned after Unity Temple in suburban Chicago by a student of Architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
The building was the third for Stafford Methodists. The first frame church was followed by a second structure that the congregation had outgrown.

"When they built the third church on the same site, they said they were building a church that was big enough and strong enough that they wouldn't have to rebuild again," said Earl Hayes, a lifetime church member in an interview with The Hutchinson News several years ago.

But, after 90 years, the front steps were crumbling. Rain water leaked into the cracks and into the church basement. It was again time for church members to respond to a need.
On Sunday, we celebrated the culmination of a project to restore the front entrance to the church. During several years of fundraising, 434 individual donors contributed. Some were large gifts. Some were small. Some were given in memory of faithful members. Some monies were given by our newest members. As it was when the church was built 90 years ago, it was possible with many different people working together for a common goal.
"The stairs at the front of the building are more than concrete and limestone," Pastor Ben Hanne said during the re-dedication service. "The stairs are the heart of what the church stands for. Without the stairs, there would be no means of entering into the building. It's through the entrance that all are welcomed to hear the Gospel. It's where faith and hope are experienced."
It's also by those stairs that we leave the sanctuary and go out into the world to share the Message we've just heard of faith, hope, justice, peace and love.
Tulips outside the Stafford First United Methodist Church 

Lifelong church member Ruth Teichman shared some of her memories of growing up in the church. As she talked, members responded with laughter as she remembered traversing the perimeter of the church on the narrow ledge. I asked Randy later: Yes, he did it, too. And, later that evening at a Sunday School party, the next generation of daredevils appeared to have been inspired by her words. Since I was one of the adults responsible for their well-being, I was thinking she should have shared less "active" memories.
But she also told about "Grandma Gerdes" who gave pansies to her Sunday School charges every Easter. A wagon full of pansies sat among tulips in her honor, just to the right of the newly-finished steps.
One of our young parishioners listened to Pastor Ben from a perch on a limestone landing. Generation after generation of church children has done the same -- and, if truth be told, has leaped off into the flower bed below.
Ruth talked about counting the squares in the stained glass ceiling during long church services. She shared about hearing the church chimes call people to worship. She remembered standing at the front of the church and reciting the books of the Bible in front of the whole congregation. Food seemed to taste better at church potluck dinners, especially if you were first through the serving line. She remembered getting bags of candy and fruit after the church Christmas pageant. (That's been a tradition for 83 years, and it still continues today.)

As she talked, I thought about so many of the familiar faces who filled the pews and did the work of the church before they passed from this life to the next. I couldn't help but look up to the west balcony and remember my in-laws, Melvin and Marie, who sat there week after week.

It reminded me of the song, "Cloud of Witnesses," by Christian recording artist, Mark Schultz. (I love his music and his voice, but I also love that he's a Kansas native and a K-State graduate.)
I remembered it again as former pastor Amy's son played near the front steps during the re-dedication. The song says, in part:
We watched them runnin' down the aisles,
Children's time, Sunday morning.
The preacher asked them who they loved,
They all smiled and started pointing
To their mom, their dad, teacher from the kindergarten class
Each and every one had just become
A cloud of witnesses.

A cloud of witnesses that would see them through the years
Cheer them with a smile
And pray them through the tears
A cloud of witnesses that would see them to the end
Shower them with love that never ends
A cloud of witnesses.

For our family, it's certainly provided "a cloud of witnesses" and has been a centerpiece of our lives.
  • Randy has worshiped there his entire life, and it's been my church home for the past 34 years. Our children were the fourth generation of the family to worship there.
  • It's where we gather with our best friends for worship and fellowship each week.
  • It's where our children were baptized and were taught and nurtured by a whole congregation.
  • It's where we said goodbye to Randy's parents. 
  • It's where our daughter was married. (It's also where Randy's parents married.)
  • It's where we share a portion of our time and talents through service, resources and committee work.
I'm thankful for so great a cloud of witnesses. Enjoy the song!

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. 
Hebrews 12: 1-3


  1. Thanks for this beautiful tribute to a place & people I love.

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it. It was a beautiful day!