It’s important to know where you came from. In order to truly understand who we are today we have to know the history that came before us that have shaped us into who we are. This is something that is true of each of us as individuals, it’s something that’s true of our families, it’s true even of our country, and it’s true of our church.
This summer I had the opportunity spend some time in the basement of several libraries doing a bit of research about the history of our church. What I found was tremendously interesting. I found old newspaper articles about international Brethren conferences held here in Wichita about 1916. I found articles about the groundbreaking of our current church building. I found other articles about the building of our previous church building at 11th and St. Francis and even articles about the building before that at 15th and Grove. Some of these articles even had pictures. One article from 1938 told of the history of our congregation on the 60th anniversary, and even had pictures of the two previous buildings, a founding pastor and the current pastor. I found stories of how, when our current building was built, we actually merged two Brethren congregations. Interestingly, however, one of those congregations was actually a mission/outreach church that was planted by the other congregation 30 years or so prior to the merger.
As I learned about our history from newspaper articles I started to wonder what had become of some of the buildings from our past. I knew the building at 15th and Grove had been torn down years ago, but I also knew that the buildings at 11th and St. Francis and 2nd and Millwood were still standing. So I sent some letters and eventually made con-tact with Jim Craig, a member of the Church of God (Seventh Day). The Church of God is the congregation that now worships in the building at 11th and St. Francis.
After a few phone calls with Jim, I took DG miller over with me over to visit the building. DG is one of the few people in our congregation who remembers what the build-ing looked like. As we toured the building Jim told us about some of the changes to the building that had been made over the years.
Things like taking out classrooms in the basement to make a fellowship hall, redoing the ceiling, sound systems, bathroom remodels, air conditioning and so on. For all the changes that have been made, however, it was still pretty easy to get a sense of what it might have been like 60 some odd years ago when our congregation still worshiped there.
As I’ve thought about what I’ve learned doing this re-search and being able to see the old building there were two thoughts that have stuck with me. The first is that there is a certain continuity between where we are now and where we have come from. DG has a picture of his Sunday school class and himself standing outside of the 11th and St. Francis building when he was a child. The day that we toured the building he took another picture in the same place. It was a reminder that, even for those of us who are too young to have known that building, our congregation has a connection to that location; a location that was integral in shaping who we are.
The other thought that I have had is that, while recognizing that continuity is helpful and important, our history is not the end of the story. Our congregation doesn’t worship in that building anymore. God has continued to lead us over these last 60 years. Our history includes, but is not bound by the walls of that old church building. And in the same way, that building has gained it’s own new history. For more than 60 years there has been another congregation worshiping with those walls. A congregation that has it’s own calling, it’s own mission, it’s own work in this world.
Perhaps somewhat ironically, having the chance to inter-act with our history has reminded me that being the church is very much a present tense activity. Yes we are formed by the past, but we exist in the present. It is about what God is doing here and now and the people that we find ourselves in community with. Learning about the past has made me more thankful for the people and the mission that make up the church that I am a part of today.
Each month for our newsletter Pastor Alan writes a short article on a variety of topics. At times he will also create a video version of the article.