What if the land could talk? What if you could stand at the corner of 61st and Ward Parkway and listen to the stories that the earth witnessed? The soil could speak to us about the blood shed upon it during the Civil War. During Battle of Westport, the Confederate soldiers retreated across this corner to the Wornall House, which was a temporary base hospital.
During the early 1900s, the land returned to peace, with only the quiet lowing of cattle as they grazed the countryside which was still far south and west of Kansas City’s boom. In 1917, the Louis Cupp family built one of the first houses on 61st Street. The family watched in amazement as the Third Regiment noisily moved in overnight to set up tents for a mess hall and establish a military training ground for WWI. A bugle call rang out in the morning, young men’s feet stomped in war maneuvers and taps signaled rest at night. Surely the terrain felt the quaking of fear from those young men, many of whom never came home.
The soldiers moved out and victory gardens rose up. And the land became a golf course. You could hear the golfers exclaim in dismay when the ball landed in the pond, on the lot where our church eventually rose up. Then came the carpenters’ hammers and nails, building craftsman Tudor homes. And the brake of the streetcar creaked to a stop on 59th Street and some missionaries walked up and looked at this spot and said “maybe we should start a new church here.”
The bells of the church chimed at the end of WWII to announce peace to the neighbors. And toddlers now giggle and squeal with delight on the playground. And songs reverberate out on the front lawn on Sundays. And people shout with glee as they dash to a car that says “just married” and others weep outside a hearse parked by the sanctuary door.
Having just returned from the “Holy Land” of Israel, I realize that the land upon which our church sits is also holy. Because here people have prepared for horrible things, fear and sadness have given way to redemption and hope, and the Holy One of heaven has been glimpsed in centuries of human drama resounding with love and compassion.
What the land witnesses next is up to you and to me.
(Much of this history gleaned from a talk given by Marjorie Cupp Jenkins, a charter member of the church)