By Spring 1919, the flu pandemic had claimed 2,300 souls from Kansas City’s population of 250,000, leaving us one of the hardest hit cities in America. In November of that same year, a missionary sent to our city by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) began meeting in homes with those Disciples who had moved to the southern edge of the growing city. He met with them first in the Brookside Hotel which is now the Crestwood Condominiums. He was convincing and the people were receptive to starting a new church in this emerging neighborhood which had once been farmland, part of the Wornall Estate.
By the fall of 1920, they had gathered enough folks to organize. The Brookside shops were just being built and the first building, the Brookside Hall, was rented out for a meeting. They gathered officially, about 60 plus folks, exactly one hundred years ago this weekend. Thirty-six folks gave verbal commitments to be part of the new church. One gentleman said that he could be counted on if the group agreed to call the newly retired Dr. George Hamilton Combs to be their pastor.
Dr. Combs was interviewed by the Kansas City Times in December and the article indicated that the church did not yet have an official and permanent name but was being referred to as Country Club Christian Church. Dr. Combs said he “knew nothing or next to nothing about its constituency or its plans. My conviction is that its success and the measure of its growth will be determined solely by the measure of service it shall render the community.”
The place where we first worshipped was a dance hall on Saturday nights and a sanctuary on Sunday mornings. Which posed a problem. The floor was slippery. And the folding chairs seemed to collapse, especially when a younger worshipper wiggled in the chair. So the Nichols Company was called upon to lay canvas flooring down.
All this is to say that the more things change, the more they stay the same. A hundred years later, we are in the middle of a pandemic. We still squirm about our name. And the folding chairs and other physical details still need attention so that we may worship. But mostly, what remains, is that then and now, a group of visionary people dare to dream of creating God’s beloved community.
We had hoped to be celebrating all of this in person this weekend with a grand party. But do not despair. We will celebrate with joy in a few months when it is safe to gather and sing again in large groups. In the meantime, we will prayerfully give thanks and remember. I am deeply indebted to Dr. Linna Place, a longtime member and Elder of our church and history professor who is writing our church history. Most of what I am sharing here comes from her research over the past several years.
With gratitude for all the saints who gave our church birth and to all of you who carry us into God’s holy light in the future,