Friday, August 12, 2011

Fearless pioneering a way of life then and now

Campbell United Methodist Church celebrates 125 years

It’s hard to describe 125 years of a congregation’s history without just listing dates and describing buildings. As Campbell United Methodist Church celebrates her Quasquicentennial anniversary, I find myself wondering about the most effective way to convey the nuance of this moment.

Yes of course there have been buildings, but there's more to the story than that... I wonder what happened IN them.

I count five buildings, starting with the very first “mission” group sent out by Rev. Dr. W.B. Palmore of St. Paul Methodist Church. The group met in the 1) Frisco Opera House (I wonder if anyone made jokes about the singing during their worship times), and then in the 2) Grand Army of the Republic Hall (I wonder if anyone commented on the irony of a church in the Methodist Episcopal South church meeting in a hall used by an organization of veterans of the Union army).

3) There was a red brick building finished in 1888, where the name of this fledgling congregation changed from Palmore Chapel to Campbell Street Methodist Episcopal Church, South (which makes me wonder if anyone said, “We shoulda stuck with Palmore!” although the change happened at the request of Rev. Palmore himself, which leads me to wonder if he thought having a congregation named after him while he was still alive just would have been too weird).

4) There was another building, built in stages during the decade of the 1920s, and finally paid for by 1945, that still stands today and is in use by the Assemblies of God headquarters. The congregation spent more than 60 years in this building, through the Methodist unification of 1939 (when it became Campbell Street Methodist Church) and the renaming of the Springfield streets in 1950 (when it became Campbell Avenue Methodist Church) and the EUB/Methodist merger of 1968 (when it became Campbell Avenue United Methodist Church). This building was officially designated a “Historic Building” in 1982 (which makes me wonder how many people started to view their church as a building housing a museum instead of an active center for ministry).

5) Then there is the present building, which sits on 10 acres that used to be surrounded by pastures but now is surrounded by rapidly growing Springfield, and thanks to the bold vision of this congregation Campbell sits right in the middle of it. Moving the building to this location in 1984 was one of the most difficult, risky, and potentially disastrous changes this congregation has ever made (which makes me wonder who it was exactly who first posed the question, “Okay, but since we won’t be on Campbell Avenue anymore, what will our name be now?” and how the decision was made to just call it Campbell United Methodist Church, as it is now called).

That’s five buildings and five names over 125 years. It kind of makes sense that the congregation carries the name “Campbell.” The street that the congregation was named for was named after John and Louisa Campbell, the pioneers who founded the city of Springfield in the 1820s. Named after these fearless pioneers, this congregation has a history of fearless pioneering itself.

Having been created out of the energy of post-Civil War growth and renewal, riding a wave of development that was expedited by the expansion of the Frisco Railroad to the city, there has always been a sense of adventure at Campbell, a call to explore frontiers, and a passion to share the love of God with the community, and around the world.

How do you celebrate 125 years of a congregation? I wonder…

How many times has this congregation gathered to worship? How many weddings have there been? How many funerals? How many prayers shared? How many souls baptized? How many times has the sacrament of Holy Communion been served?

How many times have Bibles been opened in a small group from this congregation to study God’s word? How many “Aha moments” have happened? How many new insights have changed how many lives? How many new friendships have formed?

How many times have people of this congregation united to help someone in need? How many mission trips? How many hours of service have been given freely as disciples of Jesus? How many people have been invited into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ in this Holy Spirit filled congregation?

If I dwell on these questions, it makes my brain hurt. It is staggering, isn’t it? How do we celebrate it? How do we honor all of that? How do we remember with sufficient respect and appropriate admiration?

And … how do we avoid the temptation of nostalgia? How do we celebrate the good ol’ days without becoming wistful and attempting to relive them? How do we make sure our history is a foundation upon which to build rather than a weight preventing us from moving on?

But I don’t think that’s going to be too much of an issue at Campbell - the whole “getting stuck in the past” thing, I mean. You see, this congregation has a knack for getting through. There have been ups, downs, and flat places as well. And the pioneers that currently belong to Campbell United Methodist Church have been through them all.

I think Dr. Palmore would approve.

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