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Archive for Wednesday, December 11, 1991


December 11, 1991


Like many young people searching for new answers in the 1960s and early 1970s, Lawrence resident Judy Patch said she became disenchanted with the traditional church environment.

"I was away from the church in my '20s," Patch said. What she then viewed as the hypocrisy of the church "was something I did not want to be a part of."

Patch went on to be a high school teacher, then a representative of a pharmeceuticals firm and later a homemaker to spend more time with her two children. Now, at the age of 38, Patch is in her second year as a full-time youth coordinator at Lawrence's First United Methodist Church.

"Working with youth and with families in the church structure is very fulfilling for me," she said.

Patch is just one of many baby boomers who local pastors say are returning to church and becoming a significant reason for swelling church rosters. That growing attendance in turn is moving churches to build new facilities or at least expand their present ones.

"We're recovering from the anti-establishment mentality that so characterized the late '60s and early '70s," said the Rev. Charles Gilmore, interim pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church. "People are beginning to see that the church and faith have a place in their lives. They realize that the church is a place where meaningful relationships with other people can be found."

Many young couples who are becoming settled in their careers and starting to raise children have joined Trinity Lutheran Church in recent years, Gilmore said, and that congregational growth is the reason the church is expanding its facilities.

The church, 1245 N.H., is getting a $1.2 million addition to the east side of its present facilities. The two-level addition, scheduled for completion in March, will include a music-choir room, a youth room, new administrative offices, a new kitchen and fellowship hall, a conference room and a new narthex where the congregation can gather before and after services.

Patch said she can understand why couples with young children would return to an active church life.

She said she now sees that her church upbringing "made a big difference in my life, and I want to turn around and at least offer that to my children."

First Christian Church, 1000 Ky., celebrated on Nov. 24 the completion of a $950,000, three-level addition to its building. The addition features a new entry foyer, eight classrooms, a new kitchen and fellowship hall, and two ramps and an elevator to make all parts of the building accessible to people with disabilities.

THE REV. Ron Goodman, who has been pastor at the church for 16 years, said the growth of the church has been accompanied by a "youthing" of the congregation. In 1975, the church had about 200 people in worship attendance, he said. The church now has about 450 in worship attendance.

"It's a complete demographic change for the church," Goodman said. Goodman said that young people in the 1960s viewed the church as a highly judgmental institution. Today, he said, people are impressed by the church's increased emphasis on trying to meet real human needs. He cited the Lawrence Interdenominational Nutrition Kitchen (LINK), which feeds needy people in the community, as an example.

"God's word will not have integrity unless we care about people's real needs," Goodman said.

Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 2312 Harvard, also is seeing more young families in its congregation and is planning bigger facilities in response, said the Rev. Paul Kelly, who pastors at the church with his wife, the Rev. Sandy Schlesselman.

"A REAL sense of meaningless and hopelessness is one thing I run into with baby boomers," Kelly said. "They're finding out that there's more to life than money and a mortgage. They need to take care of themselves spiritually."

Kelly, 37, said his congregation grew by 22 percent during the last year and by 10 percent for each of the three previous years. He said Good Shepherd next year will begin construction of a new 9,000-square-foot church building at the northwest corner of Inverness Road and Clinton Parkway.

Evangelical Presbyterian Church, which presently meets at Deerfield School, is purchasing property at Kasold and Peterson roads to serve as the site for a future church building. Worship attendance at the 3-year-old church has doubled in the past two years to about 250 to 300.

Pastor Bill Vogler has a personal understanding of what baby boomers are seeking: Vogler said he himself is a baby boomer who left a career as an economics professor to enter seminary. He completed seminary in 1986 at the age of 34.

"The anti-establishment mentality of the 1960s was not completely wrong," Vogler said. "We haven't necessarily come back to the institutionalized church. People are coming back to a relationship with God and a relationship with other people."

THE REV. Rachel Counts-Casson, pastor at the Vinland United Methodist Church southeast of Lawrence, said the church has seen several new members who are in their late '30s and early '40s.

The church has basically completed a $75,000, 1,500-square-foot expansion doubling the size of the church, and the church's first services in its new sanctuary were on Sunday.

Meanwhile, pastors of two new churches in Lawrence say they are ministering especially for people who have little or no involvement with church.

The recently formed Heartland Community Church now meets the first Sunday of each month at the Lawrence School of Ballet building at 205 W. Eighth. Paul Gray, a pastor at the church, said Heartland incorporates dramatic skits and contemporary music played by professional musicians to appeal to the unchurched.

"If you're not part of the church culture, if you don't know the rules and you don't know the rituals and what's expected of you, you can feel out of place in a traditional church," Gray said.

Gray said once Heartland members feel they would like to study the Gospel in-depth, they're welcome to participate in the church's Bible study groups.

Pastor Beau Abernathy and his family moved to Lawrence from Tulsa, Okla., in August to start the Lawrence Evangelical Free Church. Abernathy said that about 25 adults now attend the church's weekly Bible studies, which are held in the Abernathy home.

"WE HAVE a lot of people who are searching, who are on their own spiritual pilgrimage. They realize they need something in their life," Abernathy said. "We show people that God's word is perennially relevant and fresh."

Other local churches that are growing and expanding their facilities in response are:

First Southern Baptist Church, 1917 Naismith, which plans to have a new facility on West Sixth Street just west of the Lawrence city limits by 1995.

Community Bible Church, which has purchased property on Douglas County Road 13 west of Lawrence between Clinton Parkway and 15th Street. The church, which presently meets at the La Petite Academy child care facility on Clinton Parkway, hopes to begin construction next year, said pastor Chuck Thomas.

The Church of Christ in Eudora, which just finished construction of a new $400,000, 8,000-square-foot facility in the Winchester Estates area of Eudora. An open house at the church was held Sunday.

The Mustard Seed Christian Fellowship, which completed a 19,000-square-foot building at 700 Wakarusa in the fall of 1990. The church has about 850 members, up from about 700 a year ago.

St. Margaret's Episcopal Church, which is meeting at Quail Run School but eventually plans to build on land that it owns near 15th Street about a mile west of Wakarusa Drive. St. Margaret's, which held its first Sunday morning worship service in September 1990, was established in response to growth at Trinity Episcopal Church, 1011 Vt.

Free Methodist Church, which moved to a 31,000-square-foot building at 31st and Lawrence in November 1990.

The Lawrence Baptist Temple, which in November 1990 moved to a new church building at 3201 W. 31st.

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