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Archive for Monday, April 9, 2007

Church on K.C. corner has been home to praising God going on 100 years

April 9, 2007

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— On a northwest corner of just yards from the jazz and Negro Leagues museums, pews shook with the reverberations of tapping, stomping feet.

The Praise and Worship Team lead the Centennial United Methodist Church congregation in song in March during a service to kick off the church's centennial celebration, in Kansas City, Mo. The congregation celebrates 100 years of existence this year. The church building is on the National Register of Historic Places as part of a district listing of the 18th and Vine area.

The Praise and Worship Team lead the Centennial United Methodist Church congregation in song in March during a service to kick off the church's centennial celebration, in Kansas City, Mo. The congregation celebrates 100 years of existence this year. The church building is on the National Register of Historic Places as part of a district listing of the 18th and Vine area.

"When I woke this morning, I didn't have no doubt," the choir of Centennial United Methodist Church belted out Sunday morning, and the enthusiastic congregation followed along.

The 18th and Vine District surrounding Centennial has boomed, declined and rebuilt itself again over the past century, but all along, on this corner, the people of this church have praised God in song, as they did Sunday.

The congregation celebrates 100 years of existence this year. The church building is on the National Register of Historic Places as part of a district listing of the 18th and Vine area.

A centennial celebration for Centennial.

It highlights the longevity of a church congregation birthed in an era of official segregation but nurtured today in an integrated era in which people still often choose to worship with people of the same racial background.

And its anniversary theme, "Casting a Vision for the 2nd Century," could just as easily be adopted by the 18th and Vine District as it rejuvenates itself with new housing, new restaurants and new entertainment venues.

"The church is very much a part of the community in which it sits," said longtime Centennial member Jon Gray. The Jackson County Circuit Court judge joined Centennial when his father served as pastor.

The congregation almost moved from the district about 30 years ago. The area lost residents and businesses after the segregation that prevented black people from moving south of the city center ended.

"The decision was made after some thought, but resolutely, that we are where we're supposed to be and we need to be in ministry to the community," Gray said. "I believe that will continue."

The pastor of Centennial's 350 members is Emanuel Cleaver III, son of U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver. The elder Cleaver leads St. James United Methodist Church, founded by people sent from Centennial years ago to start a church in another part of Kansas City.

The younger Cleaver has led Centennial for 2 1/2 years, and hopes to bring more young people to a church with many elderly members.

"Lord, you have allowed your spirit to work on this corner for 100 years," Emanuel Cleaver III prayed Sunday during the service kicking off a week of anniversary celebrations. "We are only here through faith."

Then he turned the microphone over to the guest preacher, his father. The elder Cleaver helped form a nonprofit development group that's working to improve the neighborhood around the American Jazz Museum and Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

"You can be born again," the elder Cleaver told the congregation. "Right now. Right here. ... You can turn things into a new direction."

The congregation is finding new directions. It still opens a food pantry every Wednesday for the needy, and invites the people who receive the food to a once-a-month breakfast at the church.

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