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THE CHAPEL SPEAKS
by: Eva McCance,Longview Chapel Christian Church  Historian

At a time when other edifices of my history and span would be planned into retirement or even demolition, I'm alive and well, beginning again, starting afresh. Is my greatest hour yet to come?

Mine has been an illustrious past. As an original structure of "the most beautiful farm in the world," I was celebrated for my simplicity and beauty by all who saw or spoke of me. And I was revered as a house of God. In the beginning, I experienced life in a somewhat closed society. I was privately owned and served as a multipurpose entity. The proprietor, R. A. Long, wanted a church on his farm, and he needed a school for the many youngsters living and being reared here. He needed a community hall for the substantial farm population and the neighborhood at large. So under the guise of the county school superintendent, I was furnished with a one-room school.

Children and young people who attended classes within my walls either walked or were delivered here in a farm wagonette. [This was a lot like a horse-drawn trolley]. It took regular trips to Lee's Summit on Saturday night to accommodate family shopping, and then back to the chapel on Sunday mornings for Sunday School and Worship Services. The school was kept open for about five years or until the farm bought a motorized bus to replace the wagonette. Then, high school students were taken into Lee's Summit and grade schoolers went to the neighboring districts of Rockford, Cedar Hill, and High Grove. It was this wider mingling with the neighbor children that brought some of the community leaders together. These helped to organize a graded Sunday School and Chapel which proved to be a great success.

Reverend Sam Braden was hired to conduct teacher-training classes here. Many received certificates from his school and several permanent service classes were formed at the Chapel.

The Willing Workers Class was perhaps the most effective of these, and certainly the most permanent. This class survived, under the same name until the recent date of 1995.

The members were composed of missionary-minded young women, full of vigor and vision. They undertook many worthwhile endeavors, as they supported summer camps for under-privileged children, counseling, and telling stories. They bought a bed for the St. Louis Orphan's Home, had their name put on it, and kept it supplied for twenty-five years or more.

This was the period of World War I. Shortly after the war, the class adopted a French orphan and supported him to an adult age. The Willing Workers were very much "at the helm" when the Roaring twenties dawned. Recreation was important to them and all the young people at church. The Chapel had always been tied to the farm for many resources. There were several tennis courts, a volleyball court, and baseball diamonds. The young women promoted team sports and kept them in session.

A movie projector was set up in the church basement and a good movie was shown every week. They held teas, lectures, and book reviews. They performed skits and plays [including all ages], and when their numbers were too large for the social room at Church, they were allowed to use the Carriage Room in the Horse Barn. They met the times with gusto, and their numbers were in keeping with the activities they supported.

It was a large membership composed mostly of young people. They were good Church workers, many of the names are familiar today: Albert and Mary Scherer; Pearl and Dave Crawford; Hazel and Ed Falk; Miss Loula Long; and, Pryor Combs.

Several marriages resulted in this Church experience. Ministers came and went, but they, too, were young, and their thinking fit well with that of a younger congregation. Young ministers were chosen also, because they were students. It was difficult at the time to find mature ministers who would assume the duties of a full-time minister for an indefinite period of time.

Mr. Long had always paid the ministers well, and provided them a home [the present Gate House]. He had been most generous on maintenance of the property. After the Depression of the Thirties, the whole country was recovering from business failure and hard times. Sadly, Mr. Long died in 1934. Following his death, the Long heirs passed the title and deed to the Church and grounds to the congregation. The Chapel was renamed Longview Chapel Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the membership assumed full responsibility.

The Forties brought World War II. The Chapel had a service flag with twenty-two stars, three gold ones for the following heroes: Laurence E. Browning; Jack Crawford; and, Tommy Buell.

The congregation was suffering setbacks along with the general population. Gasoline rationing cut deeply into attendance, and the availability of the automobile itself had already influenced a decline in attendance. The consolidation of schools was a crucial decision that also affected attendance.

Though many neighbors stayed, their children went on to college or married and left to live in other communities. The average age of the members was now older than the oldest members of a decade ago.

The Fifties and Sixties continued with the declining membership. We had to realize that something was happening at the Chapel. The Willing Workers were still here, but they were older, less energetic, less progressive, and so was the farm itself. It was actually on the decline! There were still good ministers in our pulpit, but as always, they were contracted on a part-time basis. There may have been a feeling among visitors and prospective members that this was a "somewhat closed" society again, one kept open for the benefit of the farm inhabitants.

However, on December 15th, 1965, the dedication of the first 50 years of service was celebrated with much fondness of memory. Other traditions were continuing as well: chili suppers in march; watermelon parties; ice cream socials; bell-ringing 4ths of July with invitations to Veterans of Foreign Wards; and, the First Sunday covered dish dinners. Could we hold this together?

Then the fire in the 1970's brought out the best in all the "old" members again! A big cooperative effort was staged by all to salvage and restore the Chapel as they had always known it. They did a good job.

Here I stood, during the Seventies, Eighties, and part of the Nineties, loved, but not fully attended. Those who were still faithful were faithful friends, indeed.

It was during the early Eighties that these faithful friends sought to put me in the National Registry of Historic Buildings, and it was accomplished. Was I now only a relic of history?

In 1995, a new event came to our attention: Our first woman minister came on the scene, Reverend Jan Keeler. She is one of twenty-six or more devoted ministers who have officiated here to date. From the Reverend Dr. George H. Combs who gave the first sermon from our pulpit, down through the ranks, they were all men who loved God, and put their hearts and souls into making us what we are today.

Reverend Keeler is still with us. She has energy, vision, and she has God. She has revitalized our spirit, and by encouraging shared ministry, we are getting back to our numbers of the Twenties. Reverend Keeler has encouraged and overseen a recent expansion project to accommodate those numbers. She's heralded our children. She's worked to unify and preserve the congregation. We've caught her spirit! We're on the move again!

Our Eighty-fifth birthday is here. Is our history now revitalized? Is our service secured for another generation? Is our greatest hour yet to come? We pray God's blessing be upon us!

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