Monday, November 12, 2007

Historic Kansas Church Leaves UCC

Beecher Bible & Rifle Church, a historic Congregational church in rural Kansas, has voted to withdraw from the United Church of Christ.

The decision to leave centered on the General Synod's controversial marriage declaration and was made back in January according to John Sumner, a member of the church. The church's withdraw became official to the denomination when a notice was announced at the October annual meeting of the North Central Association of the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference.

Behind the church's unusual name is the courageous story of faith-based abolitionists from New England who helped Kansas enter the Union as a free state in 1861.

When Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, the citizens of Kansas were given the right to vote on whether it would join the Union as either a free or slave state. A tense era known as "Bleeding Kansas" ensued. Rushing into Kansas came pro-slavery advocates from the South and free-soilers from the North.

During this time, a group of 60 abolitionists from New Haven, Connecticut determined to uproot themselves and move to Kansas. Rev. Henry Ward Beecher--a famous abolitionist preacher from Brooklyn--pledged 25 Sharps rifles to the group, and a member of Beecher's church donated 25 Bibles, so the settlers could defend themselves and their beliefs.

When the group traveled to Kansas, the rifles were packed in boxes marked, "Books" and "Bibles." The clever trick hid the rifles from hostile slave advocates, along with state and federal authorities who had banned the bringing of weapons into the region. With the help of Beecher Bibles, the group successfully settled into Northwest Kansas near Wamego. In 1857, they started a Congregational church and completed a limestone building in 1862, which stands to this day.

Beecher Bible & Rifle Church is one of the oldest churches in Kansas that continues to hold Sunday morning worship services. Aging membership and a rural location has lowered its weekly attendance to about 10-20. But each year on the last Sunday in August, an anniversary celebration brings out between 75-100.

This church's withdraw is a sad loss and severs one of the United Church of Christ's historic links.

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