The Word of God still heard weekly in the Wellsford Church
It was 1885. Mark Twain published “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” in the United States, the Washington Monument was dedicated, American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) was incorporated, the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York Harbor, Dr. Pepper was served for the first time, Boston Pops Orchestra was formed, and in Kansas, a little church was erected in Wellsford, Kansas on the east edge of Kiowa County. It still stands today.
All of these, including that church in Wellsford, still exist. For 135 years the Wellsford church has been a house of worship with most of its history related to the Methodists. Much of the church looks exactly like it did when its doors opened in 1885. The stained glass windows, the steeple and bell that is still rung for church service, the white exterior, the original swinging doors to the sanctuary, wall and ceiling tiles, the two rows of pews, the pulpit, the three chairs on the platform and that big picture of christ at the front of the church are all still there along with the alter. In the basement, a wooden sandbox, built by an area farmer decades ago, stands on its side by a wall. A stove, cabinets and an old folding seat for three are still in place but in much need of attention.
The church is now nondenominational. On Sunday morning, the congregation is just three. Dan and Cindy Hall and Verle Starkey arrive at 11 a.m., ring the bell, sing three or four old hymns and Cindy leads the small group in a Bible Study, said Dan Hall.
During the winter months, Hall goes to the church on Saturday night to turn up the heat for the Sunday service. For decades, a pair of outhouses served the church until a permanent restroom was added sometime after the mid-20th Century. Air conditioning was also added, Hall said.
Decades ago, a row of cars would line the sidewalk in front of the church. Farm families from the area came for Sunday School and for morning worship. Sunday school took place in the basement then all would gather in the sanctuary for hymns and a sermon.
Once a month, families would gather for a community meal after the morning service, said Ecile Hall, the current church secretary.
Every year, children attended Bible school in the late spring. There were special programs for Easter and Christmas.
Numerous pastors filled the pulpit at the church through the decades. Ecile, who will turn 81 in September, keeps an historical record that includes the names of many of the pastors. She joined the church when she was a little girl and her membership is still there.
The Rev. C.H. Coppedge was the first resident pastor of the church and was there from 1917-1919. He was followed by E.W. McDonald in 1920 and L.W. Kemp from 1921-1922. Kemp performed the first wedding in the church for Blanch Freeman and Frank Meisel. Other pastors followed including B.H. Davis, J.H. Holsclaw, D.N. McAllister, F.H. Neff, Ray Pomerroy, Burrton Lovelady, Earl Livengood, E.T. Julian, Vincent Wagoner and R.H. Hardesty.
In 1940, Roy Knight was appointed as supply pastor followed by Roy Clark, Marvin Mardock, Walter Nelson and C.L. Kearns. Ecile also recalls Rev. John Harmon Rose preaching, and his son Ray Rose.
A long list of pastors has served the church since 1978. The last preacher assigned to the church was Francis Ross about three years ago, Ecile said.
For a time, students in the Christian Service curriculum at Barclay College in Haviland would go to Wellsford and preach to the small congregation as part of their requirements, said Barclay President Royce Frazier.
The last preacher assigned to the church was Francis Ross about three years ago. Since then, Cindy Hall has been leading the service, said Ecile who attended church in Wellsford for about 15 years with her husband Raymond. Both still live in Wellsford but because of health issues, are unable to attend now.
Around the sanctuary are brass plaques with the names of families that were an important part of the church family. Ecile said a special dedication was held when these plaques honoring the families were dedicated.
The plaque names are: C.E. Anderson Family, O.L. King Family, John Rose Family, James and Louisa Burns, In Memory of Aaron and Belinda Starkey, C.E. Freeman Family, Norby, In Memory of Mr. and Mrs. I.N Young.
For decades, farm families would populate the church. But over time, children grew up and moved away and the numbers began to shrink until only a few made their way to the church on Sunday.
The years have taken a hard toll on the church especially in the foundation, Hall said. The walls are bowed and have special braces holding them in place, there are water leaks, a couple of ceiling tiles have fallen in the sanctuary and the basement.
One of the original stained glass windows in the foyer has been replaced but the rope is still there to ring the bell.
The church has stood up against Kansas weather. A tornado hit just north of the church but did little if any damage. Lightning hit the church but rain put it out.
The survival of the church is uncertain. With just three attending and a building in need of repairs, what the future holds for this religious icon remains to be seen. But for now, that little white church still stands as a reminder of dedication to the preaching of the Word of God.