By Sarah Hancock
This is a photo of First Presbyterian Church in my hometown of Hoxie, Kansas.
This is the church I grew up attending. It looks like the church in Wamego because it was built by the same builder around the same time. What a coincidence, huh?!
I attended Sunday School and Vacation Bible School here as a child. I have fond memories of Kool-Aid and cookies and crafts in the basement, and of the kind women who taught us. A very specific memory that I have is of a youth group activity around Christmastime when I was in 7th or 8th grade. After a spaghetti dinner, a gift exchange, and a brief lesson with Pastor Don Hammerli, a bunch of us were playing an exhilarating game of tag in the darkened church. I ran around a corner and smacked into a classmate. We knocked our foreheads together, and I fell backward onto the hard tile floor and hit the back of my head, too. I sustained a concussion, and I still remember another member of the youth group asking me how to find the area of a trapezoid to see if I could remember what we had been learning in Mr. Mercer’s math class. I could recite the formula (base plus base times height divided by two!), but I didn’t recognize the white elephant gift that I had been given just a few minutes earlier. (It was a giant pine cone.) My recollection is that running in the church was discouraged after that incident.
I sang in many Christmas programs in this church, and I served as a pianist in the monthly rotation. I had mentors and friends here, and many church potlucks and Sundays sitting in the pews with my family. My dad always enjoyed holding the hymnal and moving it around slightly while we were singing just to make me laugh. As I grew older, I helped my mom in the church kitchen. People in the congregation took an interest in my activities as I progressed through school and college. I didn’t recognize it at the time, but I had a wonderful community around me.
Fast forward quite a few years to 2004, when Dave and I moved with our boys from San Mateo, California, to a house we built on the tallgrass prairie nine miles north of Wamego. An acquaintance of my dad’s, Mr. Charlie White, had encouraged us to look at the area around Wamego. That was a good recommendation. After we arrived, we wanted to join a church. We had never found quite the right church home in the Bay Area. When I saw Wamego First Presbyterian Church and it looked exactly like the church I had attended as a child and a young woman, I knew that was the first place we would try.
As it turned out, we never tried another church. As soon as we walked in, we were met with welcoming kindness and curiosity. We found neighbors with mutual friends, and we found the kind of multi-generational congregation that would surround our growing family with love and support. As we grew to know others, we found fast friends with whom we could share the comedies and trials of family life. I accidentally disclosed that I could play the piano, so I became a substitute accompanist, then substitute pianist, then choir director. (To this day, I still don’t REALLY know how to direct a choir, but I give it my best shot, and luckily, the people who sing really don’t need much help!)
My boys learned the things we wanted them to learn about God’s love, and service, and the transformational power of Jesus’ words and deeds. They sang songs and went to classes and joined service projects. They played pickleball at picnics and hiked hills at church campouts; one time, Evan even hiked a hill with a hairline fracture in an ankle, but that’s another story. Our sons learned how to be in community with others, and how to serve others.
Dave and I have done many jobs in this church. We have also grown. The fact that the building is the same as the one in Hoxie is just a coincidence, but it’s also a metaphor for the foundation of faith in my life and the role of community in that faith. When I think of community and love and service, it’s the image of a church building that pops into my mind, and then the faces and the services and the meals and the discussion and inquiry follow. Aside from my family, I can count no truer blessing, and I am so grateful to God and the people of both of “my” churches for it.
Thank you for pausing to celebrate the 150th birthday of Wamego First Presbyterian Church, and thank you for blessing my family with your love and friendship.