Resurrection of dilapidated farmhouse serves as symbol of rebirth for oldest congregation in Leawood

Rachel and Curt Petersen with Ryan Kapple on the porch of the Mustard Seed House at Leawood Presbyterian Church.
Rachel and Curt Petersen with Ryan Kapple on the porch of the Mustard Seed House at Leawood Presbyterian Church.

The old farmhouse wasn’t in great shape.

With a sagging roof and aging innards, the 1930s structure seemed fated for a bulldozer, an attractive target for a teardown-rebuild project given its setting on a two-acre lot in north Leawood.

Instead, the “Mustard Seed House,” as its proprietors have now dubbed it in reference to a biblical parable, has become the symbol of rebirth for a northeast Johnson County church that was on the verge of closing just a few years earlier.

At the start of 2009, both Ryan Kapple and Curt and Rachel Petersen were still near the start of new chapters in their lives. The Petersens had just moved back to Johnson County, where Curt grew up, from D.C., where he had been practicing law the past few years. Kapple had taken over as the senior pastor of Leawood Presbyterian, the oldest church in the city, in late 2007.

Curt credited Kapple with setting him on a path to success back in his high school days, when Kapple was the youth pastor at Colonial Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, Mo.

“That’s kind of where my life was changed,” Petersen said. “To this day, he’s had more impact on my life than anybody.”

When the Petersens relocated to Johnson County, Curt and Rachel were eager to reconnect with Kapple. They started attending services at Leawood Presbyterian — where the pews were sparsely populated. Prior to Kapple’s arrival, Leawood Presbyterian’s congregation had dwindled to just a handful of members. The pastor set about trying to inject new life and energy into the church, but with so few congregants, finances were tight.

So when Curt heard that the owner of the house directly to the west of the church on 83rd Street was interested in selling, it presented a conundrum: The strategic value of the property to a church without a parsonage or much meeting space was difficult to overstate, but the price tag was daunting for such a small congregation to take on.

“Two acres in Leawood next to the church? I went nuts,” Curt said. “I said, ‘We’ve got to find a way to buy this.'”

After months of deliberation, the church was eventually able to strike a deal with the owner, and took out a loan to purchase the house. Acquiring the property was, in and of itself, a huge move for the fledging rebirth of the congregation. But with a tall stack of deferred maintenance to tackle, the property had a long way to go to reach the potential the Petersens and Kapple envisioned. The group enlisted the help of volunteers and contractors to patch the property up enough to make it habitable for a youth pastor.

Eventually, however, the Petersens and fellow congregant Sean Devlin asked the church’s governing body if they could take it upon themselves to manage a full renovation.

“There was so much potential,” said Rachel. “We just saw what it could be.”

It was an arduous task. The Petersens and Devlin devoted seemingly all of their free time to the project, often staying up into the wee hours to arrange for volunteers to work on parts of the house and yard or hire the contractors to complete phases of the renovation. About nine months after work began, they had transformed the aging structure into a beautiful home. The upper floor was revamped to create a bright, new living quarters for a youth pastor. The lower floor was opened up to make space that could be used for all manner of church gatherings, from Bible studies to meetings to movie nights.

Having such a space available was key to Kapple’s vision for the church. During his time as a youth pastor, he learned the value of having a place where middle and high school students felt they could go at any time.

“That experience embedded in me the idea of presence and really being there in the community,” Kapple said. “Having students be able to come to a place that’s here on our property and feel like it’s safe and a place they can hang out, I thought, this is the way church should be.”

It wasn’t long after the renovations were complete that the church got to see that vision realized. Following the Shawnee Mission East-Rockhurst football game last fall, more than 200 high school kids came to the church for a post-game party.

“To think that this old dead tired building next to this old dead tired house is now filled with 200 high school kids, that’s the vision,” Kapple said.

Leawood Presbyterian will be having an open house so that people in the neighborhood can get a look at the renovated structure on Sunday, May 7.

The house in mid-renovation.
The house in mid-renovation.