The 150th anniversary celebration of Lenexa United Methodist Church this weekend, according to one long-time church member, is not just a celebration of the church. It’s a celebration of the church’s long history ties to Old Town Lenexa and its tradition of service to the local community.
Linda Stokes, a member of Lenexa United Methodist since 1983, is particularly excited for this weekend’s activities because they expect past pastors and church members to join in the festivities with current members.
Plus, she just published a book on the church’s history, and copies will be for sale this weekend. Two years in the making, her book, “Methodism in Old Town Lenexa: The History of Lenexa United Methodist Church 1869-2019,” paints a picture of the church’s historical connections to Old Town and features 300 pictures, a bio on each of the 70-plus pastors in the church’s history and other historical records.
“The two things that really stood out to me when I was researching the book was this congregation’s commitment to Old Town, and outreach has always been important to this church,” Stokes said. “Time and time again, we’ve made a decision to stay here.”
Fun fact: In her research, Stokes found that President Barack Obama had ancestors at the church; his great-great-grandmother, Della Wolfley, and Wolfley’s parents Robert and Rachel Wolfley, became church members in 1882.
A brief history of the church
Five women founded the church on July 18, 1869. They were Catharine Allen, Clarissa Allen, Sarah Bradshaw, Elizabeth Ransom and Elizabeth Stinson. That same year, the original town site of Lenexa was founded by Octave Chanute, a civil engineer who purchased 41.5 acres near the railroad from Charles Bradshaw.
The church was incorporated in 1870 as The Lenexa Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church — the first church to be built in Lenexa. They first built a parsonage, or home for the pastor, that year, and met for worship at a schoolhouse until the first church building was built in 1878. Within a year of the church’s founding, they had about 50 members.
Construction on the present sanctuary began in 1924 and was completed in 1925.
“They actually moved the existing church building to the back of the lot, so that they could build the new sanctuary in the same exact location where the old sanctuary was, but they also could continue to hold worship services on site during construction,” Stokes said. “I have no idea how, but they never missed a beat. One Sunday they met in the old church building, the next Sunday they met in the new church building.”
The church was then renamed Lenexa Methodist Church in 1939. They added a fellowship hall in 1956 and named it Schneeberger Memorial Hall after former pastor Charles E. Schneeberger, the church’s first full-time pastor. Stokes said the church membership grew from 197 to over 500 during his six years. His wife is planning to attend the celebrations this weekend.
Then, in 1968, the church adopted its current name, Lenexa United Methodist Church. The following year, the parsonage was torn down, and several additions to the church were made, including a new front entrance and lobby area (called a narthex), offices and classroom space. The sanctuary also underwent a major remodel, and the church added a courtyard.
The church has since built another addition in 1990 and an education building later in 2009.
Church membership peaked at 1,000 members in 1983, and average worship attendance peaked at 386 in 1990. The church’s current membership is 536, and average attendance is 182.
Stokes said community outreach has been an important part of the church for as long as she can remember. The church has been collecting food for the Johnson County Food Pantry since at least the early 1980s, and church members have also been serving at St. Mary’s Food Kitchen since 1983.
Lenexa United Methodist has also previously sponsored a transitional housing duplex through Catholic Social Services in the early 1990s as well as a room at the Salvation Army Family Lodge homeless shelter. Church members have helped build houses with Habitat for Humanity and in 2013, started sponsoring an apartment at Hillcrest Transitional Housing.
Plus, Lenexa United Methodist is celebrating its 30th anniversary of PEANUTS, their mission team of high schoolers currently serving in Gore, Oklahoma for a week of mission work.
150th anniversary celebration activities
Lenexa United Methodist will celebrate its 150th anniversary Saturday, June 29 and Sunday, June 30.
Saturday’s activities take place from 6 to 9 p.m. at the grand pavilion at Sar-Ko-Par Trails Park. Activities include a bring-your-own-picnic supper at 6 p.m., children’s games from the past two centuries and a re-enactment of the founding of the church. The Lenexa Historical Society is also bringing a Conestoga wagon.
Celebrations continue during Sunday morning worship services at 10:30 a.m., with preaching by Ruben Saenz Jr., Bishop of the Great Plains Conference. The church will also celebrate 30 years of mission work, open two time capsules from 1925 and 1969 and catered dinner. Descendants of the church’s pastor in 1903, Benjamin F. Dice, will also attend celebrations. The church’s longest serving pastor, Peggy Hillmon, who ministered for 10 years, is retiring this weekend too.