The Village Presbyterian Church community is mourning the loss and remembering the remarkable life of founder Rev. Robert “Dr. Bob” Meneilly, who died July 20 at age 96.
After founding Village Presbyterian — which would become one of the largest Presbyterian congregations in the United States with 8,000 members at its peak — in 1947, Meneilly led the church for 47 years until he retired in 1994. Meinelly was known for tackling challenging topics such as racism and civil rights to his predominantly white congregation.
Rev. Tom Are, Village Presbyterian’s senior pastor, said in an online remembrance that Meneilly “had an unending commitment to make Johnson County the most kindest, the most faithful and the most just place to live.”
“Those of us who have the privilege of serving this congregation today all stand on the shoulders of giants, and Dr. Bob was chief among them,” Are wrote. “He was tireless as a pastor and he was courageous in matters of social justice.”
In 1965, Meneilly told his congregation it was time for the city of Prairie Village to integrate. Shortly thereafter, Donald Sewing and his family — the first Black residents in Fairway — began attending Village Presbyterian.
Meneilly delivered a historic sermon in August 1993, “The Dangers of Religion,” in which he discussed right-wing religious extremism. Two weeks later, The New York Times printed a portion of the sermon on its editorial page.
“The Dangers of Religion” sermon led Meneilly and five others to create MainStream Coalition, a political advocacy organization. MainStream celebrated the 20th anniversary of the sermon in October 2013.
Now, the nonprofit organization is planning to honor Meneilly by continuing his efforts.
“We are saddened today by the passing of our dear friend Dr. Robert H. Meneilly, co-founder of Mainstream Coalition,” a MainStream Facebook post reads. “We will honor his memory by dedicating ourselves to the work he championed: respect for the rights, beliefs and freedoms of all individuals. Through our continued efforts, his legacy will live on for generations to come.”
Meneilly married Shirley Ann Dunlap in 1947, and the couple spent their first year of marriage going door-to-door recruiting more than 280 Village Presbyterian charter members. When Shirley died in June 2014, the Meneillys had been married 66 years.
A memorial service for Meneilly, to be officiated by Are, will be on July 30 at 1 p.m. at the Village Presbyterian Church sanctuary.