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A limestone foundation

The building is made of solid Kansas limestone, set on a foundation of faith and family. Its hardwood floors have scratches and dings from generations of cowboy boots and women's heels--yet no one minds the added character. The large common room attached to the kitchen addition is always packed with people--still there's always room for one more at the table. Its simple stained glass windows and architecture aren't as flashy as some newer structures--and yet it has a character all its own.

It's the little country church I call home, Lyona United Methodist. For 150 years the people of the Valley of Lyona have gathered in fellowship, faith and family in its sanctuary built by our forefathers' hands. And while its physical footprint is small, its imprint on the lives of its congregants is immeasurable.

Sundays at Lyona haven't changed much in 150 years. You can still see more than one cowboy hat on the coat rack in the vestibule and western suits and shined boots are still the fashion for the men in the congregation. Services are timed around morning livestock chore schedules and the lunch service at the local cafe. The women take turns watching the toddlers in the nursery, and crying babies never lack for someone to rock them back to contentment in the back of the sanctuary during the sermon.

The same hymns are sung out of the same hymnals, found in the same pews, used by at least eight generations of congregants. And the harmonies still sound as beautiful as they did when they were first sung in the limestone sanctuary more than a century before. Children still learn the same Bible stories in the same Sunday school classrooms, and the bells still ring from the same bell tower.

The seasons pass, but there's a similar rhythm to them year after year. Christmas is celebrated with a children's program that rarely changes and a giant tree cut out of a local pasture and decorated with the same ornaments. Easter is a time of special music and sunrise sermons on the front lawn. Summer brings Vacation Bible School and mulberries from the large trees in the churchyard.

And yet, even in a little country church things change over time. A few years ago the members installed a wheelchair ramp at the front entrance and expanded the handicap-accessible parking. New carpet and paint have warmed up the sanctuary, and yet a mural of a cross with the Bible verse Psalm 119, "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet...." still has a place front and center. The country church has moved into the new century with new sound technology that allows hearing impaired parishioners to hear the word of God more easily, but the acoustics remain the best in the county.

Like everyone in the Valley, our family's history is tied to that of Lyona. My parents met there one Sunday after my mom's family moved into the community. The altar where they traded their wedding vows was the same altar where my father's parents said theirs, as did generations before them. It was the same altar that saw the baptism and confirmations of us three children, and sadly the funerals of our grandparents, too.

We were all raised with an expectation that we would give of our time and our talents to Lyona. Whether that was my mom playing the piano every Sunday, my siblings and I sharing special music, or my dad helping out with the annual Groundhog Supper, we gave where we were able.

For countless years Mom and Dad were adult sponsors of the United Methodist Youth Fellowship--the Bible study group for the teenagers of both Lyona and Woodbine Methodist congregations. Therefore, our house was grand central station for all the teenagers in the community and we never lacked for older role models, babysitters, and piggyback rides. Every summer there was at least one overnight canoe float trip down Lyons Creek, with an evening bonfire and Bible lesson. Before school started back up in the fall there was at least one work trip to help those in need around the state, or across the country. Halloween meant hayrack rides down gravel roads; Christmas was marked with caroling to elderly neighbors; and spring was a time of volunteering to clean up yards in the community. Our parents showed their YF kids they could have fun, but still meet the same expectation of giving back to their neighbors.

Lyona was, and continues to be, more than just limestone bricks and weekly sermons, though. That church was where I learned not only that "Jesus loves me" but so does a congregation made up of my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. They taught me my family genealogy and the Lord's prayer. They praised me when I earned it and disciplined me when I needed it. They've been there with Jell-O salads and prayers at every high and every low in my life.

And, no matter where I am, or where life takes me, I know that Lyona and its worshippers will remain my steadfast foundation.

It's a faith built from limestone and family.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached by phone at 620-227-1807, or by e-mail at jlatzke@hpj.com.



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