- Associated Press - Saturday, June 7, 2014

WILCOX, Neb. (AP) - Ken Meyers stood at the front door of Pleasant View Christian Church, which is nestled under trees at the northwest corner of P and 23rd roads in Ash Grove Township. He nodded toward the road signs at the intersection.

“P and 23,” he said. “The 23rd Psalm.”

Sunday, after 102 years, Pastor Bud Gillett gave the final benediction at the church. Faced with declining membership and dollars, Pleasant View is closing.

From a peak of 60 members in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, membership dwindled to just 17, including 15 adults and two school-aged children. That’s too few people to pay the bills, which include insurance at $800 a year, propane at $800 per tankful, heat and electricity between $12,000 and $43,000 a year, and the minister’s salary.

On several Sundays this spring, just two or three people came for services, confirming what the church board had been forced to acknowledge last winter. It was time to close.

“We talked,” Meyers, 65, told the Kearney Hub (https://bit.ly/1oXLpmX). “We decided to go home and pray about it. Then we voted.” The vote was eight in favor of closing, four in favor of staying open, and two abstentions.

“I wanted to keep it open,” Lois Potter said.

“We all wanted to keep it open, but we couldn’t afford to,” Susan Falk said.

On a recent Saturday morning, Meyers, Falk and Potter sat in the sanctuary and reminisced. Falk, 67, has worshipped at this church for 62 years. Potter, 65, is the fourth generation of her family to attend here. Her great-grandfather, Andrew Fouts, was one of the first deacons.

“Farms here used to be 160 acres,” Meyers said. “There was one farm on every quarter, maybe half-a-mile apart. There were four homesteads per section.

“Now the average farm is 640 acres. As the farms got bigger, the churches got smaller, and kids didn’t come back to farm after they grew up.”

The trio remembered. They recalled Easter sunrise services and Good Friday services and social events. They bubbled with sweet memories of Christmas caroling at nursing homes. Church picnics at the Harlan County dam. Sledding and ice skating. Tubing on the Republican River, and the Vacation Bible School that drew 50 children every summer.

Psalty, the Singing Church Mouse, led hymn songs. Members put on faith-themed musicals every year and gave bridal showers there.

Pleasant View even boasted a flying minister. In the late ‘60s, the Rev. Richard Waldron would fly his private plane 35 miles from Minden to preach at the 9 a.m. service, then fly back to Minden to lead services at a church there. “He’d land on the grass strip next to the power line,” Meyers said. “He taught me to fly before I went off to the Air Force.”

What the church lacked, members provided. It had no air conditioning, so members placed cardboard chalice-shaped fans, bearing pictures of the Last Supper, in the pews. It had no custodian, so church families took turns cleaning.

The church had no choir, either, so the family who cleaned each week was responsible for that Sunday’s music. It ranged from a men’s quartet to a trumpet player to a song by children or piano pieces. One member presented Bessie’s Chalk Talks, drawing pictures on a chalkboard as she spoke.

“We had an unbelievable program,” Meyers said. “There wasn’t a person in the church who didn’t play some kind of instrument. We had violins. We had ‘Joy to the World’ on a saxophone at Christmas.”

The church was even a polling place. Members held coyote hunts, where they fanned out over a 10-square-mile area to get the critters that were devouring their livestock. “Our church was the focal point of the community. We all grew up together here,” Meyers said.

Pleasant View Christian Church was founded in 1912, when, after a three-week revival meeting in late fall, about 20 people gathered at the schoolhouse in Pleasant Grove and organized a Christian church. By 1921, needing more space, the congregation converted the closing Ash Grove store into a church building. In June 1930, the church obtained pews, the pulpit, two chairs and communion service from a church that had closed in Bloomington. All are still in use.

The current white frame building, with a simple cross over the front door, was built in 1948. Church members tore down the old one so that Standard Builders Incorporated could erect the new one. It wasn’t quite finished by Christmas, but Christmas Eve services were held there anyway. The structure, with eight pews on each side of the center aisle, was dedicated on May 1, 1949. It comfortably seats 80 worshippers.

The church was officially incorporated on June 24, 1977. It was originally part of the Disciples of Christ denomination, but it split off and became independent about 20 years ago over the abortion issue.

Over the years, the congregation tended to the building like a shepherd with his flock. They cleaned. They painted. They held work days on Saturdays twice a year. They waxed the oak sanctuary floor, too, “but we got tired of that, so we laid carpet,” Falk said, nodding toward the red carpet on the floor. Two stained glass windows were installed in 1993 in memory of Wanda and Adella Lienemann, a mother and daughter.

Pleasant View members worshipped, played and ate together and surrounded each other during tragedy. When Lois’s husband Glenn died two years ago, church members crowded into his room at Good Samaritan Hospital.

“This church has been a vital part of my spiritual growth,” Meyers said. “Worship, fellowship, everything. Ministers came and went, but we’re still here. There were times when we didn’t agree, but the church gave us such a foundation that we all got along. This church is the basis of who we all are.”

After Sunday’s final service, the church will be torn down, but members hope to place picnic tables on the shady corner so it can remain a community gathering place.

“I might not be here Sunday,” Meyers said, his eyes glistening with tears.

Falk turned to him. “You have to come,” but she and Potter teared up, too. “We’re family,” Falk said. “In every sense of the word.”


Information from: Kearney Hub, https://www.kearneyhub.com/

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