Church celebrates 140th like a family
One might consider the First Congregational Church's 140th anniversary celebration Sunday as a big family reunion.
According to Diane Ebbert, who is a member of the church, the small church is like a big family. There are generations of families that have attended the church, making the close-knit group like an extended family.
"There's so much tradition here," Ebbert said. "This was my dad's family's church. He was one of seven siblings."
On Saturday, some "family members" who used to be at the church came back to share in the milestone celebration.
Joining Rev. Jamie Bonnema were three former pastors at the church - Harold Zimmerman, Jack Ulmer and Bob Palmer.
Zimmerman, who served at the Tonganoxie Church from 1993-96, now lives in Overland Park. He was impressed with how the church continues on after 140 years.
"It's really important," Zimmerman said. "And I have to admire the determination of the people to keep it going.
"They're hearty people. And they make darn good pies."
Zimmerman was referring to some of the food prepared for a covered dish meal at noon that was served after the morning service.
Sunday's service not only marked the anniversary celebration of the church, but also the confirmation of Diane and Joe Ebbert's twin daughters, Megan and Kate.
Zimmerman baptized the sisters in 1996 and was on hand to join in on the confirmation ceremony.
"They're sweet girls," Zimmerman said. "I'm really happy to have this experience."
Diane said it was important for Zimmerman to be a part of Megan and Kate's confirmation.
The girls were born about 12 weeks premature on March 5, 1996. Megan weighed just more than a pound, while Kate was just more than 2 pounds. Zimmerman, Diane said, visited the girls often at St. Luke's Hospital while they were in ICU for roughly eight weeks.
Diane said she spoke with confirmation leader Starla Jones about having Zimmerman back for the ceremony.
"We really wanted that to happen : he's played such a special part in their lives," Diane said.
Kate said Sunday's ceremony was "really cool."
She and Megan discussed a timeline that was displayed on the wall downstairs at the church where members gathered for their meal. The timeline, made of a 25-foot-long piece of paper, highlighted various happenings in the church and in the community.
For instance, the timeline had a photo of a former water tower affixed to it. The water tower formerly stood behind the church at Fourth and Shawnee streets, but was taken down in 1996 - the year Megan and Kate were born.
They said they were not aware of the tower even being there.
"That was cool to see the church's past and see what's gone on through the years," Megan said.
The church was established in 1868, and the actual church was built five years later. Although an east wing has been added to the original church, members still are meeting in the building 135 years later.
"You can imagine what it was like when they first started the church," Megan said, again referring to the timeline.
Bonnema discussed the role the long-standing building plays in the church's history.
"It's a tremendous source of connection to the past," Bonnema said. "The rich history helps us understand where we are and where we want to go."
In fact, Bonnema's sermon Saturday was about monuments, such as the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., that help us understand why the monuments were built and why they are important to the future.