Roots: The church that faces north

The realization dawned slowly, then became clear as day.

Vicki and I had attended Sunday services at a historic church in rural Kansas, east of Manhattan.

As I was hunting for a good photo of the front of this stone structure, I was frustrated by the lighting. Then I understood why. The front was shaded, and would always be shaded in midday, because the church faces due north. 

The building faces due North, which surely is a commentary on the orientation of the congregation on the issue of slavery.

I suspect that this was by design, this facing north and not south, since the church and community played a role in the abolition movement, the “Bloody Kansas” strife before the Civil War, and even the Underground Railroad for blacks who had escaped the yoke of slavery.

The name says it all.

Beecher Bible and Rifle Church.

The building was completed in 1862, despite a shortage of labor during the Civil War.

Here’s the background, so bear with the brief history lesson.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 threw out the Missouri Compromise (Mason-Dixon Line) on the admission of free or slave states with a plan for “popular sovereignty,” which sounds nice but led to an influx of pro-slavery ruffians from Missouri. In answer to that, abolitionists from the North also began moving to Kansas. One such group was the New Haven colony in Wabaunsee, Kansas.

One of the big supporters was Henry Ward Beecher, the Congregationalist minister and abolitionist speaker from New York. (His sister was Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”) 

At one meeting, he said his congregation would buy 25 Spencer rifles for the New Haven colony if audience members would buy another 25. The group also sent Bibles, and some accounts say the Bibles were needed to provide cover to smuggle the rifles past those “Missouri ruffians,” as the pro-slavery settlers were called.

Hence the rifles became known as “Beecher Bibles.”

At least 50 breech-loading Spencer rifles were sent to the church and the colony as protection from the pro-slavery border ruffians.

In honor of their patron, the area’s Congregational church was named the Beecher Bible and Rifle Church. The stone building was completed in 1862, during the war.

After the war, the community remained a thriving agricultural area, although it never reached the metropolitan goal of duplicating New Haven, Connecticut.

Today the church still stands, and still holds services every Sunday morning. When we visited, there were a half-dozen parishioners attending, but they still keep the faith in their small church and small community.

The stones were gathered locally, and the mortar was repointed not too many years ago.
The church still holds services every Sunday.

The vegetable garden on the east side of the church is thriving with peppers and loads of tomatoes, and the flowers to the south are still in bloom.

And the church still bears witness to God, and to the history of the fight against slavery.

Here’s Vicki dressed for church, meaning something besides our usual shorts and t-shirt.

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