Windows On Our World

September 2023 | Written by Maribeth Griessel

      September will focus on just one stained glass window, located on the east side of the sanctuary. Known as “The Fiery Chariot Wheel,” possibly “Ezekiel’s Wheel,” this window shows a wheel amidst tongues of flame, with the inscription “i h s” above it.  Matt Martinie, adult Sunday school classes coordinator and Sunday school teacher, has graciously offered his assistance with understanding this imagery. “In Greek the first three letters of Jesus’ name are iota, eta, sigma, which give us ‘i h s’, or an abbreviation for Jesus’ name. This was an early Christian sign. The flaming wheel underneath was not a common Christian symbol, but may represent the cherubim as described by Ezekiel, chapter 1.”  Also we read in 2 Kings 2:11 about the Prophet Elijah being whisked off to Heaven in a chariot of fire. In some similar images (but not in Gashland’s window) the wheel is superimposed over two stone tablets, which of course depict the Ten Commandments, as given to Moses. This would represent the Transfiguation, reported in Matthew 17, Mark 9 and Luke 9, in which Elijah and Moses appeared with Jesus.  

      As a recap of church history covered so far this year, Gashland EPC has decended from three churches founded in northwest Missouri in the early 

1800s. Early history is provided in the January and February 2023 issues of The Porch, in the “Windows On Our World” series of articles. Fast forward to the mid-1900s, Gashland Community Church was incorporated in 1948, under the leadership of James W. Teener, with a portion of the sanctuary being erected the following year. Christmas Sunday of 1949 saw the first worship service, with the sanctuary dedication occurring in February, 1950.

      The June issue of The Porch focused on several pastors who have served Gashland. Included in this group was Andrew Cullen, who was hired as youth director in 1972. After holding this position for several years, he left Gashland to further his education at Gordon Conwell Seminary in Massachusetts. After serving as pastor at Butler Presbyterian Church, Reverend Cullen returned here in 1986 to assume the senior pastor position. He commented a bit later, “Nancy, Katie, Karen, Christine and I find it hard to believe that we have been here one year. At the same time, it feels as though we have been here a lot longer than one year. Certainly much of the feeling comes from having spent four and a half years here previously.”  Andrew, or Andy, as he was known to many, filled the pulpit from 1986 to 2002, a period of time that saw many activities and much growth for the church and congregation.

      A new tradition, one that continues to this day, was begun on Palm Sunday of ‘86 when palm crosses were made and passed out to congregants. May witnessed the release of a multitude of red balloons into the sky in celebration 

of Pentecost Sunday. During the final month of that year church members enjoyed both a living nativity and the Women’s Christmas Tea. Two years later, Rev. Rod Bakker was called to serve as associate pastor. Small Group Ministry had its beginning. 

     Also by 1988 it was becoming increasingly obvious that the physical facilities of the church would need to be expanded. Additional classrooms, a ministry center and increased parking were on the docket. The Kerygma Bible Study Series was begun. From 1988-1992 a number of men and women took training sessions on grieving, as well as techniques in assisting others through this coping process. 1989 would include a Women’s Retreat at the Presbyterian Camp. Associate 

Tapestry of Our Lives From God’s Perspective.”

      Bibles were distributed to 3rd graders on Rally Day in 1990, beginning another tradition that is still maintained at Gashland. The new driveway to the front (west) entrance was poured two years later. 1993 witnessed amazing children’s activities, when the Gashland Preschool was initiated in September. 28 middle school students went through a confirmation class and joined the church on December 5th.

      During 1994 and 1995 the Session responded to the “Re-Imagining” crisis by forming a committee to study the controversy and make a presentation to the congregation. A “Festival of Praise and Dedication” was held on September 25th for the newly-remodeled sanctuary, narthex and fellowship hall. Soon Gashland was emphasizing the importance of assisting every member to become a “fully developed Christ-follower.” This program was led by Rev. Stuart Austin, who became the new associate pastor after Rev. Bakker had left to pastor First Presbyterian Church of Quincy, IL.

      A capital stewardship campaign began on May 17, 1998, with congregational pledges totaling 1.65 million dollars over a three year period!  Construction equipment moved in to demolish the old Christian Education building (except for the Chapel) in 1999. The project came to a sudden 

standstill, with no work being done for weeks. KC City Hall bureaucracy refused to issue necessary building permits for the proposed new Ministry Center, Christian Education building and church offices. 

      Dr. Don Kuenzi described the situation as the “Nehemiah Syndrome,” explaining, “Gashland’s and Nehemiah’s problems seemed to follow parallel paths. Nehemiah had sought and received God’s blessing and help to rebuild the Jerusalem wall. Gashland had earnestly sought God’s will and had received His blessing through earlier trials, had prayed faithfully for and had 

received God’s guidance.” When Nehemiah’s people were threatened, they banded together and Nehemiah proclaimed, “Our God will fight for us.” Gashland’s people prayed that the City Hall obstruction would be removed, and it finally was. Elder and church officer, Ron Castle, a member of the long-range planning committee and project director of the new construction, worked with the City to finally acquire the necessary building permits.

      Around the turn of the century, for quite some time with no Christian Education building, the Sunday School classes met in various off-site locations, including senior citizen class meeting across the street at Carlito’s, and other class(es) at Oak Park High School, among other places.

      On March 11, 2001, Gashland celebrated the opening of the new Ministry Center with an all church worship at 10 a.m., featuring an exciting blend of traditional pomp and pageantry as well as expressions of contemporary worship.

      Pastor Andrew Cullen, in February of 2002, requested that Heartland Presbytery dissolve his pastoral relationship with Gashland, effective March 10th.  With great sadness the congregation agreed with this request and a farewell reception was held for Dr. Cullen and his wife, Nancy. Ed Longabaugh assumed the pulpit in August of 2003, where he would serve until 2012.  He and his family moved to Kansas City from Sacramento, CA.  During his time at Gashland, Rev. Longabaugh would oversee the changes required as our church withdrew from the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. and united with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

      Next month Windows On Our World will focus on Jesus’ great commission to us in Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  While most members of Gashland are unable to personally become missionaries around the world, we have definitely sent out and supported several such representatives. Look for some of their stories next month!