My friend, Jody Burch, preaches at a small Kansas church most Sundays. He texted me recently. “You interested in preaching in Cedar Vale?” After agreeing to preach, I found out this means, teaching a class, leading singing, and preaching. I still went.
What could I possibly say to these folks? Afterwards, I realized we had more in common than I knew and that we drank from the same stream.
In 1922, Babe Ruth hit 35 homers, a silver dollar was minted that eventually found it’s way into my hands, the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville rocked with 8,000 voices singing a cappella, and the Cedar Vale Church of Christ opened the doors of a new red brick building.
On Sunday morning, February 3, 2019, I opened those same doors. I’m not sure which way the building faces, as the streets in Cedar Vale are not square with the world. My sermon was about living stones, how they line up with a cornerstone that must be plumb and true.
My Dad was general contractor on the Dewey Church of Christ and I’m reminded of a question he often received about that building. Why are these classrooms not square? The answer: Because the roof ridge rises as it goes from back to front and the footprint expands. The building is wider at the front than the back.
Dick Humble grew up in this old Cedar Vale church. The wood pews are oak without cushions and they are remarkably made. They have an elliptical shape, like a crescent moon. Maybe this inspired Dick to become an architect, sitting in these finely crafted old pews from 1922. Dick didn’t design the Dewey church building, but I knew him well. He was a member of the Dewey Church for years and consulted with Dad on the design of that structure.
I have never been to this town, which was platted on a hill, diagonal to north in 1870, so that looking down Cedar Street you had an unobstructed view of the Caney and Cedar Valleys and the junction of the Big Caney River and Cedar Creek. Because of this quirk in platting, I don’t know which way the windows face.
I lead an opening prayer and through closed eyes, I sense a bright light entering the room, and I think of the Apostle Paul blinded on the road to Damascus, except I’m not blind, at least physically. I open my eyes and the sun is refracting a kaleidoscope of color through stained glass windows.
There are more young people here than I had imagined…and more old. Madison Holroyd tells me he was born in 1921. He was there for the opening in 1922. Now, Madison sits in the middle pews and comments about my lesson on Acts 17, Paul on Mars Hill.
Before my sermon, Royal Kennedy leads a prayer and he does so eloquently, yet simply in King James English. Royal is 94, fit as a fiddle and sharp as a tack.
Madison moves to the back row for my sermon. He tells me later that he had no coffee and was wary of falling asleep during the sermon. So he moved to the back row to sleep and to be near the bathroom because even though he had no coffee, well, he is 97.
Afterwards, he shakes my hand and gives me a vague compliment. Although he was prepared to sleep during the sermon, he didn’t. He listened and was alert. This is what sustains preachers, the backhanded compliment. “I didn’t sleep”…bless you Madison. This is high praise coming from the man who paid for this church building. This is legend and it is clear that he has told this story many times.
“I was born at home and my family gave the money we saved by not going to the hospital to the church building fund.”Madison Holroyd
A few days later, I was visiting with my friend Doug Sanders, who grew up in the Cedar Vale church. Doug reminds me of a friend of his, Roger, who attended a U2 concert with Doug and me last year. Roger Holroyd, Madison’s son, is a bank president now, who grew up in this Cedar Vale church.
On Sunday mornings, the Shepherds at Adams Blvd church pray in the upper room, which is the old library, surrounded by discarded AV equipment and books that are seldom open. One caught my eye this morning, Hardeman’s Tabernacle Sermons. Here is a picture from 1922 showing a packed house at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. Said to be the largest auditorium at the time in Tennessee, churches of Christ packed the Ryman from March 28 through April 16 of 1922.
8,0000 folks gathered for twenty consecutive days. Meanwhile, another gathering place for Christians opened just over the border in Kansas, this one less celebrated, but still, fascinating.
I tell the Cedar Vale congregants that they are rocks, living stones. Peter’s words from I Peter 2, “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood…”
They nod, they know the Scriptures, but they have never heard me tell this story, how I once got the tractor stuck next to our stone house, and how Dad, backed it out proudly, then turned the wheel and pounded the wall with the bucket, which led to the decision to remodel the recreation room, and how my brothers and I wielded sledgehammers and tore the wall down, amazingly, without serious injury. But, it was put together with such strength that it took everything we had to tear it down, because each stone helped hold the entire wall. Knowingly, they nodded…somehow they knew.
From my backyard I see oaks and elms lining the Caney river. This river begins in the Blue Stem Hills of Kansas and flows past Cedar Vale, the city set on a hill, laid out not so much square with the world, but according to a view down into the valley, where the water flows on, to greener pastures and a home that will not decay.
P.S. When I walked into the Cedar Vale church lobby at 8:45 am Sunday February 3rd, I immediately saw the picture of the 1922 opening and instinctively snapped a picture. A week later on Sunday morning, Feb 10th, at 8:45 am Sunday, I pulled that book off the shelf. I don’t know why. I turned twenty pages in and discovered the picture of the Ryman auditorium and the 1922 gathering. And I remembered that all four of my grandparents came to faith in this era of evangelism in the 20’s.