A small church in Pratt County has met in the same building for 100 years. Their numbers are small but their mission is the same as it was in 1916.
"As long as we, the people of Sawyer Christian Church, are faithful to work and witness with Him, we can be sure of many more years of ministry," Pastor Doug Williams wrote in a "Pastor's Perspective" for a centennial bulletin.
The church is hosting a celebration from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15 at the church. Former pastors have received invitations and anyone who has ties to the church, past or present, is welcome to attend.
The Pratt Sweet Adelines will perform and refreshments will be served.
Sawyer Christian Church had its beginnings in the opera house on Main Street — the building still stands, but is not recognizable as a place of entertainment. A Sunday School was organized June 18, 1916, with 51 people present. Seventeen people in nine families who were members of the Church of Christ but who had been attending and cooperating with the Methodist Church in town formed the nucleus for the new church.
A four-week meeting by Walter Mundell, an evangelist from Missouri, resulted in the addition of 26 members to the original 17, for a charter membership of 43, representing 22 families.
Names of the charter members are recognizable in the area: Blair, Webber, Swonger, Stoops among them.
A mid-century photograph shows the steps to the sanctuary packed with young people. In 1997, the church boasted 75 members.
On a good Sunday in 2016, about 18 people attend. Ages range from 2 to 80-something.
Their ancestors were not charter members; most are not found on a cradle roll nor were they nurtured through an active Sunday School.
Three families have been meeting on Tuesday nights for several weeks to get the church ready for a party — a good reason to do some needed repairs.
Shirley Green said she and Louie moved to Sawyer for his job, and having attended a Christian Church in Attica, found their way to Sawyer Christian.
Sam and Ruth Startzman came to town as a young family. They tried both churches (Methodist and Christian) and liked the Christian Church better.
Justin and Dee Weber (not related to Marie Webber, who was a charter member) were invited by Pat and the late Gene Aubley.
They have found the words on a wall hanging in the basement, "Sawyer Christian Church cares for others," to be true.
An active CWF did the things that women's fellowships historically do — held bazaars and bake sales, made quilts for donation to worthwhile projects, organized funeral dinners and carry-in meals for members of the congregations who were ill or recuperating from surgery.
In 1979, the church helped to sponsor a Cambodian refugee family. Sarun and Saly Oun and baby Sarin arrived at the Wichita airport carrying all their worldly possessions. He was employed by John Cromer, and church members helped them adapt to their new culture and eventually gain citizenship.
For many years, beginning in the mid-70s, the church held a pancake and sausage supper, first in the basement of the church, then at the community building for a few years before moving to the former Sawyer School gymnasium. In the early years, men of the church gathered a few days beforehand to slaughter the hogs and make the sausage. The last supper was held in 2009, according to Dee Weber.
During the time that Bob Gilpin was pastor (1998-2012) the church held Family Nights during the winter months, with a light meal and gospel music by area groups.
The brick building was started Oct. 1, 1916 and dedicated Aug 12, 1917. The total cost was $6,000. On dedication day, the financial response was $5,000 according to church records of J.E. Stephens, then chairman of the board. Mr. Stephens' private papers included copies of all labor, money and materials donated. Labor was credited at the rate of 20 cents an hour. He also noted the community spirit, with donation of labor and money from other churches and interested individuals.
Like many churches, in small towns and large, Sawyer Christian has experienced a decline in numbers, but has gained a few members in recent years. A statement in the centennial bulletin explains why the small church survives.
"The forefathers had a dream 100 years ago and the church still fulfills a need of the community, despite many changes which have occurred."