Churches with Porches

by Caleb Stegall on March 4, 2009 · 5 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Region & Place

JEFFERSON COUNTY, KANSAS. In the comments somewhere below, Prof. Fox mentions the regional artist John Steuart Curry. A fitting topic for my first foray into this space, not only because the great Kansan’s work exemplifies the populist spirit of my home, the beauty of the prairie, the virtues of self-sufficiency, the peaceful intercourse (though not without struggle) between man and the land, and the hardened edge of the farm, but also because I share a heritage with him.

 

Curry and his family hailed from Winchester, Kansas, a tiny farming hamlet of five-hundred and my family’s hometown (just a skipping stone’s toss from where I now sit). My grandfather was the pastor of the Presbyterian church in Winchester (as was his father before him), and several of their children were born in the parsonage down the street. In the 20s, it was the largest Presbyterian church in the state.

 

The church, pictured above, is a beautiful example of simple, hearty prairie architecture. White clapboard siding, large front porch (what good is a church without a front porch), high steeple (with a bell that can be heard all the way across town), big basement for church dinners and tornado avoidance, and cemetery out back. The whole thing built in a time when people liked to, had to, hold their history close.

 

The Curry family went to this church, though as my Grandfather said with sadness, some had “fallen away.” I was never sure if this meant they had moved to the big city or simply quit coming to church; and perhaps I was never sure which was worse. We went to church there often, having settled ourselves in the “big city” of Lawrence a few miles away. One memorable Sunday one of the kids got too close to the big circular wall fan installed to cool the sanctuary on sizzling summer mornings. The three-foot fan blades were unguarded (no bended-knee to government safety regulators here) and this curious boy put his head too close and got a bit of it whacked off. One of the men told us kids to run outside and find the missing piece of skull. I grew up believing that church was never dull and life was always close to the bone.

Anyway, more often than not, we would picnic afterwards in the cemetery. Curry is buried there along with most of his family and much of mine. All the kids loved the gravestones for hide-and-seek, jumping and tumbling. Perfect days communing with God and with our dead.

Other days we would go back to my grandparent’s house three doors down. In the living room was always hung a copy of Curry’s “Line Storm” which he did in both oil and lithograph. The quiet romance of that image–farmers on a hay wagon piled high racing to beat the coming storm–haunted me; still does. Now, this sense of loading the hay quickly and racing to shelter ahead of the coming storm is heavily with us all.

 

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar junker jorg March 4, 2009 at 11:35 am

Funny thing about that service was how during the second service (remember those days) some of the men were scouring the floor in front of the pews in the middle of the service…..needless to say most had a hard time paying attention!

avatar Jason Peters March 4, 2009 at 11:56 am

I knew a girl what lit her hair on fire with a resurrection candle. Turns out inflammability increases with so-called “product.” The resulting smell was not exactly what psalmist had in mind when he compared prayer to incense. And we didn’t go looking for the remnants.

avatar Russell Arben Fox March 4, 2009 at 3:08 pm

Caleb, I never knew about your connection with the Curry family through Winchester! What a fabulous heritage you have. The story of the fan scalping is the sort of wonderful (though no doubt traumatic for the kid, though I wonder if it’s a story that he tells with humor and relish now), earthy thing that reminds us that religious communities are human and holy at the same time. The no-nonsense command to the kids to go looking for the scalp reminds me of when Mount St. Helen’s exploded one Sunday back in 1980, and ash was falling all around our church building as we were meeting, and the young men and husbands were running out in the parking lot in a panic, covering their mouths to avoid breathing the stuff in, bringing cars around so the women and children didn’t need to go out. There was panic, but somebody had to respond, and people did.

Beautiful church building there. For reasons both good and bad, our church has centralized the construction of buildings over the past 30 years, with the result that there is very little architectural diversity amongst them. And no porches. Sad.

avatar heidiho March 4, 2009 at 3:25 pm

Hey! I remember that service! Were you there when some kids were running up in the sanctuary, and one of those big poles fell down in the basement? Great article, Caleb. I love that porch… SO many memories. I grew up going there, seeing all 4 of my grandparents there every Sunday… even walked down those porch stairs on my wedding day.

avatar Caleb Stegall March 4, 2009 at 8:20 pm

Peters: gives new meaning to St. Pauil in I Cor. 11:6, eh?

Russell: thanks, were you in Washington in ’80?

Heidi: I do remember that. And it was your Uncle John, I think, who sent us out to look for the scalp.

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