By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
A dedication page at the front of a booklet for the 125th anniversary celebration of Amherst United Methodist Church in Russell County says it all.
"I am your church. I am here because you built me. I am here not simply to adorn, but to serve."
Whatever the reason, the small building with less than 20 pews inside has withstood the test of time. It's weathered many a storm. And it's still standing strong, defiant against the elements -- even at 125 years old.
Just a few weeks before the church's milestone anniversary celebration last summer, a storm with high winds and large hail broke windows. With nothing to protect it in the wide open rural setting approximately 5 miles southeast of Waldo, paint on the siding long ago had been obliterated by hail storms.
Like so many times before, when last spring's storm blew through the area, Amherst bent, but did not break.
So the small congregation decided to reward its church's resilience.
Led by one of the younger members of the congregation, Amherst began a restoration project that will match the gleam of the red metal roof that replaced an old wood and asphalt shingle roof several years ago.
Following last summer's damaging storm, windows were replaced immediately, in time for the 125th celebration.
Aaron Bean, then entering his fourth year in construction management at Kansas State University, spearheaded the push to keep open the church rather than close it.
For that to happen, a whole lot of work had to be done first. To complete the necessary renovations would take money.
"We had to make a decision," said Ted Bean, who had three sons, including Aaron, his youngest, baptized in the Amherst church. "Either we had to close the place down or do some repairs and keep it open. The old doors leaked, and paneling had warped."
After asking for ideas from some of his professors, ones that best suited the situation, Aaron Bean, then just 21 years old, put together a cost estimate and presentation for a meeting with the church's board of directors, which voted to keep it open.
Instantly, and steadily, congregation members -- past and present -- started stepping up.
Volunteer workers gathered several weekends to fix dry rot in the windows and other areas they found as they tore off old siding, replaced baseboard and installed insulation in the entire building.
Ted Bean paid for some of his crew members from his own secondary containment company to work amidst frigid cold temperatures to help his son get weather sheeting wrapped around the church to protect it from winter weather.
This spring, the Beans plan to install cement fiber siding, which will be painted white.
"I've got steel siding on my home, and it's beaten a lot by hail," said Ted Bean, whose farm is just a few miles southeast of the church. "Vinyl definitely won't stand up out there. From research, we found that the cement fiber is the most durable."
When it's all completed, the congregation will be able to walk through new white steel doors into a totally renovated vestibule.
Aaron Bean has been working on the church throughout his winter break from college.
"All of our family says, 'It's where we grew up and where we learned a lot of values we use in the real world today,' " Aaron said. "It's the place we all come back to. Everybody calls it home."
Margaret Zweifel, a longtime member of Amherst, agreed.
"There are a lot of memories there," said Zweifel, who started going to church there when she met her future husband in the mid-1950s.
Her husband, Wayne, is one of a long line of Zweifels who have attended church at Amherst, including some of their grandchildren who are current members. In fact, about half of the 12 to 15 "regulars" have the last name of Zweifel.
Ted Bean said it's a worthwhile project, and he's glad to donate his time, as well as that of his crew.
"The church has a lot of history, a lot of family roots," the elder Bean said. "I can't explain it, other than it means a lot -- to a lot of people."
That passion for their church was not lost on a new pastor who was assigned to Amherst last summer.
"Those families pour their blood, sweat and tears into keeping it going," said Les Rye, who also serves the United Methodist churches in Lucas and Luray. "That's why I think it will be there for a very, very long time."
That's what Carol Shaffer is banking on.
"It's just really family-oriented," said Shaffer, a longtime member of the congregation. "It means a lot to me. I've had all my kids baptized there, and I was baptized there. It's just home."
Rye said the Amherst congregation, as well as the other two small towns, made him and his wife feel at home immediately upon their arrival, and he hopes "we're here for a good long while."
He begins his Sunday worship services at 8:30 a.m. at Amherst before traveling approximately 8 miles northeast to Luray, then 10 miles east down Kansas Highway 18 to Lucas for his third and final service of the day.
"It's a great way to start Sunday morning, at Amherst," Rye said. "I go there and think of all the other pastors before me and think, 'This is some special ground that I'm standing on here.' "