The building’s exterior still has the shape of the late 19th-century churches of its time.
Small touches of the stained glass in its windows provide a reminder of nearly 150 years of mission.
But inside the former sanctuary of the Kenesaw United Methodist Church is a modern, bustling community daycare for the central Nebraska town of 1,100.
“God is still present and teaching and guiding,” Angela Keiser, board chair of the Kenesaw United Child Care Coalition, said during the open house and consecration of the daycare on Oct. 8.
Adding “United” to the name of the facility is a nod to the UMC, and a wall showing a history timeline of the church has been added outside the infant and toddler rooms on the lower level.
“There were enough strong feelings about the significance of the church being in this community that everybody on the board was in agreement that we had to have something that would stay with it,” said Kathy Uldrich, the Kenesaw church’s last pastor and a member of the child care board.
Uldrich believes God’s hand was in the project since she announced the church’s closing on a Sunday morning in November 2020 and by that night got a call from Keiser about the possibilities of turning it into a daycare.
“Churches, like a lot of other organizations, have a life expectancy,” said Uldrich, who continues as pastor of Juniata and Holstein Grace UMCs. “But we as Christians know there’s life after death. We’re seeing life after death when we look at this facility. It’s a powerful example of what can be done when a community comes together, puts its mind to it and transforms one thing into something else.”
The $1.5 million project included the donation of the land and building by the Great Plains Conference, as well as the money remaining in the Kenesaw church’s treasury.
Megan Krous, the day care’s director, said the facility currently serves 55 children from 6 weeks to 12 years old, more than the goal of 45 to 50.
“We kind of exceeded what we thought we would get pretty quickly,” she said.
The daycare has 13 employees, including nine fulltime teachers.
“It’s surreal,” Krous said of the “99% finished product,” with a few kitchen improvements remaining. “To see a dream for our community come to fruition is just incredible.
“It’s a blessing for our town and everyone involved,” she continued. “It shows that our town saw the need, they believed in what we were doing, and they got on 110% and backed us and supported us all the time.”
Keiser said that Kenesaw had one in-house childcare provider who retired shortly before the daycare opened. The mother of four said families would have to piecemeal childcare among friends and relatives or take their children out of town for care.
“It was a very unstable environment for families because things were always changing,” she said. “This really solves a lot of that. Families have a reliable place that their kids can come to.”
Keiser and Uldrich said communication is important when a church decides to close, letting others know what is available and how it could help the community.
“I encourage congregations to view their legacy as bigger than just their church building,” Keiser said.
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