Carol Schierbaum first joined Grinter Chapel when she and her husband moved to Kansas City, Kansas, 60 years ago.
“We bought a home in the area of the church, and that was the closest Methodist church, so that’s where we started going,” she recalled.
Schierbaum and her husband both grew up in small farming communities, she said, and Grinter Chapel was “more like those churches.”
“Even though it was in the city, it felt more like home,” she said. “I love the smallness of the church. I’m not a fan of the big churches, I like the smaller ones.”
Memories of the 165-year-old Grinter Chapel are flowing for Schierbaum and other members of the church, which will have its final worship service on Sunday, April 25.
“I hate to see it close, but I’m also a realist,” she said. “You have to have bodies in the sanctuary, and when you don’t have them, we have to move on.”
Although Grinter Chapel’s Easter Sunday service – an outdoor gathering that was the first in-person worship since the pandemic – drew 30 people, its regular attendees had numbered less than a dozen, said Sherri Williams, the Certified Lay Minister who has led the congregation for the past five years.
Williams said a trio of members she called “three of the pillars of our church” – the finance director, a trustee and the chair of the Staff-Parish Relations Committee – died within three months this winter, one unexpectedly and two after lengthy illnesses.
“It was so fast and so shocking,” she said.
“There’s nobody to replace them. That leaves us down to about five regular attendees,” Schierbaum said. “We’re all sad about it but know you can’t continue on like that.”
Grinter Chapel’s history dates back to 1856, when people started to gather for Bible study. Land was donated by Moses and Annie Grinter, early Wyandotte County settlers, for the church in 1868. It’s located at 7819 Swartz Road, just down from Grinter Place, a house and barn on eight acres that is on the National Register of Historic Places and serves as a museum for the history of the area.
Sara DeCaro, director of the Kansas United Methodist Archives at Baker University, said the original church was part of the Methodist Episcopal Church South, and the history of the church is “a little bit patchy,” although church members did write a history of the church for a celebration in 1993.
The current Grinter Chapel was built in 1953.
Schierbaum said that although the trio of deaths and the COVID-19 pandemic played a part in Grinter Chapel’s closing, “this was already happening. It’s been decreasing for years.”
Both of her children were baptized in the church, but like many others have left the area.
“The church is in an older area and the children grow up and they move on,” Schierbaum said. “There weren’t any of the children who grew up there who are attending there.”
She said she realized the importance of her church family after her husband died in 1999.
“The church was there for me, the people were there for me,” she said. “I guess it was my therapy.
“It was just the closeness of the people who all went there, because we were a smaller church,” Schierbaum added. “Everybody knew each other more personally. I just thought that was such a neat thing.”
Schierbaum said she will likely begin attending Wyandotte UMC, not far from her home.
Like Schierbaum, Ila Greenlee looks back fondly at chili suppers, ham-and-bean dinners, Christmas caroling and other activities in the life of Grinter Chapel.
“We always enjoyed helping with that,” Greenlee said.
Greenlee said she won’t miss the 30-minute-drive from Smithville, Missouri, but will miss Williams’ leadership.
“We love our pastor. We’re really going to miss her,” Greenlee said. “She has really made it good for Grinter.”
Already a Certified Lay Speaker at the time, Williams was filling in once a month at Grinter Chapel and Edwardsville UMC while their pastor was on National Guard duty.
The daughter of a retired United Methodist pastor, Williams said she took a chance and asked the Rev. Bruce Emmert, the Kansas City District superintendent at the time, “If you ever need somebody to serve at these two churches, would you think about me?”
“It was only a month or two later when he called and said, ‘You’re not going to believe this, but do you really want to do it?’” she recalled. “I felt very called to those two congregations.”
Williams said she will step back from Edwardsville as well when Grinter Chapel closes.
The Rev. Dr. Anne Gatobu, Kansas City District superintendent, said she was sad to see Grinter Chapel close, since young families were moving to the area.
"The closing of any church for me is the hardest of my roles as a DS. because I always viewed myself as one called to grow not close churches," Gatobu wrote in an email. "For Grinter Chapel, it is doubly hard because of the other three church closings I have facilitated during my tenure, there has been a new life planned for it except for Grinter Chapel. ... May Grinter Chapel have a new life sprout in different form of worship expressions in the near future -- let us continue to listen for what God has for this space!"
The final service, Williams said, will be outdoors and include reminiscences from longtime church members as well as a bring-your-own-picnic dinner – not potluck – to commemorate the ministry.
Greenlee said she’s already getting sentimental.
“We’re gonna really miss it,” she said.
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