UNDER ONE ROOF: SW Kansas church keeps chin up with few members

David Burke


It’s 8:58 a.m. Sunday, and Holcomb Community Church is without its pastor.

“Hope Gordon didn’t forget about us,” church member Connie Gross wondered aloud.

Gordon Gillock delivers the sermon at Holcomb Community Church. Photos by David Burke

Within a minute, Gordon Gillock’s vehicle is spotted pulling up to a parking space in front of the church, amid five others outside the southwest Kansas church, a combination of United Methodist and Presbyterian parishioners.

“Race you up to front,” he tells Gross, who’s lighting the candles.

Under One Roof

This is the third of a four-part series called "Under One Roof," about churches in the Great Plains Conference that share United Methodists and other denominations. .

Later in the hour Gillock, a certified lay speaker who was grandfathered into the current system, delivers his sermon, “Satan is Just Doing His Job.”

“When Satan comes a-knocking, simply respond ‘God will take care of me,’” he told the six members of the congregation. “Satan is a parttime employee, but God has fulltime power.”

Cathy Cole hits a button on the “computerized hymnal” — preprogrammed with many traditional hymns but missing a few UMC standards — and five of the six people in church rise to sing “Crown Him with Many Crowns.”

After the benediction, everyone in the service adjourns to the basement to sit around one table for a late breakfast of coffee and frosted Honey Buns from Walmart.

Holcomb Community Church is one of 21 congregations in the Great Plains Conference that share being United Methodist with another denomination.

In a post-service conversation, the six members of the church and their pastor said they don’t spend too much time dwelling on what’s Methodist and what’s Presbyterian.

“This is just us,” said Lary Cole, Cathy's husband and a retired state trooper.

Percentagewise, members of the Holcomb church have lost as many members as other churches nationwide during the pandemic. It’s just a little more noticeable when you can count the attendance on two hands.

Lary Cole collects offering from Red Dingus.

“Due to COVID, a couple of them have decided they just don’t want to come back,” Cathy Cole said.

“They just do TV church that they got into during the election infection and have stayed with that,” her husband added.

Another woman in the congregation was widowed last year and decided not to come back, Cathy said.

Attempts to bring in new church attendees haven’t worked, they say.

“It’s hard, I think, to get people to come to a different church or come to a church that’s located in an ancient building. It doesn’t have the padded pews,” Lary Cole said of the 17 hardwood benches in the sanctuary. “When young people are looking for a church home, that’s some of the things they’re looking for.”

But the church still provides open arms, Andrea Bishop said.

She tells of how she, her husband and three children visited the Holcomb church for the first time seven years ago, and their oldest son tried to open an outside door, not realizing it was a door at the front of the sanctuary.

“We walked in, and everybody went quiet,” she recalled. “I said, ‘I don’t think we came in the right door.’ They’ve been our family ever since. They’ve taken my three kids under their wings as extra grandkids.”

Barber’s 3-year-old daughter, Charleigh, gets attention from all of the adults in the room, whether during church or coffee time.

The only other church in Holcomb, a town of 2,200 not far from Garden City, is Baptist. The Community Church has cooperated with the Baptists on some outreach projects, Gross and Cole said, including distributing backpacks to the students of the high school, middle school and two elementaries in town.

Church members move to the basement for coffee.

Rounding out the congregation is Red Dingus, a retired well driller who has been attending since 2008.

“It’s close to home,” said Dingus, who lives across the street and proclaims, “I like a small church.”

Gillock, who was born and raised Methodist but serves as pulpit supply for a number of Presbyterian congregations in southwest Kansas, has been the pastor at Holcomb since 2008. He figures he preaches there four out of five Sundays.

“I told them, ‘You can just put me down for every Sunday if you want to, and I’ll let you know when I need to go somewhere else,’” said Gillock, a retired accounting and computer science professor at Garden City Community College.

The congregation members said they hadn’t considered the future of The United Methodist Church, where accepting gender issues including LGBTQ clergy and allowing clergy to perform same-sex weddings may alter the course of the denomination.

“We have to treat all humans as humans,” Cathy Cole said.

While other congregations may decide to fold and go their separate ways with only a half-dozen members, Holcomb Community Church is not deterred by the small showing.

“We’re probably just stubborn and not ready to give it up,” Lary Cole said. “It’s where we come, it’s where we choose to be, and we’re going to keep doing it till the chain falls off the bicycle.”

Contact David Burke, content specialist, at dburke@greatplainsumc.org.

Related Videos