On Sunday, August 18, 2019, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Manhattan, Kansas, officially dedicated its new, hilltop facility at 3001 Grand Mere Parkway. Comprising nearly 18,000 square feet, the contemporary structure houses a sanctuary with a seating capacity of 230, narthex, administrative offices, conference room, kitchen, a fellowship hall, and classrooms that double as a childcare center for 49 during the week, called ‘From Cradles to Crayons.’ The seven-acre property also includes a patio, parking lot and outdoor playground.
Approximately 165 people attended the dedication activities that included a continental breakfast at 9 am, worship service at 10:30 and ribbon-cutting at 11:45. Senior Pastor Ben Hitzfeld led the service, and participated in the ribbon-cutting ceremony as did Building Committee Chair Dr. Richard Gallagher, Regional Minister for the Christian Church in Kansas Rev. Steve Martin, and Coordinating Council Chair Ruby K. Brower, among others.
“We were delighted with the turnout, which included most, if not all, of our regular worshipping members, plus local dignitaries and special invited guests,” says Dr. Gallagher. “We were also happy to welcome Rick Reisinger, the President of Disciples Church Extension Fund (DCEF) which has been so instrumental to key aspects of this project. We have a wonderful working relationship with them,” he notes. “Prior to breaking ground, we were able to obtain a construction loan from DCEF that allowed us to move forward and stay on schedule. That has been greatly appreciated.”
DCEF is the ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) that inspires and empowers congregations to create Holy Places where people connect with God, each other and their community. Over the years, First Christian Church has relied on the counsel of DCEF Building and Capital Service Advisors in areas as varied as Building Evaluation, Building Planning, Site Consultation, Capital Fund- raising, Construction Loan and New Beginnings – a transformational service focused on helping church leadership re-imagine their future mission and ministry for the good of their community.
“We are proud of our long and mutually beneficial association with the people of First Christian Church,” says Reisinger. “They have a positive, ministry-driven vision for the future dedicated to welcoming all to God’s table and to serving their Grand Mere neighbors both inside and outside church walls.”
A moving mission
More than location has changed for the 152-year-old church through its move to Grand Mere. The ‘why’ of the church – its reason for being – has grown with its new surroundings in western Manhattan, right next to Fort Riley.
“Some people initially questioned the move to Grand Mere because the suburban area is anchored by a golf course and only the well-to-do initially built homes here. But that was years ago,” says Rev. Hitzfeld. “Fortunately, our church leaders had the Mission Insight research, provided by DCEF’s Hope Partnership Services, to show that just about every segment of Manhattan’s population is now represented in Grand Mere,” he notes. “This cross section of people, in all their social, economic, and ethnic diversity, are who we want to serve. Not to mention military families.”
And, that service takes many forms.
The people of First Christian Church conduct monthly food collections to donate to Flint Hills Breadbasket, the area’s largest food pantry. Pastor Ben coordinates with them to find out what items are most desired and passes on this information to his congregation via Facebook, his weekly email and Sunday service announcements.
The FCC youth group, Truth Youth, are raising money and building a coalition of youth groups in Manhattan in order to buy a metal storage container for a local non-profit called the F.I.T. Closet, which works with the school district (USD 383) to provide free resources to the 40+ students and their families who are identified as homeless or at-risk of being homeless.
In mid-September, the church’s youth education and child care will open its infant room, already at capacity with nine, and serve a total enrollment of 49, under the direction of Cassie Anderson. The many wait-listed families attest to the area’s keen need for this resource, as do the scholarships awarded by Raising Riley, a Riley County organization, to help defray childcare costs. First Christian Church Foundation is also planning to award its own childcare grants.
The church also works closely with Shepherd’s Crossing, the benevolent arm of the Manhattan community, which provides part of its funding. This ecumenical ministry offers budget counseling, assistance referrals and financial support for utilities, rent and prescription medications. It is currently headed by Dave Rogers, its President and a member of First Christian Church. The not-for-profit began as an idea of local pastors involved with the Manhattan Ministerial Association. At that time, it was evident from the number of people asking local churches for financial assistance that something had to be done by the faith community to help those in need.
“Our church has always found ways to serve Manhattan but, with this relocation, we’re looking for even more. For instance, I think we’re very open to using our new building to host community events for local organizations and non-profits,” says Pastor Ben. “And, for me, a big part of our mission is community education. We are working on hosting a presentation in partnership with a local non-profit, Katie’s Way, on teen depression and suicide. I don’t think many of us knew that the incidence of this problem is higher in Manhattan than the national average. That’s hard to believe in a place that some of us call ‘Man-happiness,’ but it’s true,” he says. “Now that we know, we can do our best to be part of the solution. And, that pretty well sums up the goal of our mission, in general.”
First Christian Church of Manhattan, Kansas, was founded in August 1867 with 36 charter members. In the beginning, meetings were held in homes and various downtown halls. At this time, the church had no governing board and all business was brought before the entire congregation. The first recorded board meeting was held in 1889. First Christian Church remains locally governed with a Coordinating Council of elected officers and Ministry Team Chairs. Major decisions are still brought before the entire congregation, including the decision to relocate from downtown Manhattan to alleviate a chronic parking shortage and aging building issues.