First Presbyterian Church of Liberal
The Rich and Long History of Pastors
at First Presbyterian Church of Liberal
By Kitty Lum
On July 8, 1888, the church was first organized by 7 members. The first session met on August 25, 1888. Rev. S.G. Clark, a home missionary, served as the first pastor. C. Coomer was the first clerk of session. The church did not yet have its own building and met at a store building on Third Street, between Kansas Avenue and Lincoln Avenue.
In 1889, the first church building was built at Fifth St. and Pennsylvania St. This was a 3-bedroom house which was converted to a church and it had a relatively large sanctuary. The church got its first bell, which hung in the bell tower. This same bell now hangs in the bell tower of the current sanctuary building of the church on N. Western Avenue!
In 1899, the building at Fifth St. and Pennsylvania St. was moved to Fourth St. and Lincoln St. Rev. W.S. Wilson, S.S. served as the second pastor. The “S.S.” in his title meant that he was the “Stated Supply” pastor.
In 1913, Rev. H.A.M. Holshouser became the 13th pastor.
The first manse was built in 1914 next to the Fourth St. and Lincoln St. church, east of the church. It was designed by Rev. Holshouser.
In 1915, Rev. Duncan G. MacLennan served as pastor. He served from 1915-1918 and during this period, J.C. Naylor (who was one of 10 boys in the Sunday School class) fondly recalled that the boys wanted to hurry through the bible lesson so their teacher, Abe K. Stoufer, could tell them stories of the Wild West in Fargo Springs, KS! One story Naylor recalled was about cowboys riding into town and shooting at a tin roof, which caused a disturbance for the town people and delight for their boys, as each shot made 2 loud bangs – the first bang from the pistol and the second from the bullet hitting the roof!
In 1918, Rev. Thomas F. Barrier served as pastor. One interesting thing that happened while Rev. Barrier was pastor was that the congregation decided to use their Christmas white offering for the Syrian Relief Fund. Another interesting piece of history from this period is that the church could not have its Easter Service in 1920 because many members were quarantined for scarlet fever.
In 1922, Rev. Daniel H. Mergler served as pastor. Right before Rev. Mergler arrived at the church, Evangelist C.E. Miller of South Bend, KS had held Evangelistic Meetings at the church in conjunction with the Methodist, Baptist, Christian, and Friends churches. Rev. Mergler held some follow up revival services to this series in December of 1922. Rev. Mergler is remembered for being the first pastor to write the “Presbyterian Points,” a monthly information sheet for members.
In 1926, Rev. Stephen D. Crouch served as pastor. Rev. Crouch also conducted as series of evangelistic services before Easter in 1926. Rev. Crouch began his pastorate by preaching at the Baptist Church building, since they were without a pastor. He preached for the Baptists as well as the Presbyterians. In fall of 1926, the wood-framed church building which had been moved from Fifth St. and Pennsylvania St., was torn down and the Presbyterians continued to worship at the Baptist church.
On September 11, 1927, the new brick building at Fourth St. and Lincoln St. was dedicated. Festivities to celebrate the new building lasted one whole week!
In 1929, Rev. Wallace A. Stockwell served as pastor. Rev. Stockwell served from 1929-1934, a very difficult period in our world’s history as it was during the Great Depression. It has been noted that Rev. Stockwell was a man of enormous courage, whose spirit and courage did not waver, even during these toughest of times. Rev. Stockwell preached some profound theology and philosophies, which some people understood and others did not, but he was very persevering and the word “quit” was never in his vocabulary. It should be noted that Kansas was a part of the “Dust Bowl” and this area of the country struggled more to regain vitality in its economy than other areas and the economic recovery was slower. Rev. Stockwell also owned a book store on Kansas to help support himself financially. In 1932, the church’s budget took a nose-dive by about $2,000 or 50% of the total budget! A “Gloom and Doom Meeting” was held by the congregation in July of 1932 and the church discussed closing its doors as one of its options.
In 1935, Rev. Charles R. Martin served as pastor. Rev. Martin was noted as “Captain Courageous” at the “helm of the church.” A history book of the church says this about Rev. Martin: “His work with the church and in the religious life of Liberal has been of the highest type. We hope the day is far distant when his work is ended here.”
In 1938, the church celebrated its Golden - or 50th - Anniversary! Two former pastors, Rev. Mergler and Rev. Crouch, participated in the celebration!
In 1938, Rev. Otto R. Anderson served as pastor. He was noted as a man who was big physically and spiritually. Rev. Anderson never thought of himself as a great theologian, but he had sharp insight into people’s problems and provided care to many, both at the church and in the community. He wrote a daily column for the Southwest Daily Times, “Quiet Moments with God.” Rev. Anderson served during a time, when the town of Liberal was “turned upside down” by the great influx of military men (and their families) assigned to the Liberal Airbase, a B24 Bomber Training Facility of World War II. At one point, military men used the basement of the church as a reading room for daily devotions until it was decided that they should be sent devotional magazines instead. Rev. Anderson raised over $500 each for the Red Cross and the USO. Sadly, Rev. Anderson died in 1948 of a heart attack. Rev. Anderson is remembered as the pastor who served for the longest time, 10 years, in the church’s first 90 years.
In 1949, Rev. Lucas T. Krebs served as pastor. Rev. Krebs was one of the most beloved pastors of this church. Rev. Krebs was noted as one of those rare ministers who had enjoyed so much respect and admiration from the congregation! Members spoke highly of Rev. Krebs, describing him as “A real man of God – you could just feel it.” He was tireless in making pastoral calls. Rev. Krebs never made a pastoral visit or wrote an encouraging note to anyone without including references to Scripture, which he thought were helpful. Rev. Krebs drew strength from prayer, which was his constant companion. Even after he left the church, Rev. Krebs continued to keep in touch with and pray for the church until the end of his life, as he considered this church to be one of his happiest ministries. This post-World War II period of the church was sort of the “golden age” of the church, as the town population grew quickly and the church added nearly 400 members during the Rev. Krebs’ pastorate! Rev. Krebs left the church in 1958 due to respiratory problems and temporarily retired. His prayer for the congregation was this, “… that they may ever be true to Thee and stand fast in their love and loyalty to Christ Jesus.” Julia Thompson and Jill Pittman remembered Rev. Krebs fondly as a “grandfather-like figure,” when Rev. Kitty Lum (current pastor) interviewed them regarding the previous pastors.
In 1956, a new manse was purchased at 1001 N. Clay. The old manse near Fourth St. and Lincoln St. was used for Church School.
In 1959, Rev. George W. Patterson served as pastor. Rev. Patterson was called “George” by everybody and he was noted as a large man who loved to talk, was full of life, and loved “getting things done.” Julia Thompson and Jill Pittman remembered Rev. Patterson as having a loud voice. They felt a bit intimidated by his voice, as they were little girls at the time. Julia and Jill remembered that Rev. Patterson was highly intelligent and educated, preaching eloquently. Rev. Patterson had very strong leadership skills and did a good job of organizing things and training church officers. He grew up in Oklahoma and was more of a “Western kind of man” than the church had had in recent times. One of the highlights of his ministry was lively fellowship happening at the church! One special fellowship activity which George started was a men’s group when men would have bible study, eat donuts, drink coffee, and have a time of fellowship. It was the first time in the church’s history that there had been anything like this. Rev. Patterson got the men to really get into the bible study and the men, who had never even imagined cracking open anything close to a theology book, bought textbooks and found themselves engaging in dynamic and deep theological discussions, studying hard, feeling curious, and experiencing a spiritual awakening like they had never had before! It was serious business.
One of the projects Rev. Patterson enjoyed the most at this church was planning and beginning a new church development to expand the church campus. At this time, the church was growing rapidly. The town was, too! The population went from 13,100 in 1959 to 15,077 in 1964. The church was already using the old manse, rooms at First National Bank, and the public school administration building (old post office). There was no more room at Fourth and Lincoln for expansion. Rev. Patterson laid down the foundation for the expansion by analyzing studies and surveys from a long-range planning committee, consisting of a cross-section of the congregation. Rev. Patterson guided the design of the current church building and started the financial campaign to fund it.
Rev. Ralph E. Nelson is the only ordained pastor who was under care for his ordination process at this church and then ordained at this church to be the pastor at the Great Bend Presbyterian Church in 1963. He had served as the summer assistant to Rev. Patterson from 1961-1963 while he finished his seminary education at Princeton Theological Seminary. Rev. Nelson’s ordination was the highlight of the church’s experiences in 1963! Rev. Nelson was a brilliant, intense, and well-organized pastoral intern for Rev. Patterson. Rev. Nelson later got his Doctor of Ministry from McCormick Theological Seminary.
In 1965, Rev. Frederick Dawson served as interim pastor. He was a retired pastor from Sante Fe, NM. Rev. Dawson was known as the “fireball” as he acted like a “ball of fire” as the interim minister. Some church officers and committee members had suggested postponing certain decisions until the installed pastor arrived, but Rev. Dawson thought that was a bad idea. He convinced everybody, from the ruling elders down, that the church needed to get their “house in order,” keep their work up-to-date, and develop plans for the future so the next pastor could “step into an active and thriving church.”
Rev. Dawson was impressed with the organization and leadership of the session as they were governing the church responsibly. It was during Rev. Dawson’s year of interim ministry that women were ordained as elders for the first time at this church in January of 1965! At first the women were referred to as “deacons” but at the next session meeting the term deacon was struck out and the women were officially called “elders.” (Praise be to God that the Spirit was at work relatively early in the Liberal church to view women as being equally called by God to serve the Church! It was not bad, especially in light of the Mid-western culture of Kansas, as it was only in 1956 that the first woman was ordained to be a pastor in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.) Six women were ordained as elders and one of them was Bonnie Toole, who just recently passed away. Bonnie became the first female clerk of session.
In 1965, Rev. Bill Sebring served as pastor. Rev. Sebring was most fondly remembered for qualities of deep compassion and intuitive understanding of people. He is remembered as, “perhaps the finest preacher the church had in the past 30 years.” This last statement seemed to ring true for Jill Pittman, who remembered Rev. Sebring as an outstanding preacher “who could really preach a sermon.” Rev. Sebring had an unusual and profound understanding of the scriptures, yet he always preached in down-to-earth language that everyone could understand, focusing on God’s love and social justice. Some people referred to Rev. Sebring as “an egg-head you could talk to.”
Rev. Sebring did much for the community, too, as he was instrumental in forming the Inter-Racial Council in Liberal, which later led to the Liberal Human Relations Commission. Bill’s wife, Becky, helped start the Council for the Aging. Bill served on the School Board during a time when the Board faced a controversial lawsuit. Bill was a member of the Chamber of Commerce, advocating for social causes at City Hall, the State Legislature, and other agencies. Bill believed that the most important ministries that happened during his call at this church were ones that got the church involved with life in the community and the social problems in the area. Bill wrote in his Annual Report for 1965, “Let us write an annual report that is more than facts and figures – a report of justice, mercy, healing and courage that is written in the hearts of men.”
One of the highlights of Bill’s pastorate was in 1966, when the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., William Thompson, came to speak at this church. Thompson was a lawyer in Wichita, KS. Another interesting piece of history from Bill’s pastorate is that it was his wife, Becky, who won the Singer Company contest prize: a $50,000 home, plus furnishings! This home became the present day manse, located near the church on N. Western Ave. Bill and Becky donated the home to the church, while they kept the furnishings. The Sebrings used a part of the funds from the sale of the manse on N. Clay street to pay the income taxes on the prize.
It should be noted that Rev. Patterson, Rev. Nelson and Rev. Sebring all had in common, Princeton Theological Seminary, where they received their education and minister training. It is not surprising that all 3 of these pastors were remembered for their sharp intellects, high degree of education, knowledge and wisdom!
In 1975, Rev. David A. Schneider served as pastor. Dave was from Altadena, CA. (an important connection with the current pastor, who is also from CA) Dave was the son of a medical missionary in Tabriz, Iran. Dave studied for two years at San Francisco Theological Seminary (another connection with the current pastor, who graduated from there!) and graduated from Lancaster Theological Seminary in Lancaster, PA (a United Church of Christ seminary). Dave is known for his hobby of breeding cats and at one time had dozens of cats housed in one room of the current manse! Dave was a registered breeder of Abyssinian cats and one of his cats won a national award in 1978. His cats won numerous prizes at cat shows all across the U.S.
The congregation held much affection for Dave, from the young to the old. Dave was very active in the community, serving as an officer at the Noon Lions Club and the Liberal Ministerial Alliance. He also served on the Advisory Board of Directors at the Good Samaritan Center (Good Sam). He taught a bible study at Good Sam and organized Sunday services there. The session commended Dave for all his contributions to Good Sam and for helping raise funds for its chapel annex. Dave made extensive pastoral calls to members and he regularly administered communion to home-bound members. Dave is known for having written five book reviews for U.P.W.! On top of all his other gifts, Dave was a good cook. One of the highlights of Dave’s pastorate is that for the first time in 1978, an African-American minister, Rev. William Blye of Wichita, KS preached at this church! (Praise be to God, that again the Spirit was at work to help people view African-Americans as equal children of God, called equally to God’s service as pastors!)
In 1986, Rev. Lars Hammerson served as interim pastor. Julia Thompson fondly remembers Lars as having “the most wonderful voice.” Julia and Jill Pittman both had warm memories of this faithful pastor.
In 1987, Rev. Norman Austin served as pastor. We unfortunately do not have much written history about Rev. Austin, but some of the current elders have reported that he was a dedicated pastor whom they respected and admired. Julia and Jill said Rev. Austin was known as “Pastor Norman.” Pastor Norman served from 1987-1997 and honorably retired in 1997.
In 1997, Rev. Gail M. Neal served as interim pastor for one year. Current members fondly remember Gail as a dedicated and loving pastor. Though her pastorate at the church was short, she is remembered as one of the beloved pastors of this church who helped the congregation through a time of transition.
In, 1998, Rev. Stephen Seville served as pastor. Steve was most known for his deeply powerful funeral services. Some current members have said “Steve could sure do a funeral service right!” Steve was involved with the community as a member of the Lion’s Club and Kiwanis Club. Steve reached out to the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church when they were without a pastor and he did some ministries with them. Steve reached out to the Latino community and he and the session decided to host a Latino church, allowing them to use the building and sanctuary at certain times free of charge, except for utility expenses.
The pastor of the Latino church later moved the congregation to their own building on Seventh St. and they are now the Puerta Del Cielo Church. Steve also led the session to start a community cooking class, which got some of the Presbyterian members involved with the Latino church members as they shared good food and fellowship together.
In 2014, Rev. Kitty Lum began serving as the current pastor. Kitty is from Santa Rosa, CA and graduated from San Francisco Theological Seminary. Kitty has a passion for being a pastor! The focus of Kitty’s ministries is reaching out to people from diverse cultures and sharing God’s love and word with every person in the same way. Kitty is multilingual, speaking some Spanish, Cantonese Chinese, and Mandarin Chinese, and she loves speaking with people in their native language and learning about their cultures.
The Pastor Nominating Committee called Kitty in response to the church’s current missional direction of intentionally reaching out to people from all the diverse cultures in Liberal. The congregation humorously refers to Kitty as the “West-coast liberal.” With God's grace and guidance, Kitty is enthusiastic and excited about leading the session and church through this mission, and connecting this church with its community.
Kitty is impressed with the rich and positive history of this church and the strength of the congregation over the last 127 years. Trusting in God's grace and through prayer, her greatest hope is to help this church find the “yellow brick road of God’s plan” for it, and continue to thrive as the “Light Across the Prairie” for another 127 years and forever.