Where do bibles and rifles connect? That unlikely combination can be found in the history of Kansas, and particularly in one historic rural community church. This church is continuing to serve its members and its historic legacy.
Don Whitten is a member of the Beecher Bible and Rifle Church in Wabaunsee. He told me this remarkable history. It all began in the 1850s era of Bleeding Kansas, when the people of the territory were involved in a vicious debate over whether Kansas would become a slave state or a free state. Advocates for both sides flooded Kansas territory. For example, abolitionists in Connecticut raised money to send a group of free-state colonists west.
A famous New York preacher, Henry Ward Beecher, raised money for the cause and sent crates of rifles and bibles to the colonists. According to legend, the rifles were covered with bibles so as to get through the pro-slavery state of Missouri.
In 1856, the Connecticut colonists came to Wabaunsee. In the following year, they organized the First Church of Christ there. A new stone church was dedicated in 1862. This became the site of one of the most influential Congregational churches in Kansas.
By the 1930s, population had fallen, church membership dwindled and the church closed. In 1950, it re-opened. Today, the Beecher Bible and Rifle Church is an independent, non-denominational church which still meets in the original but remodeled stone building. Services are held each Sunday at 9:45 a.m. with Pastor Lynn Roth officiating.