By Rich Brown
LOWELL, Kan. —
It’s nice when you can make friends at church. But for a Southeast Kansas congregation, it’s even nicer to attend a church named Friends.
The Lowell (Kan.) Friends Church belongs to the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as Quakers, who receive that designation from Jesus’ statement in John 15:14 that “Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you.”
So it comes as no surprise that from the heart of this small church comes an attitude of love and friendship to all. And you can bet on this approach to life being omnipresent among the other Friends churches in the area, namely at Alba, Galena and Columbus in Kansas, and Miami and Wyandotte in Oklahoma. These are congregations that claim no formal creed and live by what are known as Quaker Testimonies: simplicity, peace, integrity, community and equality.
Kay Shoup, 72, provides an excellent model for such testimonies. She is one of five generations of her family to attend the Lowell church.
Shoup’s mother, Nell Prather, who died in 2003, began taking her daughter to church at age 4. Others completing the five generations are Shoup’s daughter, Leigh Coleman, as well as Coleman’s son and grandchildren.
Shoup said her grandmother would have made a sixth generation but she was raised in a Methodist church, which she called a close second to the Quaker denomination.
Shoup said it is hard to talk about her 60-plus member church without including a history of the small community of Lowell itself, because the church and town go together so well.
“A quiet, picturesque and hospitable Quaker community, its history never seemed to be caught up with the industrial life of the vast Missouri-Kansas-Oklahoma mining district nearby,” she said.
After being surveyed, Lowell was laid into lots, streets and alleys on Oct. 5, 1876. Townspeople produced residential and business plots, as well as a church and school tract. Then, 17 years later, $500 was raised for the Quakers to build a church, along with the Polytechnic Institute, which served as an institute of higher learning similar to today’s high schools.
Original Quaker influence began to be felt in the Lowell area shortly after the Civil War with an influx of Friends taking hold. They came from other parts of Kansas, Indiana, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, North Carolina, Iowa and Ohio. Quaker missionaries to the American Indians came from the east and remained to make homes and rear their families.
Following the rise of public high schools, the Polytechnic Institute, also known as the Academy, was forced to shut down in 1904. It was then converted into the current Lowell Friends Church. The bell from the original Academy continues to sound the call to worship services at 11 a.m. each Sunday. Those services are preceded by Sunday school an hour earlier. In addition, a time for worship is also held at 7 p.m. Sunday, with a prayer meeting held at the same time each Wednesday.
With school no longer having a presence in Lowell, which has a population of about 200, children in the community travel by bus to Riverton. In fact, a Riverton High School coach, Jeff Adams, also serves as the Friends Church pastor.
Phil Wise, a member of the church and contributor to this column, noted that early Quaker meetings since their beginning in 1650 in the United Kingdom were held with no formal minister. However, Wise, a professor at Missouri Southern State University, added that today the majority of Friends churches do employ a pastor.
Even with a pastor, it is still common for congregates to gather in silence, listening to how God might speak to them. This is referred to as open worship or Friends communion. With all members considered ministers, there are times when the silence is broken to give way to testimonies, insights or other messages.
Wise pointed out that the belief of each person being of God and able to have personal experiences with God is at the core of Quakerism. Services in silence are held to allow Friends to feel a deep communion in the Spirit. Out of that often comes healing, truth, peace, love, kindness, wisdom, guidance, nurturing and much more, he said.
“We are very quiet and very reverent,” said Leigh Coleman of her Lowell congregation. “We don’t get a lot of amens and there is no shouting because we don’t want to draw attention to ourselves. One of our goals is to live up to the strong Quaker tradition.”
Address correspondence to Rich Brown, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802, or email email@example.com.