Church Celebrates 150 Years of Service to a Community

In 1857, there were just 13 log houses in the newly founded town of Fremont, Neb., located along the banks of the Elkhorn and Platt Rivers.  The Mormons had made the same place a stopover on their way from Missouri to Salt Lake City. Today, a plaque in Fremont’s Barnard Park commemorates where the Mormon pioneers once made camp.

By 1866, the Union Pacific Railroad had come to Fremont, soon to become a railway hub.  Three years later, a small group of people met together to organize a church, the First Baptist Church of Fremont. That church celebrated its 150th anniversary yesterday.  Two years ago, my brother Richard became its minister.

Fremont’s First Baptist Church is located on the edge of the downtown where it has stood since it was built in 1901.

He and his wife, Nola, moved to Fremont, a lively town of approximately 27,000.  My brother has settled into his new position, learning about the members of his new congregation and community.  Since its founding, the church has played an important role in Fremont,  such as aiding those who need help whose homes were damaged by the flood waters this spring.

The church sanctuary of the Fremont Baptist Church has a simple beauty .

I made a trip earlier this summer to visit my brother and his wife there and to see their new home and church. Their home is situated next door to the red brick church built in 1901.   The church is a Romanesque revival style architecture. Its solid exterior exemplifies the kind of church buildings that dot small Midwestern towns.  They were the center of  activity, where townsfolk gathered for social events as well as to attend services on Sunday.  They were places, and still are, where families of like faiths, beliefs and values congregated and came together to help one another through tough times as well as good. They were where lives were celebrated through baptisms, weddings and funerals.

The back door to the church is right around the corner from the front door of the church parsonage. One evening, I joined my sister-in-law when she invited to give me a tour of the church. I followed her through the church’s back door when she went to feed the baby chicks, waiting for her nightly arrival, that were peeping hungrily in their temporary cardboard box coop in the church’s youth classroom.  The chicks had been living and growing there since Easter and were soon to be relocated to the farm of one of the church members.

The evening light coming through the church windows cast a warmth over the rows of empty pews in the darkened sanctuary.

We headed up the back stairs into the church and passed into the sanctuary.  The sanctuary was empty, dim and quiet when we entered.  Strong, simple dark timber beams supported the steep pitched high ceiling.  From these beams hung long lantern-like lamps that beautifully lit the interior with a soft white light  when my sister-in-law switched them on.  Behind the altar and the the choir pews at the front of the aspe was a large blue stained glass window.  The blue glass of the arched window was deep and tranquil.  Lining either side of the sanctuary were golden crisscross leaded windows through which the evening light cast a warm glow over the rows of the dark wooden pews.  The mood was reverent and peaceful. It indeed felt like this place, at this moment truly offered sanctuary from the troubles of the outside world.

On Sundays, my brother takes his place at the pulpit to speak to his Sunday congregation. The services are projected on the screen behind him as well as recorded and posted on the church website and linked to its Facebook page where people can tune in and watch it later.

On Sunday, when I attended my brother’s church service, the sanctuary had come alive as people came in to find their seats in the pews in preparation for the 9:30 a.m. traditional service. (A more contemporary and casual worship takes place at 11 a.m. in church’s Family Center located adjacent to the main building.)  The church members greeted one another by name and welcomed me as they introduced themselves before the service started. It was a reminder that the church is not the building, as fine a structure as this one is,  but the people within. Like those first Fremont residents who had come together 150 years ago to start their church, the current members carry on their work to keep their church alive.

My brother talks with members of his congregation prior to his Sunday morning service.

My brother, as its pastor, now leads this group of faithful members to continue its outreach into the community and to serve its greater mission of providing a place where people can come together to freely worship and commune with one another.  Besides its regular services, the church provides assistance to the  families and staff of Fremont’s Washington Elementary School, where many children from the town’s Hispanic population attend school.  It provides birthday cupcakes at the LifeHouse homeless shelter. Two Alcoholics Anonymous groups meet at the church as does a woodworking hobby club.  During the downtown’s annual Halloween Hysteria, it served free hot dogs to hungry costumed characters and their parents last year.  At the town’s John C. Fremont Days in July, it set up to sell 50-cent hot dogs and soda to celebrants and offered crafts activities to the kids.  It also began a ‘Big Truck Day’ a couple years ago and invited local companies and utilities to park some of its over-sized trucks on the church parking lot where delighted youngsters and their parents could get a close-up look at these gigantic vehicles.

But its biggest role and challenge this past year was in orchestrating and providing local disaster relief efforts to the hundreds of people living in and around Fremont whose homes and belongings were damaged or destroyed when the rivers flooded caused the town to be cut off from outside help for several days.  When the water began to recede, the church still continued to deliver and distribute much-needed donated basic supplies, such as diapers, mops and cleaning products, food, socks and water to those most impacted by the crises.  Together with members from their community, they coordinated efforts to help the flood victims get back in their houses and back on their feet.

It’s a role that my brother sees as an important part of his church’s work and mission. “We can’t do a lot of stuff, ” he told a local newspaper reporter, “but we can help fill in the gaps here and there.

“We want to be known as a church that’s a blessing to its community,” he adds.  I’m sure the original founders of his church, 150 years ago, would have agreed.

 

 

 

Destination Moon Draws Visitors into Its Orbit

Anyone who was a kid or older in 1969 is likely to know exactly where they were when astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins made history with the first moon landing.  Most of the world was glued to a television set or, in some cases, a radio, to watch and listen that day as Armstrong and Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on the moon’s surface.

Like many Americans, I was fascinated by the “space exploration race.” The astronauts were national heroes who captured the imaginations and dreams of millions. I remember how excited I was to hear astronaut Gordon Cooper, who flew in the last Mercury mission, address the Professional Photographers of America at a convention in Chicago.  He was the size of my finger from my balcony seat but his presence filled the vast auditorium.

Taken with my Brownie camera, Mercury and Gemini astronaut Gordon Cooper speaks to photographers assembled at the Professional Photographers of America convention in Chicago. The image is grainy. My arrow indicates Cooper.

My brothers and I launched rocket after rocket into space from our Cape Canaveral set.  We transformed the shower stall in one of our bathrooms into a space capsule to simulate adventures to the stars.  The “astronaut” lay with their back on the shower floor, feet up against the shower wall and communicated via walkie-talkie radio to mission control located just outside the bathroom door.  We flew many imaginary missions to and from the outer reaches of our galaxy on those Saturday afternoons.

In junior high school, I was selected, maybe because I was a reporter on the school newspaper, to take part in a special science assembly with a guest speaker.  I don’t recall  who the presenter was but I was asked to don a spacesuit, crawl into a mock-up Mercury capsule while sitting onstage and clicking a switch every few seconds that turned on and off a red light atop the capsule.  The demonstration pointed out how easy and quickly we can lose our sense of time.  I didn’t do well as a test subject but I was thrilled at putting on that spacesuit and being an astronaut  for the experiment.

Years later, when working for TIME Magazine, I joined the entire Los Angeles bureau at Edwards Air Force Base to watch one of the Discovery Space Shuttles land.  (Story for another blog post.)

A view of the Columbia command module through the hatch window. The hatch has been removed from the capsule so that visitors can see its inside design. The lever on the left was added as an escape measure after the tragedy that killed the three Apollo astronauts of 1967.

So naturally, when I learned that Seattle’s Museum of Flight was presenting the exhibit, Destination Moon in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution to mark the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, I was determined to go.  The exhibit, which opened in April and will close Sept. 2, is its only West Coast appearance.  While relatively small in size, the exhibit displays 20 artifacts from the Smithsonian, many of them from that historic moon landing mission, as well as several other objects from the Seattle museum’s own extensive collection.

The Saturn V rocket’s F-1 engines were the most powerful ever built. These components were salvaged from the ocean floor and are now part of the museum’s permanent collection.

My husband and I entered at our assigned time yesterday and wound our way through the items, stopping to read each description.  Among the artifacts are a restored console from NASA’s mission control.  The buttons and monitors look primitive compared to today’s computer systems.  I chuckled overhearing one young man explaining to his young female companion that the rotary dials on the panel weren’t for phoning “your grandmother.”

My husband who is six-foot, four-inches tall stands next to one of the spacesuits on display at the Destination Moon exhibit. You can see for yourself the difference in size. He never would have qualified for an astronaut!

I was also struck by the various ‘spacesuits’ on view and the smallness of their size.  Although the personas of these early space pioneers were gigantic, in reality, they were not large men.  Most, if not all, had been fighter pilots, and physically had to fit into the tight, compact cockpits of both the fighter planes and the cramped quarters of the early space capsules.  Some of the suits resembled expensive homemade costumes, and, in some ways they were.  For instance, ordinary blue rickrack was stitched to finish off the suits’ hose attachment openings.  This little touch must have made some of the women who sewed them smile.

You can see here a detail of the decorative rickrack used to trim the head opening of the spacesuit. The exhibit lighting made it next to impossible to photography objects in the display cases without reflection.

Also fascinating are the mangled F-1 engine sections of the Saturn V rocket, the only parts to ever have been recovered.  The components were found and lifted from the bottom of the Atlantic a few years ago in a project financed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.  After  restoration at the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, Kansas, the surviving pieces were sent to Seattle’s museum and the Smithsonian where they will remain on permanent display after the Destination Moon exhibit closes.

Of course the centerpiece of the Seattle exhibit is the conical-shaped Columbia command module from the Apollo 11 mission.  Again most striking is its size, so small compared to the enormous space shuttles used today.  It’s mind-boggling how three men traveled to the moon and back in this compact capsule.  I missed the 3-D interactive tour of the capsule’s interior but just being within arm’s reach of this historic vessel was overpowering.

The Columbia command module was the centerpiece of the exhibit. In the background you can see the video of the rescue of the astronauts from the space capsule after landing in the ocean.

So too were the gloves and helmet with its gold visor worn by Aldrin and that reflected Armstrong’s image in the now iconic photo of Armstrong standing on the moon. I attempted to preserve the moment with a photo reflecting back my own image.  Mine didn’t turn out nearly as well as Aldrin’s. Amazing too is the fact that on that mission, and others, the astronauts used Hasselblad cameras and film as digital cameras were yet to be invented. (More about the equipment used can be found here. )

The famous gold visor and gloves of astronaut Buzz Aldrin worn on the moon are displayed in the exhibit.

One of the moon “rocks” returned by the Apollo astronauts can also be seen in the exhibit.  Surprising to me was how many people simply passed by without stopping to wonder at how far away this rough, gray, volcanic-looking stone came to end up here on earth.  Perhaps this is an indication too at how much we now take for granted travel into space.

The moon rock on display in Seattle came a long ways to be seen.

At the time of the Apollo missions, space exploration was still an incredible phenomena.  According to the exhibit information, NASA’s space program at its height employed 400,000 people.  It embodied the vision, ingenuity and skills of people at all levels.  It gave Americans a unifying reason to be proud of its country at a time when the VietNam War was tearing them apart.  And it gave the world a challenge that remains relevant today–to create a single event that can bring people together for the greater good.  It was indeed a small step for man but a giant leap for mankind.

Outside the exhibit, visitors, like myself, can take their own ‘moon’ photo as did Neil Armstrong.