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Serving: MO

Small-town churches resilient part of rural landscape

Photos by Mindy Ward Hardin United Methodist Church
CHURCH HISTORY: The Hardin United Methodist Church is celebrating 125 years in this west-central Missouri community. The church has been a place of celebration and refuge.
Churches bring farm communities together in good and bad times.

It was the bright stained glass, stately wood double doors and the tattered steeple that drew me to stop the car along the road and snap a few photos of a small-town church in Hardin, Mo. Now, I’m not biased based on faith denomination. I appreciate any and all church architecture, but more than that, I love what these buildings mean to rural communities.

This day, I happened to pass through the town and found myself drawn to the Hardin United Methodist Church. I took a few photos and ventured down the road, but something inside made me yearn to learn more. Fortunately, this little church has a Facebook page, and from there I learned its history.

Like many small churches, this one grew from settlers in the region who initially started meeting on local family farms. Then in 1845, the Rev. B.H. Spencer organized the Hardin United Methodist Church, and by 1881, 74 people were worshipping in the church’s actual building. But on a Sunday morning in November 1895, according to records, the church structure burned.

The fire did not deter churchgoers. They created a committee, and a new brick building was built only one year later. And that is when the 13 stained-glass windows came to the church sanctuary. The windows were gifts from church members.

stained glass windows on the Hardin United Methodist Church

IN THE DETAILS: Rural churches are often one of the most stately and historic buildings in small towns. The Hardin United Methodist Church is one of those adorned with stained-glass windows, gothic wooden doors and a worn, old steeple.

Over the years, the windows and church stood the test of time. The Hardin United Methodist Church survived fire, two major floods and a tornado during its 125 years of providing a place of worship for the people in Ray County. It is a good representation of small-town churches across America.

Churches serve as a gathering place for celebrations such as baptisms and weddings. It is a refuge for those hurting over the loss of a loved one, or simply a place to find peace in times of uncertainty.

After the December tornadoes ripped through parts of Missouri across the south and into Kentucky, images of damaged churches — some demolished — appeared on social media. Then just two days later, videos of church members gathering on Sunday morning in the rubble to worship appeared.

They showed up to mourn the loss of a small-town necessity — the church. But not the building, no, they were there to mourn and remember the lives lost. And then it hit me, once again, the church is not a building, it is a people.

Still, these red-brick, stained-glass, steeple-bearing buildings serve as a reminder for all who pass by that the church is here for those who mourn or celebrate. All you have to do is open the door.

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