Pastor Richard Hammett came to us in 1990 and saw us thru our major remodel and much more, and in 2004 he was called to another church.
We were assigned Dr. James Smith from Independence, MO. Dr. Smith was loved by many, and he brought many scholarly teachings and lessons and sermons to the worship service. There were often stories told about him talking over everyone’s head and he cherished the teasing and loved that he was teaching something new. But everyone agreed, we all learned a great deal from Jim, and he was much loved by all. To know Dr. Jim Smith was to love him.
In 2006 Dr. Smith retired and we were assigned Dr. Ken Lutgen. Ken brought a wealth of knowledge to Blue Ridge about UMCOR and services currently in Africa funded by the Methodist Church. Before coming to Blue Ridge, he had served as District Superintendent of our Heartland District of which we are a part. In his sermons, he shared many stories of his extensive travels and worldly trips and all he’d learned. While at Blue Ridge, Dr. Lutgen over saw the design, production, and construction of a new children’s wing. An old chapel, several classrooms and meeting rooms were completely gutted, converted and rebuilt by (professional) volunteers. In the end we had several classrooms for different aged children, a nursery and a children’s library, including new furniture.
The church membership chipped away at the balance of the debt for years and finally it was decided to take the plunge and pay down the debt as more gifts and memorials came in. We had a big celebration one Sunday after church with Bar-B-Que and all the fixings including a large tent, looking like part of a circus, and attended by several hundred people as we burned the mortgage!
We put in a Geothermal system around 2008 in hopes the system would help with large expenses for our heating and cooling. It would enable us to maintain a constant temperature 24/7, be easy to maintain and would require very little maintenance, unlike some of our current equipment which was beginning to show its age.
Around 2010 we saw the end of our preschool Mother’s Day Out program. They had been here since March of 1967. In 2000, the program had nine rooms with approximately 140 children who were exposed to art, music, and physical education as well as learning and creative activities in the classroom. They attended three days a week. Most of the children and their families relocated in nearby churches where they had similar programs.
Dr. Lutgen was reassigned in 2011 and we received Barry Freese as our new Pastor. There were some difficult times through these years and losing some members saw a sadness take over the congregation. Pastor Freese proposed taking part in a Healthy Church Initiative program. Groups were formed and ideas were introduced. Church members worked hard at developing ideas, seeing them carried out and implementing new ways to reach into the community. Some new members came but those numbers couldn’t keep up with the numbers that were moving away.
Our beloved music director Linda Mann who had been with us since 1987 retired in 2012. She brought many instrumental groups and special programs to Blue Ridge and provided us with beautiful piano and organ music for years. In 2013 we welcomed our new Worship Director (no longer referred to as Director of Music), Kevin Hershberger. Kevin was extremely talented and involved in many community activities. He sang with the Kansas City Symphony Chorus for over twenty years. He was a member of Musical Vocale, a select ensemble of 24 singers specializing in underperformed choral masterworks directed by Emeritus Arnold Epley. Kevin enjoys musical theatre, both acting in and music directing area productions. He brought six well attended musical productions to Blue Ridge including Godspell, Joseph’s Amazing Technicolored Dreamcoat, and others. Kevin remained with us until September of 2021.
When Barry Freese left in 2015, he was replaced by Dr. Tex Sample an author, community activist for social justice and professor at The Saint Paul School of Theology for 32 years. He holds a B.A. degree from Millsaps College, an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology, a Ph.D. from the Boston University Graduate School. and a D.D. from Coe College. In 1999 Boston University School of Theology gave him the “Distinguished Alumnus Award”. Dr. Sample shared his many stories with us every Sunday, making us laugh a lot and sometimes even crying just a little. He was a great teacher to us all and we usually left every worship service wanting more.
In the summer of 2016, it was determined we needed an entire new roof. There were a few areas that had been leaking off and on for several years and it was time to correct all the problems.
In June of 2016 Pastor Anchul Axelrod was assigned to Blue Ridge. He was excited about our future, and he instilled that same excitement in all of us. We had a meet and greet and got to know him, his wife Ginny and his three daughters. We were all charged up about our future.
He was quick to establish a new Mission Statement: Connecting People Along The Way. Everyone liked it and it reminded us every time we say or heard it that our mission was to go and make disciples, meet people, and help them connect to God and show them that their journey is a work in progress and The Way is their life-time process and at Blue Ridge we were there to help.
The excitement remained. Pastor Anchul wanted a fresh new feeling and outreach for Blue Ridge, and he believed to connect all people along the way and to re-introduce ourselves and announce ourselves into the community where we had been such a viable source for so many years, he decided to change the name to The Ridge: A Community Church. Now, we were a Community Church claiming and announcing to all in the area that we were their church. We then began to put “All are Welcome Here” in every publication.
Pastor Anchul having had a history in audio technology, realized out sound system was pretty dated. And since music is such a huge part of personal worship, it was time for an upgrade. A new audio visual and sound system was purchase making a huge difference in the sanctuary with a much richer, deeper sound. The upgrade was made possible through the gift we received from the estate of Dr. Shirley Salmon. We also received a gift from the estate of Al and Velda Gantner that allowed us to complete the payments on the geothermal system and further out ministry.
In March of 2019 a virus that started in China began to turn up in every country on the globe. Here in the United States, we were experiencing something most of our living generations had never experienced. Major cities like New York and San Francisco and Chicago were completely shut down in an effort to contain this thing call Covid-19 (Corona Virus Disease and 19 for the year). Because the virus was spreading so quickly and even the CDC wasn’t sure how to handle it everyone was encouraged to stay home, and if necessary, to go out, always wear a mask. Hospitals and emergency rooms were filling up across the country. There was a shortage of medical equipment and supplies. Schools were shut down and grocery store shelves were emptied as fast as they were re-stocked. Supplies were running because deliveries couldn’t be made. Antibiotic soap, wipes and masks couldn’t be found anywhere. But people persevered, dusted off their sewing machines and started working and recipes were abundant on how to make your own disinfectant wipes and antibiotic soap.
But our church was closed.
A tragedy to say the least especially when needed the most. But state and county laws declared all gathering of people was to stop. So, the doors were locked.
Pastor Anchul began thinking of ways to have church and be able to offer it to all. First, he offered “Drive-In Worship” in the parking lot. With his technical ability he was able to wire a sound system to broadcast on a car radio. The Worship Team pulled together and moved instruments and microphones outdoors every Sunday morning on a portable staging is where he preached to a lot (literally) of cars who loved to honk their horns to show him their enthusiasm. Members of “New Song” sang every week. Some days the wind blew and only rocks and clothes pins held it together and some days were very cold forcing them to bundle up.
And then the county cancelled all outdoor gatherings.
Pastor Anchul once again using his technical and audio-visual skills decided to broadcast a service live on Facebook. Putting a system together, he and the Worship Team would gather in the Sanctuary and have a service with only the tiny eye of the camera seeing it. Church members learned how to use Facebook and those that already knew, tuned in every Sunday to watch the service. This literally went on for over a year.
On Easter Sunday, April 12, 2020, our church doors opened once again. Although we still needed to wear our masks as mandated by the city, we were so glad to get back into the building and see each other again. It had been thirteen months. As the weeks progressed, we were told that masks were optional so some continued and some stopped wearing them. We began to feel normal again.
Our communion continued to be optional also – either receive juice and bread from Pastor Anchul and Ginny or pick up the self-contained cups to use, bypassing the receiving line and close contact.
We were in the same sanctuary as before, but our new sound system was amazing, and brought forth new sounds and beats not heard before. A new drum set was all electronic and could be controlled from the existing sound booth as well as voices and other instruments. It was dynamic to say the least. We’re looking forward to pushing our new sound out through Facebook as we now have live streaming of every Sunday service.
We hope our new sounds and our new dynamic will reach those still searching for a church or a family of Christians where they can visit and feel comfortable.
Pastor Anchul is very excited about the future and is working on the details of adding another Sunday service. And some bible studies to bring members and seekers back into the rhythm of studying their bibles and in some cases learning the basics about the bible for the first time.
The Ridge has much to offer for those looking for a church, as well as those who are current members, and will continue to for many years to come. After all, we’ve been here a long time having seen many changes but continue to worship God and give thanks the same way those early farmers did when they established the small congregation here on the corner of 51st and Blue Ridge Boulevard in 1851.
In 2021 the church was completely open, having been closed or restricted for so long with Covid-19. Masks were required, and some were still reluctant to come. The conversation of the day was “Have you had your vaccine?” Social distancing was required although we preferred to call it physical distancing because we wanted to encourage all our usual socialization, enjoyed by so many after frustratingly being in ‘lock-down’ for so long. Pews were taped off one by one by bright yellow caution tape to keep folks appropriately separated. During this time, the worship service was being broadcast on Facebook every Sunday giving those that chose to not get out an opportunity to participate.
But numbers grew, and more and more returned, still distancing in the entry area and reviving their skills of conversation and sharing all they’d been through with each other. Masks started coming off, we weren’t so afraid, everyone (almost) was vaccinated and boosted, and all of a sudden, we were back, and all was well at The Ridge.
In March of 2022 we hired Bethany Glendenning as our new Worship Director. She plans and coordinates the worship services, collaborating with Anchul to choose music that integrates well with the worship message. The membership of The Ridge, all gave her a big thumbs-up when Anchul was interviewing for the position and everyone agreed, she was the perfect fit and choice. Already, she’s adored by all, and her voice lifts high and loud to fill the two-story altar area as she sings praises to God.
In April of 2022 we went to two services. Traditional at 9:00am and Contemporary at 10:30am. It was quite a struggle for Pastor Anchul to make the decision on the times because he desired to accommodate everyone. It all worked out and the long-awaited traditional service was back, and many were so glad their weekly worship time included The Lord’s Prayer and The Affirmation of Faith and many favorite hymns. The contemporary service was opening doors to new experiences, louder music, more drums and guitar and many new songs.