Resurrection story

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TEXT AND PHOTOS BY DON RATZLAFF
In every Christian church, Sunday celebrates the miracle of resurrection. But at Cedar Point Community Church, that miracle is as tangible as an old clapboard meeting-house now teeming with people and the leadership of a young pastor who once thought his calling to ministry might be over.


Five years ago, the congregation was on its last legs. Attendance of eight or nine was not uncommon. The building itself was deteriorating with no resources for repairs.


Five years ago, Larry Timm had just returned to Florence from an ill-fated pastorate in Oklahoma City. His wife had left him and their three children, and Timm was questioning his calling and his future.


Today, attendance at Cedar Point Community Church averages in the mid-60s and has reached as high as 90. Last Easter, 109 people packed the pews and spilled into extra folding chairs.


Leading the surge is Timm, who exudes conviction as a preacher and compassion as a pastor.


Which came first-a reborn congregation or a renewed pastor-is hard to pinpoint. One credits the other. But the combination has, without question, brought a new dynamic to an otherwise desolate village of 53 people just across the Marion-Chase County line off U.S. Highway 50.


“I think God really wants us to have a church here because he’s pushed some of us pretty hard,” said Dolly Soyez, who has been a member of the church for almost 40 years.


And no one, according to the testimony of Timm and other parishioners, has been pushed harder than Soyez.


“Dolly had struggled for some time, working to keep the doors open,” Timm said. “She organized the services, took care of the music. She cleaned the building. She did it all, really.”


Even Soyez admits, despite her best efforts, the future of the church looked bleak.


“I’ve had that feeling, ‘Why am I doing this?'” she said. “But something tells me to do it so I do it. It has to be the Lord. It couldn’t be anything else.”


* * *


Methodist circuit riders held worship services at Cedar Point as early as 1865. In 1870, the town’s first school building was completed and the fledgling congregation moved in on Sundays for services.


A few years later, the congregation erected its first meetinghouse on Drinkwater Hill south of town. When a tornado took the building away in 1876, the congregation returned to the school house.


A revival in 1886 added to the flock and the group decided to build again in 1889 at the foot of Drinkwater Hill, the present location.


The congregation continued to function into the new century and in 1925 formed a federation with the Presbyterians that lasted about 19 years.


When the Presbyterians sold their building to the Methodist group in 1944, the stones and lumber from that building were used to construct the current building. The cornerstone was laid in 1947 and the building rededicated in 1950.


Brief histories of the church say little about membership, but as the number of farmers and ranchers declined over the years, so did the church. By June 1995, attendance had dwindled to five.


“The area isn’t as big as it used to be,” Timm said. “Unless you were raised in this area, there’s not anything to draw people to visit these rural areas anymore.”


Today, Cedar Point still has a post office and a bank that is open half a day a week. A stately old water-driven mill, long deserted and now crumbling, stands as a silent sentry on the edge of town and symbolizes Cedar Point’s past and present.


“This is no insult to the history of the community, but you’re not going to pull off the highway and go shopping here, or to get gas or do anything like that,” Timm said.


“The post office is about the only thing we have,” Soyez added. “Everything else is gone.”


* * *


Larry Timm had been a popular pastor at the Christian Church in nearby Florence for about five years when he accepted a new and prestigious ministry assignment in Oklahoma City in November 1995.


But two months into the role, Timm’s family and calling were shaken to the core when his wife left him and his three children without warning. Crushed, Timm felt their best move was to return to Florence.


“This was really the only home they ever knew,” he said.


To get his feet back on the ground, Timm took a job with the City of Florence and did everything from mowing to hauling trash.


When the small Homestead Friends congregation located in the Flint Hills southeast of Cedar Point needed someone to fill their pulpit, they approached Timm.


“I was struggling with whether I was capable to do it,” he said. “I got conflicting advice as to whether I should even try, whether I belonged in ministry.”


Homestead convinced him to try it for a couple of weeks.


“Those couple of weeks turned into almost a couple of years,” Timm said. “But I owe them a lot for being supportive. They didn’t care (about the divorce). The way they supported me and my three kids, they just loved us.”


In 1997, at the invitation of Dolly Soyez, a longtime friend of the family, Timm began working part-time with the Cedar Point church. The congregation, unable to financially support all its denominational obligations, had recently severed ties with the United Methodist Church and was reorganizing as a community church.


Meanwhile, Timm had met and fell in love with Kristal Turner. The two were married in March 1999.


“Without her, I wouldn’t be able to do it,” Timm said.


When Soyez called with the invitation to come to Cedar Point, Timm was prepared to join his future in-laws’ grocery business in Florence. But he couldn’t shake the pastoral calling he still felt in his heart.


“I put them through some frustrating times, going back and forth,” Timm said of his in-laws. “Because it was apparent to me in my own heart that (the store) wasn’t where I wanted to be, and I didn’t feel it was where God wanted me to be.


“I was really frustrated because I really felt God wanted me back into full-time ministry,” he said. “But at that time, I couldn’t see any way (the Cedar Point) church could do a full-time thing.


“I was really faced with moving my family again, going back into full-time ministry who knows where. My options, quite frankly, were limited, especially in the Christian Church, because of being divorced.”


But Timm agreed to come to Cedar Point Community Church, struggling as it was.


By October 1999, the Little-Congregation-That-Could had managed to purchase the building from the United Methodist denomination, write a new constitution, and make an audacious leap of faith: They decided to call Timm as their full-time pastor.


Timm did something just as audacious: he accepted.


* * *


Today, the meetinghouse is almost completely refurbished. The basement no longer leaks, the walls are freshly painted, new carpet covers the sanctuary floor, a new furnace and central air unit is in place, the roof has been redone, and they’ve even been forced to acquire a nearby abandoned lot for parking.


“The real story here is the people,” Timm said. “They committed themselves, quite frankly, to more than what they were bringing in (financially) at that time. They believed in the possibility so much that they were willing to give it a try and see what the Lord was going to do here.”


The congregation has never been flush with funds, Timm said, but it hasn’t had a financial concern since it made that initial financial commitment to make Timm’s pastorate full-time.


“It was almost like they were waiting to invest themselves in this ministry,” he said.


Besides their contributing money sacrificially, members of the church have donated hours and hours to the renovation of the building.


“We had work days and the people just responded,” Timm said. “And they worked and they worked and they worked.”


And the army of workers is growing. Timm is pleased and grateful for the gifted people who have enlisted their efforts for expanding ministries and programs.


“Maybe if you come from a big church somewhere else, it may not seem so significant,” Timm said. “But if you started where we were, you have to be amazed at the talented people God has brought here.”


And they come from a wide area, including Marion, Madison, Peabody, Florence, Cottonwood Falls, Strong City and Olpe.


“We have people whose drive on Sunday morning is longer than the service itself,” Timm said. “That is such an incredible honor to realize that they’re trusting me with that time every Sunday for them and their families. I’ve never taken that lightly yet and I hope I never do.


Most of the people coming to Cedar Point Community have come from other backgrounds.


“They were a little bit disillusioned with the church,” Timm said. “Some of them had given up on church. We don’t go to other churches and steal sheep, but we don’t apologize if we find them after they’ve wandered away.”


He said the faithfulness of that initial core is paying dividends.


“I’m happy for Dolly’s sake,” Timm said. “She planted and she watered for such a long time. The doors were kept open and they managed to pay the bills. There had to be times when they thought, ‘What are we doing this for?’


“Of course, all the glory goes to the Lord,” Timm added. “He brought things together in such a way that all of us would be in this position at the time that we were ready to launch this new work in a place where, quite frankly, what else is here?”


* * *


Beyond Divine involvement, Timm struggles to identify the “secrets” for the rebirth that is under way at Cedar Point Community.


“I’ve tried to explain to people who ask why things are happening here the way they are,” Timm said. “I’d like to come up with some big church-growth answer that you could pop into print and people would say, ‘Wow!’ and want to copy it.


“But I don’t know. We’ve tried to be faithful week after week and accept everybody who walks in the door. That doesn’t mean we don’t stand for things. We are going to be truthful with Scripture as best we can.”


Soyez credits Timm with giving the church a solid doctrinal base.


“Larry was a real breath of fresh air when he came to visit because he preaches right from the Word, which to me is the main thing,” she said. “You can get up and preach all kinds of things, and it’s way out there somewhere. But when you preach from the Word, it’s very meaningful. I love it.”


The message Timm preaches is love, acceptance and forgiveness.


“Everybody who comes in here deserves to know that God loves them, that he wants to redeem them and that he has a place for them in his kingdom,” Timm said.


“The vision here really isn’t that complicated,” he added. “It’s to continue every Sunday to provide a worship experience that is going to bless families and that is going to challenge people to grow in their commitment to Christ.


“The commitment is that we want to be biblical, at whatever the cost. We’re willing to be seeker oriented to the point where we don’t have to compromise our message. I think people appreciate that honesty. We’re going to love people and we’re going to help people.”


Timm has learned the power of that commitment from the people he now shepherds and his own life experiences.


“I would be lying to say that if God gave me the chance to go back and relive my own broken-home experience and the things my kids and I have been through that I’d do it,” he said. “It’s not a good experience. But I’ve learned more about how to minister to those people than I ever knew before.”


The future of Cedar Point Community Church appears bright, but Timm says the congregation is far from perfect.


“There’s growing pains, but there’s also an atmosphere of genuine concern and care for one another,” he said. “Any time you get a group of people together, you’re going to get personality differences and differences of opinion. But our faith and love is big enough that we just accept that and work through it.”


Meanwhile, a congregation and its pastor say they have found their niche.


“For the first time in my ministry life, I’ve been able to tell the Lord that I’m willing to spend the rest of my life here. I don’t ever want to move again unless God wants me to.


“God has been good to us,” he added. “He’s entrusted us with a lot, and I think he expects more of us than he did three years ago.”

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