The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on April 15, 2001 · Page 4
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 4

Salina, Kansas
Issue Date:
Sunday, April 15, 2001
Page 4
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'M SUNDAY, APRIL 15, 2001 THE SAUNA JOURNAL Dent / More like a grandma .daughter, Carolyn Dossett of FFtOMPAGEAl Today's sermon is taken from the Gospel of John, sixth-chapter, where Jesus feeds the multitude of 5,000 from two baskets ;that miraculously fill with bread and fish. Likewise, this woman, Helen Dent, feeds her small multitude with a spiritual feast every Sunday, something she has been doing for 46 years. Dent is pastor and often the primary piano player at the church, but members say she is much more than that. Attending Dent's church is like going ;to grandma's house for a big •Sunday dinner with three pies Ifor dessert, they say. She won't ibe satj^fied unless you go out a ."happier person than when you '^came in. /• "When you come to this • [church, it feels like home," 'said church member Louise rGodsey, who has been attend- -ing for 25 years. "We're all family here." Dent's long rim as pastor is remarkable considering she igrew up in a time and place •where women were expected to I'be housewives rather than lead tholy lives. Not Dent, though. ;She had a different path to fol- "low. •• I "From the time I was a little [girl, I wanted to preach," Dent 'said. "I had such a love for Jesus, .1 was determined to be a :mihister, no matter what." ; Dent's steely determination find unshakable faith have •kept her strong through nearly ;five decades of preaching. It %as helped her survive the Tdeath of her husband and two itouts with cancer, said her ',, iBurlington. .'y "She's strong, and she's always been there for every'^body," Dossett said. "I worry Tabout her doing too much now, .'but this is what she loves, what Ikeeps her going. She's grandma ;'to the whole community" Xoaves and fishes !• 'As Dent tells the story of Je- ;sus and the multitudes Sunday ;morning, she asks her congregation if.they can see themselves as loaves and fishes in rtheir own lives. "See if you don't have a talent God has given you and use it,'! she said. . "Even if you don't think you ;have talent, we do. Even if you •don't know it, he does; If we do .what we can, he'll take care of ;the rest of it." ; Dent said she was blessed to ;discover her talent at an early •age. Born near Omaha, Neb., ithe second of five children, ,'Dent's interest in the ministry |was sparked when her parents Jread articles to her about the famous Los Angeles evange- 'list Aimee Semple McPher- Ison. Before that, Dent had jnever heard of a woman [preacher. Dent remembered wanting to .^attend funerals as a child, just ;to hear the preaching. When ;she 'and her siblings came ;home from a funeral, they •would stage one of their own iwith Dent serving as preacher land her brothers and sisters as .mourners. "We had a doll we'd bury, and then we'd dig it back up and ihave another funeral — isn't 'that ridiculous?" she said. "But I 'evgn then, I knew I loved to preach." I Dent's family moved to Mc- jCracken, Kan., in 1933. Dent jsaid she committed herself to Church bomb rtrial revives old memories jByThe Associated Press ; BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The •trial of a 73-year-old former Ku Klux Klansman, Robert "Dyna!mite Bob" Chambliss, for the ;i963 bombing of the Sixteenth .Street Baptist Ch.urch that killed four black girls took place in 1977 in an old court- rpom in Birmingham. ,; Now those images and memories are being revived as another former Klansman, Thomas Blanton Jr., becomes the second man to go on trial for the bombing. ; Blanton, 62, is accused of •jriurder in the explosion, which Jcilled 11-year-old Denise Mc- 'Nair and 14-year-olds Addle • Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson. ; Prosecutors say Blanton and. co-defendant Bobby Frank Cherry helped Chambliss and Heynian Cash plant the bomb. Cherry was to stand trial with Blanton, but last week the judge postponed his trial indefinitely for medical reasons. Cash died in 1994 without ever being charged. Chambliss died in prison. /.I' •llililiiiii JEFF COOPER / The Salina Journal Helen Dent speaks with Shanna Base after a Sunday worship service at Culver Presbyterian Church. Dent's son says all the congregants want to speak with the lay pastor after a service. "These people love her. I don't know what they would do if she wasn't around," son Ed Dent says. JEFF COOPER / The Salina Journal Culver Presbyterian Church is more than 100 years old but has begun to attract a few younger members. The face of rural churches changes the Lord soon after she turned 17. After graduating from McCracken High School and Bible college in Enid, Okla., she and her best friend, Hazel Earl, hit the road in a dilapidated jalopy to preach to farmers and other rural people who couldn't or wouldn't go to church. "It was the middle of the Great Depression, and times were .so hard then," Dent said. "We had to nickel-and-dime it to make all those trips to the country But we did it for eight years. And no one seemed to think it was unusual that two young girls were coming out to preach to them. We always drew big crowds." Culver bound After Dent decided to give up the road, she moved to Topeka and met her future husband, Ira, who worked for the Union Pacific Railroad. They were married in 1946, and a few months later Ira transferred to Culver. Culver had two churches, one Methodist and one Presbyterian (which is still the cas^ today). The Presbyterian church was organized in 1878 by a congregation of Pennsylvania settlers. "They used to have a fairly decent-sized congregation for a small town, about 40 to 45 people," Dent said. "But they couldn't keep a minister long. In 1955, the church session board asked rne to preach. I had never made a big issue of my years of preaching when I moved here, but everyone in a small town' finds out everything ^about you anyway." Dent said yes, even though she had never been ordained. She has continued to serve the church as a commissioned lay pastor since then. "The Presbytery gave me permission to preach," she said. "At first, they asked me to try it for three Sundays until they got someone else. After that, they asked me to stay on a permanent basis. "I was only one of two women preachers in Ottawa County at that time. There were some remarks, but you always get that. I had enough people support me." One of Dent's biggest supporters was her husband, Ira. "It was pretty different for him to be married to a minister, but he didn't seem to care. He wanted this for me, and he backed me up 100 percent," Dent said. Giving to the people Dent finishes her Sunday morning sermon praising Jesus for seeing a great need in the world and then passing his good deeds onto his disciples before sacrificing himself to the cross. "And his disciples gave his good deeds to the people," she said, her voice booming across the sanctuary "Christ, give us the hands that can dish out the food the world so desperately needs." Afterward, Dent says goodbye to each church-goer by the front doors as they exit. Her son Ed, 54, who assists her and also serves as hymn leader, said everyone looks forward to stopping and saying a few words to his- mother before they leave each Sunday. "She has such a good personality," he said. "These people love her. I don't know what they would do if she wasn't around." Dorothy Wildfong has been coming to the church since she was 3. She was baptized and married in the church and so were her two daughters. Now in her 40s, Wildfong said Dent not only was her pastor all these years, but a great friend as well. "She's part of our family" Wildfong said. "She's seen us through so much stuff and has always been there for us. It would be hard to imagine this town without her. i "I don't ever see her retiring. If it got to the point where she couldn't stand, she'd do the sermon in a wheelchair or on a walker." "She's got a lot of compassion — she visits sick people, and she makes sure everyone has a food basket at Christmas," Godsey said. No matter how grateful her congregation is to her. Dent said she is even more grateful to them. When Ira died in 1985, JIM'Sl 582 S. OhiD/Salina 785-827^114 FREE DELIVERY 10% Cash & Carry Discount Medicaid Prescriptions Welcome Bob Randall / Jim Cram / Rod Smith Hours: 8:30 a.ra.-6:00 p.m. Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m. Saturday Toll Free: 1-800-794-2698 j \V 1 I I U N /\ U M I MARKET SHOP (;!FTS& HOME ACCENTS • "I was showered with love," she said. "It was a hard time, and I don't know what I would've done without them." Likewise, when Dent battled breast cancer and a malignant melanoma in the late 1980s and sight and hearing problems a few years ago, the congregation was there for her, praying for her recovery. Now that she's in relatively good health again. Dent said she'll probably never fully retire. "Sometimes I think. Aren't they embarrassed to have such an old minister up there?' " she said. "But they wouldn't hear of me leaving. It's such a good feeling to be needed. I just hope I can always be needed and useful. "The Lord's been good to me, he really has. I used to wonder, when we first came out here, why we had to come to such a small place. But God sees the future, and he saw where I needed to be. And you want to be where God wants you to be." • Reporter Gary Demuth can be reached at 823-6464, Ext. 109, or by e-mail at sjgdemuth® Fewer rural residents, aging buildings take toll on congregations By GARY DEMUTH The Salina Journal CULVER — Helen Dent's congregation at Culver Presbyterian Church has changed profoundly over the past 46 years. Once the church was filled with farmers and people who worked rural jobs, but that's not the case anymore. Nowadays, many people, especially younger ones, have to move to bigger cities to find better jobs, she said. "I have about 22 regular members now," said Dent, 82. "Many of the ones who stayed over the years are dying now. I've done a lot of funerals lately" Dian McCall, director of the Presbytery of Northern Kansas, said smaller churches have taken a beating in recent years, and shrinking and dying congregations are not the only problem. Many small-town church buildings are more than a century old, and the cost to maintain them can be expensive. "(Old churches) are big and drafty, and many have a lot of old basement space, which can make the heating bills enormous," she said. "Others are in great need of repairs, but (churches) depend on volunteer labor, and many longtime church-goers are older and not physically able to help out." Also, new ministers may start their careers at smaller churches, but they don't tend to stay long. Financial needs eventually drive them to request a transfer to a larger church. However, the national Presbytery is trying to do something to change that, McCall said. "They're offering to help new ministers pay off some of their school debts — if they'll agree to serve at a small church for at least three years," she said. "We feel it's a great training ground for them." One of the first things a new minister discovers when he or she goes to a small, rural church, is the closeness of the congregation and the dedication they have to their church, McCall said. "There are strong bonds formed in small churches, because of what they've all been through together," she said. "They've been baptized, had weddings or buried their families there. They love everything the church represents, and that's what keeps small churches going." Recently, more young people have started to attend Culver Presbyterian Church, which makes Dent happy Although ther? are fewer people now, she said, the ones who attend regularly are focused on making it a better church. "You can always depend on certain ones to show up every week and to volunteer their time," she said. "These people love their church." • Reporter Gary Demuth can be reached at 823-6464, Ext. 109, or by e-mail at sjgdemuth® 101 S. 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