Basement Apartment Heaven
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8. Basement Apartment Heaven

County Court House

Barton County Court HouseAfter several months, one of our affluent church families, the Treasurer of Barton County, invited me to stay in their spacious country house. This large cool basement and the shared bathroom were heaven to me. Then, my dream world evaporated. My host's wife drew me aside to tell me quietly, "I'm sorry, but our daughter needs more time in the bathroom for her make up in the mornings! Perhaps you could build a little "lean-to" of corrugated iron behind the chicken coops instead like the scouts on camping trips."

Catholic Faith

When the bishop discovered my miserable plight, he arranged a room in the Pioneer Hotel in Great Bend. Day by day, I traveled along endless dusty roads to our four little churches. Church Army asked the Bishop one day whether I had enough of a missionary challenge! He wrote back, "The Captain has four whole counties already, but if that isn't enough, I can easily throw in three or four more!" I had a unique contribution to make. Father Bob Mize had taught me at the Associate Mission. "Don't just give them another protestant church. They have a good Methodist and Congregational Church. The Episcopal Church's distinctive contribution is the Catholic Faith as we have received it. Give them that!"

Snow Covered Bed

Glory in HayesArriving on a snowy winter morning in Hayes, Kansas, I received an outside snow-covered bed to sleep on! It was a snowy Winter in 1937 when I arrived in Hayes, Kansas. My host showed me an outdoor porch. "Here you are, Captain Lewis," she said politely, pointing to a snow-covered bed with a tarpaulin cover. "I'm sure this will be suitable. All your army officers are so very fit and healthy!" The next morning, I awoke suddenly in my snow-covered bed. Discipline proved to be spartan. Every day started with Morning Prayer, and Holy Communion at 6.30 am. We crunched through the snow to the church, the wind billowing the black cloaks and berettas of my colleagues.

Housekeeper Mrs. Reid

Hayes KansasAfter breakfast, we observed quietness until lunch. The sole voice was that of our meticulous housekeeper, Mrs. Reid. She spoke very softly like someone who had come out of a fairy tale. In her early life, she had something of a Cinderella experience after the death of her husband. Many gave up in the Kansas drought that year, but she persisted with their farm. Unexpectedly, a black harvest of oil rewarded her, and she suddenly had a pile of money. But like Cinderella at the midnight toll, her riches melted away when a Colorado Hotel investment went bankrupt.

Father Bob's Newspaper

Toilet TissueFather Bob's newspaper was an unusual prayer list for the clergy and Church Army in Great Bend, Kansas. One morning, I overheard Mrs. Reid ordering groceries on the phone. In her thin trill voice, she whispered, "Three large onions, five medium carrots." Then, in a very delicate and secretive tone, as if not to shock the clergy, she added, "and two rolls of plain toilet tissue!" Like Mrs. Reid, we all had our daily routine. Mine was to write out Father Bob's newspaper, a prayer request list, and pin it to the main door. Bob Mize, our jovial director, insisted on following this unusual ritual. Each of us prayed for our people and those on the other parts of Father Bob's Newspaper. It would read, "Pray for Mrs thinking of divorce, Billy, who ran away from home, Joe tempted to give up his business." As time passed, our work grew under the hand of God.

Little in Great Bend

Great Bend KansasThe Bishop of Salina dispatched me to a new evangelism work at the tiny Mission Church of St. John's in Great Bend. In many people's estimates, being stuck away in a dark alley off Main Street made it weak and insignificant. The only accommodation the little congregation could afford was in the church vestry. This tiny room had barely enough space between the robe cupboards and the desk for a folding camp bed. Having no toilet facilities, I had to hunt around for an open gasoline station early each morning to use its washroom!

Pratt Smokehouse

Funeral ParlourThe Pratt Smokehouse manager requested baptism and a commitment not to stock a particularly sexy glossy magazine. That first Sunday morning in Pratt, Kansas, we were surrounded by black lace curtains and polished brass fittings. We labored to move the heavy pine caskets and make room for everyone. As the weeks passed, we continued to grow. Encouraged by our full meetings, the bishop urged us to buy an old timbered schoolhouse. With a splash of paint, it became our beautiful church.

Smoke House Saga

Smoke HouseThe Smoke House in Pratt was the main social and recreational center drawing most of its customers from a large air force base. Joe Foster, the Smoke House manager, surprised us all one day by asking for baptism. The bishop had visited the Smoke House, and it puzzled him too. "You must have a word in his ear," he said to me. "If he is going to commit, tell him that he must get rid of those sex comics scattered around his place!" Joe was new, and I didn't want to lose him, so I was very hesitant. "Joe," I stumbled, "the Bishop has told me . . . " Joe stared straight into my eyes while I garbled out the bishop's request. His face lit up in a reassuring smile. "Oh, that's no problem," he laughed, "I'll tell my supplier not to bring that kind anymore!" The bishop baptized Joe, having kept his promise, later in Pratt Church.

Protestant Swedenborgian Church

Swedenborgian Church MembersCaptain Ray Lewis learns about the Episcopal Faith's catholic fullness, a foot in plaster, and the Protestant Swedenborgian Church in Great Bend. As small as our church buildings were, we grew wherever we presented the "Catholic fullness" of our Faith. One day, a Protestant Swedenborgian Church minister, The Reverend Sherman Newton, called on me. "Your church may be tiny and stuck in a dusty side street, but you can be proud to belong to it. You can preach the whole Gospel, and you belong to a historical church! If I don't mention Emanuel Swedenborg(1688-1772 AD), the founder of our church (which is now also called "The New Church") during the services, I am in trouble!"

Foot in Plaster

Coffee Pot on StoveSeventeen years later, a letter arrived in the post. "Dear Ray, do you remember calling at my parents' home in Great Bend? Though none of us were members of your church, you still yanked the screen door open and called out, 'Is the coffee pot on?' Do you recall asking me to carry the processional cross? I had hurt my foot, and it was in plaster. When we met, you said reassuringly, 'Marching with your foot in a plaster cast is just what a Christian soldier would do!' I never forgot that day, and now I am here in Texas with my wife and family studying for the ministry." I thought, "Fancy thinking that our back alley church was no use!" My four churches were very different. In McPherson, several home groups had been meeting for more than ten years. Now they were looking for a larger building which turned out to be in the local funeral hall!

"Basement Apartment Heaven"
by Ron Meacock © 2021

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