The collapse of the Hyatt in 1981 was a nightmare come true. The Royals’ winning the World Series in 1985 brought pride and joy to the entire community. The economy ricocheted from bust to boom to uncertainty. While the rich got richer in the suburbs, poor neighborhoods waged war with street gangs and a wicked drug called crack. A new kind of screen–the computer monitor–was beginning to find its way into homes.
Rev. Gene Atkins, Minister 1981 – 1990
The decade saw changes as well at Blue Ridge United Methodist. The new team of ministers began guiding the church through a time of recession that would affect giving and programs. The mission work of the church had always been a big part of the character of Blue Ridge. With that in mind, the first Garage Sale for Missions was held in 1983. With almost every group in the church taking part, Hobbs Hall was filled with “cast-off” items turned into “treasures” for mission. Each year several thousand dollars was raised for a long list of mission projects. In 1996 the sale was moved across the street to a large tent.
In 1983, with plans to return to school, Cheryl Barnard left and Bill Billings assumed the position of Minister of Education until he left the ministry in 1984 to join the FBI. At that time retired minister Shrum Burton was hired to be the Associate minister and Richard Whitaker, Diaconal Minister, came to us from Georgia.
Several property changes took place during these years. When Reverend Lytle retired, the house on Crisp was sold and Cheryl Barnard moved to the parsonage at 5120 Blue Ridge Boulevard. When Cheryl left in 1983, this home was sold. In l984, the parsonage at 12128 East 49th Street was sold and the church purchased a house at 12109 East 50th Terrace. This parsonage was then occupied by Richard Whitaker and his family.
In January of 1984, over 7,000 Methodists from around the world came together at the Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Methodism in America. These activities called “The Festival of Praise” were coordinated by Ann Scahill, sister of Tom Scahill of Blue Ridge. Thirty members of our church sang in a mass choir of over 1000 voices during the service. Katherine Whitehouse, Church Historian, arranged a display at the Auditorium telling the story of Blue Ridge Boulevard United Methodist Church.
Many problems faced the leaders and members of the church by the mid-1980’s. The population growth in our area had leveled off and many people were moving east or across the state line. Our membership stood at around 2,100, but because family structures had changed and church traditions had changed, many people were slower to make a commitment of time and money to the church. The economy was weak and energy costs had skyrocketed. Our sanctuary was now 20 years old and the rest of the facilities were even older. There were constant repairs to the heating and air-conditioning units. The Trustees reported a long list of items that needed repairs and up-dating. Many in the church felt there was a need for building expansion and remodeling in order to continue to meet the needs of the congregation. A Building Committee was formed, an Architect hired, and plans developed. However, since it was becoming increasingly difficult to fund the budget each year, it was realized by 1988 that this was not the appropriate time to undertake a building program.
With this decision reached, it was decided to submit to the congregation a Capital Improvement Campaign to meet the immediate needs for repairs and upkeep to the facilities. In July of 1989, the membership made two-year pledges for this “second-mile giving”. The funds were to cover such items as roofing and guttering for the Chapel, lighting improvements, air conditioning up-dating, energy efficient windows, handicap access, etc. Even though the entire amount needed was not pledged, those monies that were received helped take care of some much needed repairs.
Music has always been a very important part of the ministry of Blue Ridge United Methodist Church. We have been blessed with outstanding organists and dedicated choir directors. The adult choir has served the church faithfully for many, many years–practicing once a week, sometimes singing at three services, preparing special anthems for Christmas and Easter and other events. There has not only been adult choirs, but opportunities for the children and youth to share in the music ministry as well. The musicals they present annually to the congregation are always one of the highlights of the year. Over the years, other special choir groups have been part of the music program. The addition of the handbells in 1974 added another dimension to this ministry. In 1987, Linda Mann was appointed the Director of Music. She continued to play the organ. Cyndy Price and Debbie Keeton were named as Assistant Choir Directors. Not only have there been several vocal choirs, but outstanding soloists, instrumental groups, and special programs as well.
In May of 1990, Reverend Gene Atkins retired after almost 42 years in the ministry, nine of them at Blue Ridge. Shrum Burton, who officially retired in 1982 after 45 years of service, took a second retirement after serving our church for 6 years.
THE SEVENTH ERA
In 1990, Reverend Richard Hammett became the Senior Minister of Blue Ridge after serving in Harrisonville, Missouri since 1984. Later in the year, retired minister Roy Stuart was hired as the Associate Minister primarily in the area of membership and visitation.
Rev. Richard “Rick” Hammett, Minister 1990 – 2004
November 5, 1990 saw the first Trustees meeting of the Board of the Shepherd’s Center of Raytown. Shepherd’s Center became the dream of Blue Ridge United Methodist members Edna Scahill and Betty Conley after attending a meeting with Richard Whitaker at Central United Methodist Church in 1988. Shepherd’s Center is about linking older people together in friendship, concern, and support within a community. Now, over ten years later, the organization enjoys partnership relations with 12 local church congregations, has a permanent office, employs three employees, runs the local Meals on Wheels program, and utilizes dozens and dozens of volunteers each year to help older people maintain their dignity, independence, and continued productivity. Blue Ridge has remained a vital part of this wonderful program.
Once again war was on people’s minds as they saw the start of the Gulf War–Desert Storm. Though the campaign was short-lived, it was a difficult time for those who had loved ones involved. In March of the same year, Emanuel Cleaver, United Methodist Minister, was elected Mayor of Kansas City, Missouri. He served until 1999. Voters approved taxes to restore Union Station, the Kansas City Zoo, and Liberty Memorial. In 1992, 63 percent of Missouri voters approved allowing casino gambling on riverboats. In 1995 the heart of the nation was broken when a terrorists bomb blew up the Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
New challenges met Blue Ridge Boulevard United Methodist Church in the 1990’s. The membership continued to age and young people who used to stay in their hometowns now often moved to other communities. More and more families moved east to Lee’s Summit or west to Kansas. As membership declined, the church searched for new ways to attract people to the fellowship of believers.
One of the ways the church was able to provide for its older members, as well as help those who were handicapped, was to install an elevator so everyone could more fully participate in the life of the church. The cost of the elevator and installation was $85,482. Eight thousand dollars came from the Campaign Improvement Fund and the rest from contributions and memorial funds. A total of $90,094 was raised, leaving a balance to be used to maintain the elevator in the future. The dedication was held August 7, 1999.
In March of 1992, Richard Whitaker left to take a position in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin. Jan Bond, Diaconal Minister and long time Christian Educator, joined the staff as Minister of Education. Ann B. Scherer became the Bishop of Missouri.
Over the years, starting as early as 1976, the church purchased property on 50th Terrace and on 51st Street. This was done to have space for future church expansion, additional parking, or housing for ministers. By 1993, we owned all the property east to the water tower on 51st and began to make plans to expand the parking lot. The children’s playground that had been at the back of the property near the parking lot was moved farther to the east. In 1993, plans were drawn and bids taken for this $50,000 project. Special one-time gifts were made by the congregation to cover the costs. Because Kansas City required additional storm drainage studies, which cost an additional $27,000, and because even after studies were done the city took several weeks to give approval for the project, it was spring of 1995 before work actually began on the parking lot. The parking lot was completed in June of 1995.
In order to expand the ministries of Blue Ridge Methodist to reach people in many different ways, several new worship opportunities were offered during the 1990’s. In 1995, a Saturday evening service was started and was led by Jan Bond. In 1993, Jan had returned to St. Paul’s School of Theology to become fully ordained as a minister within the church. In January of 1995, she had been appointed to us by the Bishop as a Student Local Pastor. The Saturday evening service allowed those who worked on Sundays or planned to be out of town, to worship in a casual relaxed way. The program continued until 2000.