A year ago, tiny Lecoma Church hired a new pastor and hoped to fulfill its mission of living out the gospel in that community.
“We are a small group of people, but we want to do whatever we can to bless the neighbors,” Mabel Case, one of three members who never gave up on the church’s mission, said in an August 2011 Rolla Daily News report.
Mabel, her husband, Leonard Case, and another church member, Charles Leonard, for several years were the only people who regularly attended the church without a pastor. They prayed and hoped for something to happen. Over the years, a few more people began attending the Sunday School led by Charles Leonard and sang along with the hymns on cassette.
One Sunday, Billy Miller, a farmer and minister attended by invitation. He preached a couple of Sundays and was soon called by the congregation to be their pastor. He accepted.
“I feel the Lord has put us here for a purpose,” the pastor said in August 2011.
How have things changed in the year since?
The little congregation had hoped to dig a well to bring running water to the church building and add a restroom. Thanks to tithes, offerings, other donations and volunteer labor from church members and neighbors, that has happened.
“We also added a window air conditioner,” Pastor Miller said.
Those changes made the building more comfortable in the record heat of the summer of 2012.
More important, local people are returning to worship their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ at Lecoma Church.
Last year before the pastor was called, the congregation had grown from the stalwart three to about five regulars.
It now has a dozen or more regular attendees with others who are able to come and worship on an irregular basis.
“There’d be 30 if everybody would show up at once,” Pastor Miller said.
Last month the non-denominational church invited the community to an ice cream social. It was sort of a celebration of the building improvements and the growth of the congregation.
The building was more crowded than it had been for a long time.
“This place was pretty full for years,” said Glen Curtis, who grew up in the neighborhood and attended the church as a boy. Hattie Leonard was his Sunday School teacher. “She taught a bunch of us little boys. She was a real gentle person,” he said.
Darrell Davis, who has lived at Lecoma for more than five decades, said the church reflects the changes in the community. People moved to town, he said, and eventually even the community’s small store closed.
The people who attended the ice cream social sat in the pews of the church and visited with one another for awhile until Pastor Miller took his place at the pulpit and thanked everyone for attending.
Page 2 of 2 - “We’re glad you came out to God’s house,” he said. “Let’s sing.” He led the congregation in singing “Amazing Grace’ and “When We All Get to Heaven.”
After the songs, the pastor thanked everyone again, thanked the Lord in a prayer and then said, “Let’s eat!”
The folks of Lecoma community lined up and had ice cream, pie, cake, cookies. There was even sugar-free ice cream and pie.
Pearl Stogsdill later pointed out a quilt rich in local history hanging on the back wall of the church sanctuary.
It includes squares made by Lecoma women and includes their names that they sewed into the fabric.
“Somebody gave it to the Phelps County Historical Society,” she said. “They saw your story in the paper last year and called.”
Stogsdill said she took the quilt top and finished it and quilted it.
The quilt top was probably pieced in the 1930s.
Also hanging on the wall is a flag from the funeral of Charles Leonard, the Sunday School teacher during the lean years. He passed away March 18, 2012.
For several years the Lecoma Church consisted of just three people —Leonard and Mabel Case and Charles Leonard — meeting for Sunday School.
Sometimes other people would visit for a Sunday or two and not return, but those three long-time churchgoers showed up Sunday after Sunday.
Their pastor, who was Charles Leonard’s son, Walter, passed away several years ago and people just drifted away, worshiping at town churches or not at all.
But these three remained, studying the Bible, praying together, giving tithes and offerings, caring for the church house, reaching out to neighbors.
Charles Leonard served as the Sunday School teacher, although he said last year, “We all worked it together.” For music, he played cassette tapes.
They remained faithful, and gradually, people returned.
“These three had so much faith, coming every Sunday and having Sunday School,” said Pearl Stogsdill.
Stogsdill, who lives just down the road, had been one who went to church in town, driving to a large, modern congregation in Salem. She decided to go back to her home church and join the three in Bible study each Sunday.
“I was married in this church 55 years ago,’ said Stogsdill last year. She added that the church she attended in Salem had a worship service attended by several hundred people every Sunday. “You can miss services there and no one notices, but if I miss here, they miss me,” she said.