THE STORY OF LIBERAL, MISSOURI
BY O. E. HARMON
Published by THE LIBERAL NEWS, J. P. MOORE PRINTER, LIBERAL, MO, 1925
The Churches and Charitable Organizations
It was stated near the beginning of this sketch that neither church or saloon was to be allowed in Liberal. For a time this injunction was obeyed. But after the town lots passed from the founder’s ownership, it is evident that neither church nor saloon could be kept out if they had any disposition to come in. And both did come in, and about the same time. While the first saloon was at Pedro, it more than answered for both Pedro and Liberal.
In “The Liberal” of August 29, 1894, we find this statement, “Liberal is the only town in Missouri of over 300 that has no saloons.”
Whether this statement included Pedro does not appear. If it does, then the saloon was opened in Pedro after this date, and certainly in the original limits of Liberal after this time. Assuming that the saloon and the church came to Liberal at the same time, it would only be a fulfillment of the Scripture saying, “When the Sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord,
Satan came also.”
The saloon has always been one of Satan’s favorite agencies for working his schemes; and he worked them well until the Prohibiton Law went into effect.
The writer does not know which came first, the Methodist or Christian church. Both were here at an early date, and report has it that one Rev. Ashbaugh, a Methodist minister, held the first meeting in an unfinished elevator. Later the Methodists bought the U. M. L. Hall. The writer is informed that an addition was built to the Hall to make it answer better for church services; and not long after, lightning struck the church addition and severed it from the main building. Whether this act of Providence was designed to favor the Methodists or Free-thinkers the writer does not pretend to say.
Both Methodist and Christian denominations have flourished in Liberal, and have recently built new church structures which are a credit to the town.
Speaking of the organization of the Methodists, after they purchased the U. M. L. Hall, Rev. George T. Ashley, now pastor of the Unitarian church at Wichita, Kansas, writes:
“The Methodist church was thus organized,
but it was a very weak one. I think when I arrived in May, 1890, it had about thirty members, which was a part of a circuit formed around Liberal, including the church at Verdella Iantha, and McCabe Chapel, some five miles to the northwest. I was the first regular minister to settle in Liberal, and arrived there in May 1890. In the meantime, before I had arrived there and long before the Methodist church was organized, the Spiritualists had made some inroads and in fact had become relatively strong in the town and had a small church building. In fact the old FreeThinkers Organization had gone to pieces and the way was open for any cult that might want to come. I remained there for two years and during that time the church had considerable growth, both from converts and from people moving in.”
It is reported that Adam Burris had done some preaching for the Methodists before Mr. Ashley’s arrival.
The Christian church held its first meetings in Pedro. This church seemed to represent the religious element for West Liberal and the Methodist church for East Liberal for some time. Later the Christian church held its services in various places in East Liberal until its stone church was built in 1900. It held its services in this building,
which was on the present site of the new one, until the latter structure was built a short time ago. So we have the Methodist, Christian, Baptist and Latter Day Saints in the modern town of Liberal; and these religious organizations can furnish a variety of spiritual consolation.
The Latter Day Saints is a recent organization, and has not been working long enough to make an estimate of its strength and probable future.
The Baptist church is a still later organization, and has recently built a neat and commodious building. The denomination seems to be in a flourishing condition.
Besides the above named religious denominations, various secret orders and charitable organizations are found in Liberal. Here are the Odd Fellows, Masons, Rebekahs, Easter Star, Modern Woodmen, Security Benefit Association, Brotherhood of American Yeomen, Royal Neighbors and K.K.K.s.
From the above report it will be seen that a resident of Liberal can enjoy the orthodox religious belief or can hold the Free-thinker’s views without molestation.
The history of Liberal reveals the fact that the one desirable thing is toleration for each other’s religious belief. We have no criterion for testing
the truth or untruth of our religious views. Liberal was founded as a Free-thinker’s town, but it did not long hold that distinction. While it drew to its limits, Agnostics, Deists, and Spiritualists, these were not always in harmony among themselves.
Orthodox religious denominations found their way here, and ere long dissentions were rife, not only in the liberal element, but in the orthodox churches. The many religious denominations show how hard it is to agree upon any one interpretation of the Bible. Even when the Free-thinkers came to Liberal, they did not find it that paradise their visions had pictured.
“But where to find that happiest spot below
Who can direct when all pretend to know?”
A little change in the above couplet expresses the religious differences in the world:
But where to find the true faith here below, Who can direct when all pretend to know?
A person’s religion is his own private affair; and while we are journeying through life, let us not consign to Hades our fellow traveler because he does not agree with us in religion.
We may take to heart the following stirring lines of Jonquin Miller:
“Is it worth while that we jostle a brother
Bearing his load on the rough road of life?
Is it worth while that we jeer at each other
In blackness of heart?–that we war to the knife?
God pity us all in our pitiful strife.”