rev. kirk stricker, pastor of the bel air southern baptist church, 1100 w. cloud. the church conducted it’s last service july 25. (photo by tom dorsey / salina journal) | buy journal photos


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pastor for hire


by tim unruh salina journal

a 50-year-old church with its roots embedded in the united states air force celebrated its final service sunday.

but there’s hope that the bel air southern baptist church building at 1100 w. cloud will again be a house of worship.

“mostly dwindling membership” prompted the church to close, the rev. kirk stricker said. “also, this (roughly 10,000-square-foot) facility was too large for us.”

bel air southern baptist boasted many more members than were attending church services, he said.

“the number that really counts is how many show up on sunday morning, and we’d been running about 40 or 50,” stricker said.

the church can comfortably seat 250, he said.

“we’re primarily an older congregation,” stricker said. “the likelihood of us having the energy and resources to reach young families was unrealistic.”

at age 55, he’s looking for another job, either as a preacher or in some other profession. stricker served bel air southern baptist since september 2001 and he will be unemployed as of sunday.

preparing for weeks

he’s been preparing church members for weeks to let this congregation fade away gracefully.

“the goal was to try and get through this with dignity and honor,” stricker said. “god’s not done with us. the ministry will continue.”

roughly 60 people attended the final service sunday, said deacon jim furgison.

“it was real nice. we had some special music,” he said.

a church member for 35 years, his son was married at bel air southern baptist.

furgison was among several members who agreed to close the church.

“we determined the best thing to do was dissolve the church, and everybody would be free to go where they want to go,” he said. “it’s not an easy thing to do.”

while the final service was special, it was also a tearful event.

many who attended sunday “had some memories that went back many years,” furgison said. “it was a hard day to go through.”

near air force base

the church was hatched near the schilling air force base, stricker said.

“lots of air force guys were from the deep south. they missed that type of southern baptist worship. it’s not the way they do services at other churches.”

in a progression that’s followed by the southern baptist church today, the church “grew little by little” out of small worship groups, he said.

bel air began as a “mission of calvary” on oct. 4, 1959, with 78 members, stricker said. services were in the avalon building near the airport.

they met as a mission for several months and were organized as a church sept. 18, 1960. by then, the church had 106 members.

the first pastor was john underwood, who was serving at the schilling base, stricker said, possibly as an air force chaplain.

services moved to the former united brethren church building on south ninth street in september 1961. at that time, the property at 1100 w. cloud was purchased, stricker said, and the first phase of today’s church was built. the congregation moved in during june 1962.

as word spread through salina during the mid-1960s that schilling air force base would close, bel air southern baptist lost much of its membership base.

“people in the church were pretty much flying outta here in 1964,” stricker said.

the church was able to survive by merging with bethel baptist church, which conducted services at the corner of ohio and wayne streets.

the merger was sealed sept. 28, 1969.

church membership fluctuated through the years, stricker said, but the organization remained fiscally sound.

“when they had to borrow to build, a big part was to repay the loan as quickly as possible,” he said. a fellowship hall was added in 1983.

the building was remodeled and the many-stage parking lot replacement was completed in late 2009. to pay for those projects, the church sold a home just north of the building. it had been used through the years for extra class space or a parsonage, stricker said.

bel air southern baptist leaders plan to transfer ownership of the building and contents to the kansas-nebraska convention of southern baptists, based in topeka.

while the church has closed, stricker said this is also a beginning.

“the stuff we got started will keep going on forever,” he said. “it’s still a sad thing to see what we’ve gone through.”

there is a chance that the bel air church building won’t be vacant for long.

“one of our strategies to grow new churches and expand god’s kingdom is to find people with shared common interests,” stricker said. “they begin home bible studies that grow to the point that can meet in a small church.”

one such group has grown to the point of meeting at the webster conference center off ohio street and interstate highway 70.

“my prayers are that’s what will happen,” stricker said, “that that church will have the opportunity to move into here and really take off.”

n reporter tim unruh can be reached at 822-1419 or by e-mail at [email protected].

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