Through Water & Spirit
By Fred Koenig
At more than 180 years old, Smith Chapel United Methodist Church isn’t a New Place for New People. But in the past year this church, which has worship services every-other Sunday, has demonstrated it can be an old place for new people, and the new people like it that way.
When Kevin Leiby first started going to church with his wife, he asked her why she drove way out to the middle of nowhere to go to church. She explained that was her church home. Although it was a bit out of the way, worship at Smith Chapel wasn’t a stretch for Leiby. He grew up in the Methodist church, and his mother was organist at Sturgeon. Leiby has been part of Smith Chapel UMC for about 15 years.
He shared a message he had written with Rev. Mike Will, pastor at Sturgeon UMC and Riggs UMC. Will told him that he thought there was a lot more to him than one message and encouraged him to consider his call to ministry. On June 13, 2017, Leiby was at a ball game in Kansas when he got a called from then Mid-State District Superintendent Sherry Habben, asking if he would take Smith Chapel as a charge. He agreed.
Leiby owns his own business called Leiby’s Technical Training. He travels all over the country conducting classes on automotive technology for people in the automotive repair business. He lets people know that he is a pastor and said guys often hang out after class and talk about their faith. Much of his training is around diagnostic equipment, and although his classes addresses how to operate that latest in automotive technology diagnostic computers, he reminds his students that their “God-given” gifts of sight, hearing and a sense of smell are the most powerful tools in their diagnostic arsenal.
Leiby says he loves working with automotive technology, but it doesn’t compare with leading a church.
“This is the most rewarding thing I have done in my life,” he said.
The church has worship on first, third and fifth Sundays of the month. Leiby attends Sturgeon when he isn’t at Smith Chapel and has also filled in at other nearby churches when needed.
On August 25 Smith Chapel baptized 13 children and adults in an impromptu baptismal (made from a child’s pool) at a city park in nearby Glasgow. Leiby recruited a student from one his automotive classes, who happened to be a competitive barbecue chef, to provide a meal for the day. The student agreed to do so in exchange for a day of training on a new piece of automotive diagnostic equipment.
Leiby’s brother-in-law, Charles Schouten, was one of the people being baptized that Sunday. Schouten, like Leiby’s wife Patty, had been part of the church since 1968.
“Kevin has really revived the church,” Schouten said. He decided it was time that he started absorbing more of what he was learning there.
Like many rural, open country churches, the attendance at Smith Chapel has fluctuated, occasionally getting down to levels that make people concerned about the future.
When Leiby started in July of 2017, the church had dropped down to fewer than 10 in attendance. It now averages around 25. They’ve started having children’s time and reinstated Sunday school.
Rev. Mike Will, pastor of Sturgeon and Riggs UMC, was present on August 25 to do the baptisms and bursting with enthusiasm over the scale of the event.
“It’s wonderful and amazing to see what God has been doing in that church,” he said.