Times have changed in Junction City since 1859. People have come and gone, businesses started and closed. One of the few original pieces of history in town will celebrate 160 years in the same location today — Church of the Covenant Episcopal Church.
“It is just so exciting,” Mother Doreen Rice said. “The first church in Junction City, oldest church in Junction City. The first sermon ever preached in Junction City was by Episcopal priest.”
Built in 1859 with funds raised by Fort Riley officers and Chaplin David Clarkson, the first post chaplain at Fort Riley the building is built from the native limestone hand cut by laborers and masons of the time. One of the limestone’s, by the north door, even has the initials of one of the workers carved into it.
Construction difficulties occurred as the building was being raised, with the roof collapsing twice with the Civil War halting finishing the repairs needed.
Except for some additional room being added to the main sanctuary and Guild Hall — classrooms, offices and gathering place — the building has remained unchanged as time passed by.
As many “western” churches were in the 1800s, St. John’s as it was originally called was set up to spread the word of God to those settlers and as a mission to the Indian tribes.
In 1866, Church of the Covenant in Philadelphia, Penn., sent donations collected to help the small church along with several items that can still be seen today. In response, St. John’s changed to Church of the Covenant out of respect for their benefactors in the east.
“We were all missions in those days, here in the west,” Deacon Rex Matney said. So, we were mission churches, and they were supported by big churches in the east.”
“And because of their money, we renamed this church,” Rice said.
With a connection to Junction City, and Fort Riley, the church has had several well-known people worship there and hold roles of responsibility in the church.
Those names include: Col. James McClure; James M. Harvey, fourth Governor of Kansas; Roy Eisenhower, Junction City pharmacist and brother of President Dwight D. Eisenhower; Gen. George S. Patton; Gen. Jonathan M. Wainwright and Brig. Gen. Andrew Seitz.
The connection to the military and Fort Riley is still strong today, Rice said.
“This church continues to be, we call ourselves Fort Riley’s Episcopal Church,” she said. “I mean, we continue to have soldiers and their families here. It’s a church that is use to having soldiers here. So the second they arrive, we wrap them in arms of love, because we know they’re all going to be here for a couple of years. You know, it’s just they jump right in, We jump right in with them. They’re part of the family immediately.”
This Sunday, the service will turn back the clock and be delivered in the same tone and use some of the same verbiage used in 1859, Rice said.
“It is going to be fun,” she said. “I mean, first of all, all Elizabethan English, you know, thou hath the peace of God, which passeth, all understanding. And it’s hardcore. I mean, they did not mince words in 1859, about how sinful humanity was, and you better be in church, or you’re not going to be saved.
“We also will be wearing different vestments, then what we usually wear will be wearing what’s called a cassock, which is a long black rob with a white top over it,” she added. “That’s what they would have worn, we wear different things now. The biggest difference is that there’s a female priest. The Episcopal Church didn’t ordain women to 1974. So having a female voice in 1859, would not have happened.”
After the service, the congregation will gather for lunch to continue the celebration.