Phil Anderson

phil anderson | FAITH AND VALUES

Phil Anderson has been covering the Topeka religious community since 1989. Always looking for a good story, Phil welcomes your ideas and suggestions.

Keeping the ties that bind

August 7, 2009

When he was a youngster growing up in Topeka during World War II, Bob McFarland spent many a Sunday evening attending services at a red brick church at 801 S.E. Wear in East Topeka.

That church, known then as Irving Place Chapel, was an outreach ministry of the Topeka Reformed Presbyterian Church, which McFarland attended and which, at the time, was meeting in its own building at 922 S.W. Clay.

McFarland said Irving Place Chapel had Sunday school programs, vacation Bible schools and Sunday evening services as a way to reach out to the East Topeka community

The Reformed Presbyterian Church sponsored the outreach ministry from 1910 — the year Irving Place Chapel was built — until 1944.

Since then, other congregations have occupied the former Irving Place Chapel building at S.E. 8th and Wear. At present, the building is home to East Eighth Street Missionary Baptist Church.

For the past year and a half, McFarland has come out of retirement to serve as interim pastor for the Topeka Reformed Presbyterian Church, which since 1995 has met at S.W. 33rd and Auburn Road.

When plans were being made for Founders’ Year programs marking the 120th anniversary of Topeka Reformed Presbyterian Church, McFarland thought of historical ties connecting the congregation to the church building in East Topeka.

At 6:30 p.m. Sunday, McFarland and members of the Topeka Reformed Presbyterian Church will gather once again in the church at S.E. 8th and Wear for a Founders’ Year service.

It will be the first time McFarland has preached in the church where he spent many evenings of his youth in the pews.

The Founders’ Year service already has helped connect Topeka Reformed Presbyterian Church with East Eighth Street Missionary Baptist Church. In June, the Rev. Joe Stokes, pastor of East Eighth Street Baptist Church, preached at Topeka Reformed Presbyterian Church.

McFarland will get to return the favor at Sunday night’s pulpit exchange at East Eighth Street Missionary Baptist Church.

He said East Eighth Street Missionary Baptist Church doesn’t usually have Sunday evening services. This made it easier to schedule the Founders’ Day service on Sunday night.

Topeka Reformed Presbyterian Church also had a Founders’ Year service earlier this year in the neighboring community of Eskridge.

McFarland said in the late 1880s, the town of Eskridge sent 18 people to help start the Topeka Reformed Presbyterian Church congregation.

About six months ago, he said, a Founders’ Year service was held at a former Reformed Presbyterian church building in Eskridge now used by a Baptist congregation. About 95 people turned out for the service, McFarland said.

Before retiring about 10 years ago, McFarland served as pastor of Topeka Reformed Presbyterian Church in the 1980s and ’90s, when the congregation had a building located in the northeast section of the Fairlawn Plaza Mall parking lot near S.W. 21st and Fairlawn.

McFarland said when the Topeka Reformed Presbyterian Church began searching for a new pastor in 2008, he received a call asking if he would be available to preach on Sundays when the church didn’t have a pastoral candidate leading the worship service.

McFarland agreed and most Sundays find him in the pulpit.

“It’s been going on about a year and a half,” he said. “We’re glad to be able to help.”

Phil Anderson can be reached at (785) 295-1195 or

Problem-solving taught at Peace Camp

July 31, 2009

Every summer since 1987, dozens of Topeka-area youths have attended a weeklong Peace Camp, where they have learned ways to resolve differences without resorting to yelling or fighting.

The goal is for the students to take what they learned at the camp and apply it in their personal lives — in their homes, schools and larger community — becoming agents of peace in the process.

This year’s 23rd annual Peace Camp was held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, 2021 S.W. 29th. The event was sponsored by the Topeka Center for Peace and Justice.

As it usually does, the message of living peacefully seemed to hit home with children who attended.

“We’re learning to be respectful and not bully,” said 10-year-old Mercedes Pickering, who will be a fifth-grader this fall at Williams Science and Fine Arts Magnet School. “We’re learning to have more peace in our life.”

Myshayda Blue, 8, who will be in third grade at Quinton Heights Elementary School, said campers were learning “how to be nice to each other.”

Peace Camp coordinator Kat Conoley said one of the biggest attributes of the weeklong event is that it teaches children how to solve problems on their own.

Campers this week were grouped in “tribes” of about 10 students each. The tribes were responsible not only for looking out for their individual members but also for making sure conflicts were resolved peacefully.

“I think it’s important for kids to learn to work together in groups and overcome differences,” Conoley said. “I like how they leave feeling empowered — that they can make things better.”

Bill Beachy, executive director of the Topeka Center for Peace and Justice, said in the past, he has heard from parents who indicated the camp made a difference in their children’s lives.

“We get feedback from parents,” Beachy said. “Some of them have said their kids have cut back on fighting.”

Beachy said youths also learn how to express themselves when attempting to resolve differences, and also learn the importance of working together for the common good.

About a third of the approximately 30 youths ages 6 to 13 at this week’s camp had attended the event in previous years. The other two-thirds were at the camp for the first time.

The theme of this year’s camp was “How to Save the World.” Students focused on different themes each day, including ecology, being kind to others and individual problem solving.

The camp originated more than two decades ago at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Topeka. It later moved to Southern Hills Mennonite Church.

In the early 1990s, the Topeka Center for Peace and Justice took over organization of the camp and has been running it ever since.

The camp was held in the past at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, but for a few years moved to Washburn University. It moved back to Our Savior’s Lutheran Church this year.

Beachy said when it became evident Washburn University wouldn’t be available and the camp would require a new home this year, he mentioned the need at a Mainstream Voices of Faith group meeting. Several ministers volunteered their houses of worship at the same meeting.

As the camp covers about nine hours a day, students need a hearty lunch. Beachy said G’s Catering of Topeka, owned by George and Sharon Kearse, donated meals for campers and adult volunteers each day.

Monday’s meal, which Beachy enjoyed with the youths, was a hit, he said: macaroni and cheese with ham, green beans and sliced pears.

Beachy noted macaroni and cheese may be the all-time favorite lunch for most youngsters.

Something about it helps keep the kids happy, another ingredient for a successful Peace Camp.

Phil Anderson can be reached at (785) 295-1195 or

Laughing for the Lord

July 9, 2009

If you have a name like Bone Hampton, chances are pretty good you make your livelihood by being a comedian.

Hampton, a Fort Worth, Texas, native, is one of the few comedians out there today who won’t tell dirty jokes, won’t curse and won’t say things that are borderline repulsive.

Yet he says he is able to play all the major clubs that other, better-known comics work.

Hampton will bring his stand-up comedy tonight to Worlds of Fun in Kansas City, Mo., as master of ceremonies for the JoyFest gospel concert.

Performers will include: 6:10 p.m. — Crystal Aiken; 6:45 p.m. — James Fortune; 7:50 p.m. — Ty Tribbette; and 9:20 p.m. — Kirk Franklin.

Though he could be described as a clean-cut comic, Hampton has found himself plenty busy.

He’ll be in the movie “All About Steve,” starring Sandra Bullock, when it releases this fall. He also has appeared in “My Name is Earl” and has been on an Adam Sandler pilot.

His mentor, he says, is Steve Harvey, who once encouraged him not to give up after he was booed off a stage in Dallas.

The role of a comic, Hampton says, is to talk about things that people are thinking, but probably wouldn’t dare say out loud.

Hampton says he can use his material in any venue, which enables him to play both Christian and secular clubs.

Many of his counterparts in the world of comedy wouldn’t be able to coax a laugh out of an audience without saying something that was off-color, thereby limiting their ability to play in some venues.

Hampton, whose real first name is Vernard, says making people laugh is a gift from God and one he intends to use, even though he navigates territory that more often than not is R- or X-rated.

Hampton said God has let him know it is OK to be in the entertainment business while maintaining Christian values: “God says, I gave you a gift — y’all figure out a way to stir up that gift and give me glory.”

Hampton said God doesn’t want to “handcuff” him, but does give him some boundaries. Hampton’s job, he says, is to figure out a way to make people laugh while staying within the parameters God has given him.

There are times when God will get Hampton’s attention and bring him back on track, if he begins to stray ever so slightly, he said: “I hear him that clear — ‘Bone, just what are you doing?’ I’ll say, ‘I was just going to go over there...’ ‘No you’re not — get back over here.’”

Hampton said it takes a little more work and creativity to make people laugh without resorting to swearing or telling offensive jokes, he said.

But the results are so much more satisfying.

Something else Hampton doesn’t do: tag himself as a Christian comedian.

Besides being a sure way to get doors closed, it puts him into a box.

His job, he says, is to “bring it” every night he’s on stage, being funny enough that people will laugh, and that his comedy will stand on its own merits.

Visit for more information about today’s event.

Phil Anderson can be reached at (785) 295-1195 or

Message from St. Francis

July 2, 2009

It’s always sad when the misguided words or actions of an isolated individual are associated with members of a larger group.

This happens time and again in the world of religion, where one person may say or do something completely off track but that nonetheless is projected onto others in the same group.

Whether such associations are fair or justified doesn’t matter. The damage has been done.

Over time, some religious groups have racked up so many chinks in their armor that their reputations have been shot. They become little more than annoyances to the larger society around them.

It’s no wonder why so many folks have given up on organized religion or have distanced themselves from it.

And yet, in spite of the ill-chosen actions of a few, most religions continue to be characterized by folks who are honorable, sincere and compassionate.

I’ve reached the point where I don’t expect perfection from any particular group, religious or otherwise. Most groups will have their human foils at some point in time.

I’ve found a better strategy is to look inside my own life at what needs to be fixed before pointing my finger at others.

Lord knows I’ve made enough mistakes for several lifetimes and can lay no claim to perfection. Which means I have little business pointing out the transgressions of others.

Beyond the Scriptures, I look to the words of some of the sages that have stood the test of time.

Perhaps no one has more to say on the importance of looking inward than St. Francis of Assisi.

Born into a wealthy family in 1182 in Italy, St. Francis gave up his worldly riches to follow God. If he were alive today, folks probably would think him foolish.

Yet his words still ring true nearly 800 years after he spoke them.

When I read statements attributed to St. Francis, I am filled with hope and reminded not to become discouraged by what is going on around me but to set my sights on things that are unseen, regardless of what critics may say.

St. Francis’ words are a reminder that in spite of the failings of others — and ourselves — God isn’t finished with us yet.

“I have been all things unholy,” St. Francis is quoted as saying. “If God can work through me, he can work through anyone.”

One of my favorite St. Francis quotes is “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”

Of course, his most famous words are found in his prayer:

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

“O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.

“For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

Though spoken centuries ago, St. Francis’ words serve to put things in perspective and are a reminder that taking responsibility for our own spiritual condition is a full-time job.

Phil Anderson can be reached at (785) 295-1195 or

Sheldon's poetry available to all

June 26, 2009

When she moved to Topeka a few years ago from her home near Spokane, Wash., Heidi Hunt admits, she had never heard of the Rev. Charles Sheldon of “What Would Jesus Do?” fame.

“I’d heard of ‘WWJD?’, of course,” Hunt said. “Everybody’s heard of that. But I had no idea it started here.”

That changed soon after she joined Central Congregational United Church of Christ, 1248 S.W. Buchanan.

Hunt found out it was Sheldon who was behind the oft-used phrase, which he coined in his best-selling novel “In His Steps,” first published in 1896.

She also learned Sheldon was one of the most famous ministers of his time, known worldwide for championing a social gospel message while serving two stints as pastor of Central Congregational church for about 30 years, from the late 1800s to early 1900s.

At 3 p.m. Sunday, Hunt and other church members will debut a new book featuring a previously unpublished collection of 70 poems written by Sheldon while he served the congregation.

The book, which has 146 pages, is titled “Communion Hymn Poems by Rev. Charles M. Sheldon, 1890-1917.”

Hunt said she stumbled upon the poems after joining the church and quickly became fascinated by them.

“In an alcove section in the sanctuary, I noticed the Charles Sheldon section hadn’t been touched in months,” Hunt said. “So I started to clean it up.”

In the process of straightening the collection of Sheldon memorabilia, she ran across a collection of poems the pastor had penned for use during communion services the first Sunday of each month.

The poems, which dated to the early 1890s, were to be sung to the tune of familiar songs in the Pilgrim Hymnal, which the church used.

Some of Sheldon’s poems that Hunt found were published as bulletin inserts. Others were hand-written on paper that practically crumbled in her hands, she said.

The writings were placed in acid-free scrapbooks, where they are now preserved.

But Hunt wasn’t finished. The poems in the scrapbooks would be seen by only a few people,

So Hunt launched a plan to publish the poems in book form as a fundraiser for the church.

Soon, others in the church joined in the effort.

The poems were transferred to a computer by church secretary Janet Nyfeler.

Mark Ralston, another church member and art teacher, contributed a drawing for the book’s cover.

The book, which includes a foreword by Garrett Sheldon, great-grandson of the Rev. Charles Sheldon, has been printed and will be available for purchase at Sunday afternoon’s event for $15.

Hunt, an editor at Topeka-based Mother Earth News, said she had a sense of satisfaction in not only preserving some of Sheldon’s work but also sharing them with others in the Topeka community.

The poetry book’s release coincides with the 120th anniversary of Sheldon’s first sermon at the church, which he preached in June 1889.

Sheldon continues to be best known for “In His Steps” and the “WWJD?” phrase, which was popularized on wrist bands in the late 1990s.

Because the church publication in which “In His Steps” first appeared wasn’t copyrighted, the novel was in the public domain. It has remained in continuous publication for more than 100 years.

In spite of upwards of 30 million copies being published in dozens of languages, Sheldon and his heirs didn’t receive royalties from book sales.

Accumulating wealth, however, never was a priority for Sheldon, who would dress in old clothing and mingle among the downtrodden in Topeka to get a better feel of their plight.

His family recalled how Sheldon would give away his last dime to a stranger in need.

“He wasn’t arrogant in any way,” Hunt said. “He was very humble.”

Central Congregational Church pastor the Rev. Sherry Triggs said she has found out more about Sheldon since coming to the congregation about four years ago.

The new book, she said, is different from any of the others that have been written by — or about — Sheldon to date, she said.

“It’s so unique,” Triggs said. “Of all the things that Charles Sheldon wrote and that people wrote about him, this is a very unique publication.”

Phil Anderson can be reached at (785) 295-1195 or

A new book featuring 70 previously unpublished poems by the Rev. Charles M. Sheldon will be featured at a program at 3 p.m. Sunday June 28 at Central Congregational United Church of Christ, 1248 S.W. Buchanan. The program will include music and poetry reading with historical information on Sheldon. An ice cream social will follow the program. Donations will be accepted.

Patton far from forgotten

June 17, 2009

Until she died at age 80 this past November on the day after Thanksgiving, Elaine Patton was the face of the Dovetail Shoppe, 1196 S.W. Washburn.

“There was nothing she didn’t do there,” said Dawn Strecker, associate director of Doorstep, a social service agency supported by more than 50 interfaith congregations. “The Dovetail Shoppe was her idea. She even came up with the name for it.”

The Dovetail Shoppe, which is run by Doorstep, is a kind of thrift store where practically anything and everything can be found — including the proverbial kitchen sink on occasion.

It was founded in 1994 in part as a money-maker for Doorstep but more so as a way to help people in the community find clothing, appliances and household items at bargain-basement prices.

“There are no set prices,” Strecker said. “You give a goodwill donation for what you find that you’re in need of — clothes, household items, dishes, pots and pans, couches, tables, beds.

“Everything is in there. It’s crazy.”

Patton, who began volunteering at Doorstep in 1968, ran the store from top to bottom. She was in charge of items that came in and how they were processed before being placed on the floor.

An unpaid volunteers, she spent countless hours at Doorstep, right up until she died.

Strecker said while some of Doorstep’s workers noticed Patton had seemed a little more frail, her death caught everyone off guard.

The shop was open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

The Dovetail Shoppe remained open for several weeks after Patton died, but Doorstep had to shut it down before Christmas.

There were too many Christmas-related tasks that had to be attended to, and no one to carry on with the many duties Patton had done so long and so well at the Dovetail Shoppe.

After the first of the year, the Dovetail Shoppe remained closed.

Strecker said Doorstep searched for two or three people to do what Patton had done. Finally, Doorstep found someone to manage the shop.

Amazingly, Strecker said, Patton also was heavily involved in other organizations in the Topeka area, including Trinity Lutheran Church, Mother to Mother of Shawnee County, the Topeka Literacy Council and the CROP Walk.

She was honored on several occasions for her community service, including with the Romana Hood Award from Community Resources Council and the United Way of Greater Topeka Volunteer of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award.

Starting Thursday, the Dovetail Shoppe will be open again at its previous hours.

Before it resumes taking customers, the Dovetail Shoppe will honor Patton for her years of service.

Earlier this week, Strecker was searching for a motto to place on the plaque that would capture Patton’s generous spirit.

“She was a servant,” Strecker said. “She just did it.

“You know what they say about actions speaking louder than words? Elaine lived that completely, giving of herself to everything she believed in.”

Phil Anderson can be reached at (785) 295-1195 or

It's time to breathe deeply

June 15, 2009

With summer right around the corner, visions of sipping lemonade in the shade are becoming more prevalent in my mind's eye.

Is it the lemonade I'm after, or just the chance to sit still for a few blissful moments?

Both have their merits, especially at the end of another long day.

Whoever came up with lemonade must have subscribed to the old adage that you have to take the bitter with the sweet.

I'm not sure I could handle unsweetened lemonade. But sweetened? That's another story.

Sitting quietly has lots of merits, of course, and many of them are of a spiritual nature.

In the Book of Psalms, we're reminded to "be still, and know that I am God."

People today don't seem to sit still enough. Not like when I was a kid, anyway. I remember people on their front porches on summer evenings. Guess what they were doing? You guessed it — sitting.

Nothing more, nothing less.

They didn't seem to be in a hurry to do anything. No wonder time seemed to go by so much slower in those days.

Now, our lives are cut up into 30-minute or 60-minute or two-hour increments, based on the length of time our favorite television program takes up.

That isn't an issue, of course, when the TV is turned off.

It's always surprising what comes to mind when everything has been cleared off the table.

When the cell phone is turned off. When there are no to-do lists — nothing to check off, nothing I've got to tell my wife or kids.

At such a time, anything can come to mind.

Some of my Buddhist friends talk about the practice of emptying the mind. I've tried it on occasion and it is harder than it sounds.

Once, when visiting my brother in Santa Barbara, Calif., I sat on a beach watching the sunset, trying consciously to empty my mind.

After about 5 seconds, a thousand thoughts came flooding into my mind, like water racing through a dam that had been breached.

I've about given up on sitting down and clearing my mind, but would like to hear that "still, small voice" inside of me.

Not hearing that voice is a problem. Maybe that's why I feel a bit off-center at times.

I'm going through life, all right, but most of it is a blur. The peace is missing, and I cover it up and compensate for it by being busier.

Doing more things, of course, doesn't constitute a successful life. Certainly not a well-lived one.

At the end of the day, all we have is what's inside us. Far too often, I find, there doesn't seem to be much there. Or, if there is, it's buried so deep I can't seem to find it.

I'll be looking for a nice, plump lemon in the produce department of my neighborhood grocer this weekend.

I'll try to squeeze all the juice there is and then some out of that lemon. Then, as I usually do, I'll chew on what's left of it, enjoying the zing of its bitter essence.

After that, I'll make some homemade lemonade and find myself a seat in the shade.

Like people did years ago, I might just sit there for a while, taking care of the important but frequently neglected business of relaxing and opening myself to anything God might put in my mind.

Phil Anderson can be reached at (785) 295-1195 or

Monday a day to remember

May 22, 2009

I'm not sure where all those Memorial Days from my youth went, but their memories are as gentle as a cool breeze on a May evening.

My dad would work a short morning shift at the newspaper, where he was a printer. The papers rolled off the presses earlier on Memorial Day, allowing workers to go home and spend the afternoon and evening with their families.

While my dad was working, Mom would have fried chicken going in an iron skillet on the stove, along with several side dishes she was making — baked beans and scalloped potatoes come to mind.

Our street near Central Park was nearly empty and noticeably quieter than most Mondays each Memorial Day. Everyone seemed to be sleeping in, or at least hadn't ventured out of their houses.

Another thing: It seemed like it was always raining on Memorial Day morning, but that it would let up by noon, allowing us to travel to Osage City for our annual family get-together.

My mom would put the friend chicken in a container, then wrap newspapers around it to keep it hot. Same with the baked beans. The containers were put in a large cardboard box to keep them from spilling on our 40-mile journey.

I remember the aroma from the food that permeated the car and how delicious it all smelled.

Relatives from all over Kansas would be at our get-together, many after having visited the grave sites of family members and ancestors who had gone on before us.

Though it was instituted as a holiday to remember Union soldiers who died in the Civil War, Memorial Day was expanded after World War I to honor all military men and women who paid the supreme sacrifice in defending the United States.

For our family, Memorial Day was a time set aside to gather with relatives over lots of food, visitation and relaxation.

Our family's Memorial Day tradition faded in the 1980s after some relatives passed away but was revived in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Then, it seemed, it faded away again. Relatives moved away. Families became busy with their children's activities. And another Memorial Day came and went.

Some folks say there is a silver lining to just about everything, and I'm wondering if the current trials and tribulations we face individually and collectively might serve to revive some of the traditions from days gone by — in particular, the idea of getting together with family members at least once a year.

I'm hoping for a return to the Memorial Days of my youth, which seemed to go by so much more leisurely and slowly and were filled with so much connectedness to family members and relatives.

Yes, Memorial Day is a time to remember the sacrifices of those in the military who laid down their lives for the rest of us. To them, we owe a debt of unspeakable gratitude.

It also remains a time to pay tribute and honor to our own family members who have died and left us with a legacy of love, not to mention faith and hope.

Perhaps most importantly, however, Memorial Day gives us another chance to slow down and take stock of what we have been given through our families, and what we now must pass along to younger generations.

Phil Anderson can be reached at (785) 295-1195 or