It was in 1876 that Spiritualism was first introduced to Ottawa County by a group who had moved to Kansas, the Sunflower State, from Lake Winnebago, Wisconsin. Local residents gathered in a home of a local Quaker resident to hear and witness the Spiritualist message. Within just a short period of time, the meetings outgrew the space and moved to a picnic area in Lindsey Creek where the budding community took on the name Universal Church which is believed to be the earliest religious organization in the area.
Within a year, the new Spiritualist group had established a permanent location in Delphos, Kansas. Word spread quickly as the Universal Church grew to over 100 active members. They went through several name changes over the next few years advertising Spiritualist Camp Meetings as Solomon Valley Spiritualist, Pleasant Valley Spiritualist and the Delphos Spiritualist Society. Membership continued to grow and Spiritualism in this Central Kansas County had taken its place with other religious groups.
Emma Hardinge Britten, an early Spiritualist pioneer, noted an upcoming Camp Meeting in Delphos in her newsletter “1880 Spiritual Camp Meetings.” The listing read “The 5th Annual Solomon Valley Spiritualist Camp Meeting will be held under the direction of the Delphos Society at Delphos, Ottawa County, Kansas, from September 22nd to October 1st inclusive.” The activities of a growing Spiritualist community nestled in Central Kansas had caught the attention of a National Spiritualist Leader.
The group’s name had been settled and they were to be known as ‘The First Association of Spiritualists of Delphos, Ottawa County, Kansas.’ The original charter was issued by the State of Kansas in 1881. The group flourished and continued to grow well into the early 1900’s. Spiritualist Camps at Delphos had an almost carnival like atmosphere. Attractions included public demonstrations of mediumship, bazaars, ice cream socials, plays, ladies’ teas and formal dinners. There was even a special train which brought people in from the nearest city, Salina.
In 1934, land was purchased to begin construction on a permanent church building and the organization moved from Delphos to Wells, about 20 miles. A more traditional church facility was desired since Spiritualism was struggling to be recognized as a serious religious movement. The church took the name Sunset Spiritualist Church after moving to Wells because of the spectacular sunsets produced by the rolling hills surrounding the property. Two early church buildings were destroyed by fire and by a natural disaster, but in 1966 the cornerstone to the church building, which stands today, was completed.
Many Spiritualist organizations have lost membership over the past decades but Sunset Spiritualist Church is defying that trend. Membership is up as well as attendance at weekly church services. Much of this growth has been accomplished by an active Board of Trustees who wants to continue to spark interest in Spiritualism. The Trustees have embraced new technologies as a way to reach out to church members. The church has managed a website for over 12 years. They also use Facebook and other social media to help people keep up to date with upcoming church events.
10 years ago the church expanded its offerings from only Sunday Services and an Annual Camp Meeting to events nearly year round. The church features a weekly development circle, a twice-yearly Body, Mind & Spirit Festival and weekend classes in everything from developing life skills to becoming a better Spirit Medium.
A group of 4 ordained ministers and enthusiastic members share the responsibilities of speaking from the pulpit for Sunday Services. As a part of each Sunday gathering, there is a message service in which anyone wishing to share messages is allowed to stand and share. Each service is preceded by Adult Sunday School at 10 am.
Sunset Spiritualist Church and Camp is a thriving community in the heart of Central Kansas. In additional to the Church building dedicated in 1966, there is a séance building, a newly constructed central bathhouse (2010), 20 on-site cabins, church offices and a newly remodeled snack bar (2014). This past year (2014) Sunset Spiritualist Church & Camp celebrated its 80th Annual Camp Meeting since moving to Wells.
Members like to say that ‘Sunset Spiritualist Church & Camp is in the middle of nowhere, literally.’ But should you find yourself in the area, take the time to visit this historic church which has been teaching the truths of Spiritualism for over 133 years and will continue on its mission into the future.