Historic Martin City Church Endures on Sacred Ground
Pastor Continues Property’s Long and Winding Spiritual Journey.
Head east on 135th Street in Martin City and when you get to Holmes Road, instead of turning left or right, just keep going. 135th curves behind Jack Stack Barbecue where it becomes Charlotte Street. There, to your right, you will find a small church with a big story to tell.
“Our congregation has been here nearly ten years and the church itself goes much, much farther back,” says Pastor Darwin Neal of Anointed House of Glory. “It’s always been very special. And after everything that’s happened over the years, you can’t help but think it was just meant to be here.”
Under Pastor Neal’s leadership, the congregation inside the small church has swelled to well over a hundred. Before the pandemic took hold, you could see them crowd into services on a typical Sunday morning. White-collar and blue-collar, black and white, the wealthy and the homeless, all sitting side-by-side to participate in an experience that renews them in a way that’s difficult to describe and hard to resist.
“Our congregation looks like heaven!” says Pastor Neal, with a smile as warm as the sunshine on the day we visited. You can feel the goodness emanating from him even without the help of a handshake. “We have a few people who come from as far away as Olathe and North Kansas City. A gentleman from Wisconsin stopped by while passing through town once and now drives down occasionally to join us.”
Wisconsin? What could possibly be so appealing to justify a nine hour drive to church? Pastor Neal says the answer is simple. “You can feel God here. You leave our services feeling lifted, and there’s also the church itself. There’s much more to it than wood and paint. Believe me.”
Services that featured robust Sunday school teachings, moving spiritual messages, dancing and singing are now confined to video conference streams as the pandemic drags on. The conditions are especially hard for a Pastor who’s built a congregation around his own passion for praising in person.
“I can’t wait until we can get back together under the same roof. I always say that I’d rather talk to you than text you, and I’d rather see you than call you. I’m sure we’ll get back to that and I’m sure our congregation misses it too. We embrace worshipping inside our church with enthusiasm, from the way we pray and laugh to the way the music fills the air inside this historic church.”
Martin City businesses embrace Anointed House of Glory, too. The church may have a low profile but they can tell there’s something special going on in there and many want to help. Before the pandemic, local businesses including Jack Stack Barbecue and RC’s Restaurant routinely donated food and other support for Sunday services. When Midwest Heating Cooling & Plumbing heard about the church’s failing furnace, they helped replace it and came to the rescue again later when the water heater broke down.
Pastor Neal says his church is proof that Martin City is more than a neighborhood. “Martin City is a family. The businesses here are just wonderful. They look out for each other and take care of us and they want to see us thrive. We are just so grateful.”
On a Mission to Martin City
Darwin Neal has felt a calling to preach since he was a teenager. That’s about the time when his grandfather, an Olathe pastor, passed away. But it was a love of karate that initially won his young heart. He plunged himself into the study of martial arts and all the ways it develops skill and character. Neal was good at karate — very good. He traveled extensively, competing on the world stage in the early 1980s against some of the best fighters the sport has ever known. He still teaches martial arts to this day, but shifted his focus to ministry work in the early 1990s.
“I got married and purposely moved to a rough part of Kansas City as a youth minister to convince gang members to find a better path. I was in my early 20s and only a few years older than most of them. I would literally stand next to them on the street as they sold drugs, offering to teach them karate moves if they agreed to go to church. I’d spar with them to gain credibility. It worked, and earned their attention and their trust.”
Many of those young men followed his lead and even went to work with him. Neal owned a couple of large trucks contracted by moving companies. Dozens of gang members transitioned to church life and rewarding employment while moving families around the country. Some used the experience to go on and find other jobs, and build productive careers.
Neal felt like he was on the right track and making a difference until a moving accident in 2005 changed everything. “I suffered a head injury that left me with severe epilepsy,” recalls the pastor. “It was a long and terrible nightmare.”
Neal’s seizures happened multiple times a week and were extremely violent. Each one left him with amnesia. His ability to articulate and preach faded. He got to a point where even forming a sentence became a struggle. “For seven years I was slowly planning my funeral. I could tell that’s where things were headed. I just wasn’t myself and it was getting worse.”
But in the midst of so much darkness, Neal started to see some light. In 2012, a strong hunch that things were about to change came out of nowhere. He says even as he felt his body failing, his spirit appeared to come to life. “It was the strangest thing. I was at my lowest point but suddenly felt that God was preparing to heal me. I felt his presence and he was encouraging me to do more as a pastor, even in the physical state I was in! And he was pointing me to Martin City. To this day I have no idea why it was Martin City, I just know the message was clear.”
About the time Neal began thinking about the possibilities in Martin City, a doctor at the University of Kansas Hospital found a medication that amounted to a miracle. “It stopped the seizures. I mean it shut them down,” says Neal, eyes wide, still in apparent disbelief after all this time. “My abilities came back. I was me again. Somehow it all worked out and I got my life back.”
As he recovered, his first stop in Martin City was the old church at 135th & Charlotte. It sat empty but the owner had other plans and turned him away. So he settled for an abandoned house nearby. He began paying rent, making repairs, and converting the space for religious services.
When the property owner went into foreclosure, the bank sold the house and the two neighboring houses directly to Neal for a special price a humble pastor could afford. He used the two extra houses for storage while the third remained the site for worship. “There were just three pews. People stood on the porch, in the kitchen, and in the hallway during our services. We were doing good work and you could tell.”
It didn’t take long for the owner of the empty church at 135th & Charlotte to notice Neal’s determination and have a change of heart. He offered the entire church property to Neal and tailored the deal to fit his budget. Neal sold his houses and used the money to finalize the purchase.
When Anointed House of Glory moved in, a congregation found its permanent home and its pastor realized his dream. “We own it now. It’s ours and I can do what I was called to do,” says Pastor Neal, still overwhelmed by what it all means. “Anointed House of Glory is here to stay. Thank God for what we have in Martin City.”
A Special Place with a Long History
Pastor Darwin Neal’s lifelong journey to the church on the edge of Martin City is only part of the property’s fascinating story. When he put us in touch with Phil Freeman, we learned the rest.
Freeman lives in rural Georgia now, but he can still remember some of his most treasured childhood memories near the banks of the Blue River in Martin City. He was just a toddler when he began spending time with his grandparents at 135th & Charlotte.
“My grandfather bought 15 acres right there in 1944,” says Freeman, proud to talk about his Martin City roots. “I can still remember it clearly. Post office number 5 in Martin City, Missouri.” Yes, Martin City was still its own city back then before being annexed by Kansas City in the 1960s.
During the summer of 1946, Freeman’s parents were preparing to leave together for bible college in St. Louis and were temporarily staying with Freeman’s grandparents in Martin City. They had some time on their hands and decided to hold a revival. There was plenty of open space on the property and a handful of ministry friends jumped in to help, stringing up lights and setting up benches. The revival went on … and on, lasting six weeks and filling each night at 135th Street and Charlotte with prayer and song in a powerful, emotional display that converted newcomers and inspired dozens to baptism in the Blue River.
The revival also inspired Freeman’s grandfather into action. “He was fishing down at the Blue and just thinking about everything that had happened,” remembers Freeman with a nostalgic softness in his voice. “He was so moved by all the people and the joy of the whole experience, and decided to donate some of his land for construction of a church.”
But building the church at 135th and Charlotte quickly ran into problems. World War II was still going on and there were tight controls on access to lumber and other materials because military needs took priority. Local officials stopped construction just as it got underway, but an unknown guardian angel appealed to a higher power. Freeman says somehow word got all the way to Bess Truman at the White House, who apparently convinced President Harry Truman to step in. Construction of the church was suddenly back on track and lumber was ready to go.
For the next decade, the original church was filled with celebration and praise in a way Pastor Neal would be proud of today. But in 1957 it all came crashing down with the Ruskin Heights tornado that flattened nearly everything in the area. The church was completely leveled along with Phil Freeman’s grandfather’s house.
Freeman’s grandparents survived but lost almost everything in the tornado and moved away from Martin City, further north into Kansas City. But there was something about that church that parishioners just couldn’t abandon. So they rebuilt it. “They raised it again pretty much on the exact same footprint, just like the original,” says Freeman. “It was really something.”
A series of pastors passed through and kept the church going until the early 2000s. It then sat empty, apparently all the way up to that moment in 2012 when Pastor Neal took the keys and renewed the old building’s promise once again. Phil Freeman strongly believes the property is sacred and he’s relieved that it’s back in good hands.
“As a child, I visited my grandparents in Martin City again and again during breaks from school and Christmas,” explains Freeman. “So, of course, I have a deep emotional attachment to that property but I think many other people do too. You know there are places set aside for religious practice and worship, but there are other places that are just naturally spiritual and you can feel the presence of God. Places where miracles happen, where people are honestly healed in some way. I think this church is one of those places.”
Pastor Neal agrees with his friend. “It was built with enthusiasm that just kind of bubbled up on the spot back in 1946. And then it’s knocked down by a tornado and rises yet again on the spirit of determination. I feel like Anointed House of Glory continues a very special story that says so much about the people who have worshipped here and even the land itself.”
We agree, Pastor Neal, and we couldn’t be more grateful for the extraordinary persistence behind your story, your congregation’s story, and the story of a little church that’s overcome so much to raise Martin City a little closer to heaven. See a historical timeline showing the evolution of the church from 1946 to 2020 >>
*Special thanks to © Phil Freeman for his historical account and photos.
ANOINTED HOUSE OF GLORY
13483-13499 Charlotte Street,
Kansas City, MO 64146