Hymn Stories

Image courtesy wesleyanbooks.com

Image courtesy wesleyanbooks.com

By Christopher Zoukis

The stone is red with polyps of purple.  Rough edges contrast with the polished, glass-like front where the name is engraved.  Above the name, floating surreally, two hands posed in prayer indicate that below lies a person of faith.  Below the name are the dates:  September 4, 1912 is the day of birth.  May 24, 1992 is the day of death.

Under the dates is a quotation:  “Go ye into all the world.”  Mark 16:5.  Now we know the faith of the person was of the Christian persuasion, and probably a conservative sect because of the King James English of the quote. 

The grave sits among perhaps sixty to seventy others, inside a private cemetery, surrounded by a low chain link fence, towered over by tall pine trees which guard the perimeter.  Unruly green grass needs mowing, and the ambience is demurely antique.  It feels old and pure and smells of virtue and whispers of piety.  That’s the word, pious.  There’s a pious flavor to the place, like a drop of sunlight mixed with honest sweat and sweetened with holy love. 

A feisty breeze rustles here and there, gusting and dusting between the stones of this garden of the dead. 

This is Belleview Cemetery located in Westminster, Colorado.  Westminster fulfills its name, for it ministers as the western suburb of Denver.  And right in the middle of it is a hill.  And on the hill sits Belleview College and Bible Seminary, and a radio station.  The call letters of the station are KPOF, 90.1 on your radio dial.  Next to the main college building, which looks like an English castle, sits the cemetery.  Huge red stones form the main building and its bell tower. 

It’s all private, members only.  It belongs to the Pillar of Fire Church. 

The name on the gravestone is Wilbur S. Konkel.  If you’re a precise kind of person, you prefer his full title:  Bishop Wilbur S. Konkel, Doctor of Divinity.

 _____

Born and raised in southern Colorado, some small farm town.  After high school he went to the University of Denver, where he studied pre-law.  Somewhere in there he got religion and transferred to Belleview College.  There he felt called to the ministry.  So he traveled to Zarephath, New Jersey and attended Belleview’s sister-college – Alma White College, which is named after the woman who founded the college and the whole Pillar of Fire Church.

Wilbur received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Alma White College and, at the same time, received a degree from the Alma White Seminary.  Then he was ordained a minister, and assigned to Hendon, London in Great Britain.  At Hendon he ran the Pillar of Fire Mission.  While preaching and converting pagan English souls to Christianity, he managed to take a degree in Education at Christ College, Oxford University.

At Oxford University one of his professors was C.S. Lewis, the famous religious writer.  In another more vain man, it might be considered spiritual name-dropping, a kind of braggadocio, but not in Bishop Konkel.  He used the story of C.S. Lewis as a way to expose that mystery of God called grace.