STURGEON — Fewer than 900 residents make up the central Missouri town of Sturgeon. A series of portraits capture everyday life for a glimpse into small-town America.
Elinor Russell has attended Sturgeon United Methodist Church since 1962. "I stopped teaching the Sunday school when the children grew up and no ones came along to take their place," she says from her living room near Clark, 5 miles from church. "The community has just gone with the times. That's a crazy way to say it I guess." Russell uses a walker, and because the chairlift to the basement of the church is broken, the congregation has decided to hold after-service socials in the sanctuary until they raise the money for repairs.
Nick Burton parks next to his stepfather's grave at Mount Horeb Cemetery on March 19. Burton sometimes makes the drive from Moberly to Sturgeon is to pay his respects. "Around here, we do regular redneck stuff; we've got horses; we've got four-wheelers," Burton says. After high school, Burton hopes to either work on a family farm or go to vocational school to learn how to work on heavy machinery.
Cheyenne Stauffacher, 11, rides bikes with her brother Scott on North Ogden Street in downtown Sturgeon. "It's small and kind of boring here, but I guess I don't mind. There's not a lot of traffic when I ride my bike downtown."
William Ellington, 16, walks home from Sturgeon High School's baseball practice. Ellington is a sophomore in high school and isn't sure where he will end up after graduation. If he goes to college, he says, it might be impossible for him to commute from Sturgeon. He's figured out it would cost about the same to stay in the residence halls at MU or another area college as it would in commuting costs. "It's small here," Ellington says when he thinks about life after college. "If I come back, there's a lot of the people you can be around, and a lot of the people you can't. I don't know what I'll do yet."
Randy McGrath, 15, stands in his front yard in Sturgeon. McGrath has lived in town since he was 2 years old. McGrath, who went to church in Sturgeon for three months after friends prodded him to give Christianity a chance, says he eventually decided the church wasn't for him. "I don't like talking to people about my problems. There are certain things in my life that I don't talk to anyone about, and those things I talk to Satan about. There's people who gets their kids taken away, their kids die in their stomach, no one can stop it. Something must be causing it. I see what we're living on now as hell. This must be hell because there's those things we can't explain."
H.C. Russell was an usher for the first time when he was 12 years old. With no children at the Sturgeon United Methodist Church, he continues to use the candle lighters every Sunday. "When I was a kid, lighting the candles was a big deal. We saw it as something important because you were contributing to the church," he says.
Faith in the balance
Sturgeon was home to seven small churches two decades ago. Now, there are only three, and two of those have seen declining attendance among younger people. Read more about the uncertain future of pastor Mike Will's two small churches.
Supervising editor is Brian Kratzer.