The Kings have been attending Mass at Visitation for 30 years. The couple were married in its sanctuary in 1969, and they officially joined the venerable Brookside parish in 1974. Their three kids went to grade school there before going on to Rockhurst. One of those kids married his wife at Visitation in January 1999. Shayla was a Eucharistic minister, serving communion to her fellow parishioners for 20 years. For the past decade, Steve sang in the choir.
The family always planned its holiday celebrations around midnight Mass, Steve King says. "We'd always open with 30 minutes of Christmas music before the service. Some of it was the choir only, and some of it was the whole congregation. Visitation would always hire strings and brass and timpani, and, at some point, if you didn't have the goose bumps, you knew you were going to get them soon."
This season, though, the Kings are new members of Country Club Congregational United Church of Christ, off Brookside Boulevard at 65th Street. The small white building with the Christmas-card steeple looks like something Norman Rockwell would have painted. The story of how the Kings ended up there, though, feels like a sad tale of how twisted things have become in the last year, culminating on November 2.
The Kings are private people, and they have reservations about telling their story. After all, they're not trying to provoke anyone.
It's just that they were provoked. And, Steve King says, "When provoked, I normally respond."
Last spring, King grew concerned over national news about how some bishops on the East Coast and in Colorado Springs were talking about denying communion to pro-choice candidates. In May, he sent a letter to Bishop Raymond Boland, head of the Diocese of Kansas City and St. Joseph.
His letter expressed a prayer: that Boland resist telling area Catholics how they must vote in order to remain in communion with the church. "When we employ litmus testing, we are nothing more than the results of that testing," King wrote. "The politicians will take advantage of us ... to the detriment of our real message."
King, a lawyer who runs a small Westport practice, made himself clear. "To my way of thinking, voting is never sinful and cannot be made so by word on high -- whether from Colorado Springs, Kansas City, Boston or even Rome."
He shared the letter with Visitation's priest, Father Norman Rotert, and a small circle of confidants. But he heard nothing back from Boland. When pledge time came, King wrote a second letter. "I wasn't going to make a pledge to the church or the diocese for this year because I hadn't heard a response," King says. "I wanted to make sure that he had my address and phone numbers."
While King spent the summer marking Boland's silence, bishops around the country weighed in on the morality of John Kerry's stand on abortion, as well as gay marriage and stem-cell research.
Boland finally wrote a letter, but it wasn't to Steve King. In early October, he and the diocese's bishop-in-waiting, Robert W. Finn, issued their "Pastoral Letter on Election 2004."
The two-page, single-spaced missive claimed that the Catholic Church in the United States had never endorsed political candidates and wasn't doing so now. It did, however, remind readers "to vote as faithful Catholics," regardless of political parties.
Ominously, the bishops warned: "The Christian who shirks his temporal duties shirks his duties toward his neighbor, neglects God Himself, and endangers his eternal salvation."