First Mennonite Church (Mennonite Church USA), 566 W. Main St., Berne, Adams County, Indiana, was a member of the Middle District Conference (later Central District Conference). It had 1,320 members in 1953; in 2004 in had 1,118 members.
The background of the majority of the membership is Swiss from the Jura Mountains and the Emmental in the canton of Bern. The first settlers who came to this section were of the Preacher David Baumgartner family, who located in French Township in 1838. These started the Baumgartner church which united with the Berne church in 1886. Another group of 80 persons, mostly members of the Sprunger family or their relatives by marriage, left the Jura for America in 1852. They cleared trees and drained land around a spot where the town of Berne is now situated. These organized the Berne congregation with Peter S. Lehman as their leader.
In 1856 the Berne group began erecting the first church building, which was completed in 1860. The second meetinghouse was built in 1879, was remodeled in 1886 and again in 1899. The 1950s brick church was started in 1910 and dedicated in 1912, having a seating capacity of 2,000 in the main auditorium and balconies. The church owned a nine-room parsonage, built of brick matching the church. One third of the membership in the 1950s lived in the country and the remainder lived in town.
The Bernese Swiss dialect was still spoken in many homes in the 1950s. The church services were in English but there were three German Sunday-school classes at that time. The church did not observe feetwashing or separate seating for men and women. Members were disciplined if they did not live according to the Scriptures and rules of the church.
The Sunday school, which was organized in 1874, in 1952 had a membership of 1,483 and an average attendance of 1,152. The Christian Endeavor was organized in 1894. The Women's Missionary Society, organized in 1887, met once a month. The Girls' Junior and Intermediate Mission Bands also met monthly. The Christian Temperance Union had charge of the first Sunday evening service of every month. The church also had a library of almost a thousand books in 1952.
There has been a strong love for music in the Berne community and as early as 1875 singing schools were instituted with practices held in homes. Out of these grew the choir and choral society which began giving oratorios in 1890. In the early 1950s the church had several music groups—an adult choir, a young people's choir, a junior choir, and the Choral Society, which gave "The Creation" each June and "The Messiah" each December; also a Men's Chorus of considerable renown, which was organized in 1898, and a Ladies' Chorus organized in 1912.
There were two outstanding leaders in the church whose influence was still felt in the mid-20th century. Both were products of the local church and community. One was S. F. Sprunger, long-time pastor of the church. He fostered a real heart religion with a progressive outlook and promoted education, missions, and conference endeavors. The other was J. F. Lehman, an active layman, influential leader in the Sunday school, Temperance Society, Choral Society, and Christian Endeavor.
In the summer of 1886 a great revival took place in Berne. It was remarkable because there was no outside evangelist with special meetings, special music or publicity as was usually the case. Through the faithful teaching of S. F. Sprunger and the help of J. F. Lehman, a young woman found peace in Christ and soon the spirit spread from one to another until over a hundred persons were converted in about two months.
Ministers who served the Baumgartner congregation in the early days, prior to the merger, were as follows: David Baumgartner, Christian Baumgartner, Ulrich Kipfer, Matthias Strahm, Christian Augsburger, and S. F. Sprunger. Ministers who served the Berne congregation prior to the merger: Peter Lehman, Christian Sprunger, Peter Habegger, Peter M. Neuenschwander, and S. F. Sprunger. Pastors of both of the united churches follow: S. F. Sprunger, 1871-1903; J. W. Kliewer, 1903-1911; S. F. Sprunger (Interim), 1911-1913; P. R. Schroeder, 1912-1928; C. H. Suckau, 1928-1943; J. P. Suderman (Interim), 1944-1945; and Olin A. Krehbiel, 1945- .
Since the beginning of the church between 60 and 70 members of this congregation have at some time been engaged in various types of Christian service for a shorter or longer period. In 1952 there were 17 members engaged in foreign mission work and 11 in home mission work.
This congregation had entertained the General Conference Mennonite Church four times by 1950, the last time being in 1947, when over 1,400 delegates and visitors were in attendance.
In 1952 the church gave over $113,098.00 for local support, minister's salary, missions, relief, education, conference, and other causes.
Lehman, Naomi. Pilgrimage of a Congregation: First Mennonite Church, Berne, Indiana. Berne, IN: First Mennonite Church, 1982.
Sprunger, E. The First Hundred Years. Berne, IN: First Mennonite Church, 1938.
Thomas, Everett J. "Congregations Switch Membership." The Mennonite (1 September 2013). http://www.themennonite.org/issues/16-9/articles/Congregations_switch_membership.
First Mennonite Church website
Central District Conference (until 2009)
Mennonite Church USA
|Author(s)||Olin A Krehbiel|
Cite This Article
Krehbiel, Olin A. "First Mennonite Church (Berne, Indiana, USA)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 30 Jul 2014. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=First_Mennonite_Church_(Berne,_Indiana,_USA)&oldid=115692.
Krehbiel, Olin A. (1953). First Mennonite Church (Berne, Indiana, USA). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 30 July 2014, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=First_Mennonite_Church_(Berne,_Indiana,_USA)&oldid=115692.
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