In 1956 the Northern District Conference of the General Conference Mennonite Church comprised 31 congregations located in Montana, North and South Dakota, Minnesota, and Nebraska. The first impetus to organize the handful of congregations in these states into a conference was given by J. B. Baer, the traveling home missionary for the General Conference, who persuaded Elder Gerhard Neufeld of the First Mennonite Church of Mountain Lake, Minnesota, to allow a "trial conference" to be held in his church on 12-13 October 1891. Representatives came from at least eight of the churches in the northern area along with guests from other district conferences. Discussion at the conference centered on mission and publication work. Baer served as chairman of the conference while Christian Schowalter, of the Donnelson, Iowa, church, served as secretary. Although a second conference was held the following year, it was not until the third conference session held in South Dakota in 1894, that a committee of three was appointed to draw up a constitution. The ministers J. J. Balzer, Jacob Hege, and Christian Mueller, who were appointed to this committee, presented a document for adoption at the conference held at Mountain Lake in 1895.
The first constitution was, of course, in German. It was translated into English some years later and revised in 1951. In form and scope of organization the Northern District followed the pattern of the General Conference. It believed "in the congregational form of church government, whereby the local church retains maximum freedom of self-determination. It is a deliberative body carrying powers of recommendation but not of legislation." In matters of faith and practice the Northern District Conference ha accepted the Statement of Doctrine adopted by the General Conference in 1941. The constitution established the following purpose of the conference: "To unite into one conference all Mennonite congregations not already in another district conference and who desire to affiliate themselves with this conference, in the states of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Montana. To promote the growth and expansion of the kingdom of God: (a) by establishing one another through mutual instruction and admonition from the Word of God; (b) by the exercise of Christian fellowship among the churches; (c) by co-operation with the work undertaken by the various boards of the General Conference Mennonite Church." Through the years there has been a strong mission emphasis in the Conference. The pioneer General Conference missionaries to India and China came from this district: the P. A. Penners to India, the H. J. Browns and Aganetha Fast to China.
While the Conference sponsored no schools, congregations in various communities did so. The congregations in the Mountain Lake, MN, area established Mountain Lake Bible School; in the Freeman, South Dakota, area the congregations founded Freeman Academy—later Freeman Junior College; in the Munich, North Dakota, and Lustre, Montana, areas Bible schools were also established. This was also true at Henderson, Nebraska, although the Bible school there has become extinct.
The first statistical report (1908) listed 14 congregations with a membership of 1,467; two of these were in Nebraska, three in North Dakota, four in Minnesota, and five in South Dakota. The 1956 Conference Report listed a total of 32 congregations with a combined membership of 6,150 members. Contributions made by these congregations totaled $583,044. The congregations also reported 85 young men in I-W service, 28 in noncombatant military service, and 53 in active military service. -- J. D. Unruh
The Northern District Conference had its beginning in Mountain Lake, Minnesota, at the First Mennonite Church, in 1891. After almost 100 years, the conference's 5,500 members still emphasized a program of encouragement, Christian education, and evangelism. In 1987 the district had churches in five states and the number of congregations had varied from 35 to 45. The largest congregation, Bethesda Mennonite of Henderson, Nebraska, had more than 1,000 members in 1987 and the smallest congregation, Sermon on the Mount in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, had 22 members.
Since 1950 most of the new congregations joined as a result of mission and outreach. Another characteristic of the congregations that joined in the 1970s and 1980s was that many belonged to two conferences. Among these were Faith Mennonite, Minneapolis, Minnesota (1956), Sermon on the Mount (1977), First Mennonite, Lincoln, Nebraska (1986), Casselton Mennonite, Casselton, North Dakota (1980), and White Chapel Mennonite, Glendive, Montana (1987). The first three were members of the Iowa-Nebraska Conference (MC) and the last two are members of the North Central Conference (MC) in addition to their membership in the Northern District Conference (GCM). This resulted in a number of joint district conference sessions beginning in 1988.
There was a real attempt to unite the churches through Swan Lake Camp in South Dakota and the camping programs of the Cheyenne churches in Montana. Conference members were also united through the ministry of "Choice Books," the monthly conference publication, Northern Light, a district youth minister, and a conference minister.
In 1987 missionaries and pastors were being called from the new urban churches as well as those established for many years.
From its founding, Freeman Junior College proved to be a vital witness linking district churches through Christian education. The junior college graduated its last class in 1986. Freeman Academy continued to offer classes for grades 7-12. In 1987 the 94th session of the Northern District Conference recognized Bethel College, Kansas, as the district's institution of higher learning.
Future plans included new congregations at Billings, Montana, St. Paul, Minnesota, and Fargo, North Dakota "New Call to Commitment" program of the General Conference Mennonite Church (1987) includes plans for a building to house a district center for peace and district offices, in addition to a continued vision for church planting. -- Ernest Neufeld
In 2001, following the restructuring of the Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church into Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada, the Northern District Conference merged with the Iowa-Nebraska Conference to form the Central Plains Mennonite Conference.
Handbook of Information, General Conference Mennonite Church. Newton, KS (1988): 114, 141-142, 149-50.
|Author(s)||J. D. Unruh|
Cite This Article
Unruh, J. D. and Ernest Neufeld. "Northern District Conference (General Conference Mennonite Church)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1988. Web. 30 May 2015. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Northern_District_Conference_(General_Conference_Mennonite_Church)&oldid=116861.
Unruh, J. D. and Ernest Neufeld. (1988). Northern District Conference (General Conference Mennonite Church). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 30 May 2015, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Northern_District_Conference_(General_Conference_Mennonite_Church)&oldid=116861.
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