Oak Grove Mennonite Church (Smithville, Wayne County, Ohio, USA)
Oak Grove Mennonite Church (Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite), located near Smithville, Wayne County, Ohio, is probably the oldest Mennonite congregation of Amish background in the state. The first settlers came to the area about 1817 from Somerset and Mifflin counties, Pennsylvania, and organized a congregation in 1818, meeting in homes for worship. Other families of Swiss Mennonite background came directly from Switzerland and Alsace-Lorraine. Early bishops were David Zook, Christian Schantz, Jacob Yoder, assisted by ministers Christian Brandt, Christian Naftzinger, Peter Blough, Solomon Zook, and deacons Jacob King and Jacob Troyer.
By the 1840’s the Oak Grove congregation had become so large that it was divided into North and South districts. Each section had a bishop and several ministers. Worship services were held in member’s homes or barns every other Sunday with the remaining Sundays being a time of fellowship with church families.
The first meetinghouse (frame) was built in 1862. The church was known as the Amish Mennonite Center of Green Church, but the name was eventually changed to Oak Grove Amish Mennonite Church. The first building was built on what is presently part of the "old" cemetery on the current property along Smucker Road, East of Smithville.
A second church, (Pleasant Hill), was built in 1881 along what is now Pleasant Home Road, Northeast of Smithville to accommodate members in the northern part of the district. In 1905 the Oak Grove meetinghouse was replaced by the large frame structure used by the present congregation.
The early congregation was a member of the Amish General Conference (Diener-Versammlungen). The first of these conferences took place in the barn of Samuel Schrock, several miles east of the church. These meetings occurred to give the Amish congregations an opportunity to discuss issues of church policy. As time passed, the more conservative members withdrew and were soon called "Old Order Amish." Oak Grove became Amish Mennonite and later dropped the Amish from the church name. Oak Grove and Pleasant Hill became more progressive with Sunday schools, Young People’s Meetings, and laity participation. Members were involved with the Children’s Home, the Rittman Old People’s Home, and the Orrville and Canton Missions. C. Z. Yoder, an Oak Grove minister, was also active in the publishing of several conference hymnals.
After the Amish General Conferences were discontinued, the more progressive Amish Mennonites formed three conferences, the Eastern Amish, the Indiana-Michigan, and the Western Amish conferences. The Oak Grove congregation became a member of the Eastern Amish Mennonite Conference in 1937, and until 1947 of the Ohio Mennonite and Eastern Amish Mennonite Joint Conference. In 1947 Pleasant Hill became a separate congregation, still under the Ohio and Eastern Mennonite Conference, while Oak Grove continued as an independent congregation until 1970 when it became an early dually affiliated congregation in the Ohio and Eastern Mennonite Conference of the Mennonite Church and the Central District Conference of the General Conference Mennonite Church. Under able and progressive leadership the varied background of the Oak Grove congregation led to a fused polity, highly active congregational interest and participation in higher education, missions, and the broader program of the church at large. Though a rural church, less than half the members (numbering 400 in January 1958) were actively employed in agriculture. The bishop was Jacob S. Gerig, with Virgil M. Gerig minister with full pastoral authority in the local congregation.
Other leaders serving earlier in addition to the above were John K. Yoder and Benjamin Gerig (bishops), C. K. Yoder, Jonathan Smucker, Christian Kureth (Conrad), John Smiley, Isaac Miller, D. Z. Yoder, S. K. Plank, David Hostetler, Stephen Miller, C. Z. Yoder, Peter Conrad, Albert Hartzler, P. R. Lantz, Peter Baumgartner, J. N. Smucker, Wm. G. Detweiler, Elmer Meyer (ministers and deacons).
The present church was built in 1905, following the loss of the original building to fire, with additions and remodeling occurring every twenty years or so since. The Fellowship Center was built in 1949. In 1958, more land across the road, north of the church, was purchased for a new cemetery. In 1963 the parsonage was built, and in 1968 an educational wing was added to the church. In 2003 a carport was added, and the interior was totally remodeled.
The church has been active in relief work in war-torn countries with the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), as well as financial aid and volunteer time with MCC Connections, the MCC Relief Sale, People to People, Boy’s Village, and Habitat for Humanity. The church has affirmed women in ministry since 1974 as well as having student pastors since 1958. Music, with a cappella hymn singing, choirs, quartets, the praise team, and the yearly Messiah program have been an important part of the church’s worship of God.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. 3, 282.
Lehman, James O. Creative Congregationalism: the History of the Oak Grove Mennonite Church in Wayne County, Ohio. Smithville, OH: The Church, 1978.
"Oak Grove Mennonite Church." Wikipedia. 21 June 2013. Web. 1 December 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oak_Grove_Mennonite_Church.
"Oak Grove Mennonite Church, 2007: Oak Grove History." Oak Grove Mennonite Church. 2007. Web. 1 December 2013. http://oakgrovemc.org/about/history/.
Umble, John S. Ohio Mennonite Sunday Schools. Goshen, IN: Mennonite Historical Society, 1941: 209-231.
Address: 7843 Smucker Road, Smithville, OH 44677 (coordinates: 40.85863, -81.83148 [N 40 51' 31" W 81 49' 53"])
Oak Grove Mennonite Church Leading Ministers
|Minister||Years of Service|
|John K. Yoder||1855-1906|
|Christian K. Yoder||1861-1871|
|D. Z. Yoder||1872-1929|
|J. S. Gerig||1896-1925|
|Christian Z. Yoder||1904-1939|
|Peter R. Lantz||1909-1927|
|Jesse N. Smucker||1931-1936|
|William G. Detweiler||1938-1947|
|Virgil O. Gerig||1947-1960|
|Author(s)||Virgil M Gerig|
Cite This Article
Gerig, Virgil M. "Oak Grove Mennonite Church (Smithville, Wayne County, Ohio, USA)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1958. Web. 22 Oct 2017. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Oak_Grove_Mennonite_Church_(Smithville,_Wayne_County,_Ohio,_USA)&oldid=117091.
Gerig, Virgil M. (1958). Oak Grove Mennonite Church (Smithville, Wayne County, Ohio, USA). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 22 October 2017, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Oak_Grove_Mennonite_Church_(Smithville,_Wayne_County,_Ohio,_USA)&oldid=117091.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, p. 1-2. All rights reserved.
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