In 1949, Mennonite Central Committee chose the Topeka State Hospital as a site for a Voluntary Service (VS) Unit. Twenty young people arrived in Topeka that year to participate in the VS program. In 1952, during the Korean War, 23 young General Conference and Mennonite Brethren conscientious objectors arrived to perform their I-W alternative service at the Topeka State Hospital and Veterans Administration Hospital in Topeka. As these young people married, began to have families and put down roots in Topeka, they felt the need to establish a place of worship. The Western District Conference regularly sent pastors to Topeka to conduct services in private homes and to administer to the spiritual needs of this combined community of General Conference and Mennonite Brethren young people, which called itself the Topeka I-W Fellowship. In 1956, the fledgling congregation of 37 young people decided to organize formally as the Topeka Mennonite Fellowship. The Charter Service was held in their temporary church building, which they shared with the Topeka Seventh-Day Adventist congregation, on 16 June 1957. In 1958, the Mennonite Brethren members of the congregation decided to separate from the Topeka Mennonite Fellowship and form their own congregation. This was a serious blow to the Fellowship and there was some doubt that the congregation would be able to survive. After a time "in the wilderness," however, the congregation decided to commit to continuing in Topeka. On 16 September 1962 the Fellowship dedicated its new church building on 37th Street in Topeka and the name of the congregation was changed to Southern Hills Mennonite Church (SHMC).
From its location in a neighborhood of lower-income households, SHMC has helped to found I-Care, a food pantry for area low-income residents, has hosted parking lot festivals, a day care, annual Vacation Bible School programs, a community garden, and other urban mission programs. Lamont Woelk founded the Topeka Peace Center in the basement of the church, an outgrowth of his work as a draft counselor during the Vietnam War. The Topeka Peace Center, now called the Topeka Center for Peace and Justice, has been a vibrant and active community service. The congregation also regularly sponsored groups from the church who traveled to the Gulf Coast to help with rebuilding efforts after the 2005 hurricane season.
Music has long been an integral part of congregational worship. A children’s choir existed from the early years of the congregation. In the early 1980s, the Southern Hills Men’s Quartet delighted audiences both at home and with visits to other congregations. Many talented musicians have participated in the adult choir, as organists, and in the Southern Hills Orchestra to provide special music for worship services or church programs.
The Southern Hills congregation has had the distinction of being shepherded by husband-wife co-pastors since 1983, first by Rosie Epp and Ray Reimer (from 1983-1988), then by Roger and Cynthia Neufeld Smith (from 1988 to the present ).
A sanctuary renovation took place in 2004, which resulted in the remodeling of the old church sanctuary and the building of an addition to the church to house a fellowship hall/gymnasium, multiple classrooms, new church offices, handicap-accessible restrooms, and a library. In 2006, the old pipe organ was replaced with a (used) Kilgen/Miller pipe organ.
Southern Hills celebrated its 50th anniversary in June 2007.
Miller, Gerald A. 50th Anniversary of the Topeka 1-W Program, 1852-2002. Topeka, Kan.: Reunion Planning Committee, 2002.
Southern Hills Mennonite Church 50th Anniversary Planning Committee. Southern Hills Mennonite Church: The First 50 Years, 1957-2007. Topeka, Kan.: Southern Hills Mennonite Church, 2007.
Unruh, Wilbur Jack. [Jack Unruh oral history transcript, 19 July 2004]. Topeka, Kan.: Kansas State Historical Society, 2004.
 Additional Information
Address: 511 E. 37th Street, PO Box 5067, Topeka, Kansas 66605
Website: Southern Hills Mennonite Church
Southern Hills Church Pastors
|Name||Years of Service|
|Rosie Epp & Ray Reimer||1983-1988|
|Cynthia Neufeld Smith & Roger Neufeld Smith||1988-|
Southern Hills Membership
|Author(s)||Sara J Keckeisen|
|Date Published||September 2010|
 Cite This Article
Keckeisen, Sara J. "Southern Hills Mennonite Church (Topeka, Kansas, USA)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. September 2010. Web. 30 Jul 2014. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Southern_Hills_Mennonite_Church_(Topeka,_Kansas,_USA)&oldid=112665.
Keckeisen, Sara J. (September 2010). Southern Hills Mennonite Church (Topeka, Kansas, USA). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 30 July 2014, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Southern_Hills_Mennonite_Church_(Topeka,_Kansas,_USA)&oldid=112665.
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