Bethesda Church (Marion, South Dakota, USA)

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The first Mennonite settlers in the Marion, South Dakota, area arrived from 1874 to 1876 from Russia and Poland. They came from different locations and backgrounds. They included seven ministers, including Elder Tobias Unruh, who died soon after his arrival.

In 1876 Peter P. Becker was elected as Elder. Disagreements soon arose, and Elder Becker and his followers left to form a church of their own. In 1883 they built the Karolswalde Mennonite Church located six miles west and 0.25 miles north of Marion.

Those remaining began to meet in 1878 in the granary on "Bonesetter" Derk Tieszen's farm. Their leader was Peter T. Unruh. Friedrich Schartner was elected Elder. In 1879 this group built a church five miles west and 0.5 miles north of Marion. The building had a thatch roof was was known as the Grosse Kirche.

Disagreements arose at the Grosse Kirche, and Elder Schartner and his followers left and formed their own congregation. Ownership of the Grosse Kirche was disputed but ultimately given to the Schartner group. Later in the year, the Schartner group returned and affiliated with the Elder Becker group. By 1940 there were only 11 members left; they then joined the Bethesda Church.

The group that had worshipped in the Tieszen granary and the "Grosse Kirche, but did not follow Elder Schartner, in 1883 built a church four miles west of Marion. These members organized as the Bethesda Mennonite Church. Peter T. Unruh and Abraham Willems served as their ministers. The congregation built a larger church in 1909. It constructed a basement under the church in 1931. In 1956, the congregation built a new church a half mile east of the previous location.

The Bethesda Mennonite Church joined the Northern District in 1895 and the General Conference Mennonite Church in 1896. This was also when the congregation initiated Sunday school.

Alfred Waltner became the pastor in 1939; he was the first salaried minister. The congregation also transitioned from German to English at this time.

Bethesda Mennonite Church withdrew from the Northern District and General Conference Mennonite Church on 19 October 1994. It gave no specific reason other than that it didn't agree with the General Conference. The church cited Amos 3:3, "Can two walk together unless they be agreed?"

The congregation remained an independent Mennonite congregation through 2020. In January 2021, it changed its name to Bethesda Church and declared itself to be a non-denominational church.


"Bethesda Church, Marion, S.D.,..." The Mennonite (13 December 1994): 20.

Schmidt, Diena, ed. The Northern District Conference of the General Conference Mennonite Church 1891-1991. Freeman, S.D.: The Conference, 1991: 143-146.

Additional Information

Address: 44534 273rd Street, Marion, South Dakota 57043

Phone: 605-648-3853‎

Denominational Affiliations: Northern District Conference (until 1994)

General Conference Mennonite Church (until 1994)

Pastoral Leaders at Bethesda Church

Name Years
of Service
Peter T. Unruh (1841-1908) 1874-1908
Abraham Willems (1838-1912) 1879-1912
Derk P. Tieszen (1859-1946) 1890-1938
Dietrich D. Engbrecht (1866-1924) 1908-1924
Abraham F. "A. F." Tieszen (1893-1957) 1913-1920s?
David D. Tieszen (1872-1962 1924-1940s?
Helmuth F. Ortmann (1895-1972) 1924-?
Abraham Duerksen 1924-?
Alfred P. Waltner (1888-1960) 1939-1947
Theodor Alwin "T. A." van der Smissen (1897-1974) 1947-1963
Herbert M. Dalke (1918-2012) 1963-1966
Rudolf Toews 1966-1969
Paul Kroeker 1970-1978
Jerry L. Kaiser 1978-1989
Allen Tschiegg (Interim) 1990-1992?
Rodney Anderson 1993-?

Bethesda Membership

Year Members
1883 88
1930 189
1940 168
1950 246
1960 246
1970 225
1980 204
1990 178


Map:Bethesda Mennonite Church (Marion, South Dakota)

Original Mennonite Encyclopedia Article

By J. D. Unruh. Copied by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p. 317. All rights reserved.

The Bethesda Mennonite Church (General Conference Mennonite Church), is located at 44354 273rd Street, Marion, Rosefield Township, Turner County, South Dakota. It belonged to the Northern District Conference.

The first arrivals to the community came from Russia in the fall of 1874. Since no minister had come along and the winter was unusually severe, no formal worship services were held the first winter; the next summer services were held in the various homes. The first church was built in the fall of 1879. In 1883 a split occurred and the larger group built another church at the present location, which was replaced in 1909 by the present building. Derk P. Tieszen, who was elected to the ministry by the congregation in 1890, had the distinction of serving until 1 January 1939, 48 years in all, 44 years of this time as elder. Abram Willems and Peter T. Unruh also served as ministers in the congregation for more than 30 years.

The Low German language was still commonly used in the homes in the early 1950s. Most of the members lived on farms, although there was a sprinkling of business and professional people who lived in nearby Marion.

In 1953 the congregation had an active Sunday school, a Christian Endeavor, a women's missionary society, and a choir. There were weekly Sunday morning and evening services but no midweek meetings. The services had become practically all English by that time. Feetwashing and communion services were held once a year. The baptized membership on 1 December 1953, was 234, with T. A. van der Smissen as elder.

Author(s) Samuel J Steiner
Date Published September 2023

Cite This Article

MLA style

Steiner, Samuel J. "Bethesda Church (Marion, South Dakota, USA)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. September 2023. Web. 29 Nov 2023.,_South_Dakota,_USA)&oldid=177555.

APA style

Steiner, Samuel J. (September 2023). Bethesda Church (Marion, South Dakota, USA). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 29 November 2023, from,_South_Dakota,_USA)&oldid=177555.

©1996-2023 by the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. All rights reserved.