Board of Education (General Conference Mennonite Church)

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One of the main reasons for organizing the General Conference in 1860 was to establish a school for the training of missionaries and ministers. This school was in operation as the Wadsworth (Ohio) school 1866-1878. The Kansas (later Western District) Conference promoted a western school from 1879 on, which came into existence as the Halstead school (1882-1892) and later Bethel College was founded (1893). However, the General Conference as such never actually established a policy of conference-owned and operated schools, and hence did not have a board of education to operate either Bethel, Bluffton (founded 1900), or Freeman (founded 1903) colleges. These schools were founded by district conferences, interested individuals and groups, or operated by self-perpetuating boards of trustees.

From the above, however, it is evident that the early educational efforts of the General and district conferences included the establishment of higher schools. In addition to these schools elementary parochial schools were operating in the various communities. At the 1905 General Conference session held at Mountain Lake, Minnesota, the question was raised as to the advisability of having an official conference committee charged with promoting and guiding the educational interest in the conference. In 1908 a Committee on Education was created, composed of five members, to prepare an outline of work in the field of education and present it to the next conference session. At the 1911 session at Bluffton, Ohio, this committee reported after it had made a rather extensive study by questionnaire as to what was expected along educational lines by church leaders. The chief concern of the committee all along was still with educational institutions and their problems.

Upon recommendation of the committee, at the 1914 conference at Meno, Oklahoma, by amendment to the conference constitution, a Board of Education of six members was created to promote Sunday-school work, religious training in public schools, vacation Bible schools, assist academies and colleges, to help needy students, etc. To each of the six members of the newly created board was assigned a special area of work: J. K. Penner, the family; H. H. Ewert, elementary schools; D. H. Richert, the middle schools; J. H. Langenwalter, the Sunday schools and young people's societies; S. K. Mosiman, teaching of religion in public schools; S. M. Grubb, the preparation of a suitable list of books for young people. Much was done, especially in some areas. Soon a Sunday-school standard was adopted and a Sunday-school teacher-training program promoted. At the 1923 conference session at Freeman, South Dakota, great emphasis was again placed upon the importance of our colleges and a united financial campaign was authorized for endowment and buildings for our three colleges— Bethel, Bluffton, and Freeman. By resolutions Bethel and Bluffton were recognized as senior colleges and Freeman as a junior college. No new higher schools were to be established except by conference sanction. This procedure was followed later in connection with the Mennonite Biblical Seminary and Bible School in Chicago, the Rosthern Junior College in Saskatchewan, and the Canadian Mennonite Bible College in Winnipeg. These conference schools reported directly to the General Conference through the Board of Education.

In in the 1930s and 1940s the work of the Board of Education was expanded. The General Conference, in session at Upland, California, in 1935, instructed the Board of Education to try to revive the then dormant Witmarsum Theological Seminary so that graduate theological training in a conference institution would again be available. The Board of Education served as a link between the Witmarsum Board then still in existence and the executive committee of the conference in the reorganization of the seminary and its relocation at Chicago, Illinois, in 1945 as the Mennonite Biblical Seminary and Bible School, operating in affiliation with the Bethany Biblical Seminary and Bible Training School of the Church of the Brethren.

After 1944 the Board of Education employed a full-time executive secretary and gradually created a number of subcommittees, an organizational setup that greatly increased the service and effectiveness of the board. (1) The Curriculum Committee created in 1945 was charged with providing a complete course of study for Sunday schools and teacher training, including catechism material. (2) The Young People's Advisory Committee worked with the executive committee of the Young People's Union and helped them plan and integrate their work. (3) The Inter-School Committee, composed of two board members and the heads of all seven conference schools of collegiate rank, dealt with common problems relating to Bethel College, Bluffton College, Freeman Junior College, Rosthern Junior College, Gretna Collegiate Institute, Canadian Mennonite Bible College, and the Mennonite Biblical Seminary. (4) The Committee on Academies and Bible Schools occupied itself with the welfare of academies and Bible schools. (5) The Ministers' Retreat Committee arranged for an annual retreat for ministers and their wives. (6) The Committee on Visual Aids promoted helpful material of that nature. (7) The Committee on Nursing Schools and Education dealt with the area indicated by its title. (8) The Committee on Ministerial Correspondence Courses worked with material in that area.

All committees were appointed by and responsible to the Board of Education. One or more board members, besides the executive secretary of the board, with other members appointed by the board, served on the various committees. Each committee met about twice a year and reported to the board at its annual meeting. The board in turn reported to the conference at its triennial session. The chairman of the Board of Education was a regular member of the executive committee of the General Conference.

Among other items of far-reaching importance that the Board of Education dealt with or initiated and referred to the conference executive committee for review and recommendation to the conference were: Civilian Public Service (CPS) educational rehabilitation; providing financial educational assistance for CPS young men; promoting the Foreign Student Exchange program by providing financial assistance for foreign students attending the colleges; presenting the need for co-ordinating conference activities which resulted in the creation of a Co-ordinating Committee working toward simplification of conference organization and revision of the constitution; a Suggested Standard for Ordination of Conference Ministers, which was reviewed by the executive committee of the conference and adopted by the conference; a Suggested Procedure for General Conference Recognition of Organizations and Institutions, which was reviewed by the executive committee and adopted by the conference.

The Board of Education did not own or operate any school or educational institution, each of which was under its own board. It was, however, given general supervision of the recognized conference schools and cooperated with them. An official representative of the board was to attend the main annual business meeting of each conference school board. The trend was in the direction of more conference control of these institutions. In 1950 the Board of Education was merged with the Board of Publication by action of the General Conference session of that year.

See Board of Education and Publication for further history.


Hartzler, J. E. Education Among the Mennonites of America. Danvers, IL, 1925.

Krehbiel, H. P. History of the Mennonite General Conference. Newton, KS, 1898-1938.

Minutes and Reports of the General Conference of the Mennonite Church of North America (1860-1951).

Author(s) Edmund G Kaufman
Date Published 1953

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MLA style

Kaufman, Edmund G. "Board of Education (General Conference Mennonite Church)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 19 Apr 2024.

APA style

Kaufman, Edmund G. (1953). Board of Education (General Conference Mennonite Church). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 19 April 2024, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 373-374. All rights reserved.

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