First Deaf Mennonite Church (Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA)
In the fall of 1945, the Lancaster Mennonite Conference bishop board authorized J. Paul Graybill and Aaron H. Weaver to start the First Mennonite Church for the Deaf in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA. A small number of deaf persons first met in homes. Shortly after the congregation began Aaron H. Weaver was assisted by Reuben G. Stoltzfus.
Beginning on 29 December 1946, the Deaf congregation used the Rossmere meeting-house for worship every second Saturday evening. Israel D. Rohrer was ordained as the first pastor in 1949, continuing until 1961. In early 1951, the Deaf congregation began worshipping on the second floor of Mellinger Mennonite Church on Sunday mornings. Six deaf persons were baptized on 11 August 1951. In 1953, they added Sunday school. George A. Uhler (ordained 18 August 1956) assisted Rohrer from 1956-1959. During these early years several women who were related to deaf families encouraged and supported the work including Mable Clymer, Esther Groff, and Minerva Gehman. In 1954 a youth group formed and soon began publishing The Silent Messenger newsletter.
In 1957, Mable Clymer donated land for the Deaf church at the corner of Route 30 East and Witmer Road, six miles east of Lancaster. The congregation solicited funds, built a church, and dedicated it on 12 May 1957. By 1958 membership was 15 with a Sunday school of 34. Reuben G. Stoltzfus pastored the church from 1963-1966. In 1965 the congregation changed its name to First Deaf Mennonite Church.
Elvin R. Stoltzfus pastored the church from 1966-1973 communicating both verbally and with signs. In 1970 more hearing persons were invited and on 13 December 1970 dual worship services began with Elvin R. Stoltzfus preaching to both the hearing group and the deaf group.
In 1973, in order for the deaf and non-deaf members to have worship in their own languages, both a non-deaf and a deaf pastor were needed. Paul M. Zehr began pastoring the hearing group. The deaf group was pastored by the newly ordained Raymond E. Rohrer who became the first deaf pastor of the congregation. Thereafter, the deaf congregation worshipped in American Sign Language (ASL). The two groups alternated worship and Sunday school. They held a joint annual retreat for many years, and a joint Christmas program which still existed in 2018.
Raymond E. Rohrer pastored the church from 1973-1995. The church grew under his leadership. Needing more space, the congregation purchased, renovated and moved on 11 March 1984 to the former East Lampeter High School building located at 2270 Old Philadelphia Pike, Lancaster.
Jeffrey W. Hoffer, who grew up in the congregation, became the second deaf pastor (1993-2003 and 2008-2011). In 1995, First Deaf Mennonite Church incorporated. It consisted of two congregations: First Deaf Mennonite Church and Witmer Heights Mennonite Church (the hearing congregation).
Lewis J. Meyer pastored the congregation from 2004-2007. Chuck Snyder served as interim pastor from 2012-to the present.
Attendance at First Deaf Mennonite Church in 2018 averaged 25-30 people. Attendees come from diverse religious backgrounds (Roman Catholic, Mennonite, Church of the Brethren, Old Order River Brethren, Amish, and other protestant churches). And they came from various nationalities (including Romanian and Ethiopian).
Deaf people of many cultures are drawn together by a distinct deaf culture and language (ASL). The church has many fellowship activities, including monthly game night that draws 70-80 people from the community. For many years the congregation has sponsored a Deaf Picnic which attracts many Deaf people.
Serving as bishops of the First Deaf Mennonite Church were: J. Paul Graybill (1945-1946), Elmer G. Martin (1946-1962), Paul G. Landis (1962-1980), Paul M. Zehr (1980-2005), Leon H. Oberholtzer (2005-2009), Jason H. Kuniholm (2010-2016). Joseph S. Miller and Rodney A. Martin were bishops in 2018.
Mast, Eldon R. “The First Deaf Mennonite Church 1945-1980.” Pennsylvania Mennonite Heritage 11 (January 1988): 2-9.
Nolt, Steven M. Mellinger Mennonite Church; 300 Years of Faithfulness & Mission 1717-2017. Lancaster, Pa.: Mellinger Mennonite Church, 2017; 171-172.
Address: 2270 Old Philadelphia Pike, Lancaster, PA 17602
Original Mennonite Encyclopedia Article
By Ira D. Landis. Copied by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, p. 1075. All rights reserved.
The First Mennonite Church for the Deaf in the Lancaster Mennonite Conference was begun under authorization of the Lancaster board of bishops in the fall of 1945, with J. Paul Graybill and Aaron H. Weaver in charge. By 29 December 1946, Rossmere meetinghouse in Lancaster city was used for this purpose every second Saturday evening. Soon Reuben Stoltzfus became Aaron Weaver's associate. In 1949 Israel D. Rohrer was ordained as pastor. By 1951 they also used the second floor of the Mellinger meetinghouse. By 1953 Sunday school at the latter place was added. On 18 August 1956, George A. Uhler was ordained to assist. A new meetinghouse for this work, located off the Lincoln Highway East, six miles (10 km.) east of Lancaster, was dedicated on 12 May 1957. With Rohrer and Uhler as pastors and Elmer G. Martin as bishop, the membership in 1958 was 15, with a Sunday school of 34, and a summer Bible school at Roxbury, Franklin County, Pennsylvania, of 94. The basement of the meetinghouse east of Lancaster was being used for the Lancaster Mennonite Conference Information Center in 1958-59, a project under the Eastern Board of Missions and Charities.
|Author(s)||Paul M Zehr|
|Date Published||December 2018|
Cite This Article
Zehr, Paul M. "First Deaf Mennonite Church (Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. December 2018. Web. 18 Jan 2021. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=First_Deaf_Mennonite_Church_(Lancaster,_Pennsylvania,_USA)&oldid=162566.
Zehr, Paul M. (December 2018). First Deaf Mennonite Church (Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 18 January 2021, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=First_Deaf_Mennonite_Church_(Lancaster,_Pennsylvania,_USA)&oldid=162566.
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