First Mennonite Church (Beatrice, Nebraska, USA)
Since 1788 Prussian Mennonites had been migrating to Russia because of religious and economic restrictions. When in the 1870s Russia too introduced general military conscription, Prussian Mennonites began to consider immigration to America. Cornelius Jansen of Berdyansk and Wilhelm Ewert of Prussia paved the way. Some 30 families of the large Heubuden Mennonite Church and a few from the Elbing-Ellerwald Mennonite Church under the leadership of Elder Johann Andreas who were unwilling to accept non-combatant service, left Germany 15 June 1876, for America, stopping in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, where Cornelius Jansen temporarily resided. Under his guidance some families went to Beatrice, Nebraska, arriving there in February 1877, while others followed Peter Dyck to settle near Whitewater, Elbing, and Newton, Kansas.
The group at Beatrice was joined by some additional families from Heubuden on 19 June 1877, led by Elder Gerhard Penner, who died the next year. Elder Johann Andreas had died in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. For a time the newly organized church was served by the elders Isaak Peters of Henderson, Nebraska, and Leonhard Sudermann of Whitewater, Kansas, in addition to its own ministers, Andreas Penner and Heinrich Zimmermann. In 1888 Gerhard Penner, Jr., son of Elder Gerhard Penner, was ordained as minister and elder and served in this capacity until 1920, at which time he was succeeded by Franz Albrecht, 1920-1940. From 1940 to 1946 Walter H. Dyck served the congregation as the first full-time minister. He was succeeded by Jacob T. Friesen, 1947- .
For some time the congregation had several meeting places, one in Beatrice, one four miles (7 km) west of Beatrice erected in 1879 and patterned after the Heubuden church, and another some ten miles (16 km) west of the city, which was discontinued. The main sanctuary erected in 1879 was destroyed by fire the first year and immediately rebuilt after the same pattern. It was replaced by a large stone structure in 1951. Customs of worship and social life were continued and changed only with the infiltration of the English language after World War I, which is a partial explanation for the organization of the (Second) Beatrice Mennonite Church in 1926. Sunday school, young people’s organizations, and missionary interests were started during the first years. In 1892 the congregation joined the Western District Conference, in 1896 the General Conference Mennonite Church. Among the ten families that came from Khiva in 1884 were the ministers Johann Jantzen and Johannes K. Penner. The latter became one of the outstanding parochial teachers of the Mennonite community.
Service has played a central role in the congregation. From 1944-2000, First Mennonite hosted 48 seminary students who participated in their Summer Assistant program. From 1974-2001, First Mennonite and Beatrice Mennonite founded and jointly operated one of the first day cares in Beatrice. The day care became a placement option for numerous Mennonite Voluntary Service workers. In 1987 members of the congregation established community-based Mother to Mother Ministries in Beatrice which provided resources and friendship to mothers searching for community and assistance. In 2019 the church had an active Women’s Mission Society which supports Mennonite Central Committee and foreign missions. The men of both Mennonite churches established a Brotherhood which served both congregational members and the community in times of misfortune or disaster.
The 1953 membership of the congregation was 338; in 2018 223 with an average attendance of 93. Numerous families have moved to other communities such as Paso Robles, California.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 147.
Address: 6714 West State Highway 4, Beatrice, Nebraska
Website: First Mennonite Church
Western District Mennonite Conference (1892-present)
General Conference Mennonite Church (1892-2002)
Mennonite Church USA (2002-present)
Ordained Leaders at First Mennonite Church
|Gerhard Penner, Jr.||1888-1920|
|Walter H. Dyck||1940-1946|
|Jacob T. Friesen||1947-1956|
|Harold W. Buller||1957-1960|
|Leo. L. Miller||1960-1969|
|Kenneth E. Rupp||1969-1972|
Membership at First Mennonite Church
|Date Published||January 2019|
Cite This Article
Krahn, Cornelius and Brett Klingenberg. "First Mennonite Church (Beatrice, Nebraska, USA)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. January 2019. Web. 20 Mar 2019. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=First_Mennonite_Church_(Beatrice,_Nebraska,_USA)&oldid=163469.
Krahn, Cornelius and Brett Klingenberg. (January 2019). First Mennonite Church (Beatrice, Nebraska, USA). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 20 March 2019, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=First_Mennonite_Church_(Beatrice,_Nebraska,_USA)&oldid=163469.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 256-257. All rights reserved.
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