First Mennonite Church (Newton, Kansas, USA)

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Origins of First Mennonite Church

The founding of Newton's earliest Mennonite church was a story of migrants whose roots were in the Heubuden church of West Prussia (Poland). From the 1850s to the 1890s, nationalistic, militaristic, economic, and religious issues were widespread in Europe. With Mennonites impacted, over 300 people left the Heubuden congregation and migrated to Kansas and Nebraska between 1876 and 1892.

Sketch of Goldschaar, 1877 settlement of Mennonites.
Location – east of Newton in Harvey County, Kansas.
Source: Historical Archives of First Mennonite Church

In 1877, a portion of the Heubuden Mennonites migrated to the Newton area in Harvey County. Some settled in Newton. Many farmed east of town, creating the settlement of Goldschaar. At its heart were the families of Hermann Sudermann, Sr., Hermann Sudermann, Jr., and Wilhelm Quiring.

The group assembled for their Sunday services at the home of Hermann Sudermann, Sr. The church had ministers but no elder. Ministers dealt with the preaching but an elder was needed for communion, baptizing, and catechism.

The Peter Claassen family was among the 1878 immigrants. Claassen led the Newton area group in formally organizing as a congregation. Growth led to services being moved to Newton at a rented Baptist church. Halstead Mennonite's Christian Krehbiel, Sr. and Emmaus Mennonite's Leonhard Sudermann served as visiting elders.

Fast Facts About First Mennonite Church, Newton

1880s

  • Abraham Quiring started children's Sunday school.
  • A church building was constructed at East First and Muse.
  • In the later 1800s, South Russian Mennonites were persecuted. Thus, many Mennonites emigrated west to America. In 1880, about 600 Ukrainian Mennonites emigrated east to Central Asia in the “Great Trek.” In 1884-85, about 100 persons left Central Asia and went to America; included were the Jacob Toevs family and six other families who migrated to Newton.
  • In 1886, Leonhard Sudermann asked to be relieved of his elder duties in Newton. The church's choice was Jacob Toevs.
  • Sunday school was formally organized, including adult classes. Rev. Jacob R. Toews (from West Prussia) was the first superintendent.
  • Mission Sewing Society organized.
  • Church split over membership in secret societies. The congregation at East First and Muse officially became “First Mennonite Church” so as to differentiate itself from the new congregation.
  • First Mennonite began work on a church constitution.
  • First choir organized.
  • The congregation played a role in founding Bethel College. At the cornerstone laying of Bethel's Administration Building, Jacob R. Toews gave the welcoming address. Bethel's first corporation meeting was at First Mennonite. J. J. Krehbiel, a Bethel co-founder, and First Mennonite member was elected president of the Bethel College Board.
  • Start of church school for German and religion. Eventually, school became vacation Bible school.

1890s

1900s

1902 – Enlargement of First Mennonite's 1881 structure at East 1st and Muse streets
It featured double front entrances to facilitate separate seating for men and women.
Photo source: Historical Archives of First Mennonite Church
  • The congregation's first missionaries went to Oklahoma and Arizona to work among Native Americans.
  • A building addition enlarged Sunday School space and the sanctuary. Featured double front entrances since men and women sat separately in worship services. The tradition lasted about 65 years. The exception was the S. S. Haury family who always sat together. Separate seating gradually changed and ended in the mid-1940s.
  • In Newton, a Deaconess program, motherhouse, Bethel Deaconess Hospital and nursing school were established. The Hospital administrators (Sister Frieda Kaufman, Herman J. Andres, and Marvin Ewert) plus 25 deaconesses were First Mennonite members. Sister Hillegonda van der Smissen, Sister Lena Mae Smith and Sister Frieda Kaufman were Bible class and Sunday school program leaders. Also, Sister Frieda served on the building committee for the 1930s sanctuary and bell tower.
  • Congregation's first overseas missionaries went to India.

1910s

  • Anti-German sentiment resulted in Newton's Ministerial Union threatening closure of First Mennonite for using German in services and meetings.

1920s

  • Junior Endeavor organized.
  • Women received voting rights in church matters.
  • Aftermath of Russia's 1917 Revolution created Mennonite refugees. Some immigrated to Harvey County, including the Abraham and Elizabeth Warkentin family. Abraham was an assistant pastor at First Mennonite; professor of Bible and German at Bethel College; instrumental in creating the Mennonite Library and Archives; and, both a founder and first president of the Mennonite Biblical Seminary.
  • With over 300 members, planning began in 1928 for a new building. In spite of the 1930s Great Depression and its grim economic conditions, groundbreaking occurred in 1931; the sanctuary and basement were dedicated in 1932, and the bell tower completed in 1933.

1930s

  • Mission Study Circle organized for women and girls. They supported mission causes. The group disbanded in 2018.
  • Use of German ended in congregational business meetings.

1940s

  • Completion of the congregation's transition from German to English as the Mennonite Hymnary replaced the German hymnal.

1950s

  • West education wing constructed.
  • Membership reached 815 due to Newton's industrial growth. Diversity increased through the inclusion of non-Mennonites plus Mennonites who were not of Prussian or Ukrainian backgrounds.
  • Menno Schrag began Mennonite Boys League whose membership reached 1,800 within the U.S. and Canada.
  • Congregational volunteers went to Udall, Kansas for tornado cleanup.
  • Church split occurred as Newton Bible Church was formed when forty members left First Mennonite.
  • Between 1878 and 1956, the congregation produced 13 ministers, 18 missionaries, and five deaconesses.
  • Support given to organizing Faith Mennonite in Newton, Kansas.

1960s

  • Construction of south education wing.
  • Nineteen First Mennonite families received financial aid after Newton's Sand Creek flood.
  • Formation of “New Directions,” a high school and college-age choir. It was invited to churches in Kansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska plus the 1971 General Conference Mennonite Church meetings.

1970s

Ca. 2015 – Sanctuary, First Mennonite Church in Newton, Kansas.
Photo source: https://firstmennonitenewton.org/worship/
  • Volunteers made trips to Wichita Falls, Texas for tornado clean-up.
  • Sponsorship given to Vietnamese refugees and some Chinese men.

1980s

  • Sponsored the second group of Vietnamese refugees.
  • Helped sponsor Hope Mennonite in Wichita, Kansas.
  • Grace Community Church organized in Newton. Founders included a group from First Mennonite.

1990s and on-going

Bibliography

Entz, Rev. J. E. "First Mennonite Church – Newton (1878 – 1953)." Mennonite Life 8, no. 4 (October 1953): 153-158, 173.

Thiesen, John D. and Menno Schrag. Prussian Roots, Kansas Branches. Newton, Kansas: Historical Committee of First Mennonite Church, 1986.

Schrag, Robert and Ronald Dietzel. Mission & Memory. Newton, Kansas: Historical Committee of First Mennonite Church, 2003.

First Mennonite Church: 2020 Yearbook. Newton, Kansas: First Mennonite Church.

Additional Information

Address: P.O. Box 291, 429 East First Street, Newton, Kansas 67114-0291

Phone: 316-283-0273

Website: https://firstmennonitenewton.org/

Denominational Affiliations: Western District Conference

Mennonite Church USA

Ordained Pastors at First Mennonite Church
With at least Three Years Service

Name Years
of Service
Peter Claassen 1878-1901
Leonhard Sudermann 1878-1886 Visiting elder
Bernhard Regier, Sr. 1880-1893
Abraham Sudermann 1880-1902
Jacob Toevs 1884-1917 From Central Asia
Jacob R. Toews 1884-1912 From West Prussia
Johann Epp 1893-1922
Bernhard Regier, Jr. 1903-1929
John E. Entz 1903-1946
John E. Entz 1946-1969 Elder emeritus
Abraham Warkentin 1924-1944
Daniel J. Unruh 1944-1954
Arnold A. Epp 1955-1970
Paul J. Isaak 1965-1968
Albert H. Epp 1971-1980
Andrew R. Shelly 1980-1982
Floyd G. Bartel 1982-1988
Lubin W. Jantzen 1983-1990
James L. Dunn 1989-1992
Verney L. Unruh 1989
1992-1994
Clarence E. Rempel 1994-2009
H. Russell Bonham 1996-2004
Joan Boyer 2001-2012
Joel Schroeder 2004-2019
Kay Schroeder 2007-2019
Anita Kehr 2010-2020

Membership at First Mennonite Church

Year Membership
1878 28
1900 208
1920 251
1940 575
1960 835
1981 1003
2000 634
2005 581
2010 545
2015 290*
2019 272*
  • Reflects active members

Original Mennonite Encyclopedia Article

By J. E. Entz. Copied by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, p. 868. All rights reserved.

First Mennonite Church, Newton, KS
Source: Church website

First Mennonite Church (Mennonite Church USA), Newton, Kansas, had its beginnings in 1877, when a few Mennonite families immigrating from South Russia settled east of Newton. Among them were Herman Sudermann, Senior, Herman Sudermann, Junior, and William Quiring. In 1878 with the coming of Peter Claassen, a minister from Prussia, the church secured its charter and joined the Western District Conference of the General Conference Mennonite Church. Services were held in a rented Baptist church until their new building was dedicated in 1881 on East First Street. In 1897 and 1902 the church was enlarged, and in 1932 replaced by a new brick church seating 700.

Its first Sunday school was organized in 1881, its first choir in 1888 or 1889, Christian Endeavor in 1898, Junior Endeavor in 1920, Mission Sewing Society in 1887, and Mission Study Circle in 1933. By 1956, from this church had come thirteen ministers, eighteen missionaries, and five deaconesses. Ministers who had served the congregation to 1955 included Peter Claassen, Bernhard Regier, Senior, Abr. Suderman, Jacob Toews, J. R. Toews, B. Regier, J. E. Entz, Abram Warkentin, and D. J. Unruh (August 1944-early 1955). In 1956, First Mennonite's membership was 811, it was served by Arnold Epp as pastor. In 1955 a group withdrew to form the Newton Bible Church.


Author(s) Ronald Dietzel
Date Published December 2020

Cite This Article

MLA style

Dietzel, Ronald. "First Mennonite Church (Newton, Kansas, USA)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. December 2020. Web. 21 Jun 2021. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=First_Mennonite_Church_(Newton,_Kansas,_USA)&oldid=169511.

APA style

Dietzel, Ronald. (December 2020). First Mennonite Church (Newton, Kansas, USA). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 21 June 2021, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=First_Mennonite_Church_(Newton,_Kansas,_USA)&oldid=169511.




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