First Mennonite Church (Newton, Kansas, USA)
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.
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
- 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.
- Start of youth group activities.
- Church building expanded.
- Christian Endeavor organized.
- 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.
- Anti-German sentiment resulted in Newton's Ministerial Union threatening closure of First Mennonite for using German in services and meetings.
- 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.
- 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.
- Completion of the congregation's transition from German to English as the Mennonite Hymnary replaced the German hymnal.
- 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.
- 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.
- Volunteers made trips to Wichita Falls, Texas for tornado clean-up.
- Sponsorship given to Vietnamese refugees and some Chinese men.
- 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
- Continued to participate in Mennonite Disaster Service cleanup efforts, Mennonite Central Committee meat canning, and Kansas Mennonite Relief Sale.
- Service projects included house construction in Colorado, Louisiana, Nebraska.
- Facilities shared with Casa Betania, a group of Hispanic Anabaptists.
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.
Address: P.O. Box 291, 429 East First Street, Newton, Kansas 67114-0291
Denominational Affiliations: Western District Conference
Ordained Pastors at First Mennonite Church
With at least Three Years Service
|Leonhard Sudermann||1878-1886||Visiting elder|
|Bernhard Regier, Sr.||1880-1893|
|Jacob Toevs||1884-1917||From Central Asia|
|Jacob R. Toews||1884-1912||From West Prussia|
|Bernhard Regier, Jr.||1903-1929|
|John E. Entz||1903-1946|
|John E. Entz||1946-1969||Elder emeritus|
|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
|Clarence E. Rempel||1994-2009|
|H. Russell Bonham||1996-2004|
Membership at First Mennonite Church
- 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 (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.
|Date Published||December 2020|
Cite This Article
Dietzel, Ronald. "First Mennonite Church (Newton, Kansas, USA)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. December 2020. Web. 23 Jun 2021. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=First_Mennonite_Church_(Newton,_Kansas,_USA)&oldid=169511.
Dietzel, Ronald. (December 2020). First Mennonite Church (Newton, Kansas, USA). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 23 June 2021, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=First_Mennonite_Church_(Newton,_Kansas,_USA)&oldid=169511.
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