First Mennonite Church (Summerfield, Illinois, USA)

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In 1842 the first Mennonite families, those of Conrad Schrag and John Wittmer, came to the Summerfield area. In a few years, other Mennonites, primarily from the Palatinate of South Germany, arrived. Most of them were farmers of the fertile land. The nearness of St. Louis provided a large, stable market for their crops and livestock.

The congregation grew rapidly. At Pentecost, 1856, 70 people gathered for the first communion service. The first weekly services began 20 November 1856, in the home of John Kraemer. Daniel Baer, Jacob Pletcher, and John Wittmer were elected deacons. A brick church building was erected in 1858-59 in the village of Summerfield. Daniel Hege, of West Point, Iowa, was called to be the pastor of the congregation. He brought with him more Mennonite families from Lee County, Iowa. In 1861 they drew up a constitution that was signed by 75 charter members. This and other records were lost in a parsonage fire in 1928.

Since the members had the same background as and were related to many of the people in West Point and Zion Churches in Iowa, it was natural that they too joined the General Conference of Mennonites. The third session of this conference was held in the Summerfield church building. This congregation supported the work of the General Conference, including the establishment of the Wadsworth School. In 1861 they established their own school for Bible instruction, known as "The German School." They met during the summer when the public schools were closed.

The congregation early expressed an interest in the work of missions. The first major gift for this purpose was received from Jacob and Mary Leisy. Samuel S. Haury of Summerfield, an 1871 graduate from the Wadsworth School, was the first General Conference missionary. In the spring of 1880, Samuel and his wife Susie (Hirschler) began mission work among American Indians in Oklahoma. Others from this congregation who served in the Indian mission were Daniel Hirschler and his wife, Katie Ruth Hirschler, and Barbara Baer Voth.

J. B. Baer, also of this congregation, served in a post similar to a General Conference minister, visiting and encouraging the organization of congregations and promoting missions and other conference causes. H. J. Krehbiel and H. P. Krehbiel, also members of Summerfield, served other congregations and were conference leaders.

A Sunday school was started in 1865. The Young People's Society of Christian Endeavor was organized 12 August 1890, under the leadership of C. H. A. van der Smissen. It provided leadership experience for the young people. The Mission Society, organized in 1877, strongly supported the Wadsworth School and conference mission programs. Children's Mission Society was organized in the early 1900s by Hillegonda van der Smissen.

It is reported that 25 families moved from Summerfield to Kansas in the 1870s. This migration greatly affected the capacity of the congregation to expand and further its program. Many of those who moved away later became leaders in the General Conference of Mennonites. In 1910, however, the congregation was able to purchase the building of the English Methodist Church. This they dedicated on 10 December 1910. With the bricks from their first building, they constructed a bell tower addition to the new building.

Because some of their members moved to St. Louis for employment, the congregation assisted in the organizing of the St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship, which became a member of the Central District in 1976. Because so many members and leaders moved west to Kansas, and others later left seeking employment, the membership of the Summerfield congregation gradually decreased. They continued to have a resident pastor until 1973. Then George Dick drove from Bloomington, Illinois, providing preaching services for the last years. The congregation officially closed its program in 1987. The building was sold to an individual with the provision that it would not be used for a tavern.

In a real sense, the Summerfield Mennonite congregation was a haven in the 19th century for new settlers from Germany, helping them to adjust to the United States before they moved on to more permanent homes. The positive Christian influence of this congregation through its members reaches out to many other congregations, institutions, and peoples. Its influence continued, enriching the lives of many.

The congregation was formally known as the First Mennonite Church of Summerfield.

Bibliography

History of the Summerfield Mennonite Church. Summerfield, Ill.: The Church, 1936. Available at https://mla.bethelks.edu/books/289_777389_Su64h.pdf.

Rich, Elaine Sommers, ed. Walking Together in Faith: The Central District Conference, 1957-1990. Bluffton, Ohio: The Conference, 2003: 105-108.

Additional Information

Address: Summerfield, Illinois

Phone:

Website:

Denominational Affiliations: Central District Conference Conference

Mennonite Church USA

Pastoral Leaders at First Mennonite Church

Name Years
of Service
Daniel Hege (1826-1862) 1859-1861
John Schmidt 1861-1862
Daniel Hirschler (1821-1888) 1862
Jacob E. Krehbiel (1829-1896) 1863-1890
Christian Krehbiel (1832-1909) 1864-1879
Carl Heinrich Anton van der Smissen (1851-1950) 1890-1911
John B. Baer (1854-1939) 1911-1918
John P. Boehr 1918-1919
Grover T. Soldner (1892-1981) 1920-1923
Andrew S. Bechtel (1874-1968) 1923-1928
1948-1949
Delbert E. Welty (1896-1979) 1928-1930
Adolph Friesen (1897-1978) 1930-1936
Elmer Basinger (1882-1958) 1936-1948
Henry B. Grimm (1921-1996) 1949-1955
Walter Neufeld and Seminary students (Interim) 1955
Donald Wismer and Seminary students (Interim) 1956
Ernest W. Neufeld (1932-2015) 1956-1960
Harold P. Thiessen (1922-1986) 1960-1968
Carlos "Carl" O. Basinger (1920-1972) 1969?-1971?
George G. Dick (1907-1994) 1971-1986

Membership at First Mennonite Church

Year Membership
1910 138
1920 133
1930 136
1940 156
1950 91
1960 102
1970 42
1980 24
1986 15

Original Mennonite Encyclopedia Article

By Elmer Basinger. Copied by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, p. 656. All rights reserved.

First Mennonite Church (General Conference Mennonite Church) at Summerfield, Saint Clair County, Illinois, a member of the Middle District Conference, was founded by immigrants who came from the Palatinate, Germany, about the middle of the 19th century. The first regular church service of the group was held at the home of John Kraemer, four miles southeast of Summerfield, on 30 November 1856.

A church building at the southern outskirts of Summerfield was dedicated on 23 January 1859. Daniel Hege of Lee County, Iowa became the first pastor of the church. More than a dozen families came with him into the community.

The church aligned itself at once with the General Conference Mennonite movement, and in 1863 the third session of the conference was held at Summerfield, in which it was decided to establish the first Mennonite school at Wadsworth, Ohio.

In 1910 the congregation bought the abandoned Methodist church in Summerfield, and with some changes and renovations has used it as the place of worship ever since. The membership in 1957 was 92, with Ernest W. Neufeld serving as pastor.


Author(s) Howard Raid
Samuel J. Steiner
Date Published November 2022

Cite This Article

MLA style

Raid, Howard and Samuel J. Steiner. "First Mennonite Church (Summerfield, Illinois, USA)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. November 2022. Web. 17 Apr 2024. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=First_Mennonite_Church_(Summerfield,_Illinois,_USA)&oldid=174845.

APA style

Raid, Howard and Samuel J. Steiner. (November 2022). First Mennonite Church (Summerfield, Illinois, USA). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 17 April 2024, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=First_Mennonite_Church_(Summerfield,_Illinois,_USA)&oldid=174845.




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