Michigan (USA)

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1957 Article

Michigan was admitted to the Union in 1837; it has an area of 58,216 square miles and had a population of over five and a quarter million in the 1950s. In it lived approximately 5,500 Mennonites, many of them recent converts in the Mennonite Church (MC) or the United Missionary Church (UMC). By the close of the Civil War (1865) Mennonites (MC) were living in three counties of Michigan: (1) Barker Street had been established in St. Joseph County in 1863 and lasted a little over sixty years before it disintegrated; it never had more than 64 members. (2) Branch County was the seat of the Pleasant Hill congregation established in 1865, the home church of the well-known Bishop C. D. Beery (1815-1878). Pleasant Hill was rather weak by the time of the Brenneman division of 1874, and eventually the Mennonite Brethren in Christ (now UMC) took up the work at Pleasant Hill and built it up to a membership in 1955 of 104. (3) Kent County contained two congregations, Caledonia established in 1864, which remained rather weak numerically until its dissolution a half century later; and Bowne established in 1865 and having in 1955 a membership of 104. Resident bishops of the Bowne congregation were John P. Speicher (1833-1894), ordained preacher in 1867 and bishop in 1869; Bishop Jacob P. Miller (1850-1927), who moved from White Cloud to Bowne in July 1911 and lived there until March 1916; and T. E. Schrock, ordained preacher at Bowne in 1931 and bishop in 1936. Before 1879 these were the only counties in Michigan which contained established Mennonite congregations, although individual families were located in various other counties, who were often visited by traveling preachers such as John M. Brenneman of Ohio, and John F. Funk and Daniel Brenneman of Elkhart County, Indiana. In 1880 a preacher Cornelius Unruh with a small flock of 25 members was living in Okemos, Ingham County, Michigan, and another small group at Hammond in Kent County was hoping to build a meetinghouse. In 1880 a settlement was begun in Antrim County at Mancelona. Some Mennonites (MC) were also living in Mecosta County at a place called Wheatland. About the same time a number of Ontario Mennonite families settled in Tuscola County, but within a few decades most of them moved away. One of the last residents was Daniel Lehman, preacher of Fairgrove, Tuscola County, who died about 1922.

Mennonite Churches in Michigan,1955.
Mennonite Encyclopedia, v. 3, p. 673

Between  1879 and  1899 three permanent settlements were made in Emmet, Huron, and Newaygo counties. The Maple River congregation near Brutus in Emmet County was established in 1879 and led by Abraham W. Detweiler (1828-1912), who was originally of Ontario, but had left the Caledonia congregation to start a colony in Emmet County. Because of Detweiler's leadership the congregation itself was often called Detweiler's. About 1886 there was a division in the congregation parallel to the Wisler schism in Indiana of 1871, and Detweiler went with the conservatives (Wisler's Old Order Mennonites). This Wisler congregation, although its establishment greatly weakened the other portion of the congregation, was destined to live for only half a century. In 1921 a number of these Wisler families returned to the congregation which was a part of the Indiana-Michigan Conference (MC). After the division of 1886 Bishop Henry Shaum of Indiana went to Maple River and ordained 1887 Christian Detweiler (1845-1917) to the ministry, but the congregation grew progressively weaker. In 1912 seven members communed, and in 1919 three. The District Mission Board (MC) then arranged for the ordination of Clyde X. Kauffman of Indiana, and in 1921 he located in the Brutus area and attempted to revive the congregation. In a few years he had over 50 members, but later the membership dropped back to 25. In 1952 Earl Hartman of the Olive Church in Indiana was ordained to serve at Maple River; he moved to Brutus in 1954, and in 1955 was made pastor of the congregation, which in that year numbered 64.

In 1894 the Berne (now Pigeon) congregation (MC) was organized in Huron County, MI. Mennonite families began to move into the area about 1888, and the first services were held in a private home in 1890. The first meetinghouse was built in 1897. That same year Peter Ropp (1864-1944) was ordained preacher; he served at pigeon until 1923 when be moved to Imlay City (where he was ordained bishop in 1926). Pigeon was in the Ontario Conference until 1916 when it became affiliated with Indiana-Michigan (MC). Later pastors were S. J. Miller and Donald E. King, who was ordained bishop in 1957.  The 1955 membership was 98.

The original settlers in Newaygo County came largely from the Shore congregation (MC) in Indiana; they located near White Cloud in 1897-1899. The group started a Sunday school the first year, and in 1899 Bishop P. Y. Lehman (1836-1925) of Indiana organized the congregation. In 1900 John F. Funk ordained Jacob P. Miller (1850-1927) as preacher, and in 1901 P. Y. Lehman ordained Miller as bishop. (Ten years later, in July 1911, Miller moved to Bowne, Kent County, Michigan, USA) The long-time pastor of the White Cloud Mennonite congregation (formerly called Union) was T. U. Nelson (1870-1950), who was ordained in 1909. The pastor 1955 was Edward D. Jones, who had been a preacher since 1935, and the 1955 membership was 75. The meetinghouse was partly destroyed by fire 25 December 1956.

In 1900-1920 five additional Mennonite congregations (MC) were established in Michigan by colonization. Largest of all the Mennonite congregations of Michigan (MC) was Fairview with 401 members in 1955. Amish Mennonite settlers from Indiana began to locate in Oscoda County in 1900.

In 1903 Eli A. Bontrager (1861-1956), preacher of the West Market Street (Nappanee) congregation, moved to Fairview, and the next year Bishop D. J. Johns of Goshen, IN, organized the Fairview congregation with 35 charter members. In 1906 Menno Esch was ordained as a preacher, and in 1909 as bishop. In 1952 Esch ordained Harvey Handrich as bishop. Sentiment against the nonresistance of the Fairview Mennonites during World War I led to the burning of the meetinghouse of 1904 during the night of 4 April 1918, but a new church was immediately erected in its place, and was ready for use, first in the basement only, by January 1919.            :

Mennonite settlers began moving into Manistee County in 1903, and the next year Bishop E. A. Mast (1856-1932) of the Howard-Miami congregation in Indiana, from which the settlers had come, organized a congregation which was named Pleasantview. The first meetings were held in a log cabin, but in 1906 the church erected a new meetinghouse. Among the pastors who served the congregation were Joseph S. Horner (1864-1945) 1903-1911,. and Claude C. Culp (1893-1953) 1919-53. The pastor in 1956 was Warren C. Shaum, and the membership was 29.

Mennonite settlers from the Emma congregation (MC) in Indiana began to locate in Midland County in 1910, and three years later the District Mission Board placed William Haarer there as a licensed pastor. He remained three years. In 1916-1938 Eli A. Bontrager (1861-1956) was a minister at the Midland Church. In 1926 his. son Floyd was ordained preacher, and in 1934 bishop. The congregation purchased an old lodge hall and moved it on to their church lot in 1917 for use as a meetinghouse. In 1928 the congregation built a new meetinghouse. The pastor in 1955 was Clarence R. Yoder, and the membership was 134.

Mennonite families began to locate at Imlay City in Lapeer County in 1917. Some came from the Pigeon congregation in Huron County, others from other places including Ontario. One of the settlers was Peter Ropp (1864-1944), a preacher formerly of the Pigeon congregation. The Imlay City congregation was organized in 1918. In 1926 Ropp was ordained bishop. Paul A. Wittrig, the pastor in 1955, was ordained in 1938. The membership in 1955 was 35.

The last Mennonite Church (MC) to be established in Michigan by direct colonization was the Bethel congregation near Ashley in Gratiot County. The settlers came from the large Amish Mennonite churches in Illinois beginning in 1918. Sunday school was organized in 1920, and church services were inaugurated later that same year by Bishop George H. Summer (1871-1937), who had been ordained preacher by the Waldo congregation in Illinois in 1906 and bishop there two years later. Summer located at Ashley in 1920. The meetinghouse was built in 1922. Daniel S. Oyer (1882-1954) served as deacon, of the congregation 1923-1942, when he was ordained bishop, serving 1942-1954. The pastor in 1955 was John M. Landis, and the membership was 134.

The remaining churches and mission stations of the Mennonites (Mennonite Church) in Michigan were all established after 1937 with the exception of Detroit (1926). In 1937-1952 eleven mission stations were established in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan; these stations in 1955 had a total of 190 members. Ten other stations and congregational outposts were established in Lower Michigan in 1941-1955 with a membership of a little over 400 counting Detroit (which was established in 1926). The largest of these was Locust Grove in St. Joseph County with 192 members, an outpost of the Shore congregation in Lagrange County, IN. The total membership (MC) of the ten Michigan independent congregations (not under another congregation or a mission board), those with full status in Conference, was 1,272, and the remaining 17 outposts and mission stations had 444 members, a total for the state of 1,716 Mennonite Church (MC) members. Only six congregations had a membership of approximately one hundred or above.

The General Conference Mennonite Church was represented by one congregation and one mission station in Michigan, Comins and McKinley. The congregation at Comins in Oscoda County resulted from the energy and vision of F. F. Stutesman, formerly of the Mennonite Church (MC), who started a Sunday school in Comins after a Methodist Sunday school had died. Stutesman's Sunday school was a union or nondenominational effort, but was apparently attended by a number of Mennonite families which were living in the area and which had been worshiping with the Methodists. Stutesman became sufficiently concerned to see a Mennonite church started that he came to Middlebury in 1924 to interview Emanuel Troyer, the field secretary of the Central Conference Mennonites (since 1945 merged with the General Conference Mennonites). Troyer held a series of meetings at Comins the fall of 1924, and the next summer Troyer and Allen Yoder organized the Mennonites of the area into a congregation. In the late summer of 1925 the Comins Mennonite Church was accepted as a member of the Central Conference of Mennonites. That same year the Comins congregation built its first church building. In 1927 H. E. Nunemaker accepted the pastorate. By 1927 the membership was 26. In 1955 the pulpit was supplied by Howard Johnson of Fairview, and the membership had risen to 173. The McKinley Mission (GCM), southeast of Fairview in Oscoda County, was established in 1951 and the membership in 1955 was three.

The Old Order Amish began to settle in Oscoda County, MI, in 1900. They came from Geauga County, Ohio, and other locations. But the Amish seem not to have been permanently successful in Oscoda County. By 1955 the membership had dwindled to 20, and the remaining members no longer had any ordained men to care for them. Since 1925 the Amish have established a colony in St. Joseph County in southern Michigan, around Centerville. Here in 1955 they had three districts with a total of 146 members. There were also some Amish families in the Stoll District at Jerome, Hillsdale County, Michigan

Historically the Evangelical Mennonites were not represented in Michigan but in 1995 they had two small congregations, Adrian and Midland. The First Mennonite Church (EMC) of Adrian in Lenawee County (north of Wauseon, Ohio) was organized in 1949; in 1954 it had a membership of 34. The Midland congregation in Midland County was even younger, having been founded in 1953. In 1955 it had a membership of 28.

The Reformed Mennonites were represented in Michigan by only one congregation, the Shelby Mennonite Church in Oceana County. It was established in the years immediately following the Civil War, a little before 1870. It has not prospered. The 1955 membership was approximately 50. The ministers were Omar Near and Lawrence Zimmerman; About 1900 a second Reformed Mennonite congregation was established at Rochester in Oakland County near Detroit, but it died in the 1930s.

When John Holdeman, founder of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, wrote his English History of the Church of God (1876), he reported that his group had spread to "Canada, Michigan, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Virginia, and Maryland, and is still increasing more and more" (p. 241). Eighty years later, however, the CGC group was represented in Michigan by only two congregations, Newark in Gratiot County, and Harrison in Clare County. Newark was established as a congregation in 1890 and has prospered; the membership stood at 285 in 1955. Meetinghouses were built in 1903 and 1920, and the latter enlarged in 1947 and again in 1953. The Harrison congregation in Clare County was established in 1912, and had a membership of 59.

The Old Order or Wisler Mennonites no longer had any members in Michigan in 1955. As was noted above, the Maple River or Detweiler congregation near Brutus in Emmet County divided about 1886. Even prior to the division at Brutus, however, Jacob Wisler had ordained Jonathan Gehman to the ministry. A later preacher was Henry Brenneman. The bishop, Daniel G. Brubaker, originally of Ontario—he settled at Brutus before his marriage and later brought a bride from Ontario—was still living in 1957, an aged man of about 90. (His home in 1957 was at Elverson, Pennsylvania, USA) The two groups, Mennonite Church and Old Order Mennonite, alternated in the use of the meetinghouse. For a number of decades the Wisler congregation was the stronger of the two, the number of attendants about 1920 often being in the neighborhood of 80 or 90. But in 1921 some of the Wisler families began to unite with the Mennonite Church congregation and others moved to various communities. About 1936, fifty years after its founding, the Wisler services ceased at Brutus. In another decade or so the last member had died.

The group with the largest number of members in Michigan is the United Missionary Church, formerly Mennonite Brethren in Christ, although as their historian J. A. Huffman writes, they have "but little Mennonite stock." The first mission stations were started in Huron and Lapeer counties in the "thumb" of Michigan in 1880. The first meetinghouses were built in 1884. In rapid succession a series of missions was founded: Grand Rapids (1897), Caro (1900), St. Clair (1903), Bad Axe (1903), Port Huron (1903), Flint (1904), Pontiac (1908), etc. Some stations have died out, but the general movement has been definitely forward. The Michigan Conference was organized in 1920 and included twenty congregations with 1,110 members in 1955. The chain of eighteen congregations across southern Michigan belonged to the Indiana Conference (UMC) and embraced a total of 1,004 members. The following five U.M.C. congregations in Michigan had over 100 members in 1955: Brown City in Sanilac County, 132; Port Huron in St. Clair County, 165; Calvary in Detroit, 111; Dakota Avenue in Detroit, 264; and Pleasant Hill in Branch County (originally MC), 104.

The Conservative Mennonite Conference was represented in Michigan by three well-established congregations with a total of 602 members (1955): Pigeon River in Huron County, which began about 1902 and in 1955 had 270 members; the Riverside congregation at Au Gres in Arenac County, founded about 1911 and having 100 members; and the Riverview congregation in St. Joseph County near White Pigeon, established as an extension of the Conservative Amish Mennonite settlement in the vicinity of Middlebury, IN, with a 1955 membership of 174. The mission in Flint was founded in 1929, and in 1955 had 39 members; the mission in Vassar (1938) had 15 members in 1955; and the Mount Morris mission north of Flint (Genesee County) had four members; it was established in 1951. The Fairhaven mission at Sebewaing (southwest Pigeon, Huron County), founded in 1938, and the National City mission, Iosco County, had no resident membership. The oldest and chief congregation, Pigeon River, was host to the first session of the Conservative A.M. Conference in 1910. Emanuel Swartzendruber (1893- ), its bishop in the 1950s, ordained preacher in 1934, and bishop in 1944, had oversight of all the Conservative congregations and missions in Michigan except Riverview, where Onie Kauffman was in charge.

The Missionary Church Association (MCA) was founded in 1898 as a schism from the Defenseless Mennonite Church, now Evangelical Mennonite Church. That very year a Missionary Church Association congregation was founded in Elkton, MI. In 1918-1947 the following nine mission stations and/or congregations were established: Eastlawn in Detroit (1918), East Detroit (1923), Roseville, northeast of Detroit (1929), Royal Oak, north of Detroit (1937), Flint (1940), East Lansing (1940), Jackson (1945), Sturgis (1945), and Loomis (1947). By 1954 there were 14 MCA congregations in Michigan including Augusta, northeast of Kalamazoo (1954), Bad Axe in Huron County, east of Pigeon (1952-53), Battle Creek in Calhoun County (1953), Clare in Clare County some fifty miles northwest of Saginaw, and Wayne, a few miles southwest of Detroit (1952-53). There were also (1954) two unorganized MCA congregations or mission stations in Michigan; viz., Midland, and Mt. Clemens, northeast of Detroit. When the Missionary Church Association began to appoint district superintendents in 1909, Michigan was one of nine districts given a superintendent. The three states, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, in 1954 constituted the Eastern District, a territory with the following organized congregations: Michigan, 14; Ohio, 11; and Pennsylvania, 3. These 28 churches, plus Michigan's two unorganized churches, had a total membership of 1,432.

One other related denomination is represented in Michigan, the Brethren in Christ, a group founded by Jacob Engel about the close of the Revolutionary War. This body was represented in Michigan by seven small congregations founded since 1880, most of the meetinghouses having been built in 1915-1935. The membership of these churches totaled 153 in 1954. These congregations have all been under the care of Bishop E. J. Swalm of Duntroon, ON, since 1954 because of the advanced age of the previous leader, Henry Schneider of Merrill, MI, who now had the status of bishop emeritus.

The successful colonies of Mennonites in Michigan have not been numerous. The state has rather proved to be the "mission field" for the various groups of Mennonites in Indiana. Four bodies, Mennonite Church (1,716 members), United Missionary Church (2,114 members), Church of God in Christ, Mennonite (344 members), and Conservative Mennonite Conference (602 members), constituted over 85 per cent of all the Mennonites in the state in 1955. Indeed, two of these, the Mennonite Church and the United Missionary Church, together comprised about 70 per cent of the total. -- John C. Wenger

1990 Update

The Mennonite Church (MC) began 12 new congregations in this state between 1956 and 1987. Two of these 12, both in Kalamazoo, did not survive. The 10 new congregations that continued included four dual-conference fellowships (two in Ann Arbor, one in Detroit and one in East Lansing). The dual-conference relationships are all with the General Conference Mennonite Church (GCM). Other new congregations are Stutsmanville Chapel in Emmet County with a membership of more than 100, North Park in Grand Rapids; Wasepi near Sturgis; West Odessa in Ionia County; Templo Menonita de la Hermosa in Kalamazoo; and Christian Fellowship Center in Sturgis.

Of the Mennonite Church congregations already existing in 1956, five closed and four left the Indiana-Michigan Conference, Bowne in Kent County joined the Conservative Mennonite Conference, Seney in Michigan's Upper Peninsula joined the Mid-West Mennonite Fellowship, and White Cloud and Pleasantview (both in west-central Michigan) were unaffiliated in 1986. The Detroit Mission, begun in 1926, changed its name to Peace Mennonite Church and, like both congregations in Saginaw, was interracial but largely Afro-American. Camp Amigo, near Sturgis, was owned by the Indiana-Michigan Conference and offered a strong camping and retreat program since opening in 1957. Little Eden Camp at Onekema has been an association-operated camp since 1945. The number of Mennonite Church congregations increased from 35 to 36 between 1956 and 1986. Membership grew from 1,700 to about 2,400 in those years.

Several small fellowships have begun at Fairview. Conservative Mennonite Fellowship began as a small group from the Fairview (MC) congregation in 1967. Since that time two other small groups have emerged from that one—Fairview Conservative (1977) and Pilgrim Fellowship (1984).

General Conference Mennonites (GCM) grew by way of the dual-conference fellowships noted above. Camp Friedenswald in Cass County had a full schedule of camps or retreats. It was founded in 1950.

The Conservative Mennonite Conference (CMC) grew by two congregations since 1956. Bowne joined the conference after being unaffiliated for a time and North Wayne in Dewagiac, Cass County, was organized in 1974. This began as a mission in 1958 with Floyd Brenneman as superintendent. When the congregation was organized, he was ordained to be pastor. His son Robert was pastor in 1987. The membership of the conference increased from 428 to 659 in 10 congregations during from 1956-1986.

The Brethren in Christ (BIC) continued to have seven small churches in Michigan. The Lakeview Community Church in Goodrich, was a new congregation but the Dearborn congregation closed. The Oak Grove congregation at Gladwin continued as a BIC church but leadership was provided by the Fairview Mennonite (MC) congregation. In 1965 Camp Lakeview near Goodrich was opened. Two years later a half-interest was sold to the Missionary Church. It is now operated jointly.

The Evangelical Mennonite Church (now Fellowship of Evangelical Churches) had three congregations in 1987, having added Lawton Church in 1974. They also purchased a camp near Lawton and offer a full camping and retreat program. Michigan membership was 188.

The Church of God in Christ, Mennonite (Holdeman) closed the Harrison church (except for Sunday school and summer Bible school) and established Mt. Calm Mennonite Church at Carson City. Membership in two congregations, Mt. Calm and Newark (near Ithica) totaled 350. They have their own school with 85 students (1987).

Old Order Amish districts in Oscoda County that died out were replaced in 1968 by an influx from Ohio and Indiana forming two church districts (congregations). Around Centreville, near the Indiana border, they have grown from three to six districts with 140 families. Hillsdale County had two districts (established 1956). Branch County had two districts (established 1960), and Calhoun County had two districts (established 1960). Residents in Branch and Calhoun Counties came mostly from the Grabill, IN settlement. One district began near Greenville in 1970, another in Eaton County in 1975, and one in Iosco County in 1978. Two districts were formed in Gladwin County in 1981 by immigrants from Kenton, Ohio, and one by folks from Wayne County, Ohio. Close by, near Clare, one district was begun (1981) by people from Holmes County, Ohio. In addition, a small group came from Mifflin County, PA. (Belleville) to Rosebush (1981); a group from Arthur, IL, to Ludington (1983). A group of Amish is located near Reed City (1985). In 1982 and 1984 two small groups also moved near Stanwood and in 1986 a group began near Athens. Nine of the 17 settlements in Michigan began since 1980.

About five families from the Old Order Mennonites (Wisler Mennonites) of Elkhart County, IN, moved to Snover in the "Thumb" area of Michigan in 1981. Joined later by five more families from the same community and a family from Wisconsin, they still remain a part of the Elkhart County congregation. On 24 December 1986, David Miller was ordained by Leonard Martin, bishop of the congregation to lead the Michigan part of the congregation.

Some families from St. Joseph County, MI were driving to the Fair Haven Amish Mennonite Church (Beachy Amish) near Middlebury, IN in the early 1950s. The Fair Haven congregation helped them form a new congregation. Thus the Oak Grove Church was begun near Nottawa. Later this church dissolved under some stress but out of this the Pilgrim Fellowship was formed in 1969 and Sharon Bethel became a renamed remnant of the original group. These two continued to be Beachy Amish churches. In addition, the Shiloh Fellowship (1970) of Constantine came largely from the Oak Grove church and was now part of the Mid-West Mennonite Fellowship.

The Missionary Church (formerly United Missionary Church) continued to have the largest Michigan membership of any Mennonite-related group. In 1969 their membership was increased by a merger with the Missionary Church Association. About 16 congregations were added by the merger. Others were added by active evangelism and church planting. In 1987 there were 67 Missionary Church congregations; total membership was ca. 3,800. Forty-eight of the congregations were in the Michigan District and 19 were part of the North Central District, which also reaches into Indiana. Camping was an important part of the program with three camps at Mancelona, Brown City, and Goodrich. -- Galen Johns


Climenhaga, A. W. History of the Brethren in Christ Church. Nappanee, IN, 1942.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: III, 129 f.

Holdeman, John. A History of the Church of God. Newton, KS, 1876 and 1938.

Horsch, James E., ed. Mennonite Yearbook and Directory. (1956, 1986-87).

Huffman, J. A. History of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church. New Carlisle, Ohio, 1920.

Lugibihl, W. H. and J. F. Gerig. The Missionary Church Association. Berne, IN, 1950.

Luthy, David. The Amish in America: Settlements that Failed, 1840-1960. Aylmer, ON: Pathway Publishers, 1986.

Troyer, Clarence. The Mennonite Church in the Upper Penninsula of Michigan. Engadine: the author, 1986.

Weaver, W. B. History of the Central Conference Mennonite Church. Danvers, IL, 1926.

Wittlinger, Carlton O. Quest for Piety and Obedience: The Story of the Brethren in Christ. Nappanee, IN: Evangel Press, 1978: 132.

Author(s) John C. Wenger
Galen Johns
Date Published 1987

Cite This Article

MLA style

Wenger, John C. and Galen Johns. "Michigan (USA)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1987. Web. 26 May 2024. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Michigan_(USA)&oldid=178751.

APA style

Wenger, John C. and Galen Johns. (1987). Michigan (USA). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 26 May 2024, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Michigan_(USA)&oldid=178751.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 672-676; v. 5, pp. 583-584. All rights reserved.

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