Winter Bible Schools

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Winter Bible Schools, formerly called "short term" or "special term Bible schools," are organized adult education programs of two to six weeks' duration held on the campus of church high schools or col­leges, or in local congregations at the meetinghouse, and relatively unique to the Mennonite Church in North America. The schools usually have no educational requirements for admission, and credits are not usually transferable, although sometimes credit is given by church high schools. These schools flourished largely in 1920-1940, at a time when the Mennonite population was still predominantly rural, and when many young people did not go to high school or college. At the peak, in 1939, the combined attendance was about 2,000, after which time attendance declined greatly.

The first Winter Bible School was held at Elkhart Institute (later Goshen College) in 1900 for a 4-week term. It soon became a 6-week school, held in January-February, and was not finally dis­continued until 1954. The second school was the Ontario Mennonite Bible School, established in 1907 at the First Mennonite Church in Kitchener, Ontario, and closing in 1969. In 1929 the term was lengthened to 12 weeks, and in 1951 an additional 5-month course was established under a separate board but in the same quarters, called the Ontario Mennonite Bible Institute. The third school, established at Hesston College, Hesston, Kansas, in 1909, and the fourth, established at Eastern Mennon­ite College, Harrisonburg, Virginia, in 1917 (preliminary terms in 1915 at Alexandria, Virginia, and in 1916 at Harrisonburg) are still operating. The Johnstown (Pennsylvania) Bible School operated 1922-56, and the Canton (Ohio) Bible School 1913-55 (with omissions). The Alberta-Saskatchewan school at Carstairs, Alberta, begun in 1935, was still operating in the late 1950s.

In conference districts in which the constituency is scattered, migratory winter Bible schools were developed which held sessions at various places in the conference district, either from year to year or within the same year. Four conference districts developed such migratory winter Bible schools - Dakota-Montana, now North Central; Pacific Coast; Ontario Amish Mennonite; and Alberta-Saskatche­wan.

Many local congregations began to sponsor winter Bible schools. These were usually not held longer than 2 or 3 weeks. Attempts at this type of school were made as early as 1914, but it was not until 1930 that these schools became successful. The Amish Mennonite Church near Allensville, Pennsylvania, conducted a 3-week school, 2-20 February 1914, under the name of Big Valley Bible School. The next session was held in 1924. Another session was in 1927. The work was revived in 1933 and continued without interruption to 1948. Similar schools were conducted in 1930-36 in the churches around Kalona and Wayland, Iowa. Winter Bible schools have been held at various times since 1930 at the Central Mennonite Church near Archbold, Ohio; Bowne Mennonite Church, Clarksville, Michigan; Midland Mennonite Church, Midland, Michigan; Leo Mennonite Church, Leo, Indiana; Creston Mennonite Church, Creston, Montana; Maple Grove Amish Mennonite Church near Atglen, Pennsylvania; Howard-Miami Mennonite Church, Kokomo, Indiana; Fairview Mennonite Church, Fairview, Michigan; Zion Mennonite Church, Hubbard, Oregon; Berea Mennonite Church, Montgomery, Indiana; Shore Mennonite Church near Shipshewana, Indiana, and others.

In 1939 winter Bible schools were begun in the Lancaster Conference District in Eastern Pennsyl­vania. An evening version of the winter Bible school became quite successful in the Franconia Con­ference District; although it originated in Franconia as early as 1932, it did not begin to reach its greatest strength until 1940-41, when the evening winter Bible school classes in seven Franconia churches had a combined enrollment of over 1,000.

Most of the 6-weeks winter Bible schools added special courses for ministers, and a number estab­lished a Ministers' Week. In 1940 the Winter Bible School Council was established under the General Educational Council of the Mennonite Board of Ed­ucation to aid in strengthening and promoting the winter Bible school work.

Without doubt the winter Bible schools have been of great value in Bible teaching and spiritual edifica­tion and inspiration; in a sense they took over the function which the congregational Bible conferences had earlier filled. In the 1950's it was becoming clear that their day was past in many parts of the church, although they were still filling a need in some areas.


Fretz, Clarence. "A History of Winter Bible Schools in the Mennonite Church." Mennonite Quarterly Review  XVI (1942): 51-81, and 178-95.

Lederach, P. M. "A History of Religious Education in the Mennonite Church." Ph.D. diss.  Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. 1949.

Author(s) Paul M. Lederach
Harold S. Bender
Date Published 1959

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Lederach, Paul M. and Harold S. Bender. "Winter Bible Schools." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 31 Jul 2021.

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Lederach, Paul M. and Harold S. Bender. (1959). Winter Bible Schools. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 31 July 2021, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 962-963. All rights reserved.

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