Central Conference Mennonite Church
The Central Conference Mennonite Church existed as a distinct organized Mennonite denominational body 1908-1946, the name having been officially adopted in 1914 as a change from "Central Illinois Mennonite Conference." In 1945 the group joined the General Conference Mennonite Church in a body as a district conference, retaining the name "Central Conference," and its distinct organization. In 1957 it merged with the Middle District Conference to form the Central District of the General Conference Mennonite Church. Before full official organization in 1908, the 12 congregations which formed the group, largely located in Central Illinois, had been loosely affiliated as a distinct denomination with an annual ministerial meeting beginning in 1899 (and earlier unorganized, since 1872, when the parent congregation ceased to affiliate with the Amish Mennonite General Conference). Since the leader in the 1872 withdrawal was Bishop Joseph Stuckey, the group was long popularly known as "the Stuckey Mennonites." The word "Amish" was dropped from the official name in 1908.
The mother church of the Central Conference was the North Danvers Church, organized in 1835 (first called Rock Creek), often called the Yoder Church because of its outstanding bishop Jonathan Yoder (1795-1869). Joseph Stuckey (1825-1902), ordained bishop of this congregation in 1864, a man of unusual ability and leadership, occasioned the division in 1872 by refusing to excommunicate a member of the congregation who taught universalism, as was requested by the Amish conference. Although no other congregations joined Stuckey, except the two small congregations at Meadows and Washington, Illinois, which were under his oversight, his following grew. Locally new congregations were organized. Two Stuckey congregations were established by colonization, at Aurora, Nebraska (1885), and Goodland, Indiana (1897), and one congregation at Topeka, Indiana (1902), which left the old church there, joined the group. There were nine Illinois churches, the mother church, with South Danvers (1859), East White Oak (1892), Meadows (1891), Washington, later called Calvary (1866), Pekin (1905), Flanagan (1878), Congerville (1898), and Anchor (1894).
Although Stuckey remained free from all conference affiliation he was in close touch through the years 1872-1898 with the General Conference Mennonite Church and other Mennonite groups. A report of the North Danvers congregation is found in an 1890 report of the General Conference Mennonite Church. Stuckey's notebooks also reveal that through travel and correspondence and the church papers he was in continual touch with Mennonite leaders of other conferences. In this period he also took a great deal of interest in congregations which had similar experiences to his. He has been even blamed for causing divisions in churches. This does not seem to be the case, but it can truthfully be said that he was always willing to assist through his effective leadership where a group of people were without conference affiliation or the proper leadership to make progress. His records show that he traveled both east and west, visiting congregations and groups of people who needed help, encouraging the work, ordaining bishops and ministers, and helping congregations to succeed.
Through the years 1883-1898 a number of young ministers were ordained by Stuckey in various congregations, such as Aaron Augspurger, J. H. King, Peter Schantz, and Emanuel Troyer. These men felt the need of greater unity and cooperation between the congregations. A meeting was held at the home of J. H. King, 5 August 1899, and the second at North Danvers, 26 August 1899. At the second meeting definite plans were made to have an annual conference. The conferences from 1899 to 1907 were largely in the nature of Bible study and a discussion of the doctrines of the church. The meetings were inspirational, not legislative. But after institutions were established and activities in the church increased it was found necessary to be more closely organized, and so a constitutionally organized conference was created with 12 congregations as charter members. The first conference held under the new organization was at the North Danvers Church, 10 September 1908. There were in 1951, 20 congregations in the conference with a membership of 3,252. The second period of organized conference history, 1908-1951, shows further extension in the establishment of congregations but especially an interest in missions and the establishment of institutions. Elders Peter Schantz and Emanuel Troyer were outstanding in their leadership in these fields in the earlier years, with Troyer, W. B. Weaver, Allen Yoder, and Raymond Hartzler in the later years.
The first mission work to be established in the conference was home missions. A Home Mission Board was organized in 1908 and the first mission station established on 20 June 1909, which later became the Mennonite Gospel Mission of Chicago. In 1914, the second mission station was established in Peoria and called the Mennonite Gospel Mission. The third mission, the 26th Street Mission in Chicago, was taken over from the Mennonite Church under the leadership of A. M. Eash and admitted into the conference in 1923.
After several years of mission work under the Africa Inland Mission, the conference established its own foreign mission work in cooperation with the Defenseless Mennonites (later Evangelical Mennonite Conference) in the Belgian Congo, establishing a joint board, the new Congo Inland Mission Board, whose first workers were sent out in April 1911.
In this same period the Old People's Home was established at Meadows (1922), the Mennonite Hospital at Bloomington (1919), and a joint program in college and seminary work was undertaken, supporting Bluffton College and Witmarsum Seminary, and later the Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Chicago.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 540-541. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Weaver, William B. "Central Conference Mennonite Church." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 19 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/C458857.html.
APA style: Weaver, William B. (1953). Central Conference Mennonite Church. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 19 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/C458857.html.