First Mennonite Church (Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA)
During the early 20th century, Manitou (which received its present name of Manitou Springs in 1935), a resort west of Colorado Springs, Colorado, emerged as a tourist attraction for Mennonites. Young people, particularly single women, moved there seeking employment during the summer tourist seasons. Others were attracted to the area for health reasons, such as those suffering from pulmonary disease, or simply because of a desire to "go west" and experience the Rocky Mountains. Beginning in 1918 Mennonite nurses from the La Junta School of Nursing also moved to the resort to undertake part of their training at a local hospital. According to the 1919 annual report of the Kansas-Nebraska Conference, "since many of our brethren and sisters go to Colorado Springs" a committee of three—L. O. King, Jacob A. Heatwole, and John Thut—was appointed to investigate the need for and take immediate steps to provide a suitable place of worship to "conserve" Mennonites who settled there and to reach tourists for Christ.
A Sunday school, known as the Manitou Mennonite Mission, was started in the town in 1920. Property was purchased on Deer Path Avenue on which a building was constructed and dedicated on 15 August 1920, and the mission was officially organized as a congregation—Manitou Mennonite Church—by Bishop Jacob A. Heatwole of La Junta on 1 October 1922, with 13 charter members. The Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities subsidized the new church, which initially affiliated with the Missouri-Kansas Conference. Kore Zook initially performed pastoral responsibilities. Daniel J. Fisher, pastor of the East Union Mennonite Church in Iowa, was called as the first minister of the new congregation. He and his family moved into a rented three-room parsonage at the corner of Deer Path Avenue and High Street.
Because of its summer resort location, the new church soon had an average summer attendance of 60 and a winter attendance of 25. By 1924 the Manitou congregation met in two locations and had a membership of 31. Two years later it was reported that some of the members wanted to sell the building and move to Colorado Springs. By 1928 the congregation had a membership of 21, but an average attendance of 85, 20 percent of whom were of non-Mennonite background.
During the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s new members moved to the Manitou Springs-Colorado Springs area from the Mennonite churches of eastern Colorado in Limon and Thurman. Lewis C. Miller, formerly of Limon, became pastor in 1933, and remained in that position until 1951. In 1934, the Manitou membership was 66, eight of whom were formerly non-Mennonites. In 1936 the church reorganized with 32 members, and five years later the congregation’s mission home and church buildings were renovated.
During World War II (1941-45), the Mennonite Central Committee administered Civilian Public Service Camp #5 in Colorado Springs (at the southwest corner of 2010 Union and Fillmore) for conscientious objectors who performed alternative service work for the Soil Conservation Service and the U.S. Forest Service. Established in June 1941, this was the first Mennonite Central Committee-administered camp west of the Mississippi River. During the war years, the camp, which housed up to 125 men, drew some 500 conscientious objectors from 10 states to the area. Some of these individuals later established permanent homes in the area and become members of local Mennonite churches such as First Mennonite. The highest membership in Manitou Springs was 106 in 1946.
By 1948 most of the Manitou congregation’s members lived in the Colorado Springs area. Thus the congregation sold its building in Manitou Springs to a Baptist group and purchased a church structure at 11 North 22nd Street in Old Colorado City from the Church of the Brethren. The first services were held at this new location on 19 September 1948. The congregation had 148 members in 1954. In June 1949, after Colorado Springs annexed Old Colorado City, the church formally changed its name to First Mennonite Church of Colorado Springs. As part of its outreach program, the church conducted a Vacation Bible School in a tent on Peterson Field, a nearby U.S. Air Force base.
In 1956 First Mennonite's pastor Jess Kauffman and 49 charter members established a new church plant in Colorado Springs, which would become known as Beth-El Mennonite Church. In 1958 First Mennonite had 67 members and Jacob Weirich as pastor. By 1959 the First Mennonite Church of Colorado Springs had a membership of 64 and an average attendance of 80.
The congregation became a member of the South Central Mennonite Conference in 1946 and was a charter member of the Rocky Mountain Mennonite Conference (1961) and the Mountain States Mennonite Conference (2006). In 2006 the congregation’s membership was 47 with Donald L. Thomassen as pastor, and during the following year the church had an average attendance of 35.
"The Church of the Brethren, (Now the First Mennonite Church), 22nd and Kiowa Streets." n.d. Provided to the author by Edwin F. Rempel.
"First Mennonite Church, Colorado Springs, Colorado." The Echo (July-August 1985): 1, 7.
Hostetler, Vileen. "First Mennonite Church, Colorado Springs." The Echo (July-August 1985): 1-7.
Unrau, Harlan D. In Pursuit of Land, Health and Mission: A History of Mennonites in the Mountain States Region. Printed in Canada by Blitzprint, Inc., 2007.
Address: 11 North 22nd Street, Colorado Springs, Colorado 80904
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MLA style: Unrau, Harlan. "First Mennonite Church (Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. April 2010. Web. 20 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/F56922.html.
APA style: Unrau, Harlan. (April 2010). First Mennonite Church (Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 20 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/F56922.html.