Home Mission Board (General Conference Mennonite Church)
One of the first acts of the small group that founded the General Conference Mennonite Church in 1860 was to adopt a resolution: "That hereafter Home and Foreign Missions shall be carried on according to ability by our denomination." It took some time for the movement to gain momentum and strength. A foreign mission field was planned among the American Indians. In 1872 L. O. Schimmel of Pennsylvania, Ephraim Hunsberger of Ohio, and Christian Krehbiel of Kansas were appointed by Conference to look after the scattered churches and groups of Mennonites that needed shepherding. There was no united planning and so each one worked independently in his own region. The conference seemed to be satisfied with the start that was made. Perhaps because they were burdened by problems in other fields, the Home Mission Committee was permitted to lapse.
In 1878 conference considered it necessary to elect a new Home Mission Committee and engaged as a permanent worker in 1887 J. B. Baer, trained in Union Theological Seminary, New York. At the very next conference session Baer presented various concrete needs to the home congregations. His work in Manitoba, where he visited the hard-pressed immigrants, was indeed encouraging in that a new spirit of determination, evangelism, and devotion became apparent. Next Baer followed churches in Minnesota and the Dakotas, and on to the Pacific. In the strictest sense of the term, this was church extension work, rather than the conventional type of Home Mission work. Many churches in the Northern District and in the Pacific District (all the older churches) owed their start to Baer's wise and energetic direction. In order to share the joy of the fruits with the home churches, and to enlist their aid in prayers and gifts, Baer spent considerable time visiting all the older congregations.
During the second quarter of the 20th century the Board of Home Missions carried on church extension work in rural and urban centers in the United States. Workers in addition to Baer were engaged from time to time. In some of the rural areas, congregations required aid for only a rather short time until they became self-supporting. City mission work was started in Chicago and Los Angeles and later in Hutchinson, Kansas, and other places. It was a source of satisfaction that the congregations in the last two cities became strong enough to stand alone and in turn help others through their gifts. A few rural stations were abandoned when the families moved elsewhere.
The northward and westward movements of Mennonites were also manifested in the Canadian Prairie Provinces. Some of the new settlements were formed by farmers from Manitoba and from the United States who were looking for cheaper land and more room. Because of the background of the German and Russian immigrants, congregations frequently had two or three ministers, the Board of Home Missions inaugurated the itinerant type of work since extra preachers were available. Most preachers in Canada were farmers and it was found to be comparatively easy for them to spend part time in visiting smaller scattered settlements. In the earlier days economic conditions were uncertain; so in order to help needy ministers the Board of Home Missions engaged men and paid them the equivalent of three months' full pay, divided into 12 monthly payments. Many congregations in the large Canadian District were indebted to the Board of Home Missions for aiding them in getting established.
In Canada city mission work took a unique course. Mission churches and girls' homes developed hand in hand in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; Calgary, Alberta; and Vancouver, British Columbia. The long winters and the need to earn money to repay obligations forced many families to move to these cities. Canadian Mennonite families are usually large, and in many homes girls could work out to earn money to help with the family needs or repay the travel debt. Jobs are located through the matrons of the homes. From the time a girl arrived in the city and came to the girls' home, the matron played the part of mother. Thursday evenings the girls usually spent socially in the home, with an hour of Bible study conducted by the pastor of the local mission church. The missions and the girls' homes were a blessing to each other and the result was a faster growing city congregation and many a Christian home was established through the channels of these girls' homes.
During the large Canadian immigration 1923-1930, when 20,201 came, every phase of Home Mission work had to be intensified and some new phases of work had to be opened. The Board of Home Missions sent special workers into Canada to assist in church music and young people's work for a number of years. Canadian Mennonites responded quickly to the musical training, and in 1952 a Canadian music leader paid a return visit to some United States communities. The young people responded well through their Provincial Retreats. A goodly number of decisions for mission work and full-time Christian service were made by the 1950s. These went into our Foreign Mission fields and others filled pulpits and other places of leadership.
The Board of Home Missions felt deeply that the best investment was to help small and young groups to grow in grace, faith, and numbers, so that in due time they might in turn be the ones to help furnish their portion in the prayer and finance support for our whole conference program. A strong home base made a far outreach for Christ possible.
Mennonites in South America, except the Old Colony groups from Canada, are all refugees from Russia or the Danzig areas, either from World War I or II. Approximately 40 per cent of these Mennonites leaned toward or already belonged to the General Conference. Being refugees, they were short in funds, and it was essential to aid them in their economic as well as spiritual life. The Mennonite Central Committee was definitely committed to extending economic aid, while the different conferences helped with the establishing and maintaining of schools, Bible schools, and general church work. Pioneering was difficult in each of the countries where Mennonites have settled, but since Paraguay was held back by stronger neighbor-nations, it was most difficult here. Testimonies came to the Board again and again that, if it had not been for the spiritual aid given in the form of German literature, along devotional lines, visits from leaders in North America, they would have felt like giving up. A warm and vibrant faith in Christ strengthens and steadies in any circumstance of life. Ministers were given part salary for their service so that they could hire help to tend their farms, when they did church work. Without this undergirding, many would have been unable to give the needed time or effort to do the spiritual work the Lord called them to render. Students were aided to get theological training. Aid was also given when a new church is to be built.
Newer Phases of Work
For a number of years, members of the Home Mission Board felt that the conference should do its part in endeavoring to ease tension in certain areas of the United States. The Board entered the southern mountain area to bring the Gospel to the neglected people in this region by establishing some mission stations and did Bible story and memory work with children in the public schools. A special phase of the children's work was the annual camp held in the summer months. Large numbers of children took part in these camps. City work, where problems were innumerable, was undergirded by sending summer volunteer workers to help in conducting summer Bible schools and in directing recreational work. The Board also helped in the "larger city parish plan," where many workers joined hands in making a united onslaught against the forces of evil. In a large city a single worker was often almost swallowed up, even though he may be doing an excellent piece of work. An effort was made in certain cities to form Mennonite fellowships, by bringing Mennonites from different branches together for worship and getting acquainted. Fellowships were often made up of students, individual Mennonite workers in these cities, and also some families who had come to the city to pursue some specialized line of work. In the mid-20th century one of these Mennonite fellowships developed into a congregation. The dire need of the large migrant population was another call, which was answered by securing two trailers and workers to labor among the cotton workers in Arizona. In 1950 the new General Conference constitution was adopted and all General Conference mission work was put under the Board of Missions. The men who served on the Board of Home Missions in the earlier 25 years, 1925-1950, were, W. S. Gottshall, A. S. Shelly, J. E. Amstutz, David Toews, S. S. Baumgartner, J. M. Regier added in 1925, H. A. Fast in 1932, A. J. Neuenschwander in 1935, John J. Plenert in 1938, W, Harley King in 1941, C. E. Krehbiel in 1945, G. G. Epp in 1947, Ben Esch in 1947.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 800-802. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Neuenschwander, A. J. "Home Mission Board (General Conference Mennonite Church)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 23 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/home_mission_board_general_conference_mennonite.
APA style: Neuenschwander, A. J. (1953). Home Mission Board (General Conference Mennonite Church). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 23 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/home_mission_board_general_conference_mennonite.