Illinois, one of the 50 states of the United States, was admitted to the Union as a state in 1818. With an area of 57,918 square miles (140,998 km²) its greatest length is 395 miles (629 km) and its extreme breadth 210 miles (340 km). It comprises an area larger than Belgium, Switzerland, and Holland combined. One of the most flat of the states, its greatest elevation is 1,235 ft (377 m) above the sea, and its mean elevation is 600 ft (182 m). The greater part of its area consists of quite level or slightly undulating prairies, though there are hills and bluffs along the rivers and their tributaries and in the northwest and the extreme south. Having rich black soil, Illinois, as a part of the fertile Mississippi Valley, is a prosperous agricultural state. But it was also in the 1950s an important producer of minerals, coal being the most important. It was also one of the most important manufacturing states, with Chicago as the chief industrial city. In 2007 Illinois was the fifth state in population, having 12,852,548 inhabitants.
The Mennonites did not come to Illinois in large groups as a colonizing movement but rather as individuals and in small groups. The first ones to settle in the state were of the Amish wing. They came to the central part of Illinois settling in the counties of McLean, Woodford, Tazewell, and Livingston. Peter Maurer, the first of whom there is record, settled in McLean County in 1829, having come from Butler County, Ohio, and two years before that from Alsace. In 1830 two others came, walking, it is said, all the way from Butler County. Others came in the following years, most of the Illinois Amish having arrived by 1850. Many of these immigrants came from Alsace, some coming directly by way of New Orleans and up the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, and others coming by way of New York City, either directly or after a brief sojourn in Pennsylvania or Ohio. Other European areas, besides Alsace-Lorraine, contributed Amish settlers to central Illinois—Hesse, the Palatinate, Bavaria, Baden, and Switzerland. Though usually not the first whites in an area, these first Amish settlers found themselves surrounded by frontier conditions in this part of Illinois when they arrived in the 1830's.
The first church organized among the Amish was that of the Partridge congregation, west of the present Metamora, in Woodford County. This was the first German-speaking church in the state and the second of any denomination to be organized in the county. It continues today as the Metamora congregation located east of the town of that name.
One small group of Amish adhering for a time more to the "old order" in their customs came from Mifflin County, PA, and settled in McLean County. Later it became the original church of the Stuckey Amish, or Central Conference of Mennonites, the East White Oak congregation near Danvers.
The first settlements of the Amish and the Mennonites, like those of other Illinois pioneers, were made in the wooded sections along rivers and creeks. This was done for the purpose of having a supply of water and wood and also to avoid the supposedly unhealthful conditions of the undrained prairies. By the 1850s, however, Mennonites, along with others, began to appreciate the value of the prairies and began to make settlements away from the timbered areas.
Though the first Mennonites in Illinois were of the Amish wing, the main line of Mennonites (Mennonite Church) began to come soon after. In 1833 two families by the name of Kindig came from Virginia by horse-drawn wagons to Tazewell County and started a settlement which became known as the Union congregation near Washington, IL. There were additional migrants from Virginia and others came from Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Bavaria (Germany). This congregation later merged with Metamora.
About 1840 and later a few Mennonite families came from Bavaria and settled at Scales Mound in Jo Daviess County in northwestern Illinois near Galena. A small congregation was formed but has long since become extinct. The last Mennonite baptismal ceremony was performed about 1878.
In 1843-1860 another settlement of Bavarians and other Germans was made near Summerfield, St. Clair County, in the southwestern part of the state. In 1861 this congregation, together with some from Iowa and several in the East, helped organize the General Conference Mennonites.
In the 1830s and 1840s a number of Hessian Mennonites came from Butler County, Ohio, and formed the South Danvers congregation in McLean County. This church was one of the 12 charter congregations which formed the Central Conference of Mennonites in 1908.
Also in the 1840s a small settlement was begun near Freeport in Stephenson County. The first immigrants came from Clarence Center, New York, and others came from Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Canada. Freeport joined the Illinois Conference (MC).
About 1847 several Reformed Mennonite families moved near Sterling in Whiteside County and a few years later organized the only church of this branch in the state. In the 1850s Mennonites from Pennsylvania settled near Sterling and started what became the Science Ridge congregation. In the next decade a few families from Pennsylvania and a few from Sterling settled near Morrison, in the same county, and started the congregation by that name. The membership of this church has remained small. In the 1850s a few families from Ohio and Pennsylvania settled at Gardner in Grundy County. It was here in 1865 that John F. Funk, who lived in Chicago, was ordained to serve as English preacher. This church soon became extinct. In 1858 four families came from Virginia to Cullom in Livingston County and together with others who soon came from Grundy and Woodford County, Illinois, founded the small Cullom congregation. From about 1865 to the time of the Chicago fire in 1871 a small Mennonite congregation, founded by Peter Neff and John F. Funk, existed in Chicago.
Soon after the Civil War some Old Order Amish from Pennsylvania, from Johnson County, Iowa, and from Holmes County, Ohio, came to Moultrie and Douglas counties and, later spreading into Gales County, became the large Old Order Amish community which centers around Arthur.
In 1835 a group of Amish Mennonites from Bavaria, and a few from Butler County, Ohio, settled in the neighborhood of Hennepin, Putnam County. Shortly thereafter most of these moved across the Illinois River into Bureau County, near Tiskilwa, and formed the nucleus of what has become the Willow Springs Church. The Central Conference Mennonite Church in Tiskilwa was an offshoot of this congregation.
Most of the remaining Amish Mennonite congregations in Illinois not already mentioned were outgrowths of settlements mentioned above, with further additions of immigrants from other states in some cases. This includes the Roanoke Church between Eureka and Roanoke, the Goodfield Church near Goodfield, the Pleasant Grove Church near Tremont, the Hopedale Church near Hopedale, the Waldo Church near Flanagan, and the East Bend Church near Fisher. The Goodfield and Pleasant Grove congregations, mentioned above, merged in 1941 and constructed a new church building in Morton. A small Conservative Amish congregation and a larger Mennonite congregation have developed from the Old Order Amish community at Arthur. In 1954 a new congregation was organized at Lombard just west of Chicago.
In 1907 a small independent group of Conservative Amish, mostly from Elkhart County, IN came to Shelbyville in Shelby County. Sometimes called the "sleeping preacher group," they were followers of John D. Kauffman who caused much interest and controversy by his practice of preaching while in trances. An unaffiliated Amish Mennonite congregation, composed largely of withdrawals from the Roanoke and Metamora congregations, exists near Roanoke. Another unaffiliated Amish Mennonite congregation is located near Tampico.
Mennonites of various kinds have also come to Chicago but these groups can perhaps best be discussed in connection with the mission and institutional work of the several branches. There were in 1953 a total of nine congregations and mission stations in Chicago with a combined membership of about 550.
The Mennonite movement into Illinois was largely of the Amish and old-line Mennonite branches. A few decades after the founding of the early settlements, however, splits from these groups began to occur. One of these divisions occurred just after the Civil War when the branch known as the Defenseless Mennonites or "Egly Amish" was formed. Henry Egly, bishop of an Amish church in Geneva County, IN felt that the church was too cold and formalistic and began in the 1860's to emphasize the necessity of a definite experience of regeneration, at the same time, however, insisting on the old customs including dress. He organized his own church in 1866, and the movement spread to other Amish communities. In the Gridley Prairie, or Waldo, congregation in Livingston County, Illinois, Joseph Rediger, one of the ministers, about 1870 led a few members out of the old organization and formed an "Egly" congregation officially called the Salem Defenseless Mennonite Church. The only other congregation of this group in Illinois was organized at Groveland in Tazewell County, with the exception of the work started later in Chicago. In 1953 this group changed its name to Evangelical Mennonite Church.
Another division among the original groups took place when Joseph Stuckey formed the Central Illinois Conference of Mennonites. Stuckey, a bishop in the Yoder Amish Church in McLean County, was more liberal-minded than his fellow bishops and less ready to excommunicate members who did not reach the prevailing Amish standards. Since congregational control was still strong at that time this split from the majority group became apparent only gradually during the 1870's, although Stuckey did not attend the Amish General Conference after 1872. It was not until 1908, however, that a constitution was formally and officially adopted, with nine churches in the Peoria-Bloomington region joining as charter members, besides two in Indiana and one in Nebraska. In 1914 the official name was changed to "The Central Conference of Mennonites." In 1946 this group joined the General Conference Mennonite Church and in 1957 merged with the Middle District.
The Apostolic Christian Church, whose founders included some former Mennonites in Switzerland, and which came to Morton about 1855, gained a number of Amish proselytes in Illinois as elsewhere. For that reason they are sometimes called the "New Amish."
Institutions for the carrying out of aggressive work were slow in appearing among the Mennonites in Illinois as elsewhere. However, the first Mennonite publishing venture of any consequence was carried out in this state, although the group as a whole had nothing to do with its origin. This was the founding of the Herald of Truth, and the German edition, Herold der Wahrheit, in Chicago, 1864, by John F. Funk, a young Mennonite, who had come to Chicago from Pennsylvania a few years before. In 1867 this enterprise was moved to Elkhart, IN, where in 1875 it became known as the Mennonite Publishing Company.
Missionary sentiment, which had been developing for some time on the part of individuals, was no doubt stimulated by the evangelistic efforts of John S. Coffman and others in the latter part of the 19th century. The Chicago Home Mission, founded in 1893, was the first such effort of the Mennonite Church group. Initiative from outside the state as well as from within was responsible for the opening of this work, and control of the institution after 1896 was shared by the general mission board and the Illinois Mennonites. The Twenty-Sixth Street Mission in Chicago, founded in 1906, was an outgrowth of activity of the Home Mission. This mission was sold to the Central Conference of Mennonites in 1924. A Mennonite (MC) Mexican mission, opened in 1934, and an African-American mission (MC), opened in 1944, were also maintained in Chicago.
In 1919 the Illinois District Mission Board (MC), which had been organized in 1918, opened a mission in Peoria, which was turned over to the Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities in 1921. The Pleasant Hill Rural Mission, between Morton and Peoria, was organized in 1920 and after being under the supervision of the district mission board for some time became a regular congregation. A number of small mission outposts are operated by various congregations.
Another institution in Illinois operated by the Mennonite Church group was the home for the aged at Eureka, opened in 1922. A home for retired church workers, called Rockome, sponsored by the Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities and the Illinois Mennonite Mission Board, was developed at Arcola, IL.
Running counter to a trend toward division was the merger of the Amish Mennonites and the Mennonites (MC). Completed in Illinois in 1921, the merger was in the process of development over a long period of time. The various institutional activities mentioned above, supported by both groups, played an important part in bringing about the union. Doctrinally there was no longer anything of consequence to keep them apart.
The Defenseless (Evangelical) Mennonites, besides supporting an active mission program, especially in Africa, opened in 1900 the Salem Orphanage near Flanagan, IL. Since 1923 the Central Conference of Mennonites and the Defenseless Mennonite (Evangelical) Conferences shared in its operation. The Defenseless conference also participated in the founding (1919) and maintenance of the Mennonite Hospital at Bloomington, IL which was primarily a Central Conference undertaking. Another co-operative activity between the Evangelical (Defenseless) and the Central Conference Mennonites was the maintenance of the Old People's Home (opened in 1923) at Meadows, IL. The Evangelical (Defenseless) Mennonites operated a mission in Chicago (opened in 1908) and the Evangelical Mennonite Brethren operated one (opened in 1907).
The Central Conference, as noted, carries an important part of the load in operating the Mennonite Hospital at Bloomington, and also shares in the operation of the Salem Orphanage near Flanagan, and the Old People's Home at Meadows. In addition it operates the Mennonite Gospel Mission (founded 1914) in Peoria. The conference also cooperates with other Mennonite groups in supporting the Congo Inland Mission, and, long before the merger with the General Conference Mennonites, it supported Bluffton College at Bluffton, Ohio.
In Chicago, in addition to those activities listed above, mention should be made of the Krimmer Mennonite Brethren mission, opened in 1915. The General Conference Mennonites carried on work there since 1915 with two congregations. A third General Conference church was organized in connection with the Mennonite Biblical Seminary, founded as a graduate theological institution in Chicago in 1944. A total of nine Mennonite congregations with about 550 members were located in Chicago in the mid-1950s.
As to occupation, in 1954 most of the Mennonites in Illinois were farmers. In recent decades, however, a larger number have gone into businesses of various kinds and into a number of the professions. Attracted by high wages, some have gone into the factories as laborers.
Mennonites and Amish started coming to the Peoria-Bloomington area of Illinois in the 1830s—the Amish arrived in 1830 (not 1829 as stated above) and the Mennonites in 1833.
In 1986 there were the following conferences and other groups of Mennonites and Amish represented in Illinois: Illinois Conference (MC, 4,436 members); General Conference Mennonite Church (GCM, 2,394); Evangelical Mennonite Church (1,042); Old Order Amish (1980 data, 1,014); Conservative Mennonite Conference (174); Beachy Amish Mennonite Fellowship (156); Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church (104); Reformed Mennonite Church (40); Mennonite Brethren (including former Krimmer Mennonite Brethren, 16); unaffiliated Mennonite (310). Since a few congregations have dual membership (MC, GCM) their members are counted twice. The total number of Mennonites and Amish groups in Illinois in 1986 would be not less than 9,320.
It should be explained that the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church resulted from a division within the Lancaster Mennonite Conference (MC) in 1969. Three congregations affiliated with the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Conference are located in southern Illinois; a fourth small congregation has recently separated from this group and in 1987 was listed as unaffiliated.
More important than growth in numbers since the 1950s have been the changes that have come to the Illinois Mennonites in religious practices and customs, and the growth toward cooperation and unity, especially between the Mennonite Church (MC) and the General Conference Mennonite Church (GCM) congregations. Another change is the attitude toward "nonconformity." Some groups have changed more than others. The Reformed Mennonites and the Old Order Amish have changed very little. Probably no group has changed more than the Mennonite Church (MC). Changes in a variety of nonconformity issues are outlined in the Illinois Mennonite Conference article.
Other changes that indicate the new interpretation of nonconformity among the major Mennonite bodies in recent decades include the use of life insurance, acceptance of motion pictures and drama, and a wider use of the political process—voting and office-holding.
Reaching out to groups outside the German and Swiss Mennonite ethnic heritage has also gone much further than before. Two small Hispanic congregations in Rock Island and Moline, are under the Iowa-Nebraska Mennonite Conference (MC). A small congregation in a Milwaukee, WI suburb and three Hispanic congregations in Chicago are a part of the Illinois Mennonite Conference (MC): Lawndale (founded 1934) with 54 members; Iglesia Menonita Hispana (1979) with 42 members; and Iglesia Menonita Cristiana (1979) with 25 members.
The Mennonite outreach in Illinois has also included Afro-Americans. Those churches affiliated with the Mennonite Church (MC) are Bethel Mennonite Community in Chicago (1944), 64 members; Rehoboth at St. Anne (1949), 58 members; and Englewood in Chicago which is a continuation of the Mennonite Home Mission congregation (1893). Englewood is a good example of a church that became black, or largely so, through shifting population rather than by design as in the case of Bethel. Other predominantly Afro-American congregations are: Community Mennonite in Markham (1957), 53 members (GCM/MC); and Joy Fellowship in Peoria (1984), 83 members (GCM/MC); and First Mennonite Church in Chicago (GCM).
Though the more progressive branches have used the talents of women in church for many years, progress toward their greater use has been marked in recent decades. Emma Richards of the Lombard Mennonite Church was not the first Mennonite woman licensed to preach in Illinois, but her ordination in 1973 constituted an important milestone.
Significant, finally, is the change among Illinois Mennonites toward cooperation and unity. This is especially true among the more progressive bodies, but in such things as the annual Mennonite relief sale even the more conservative groups—the Old Order Amish and others—participate increasingly. Only one Old Order Amish settlement—at Arthur remains in the state. The Illinois Mennonite Historical and Genealogical Library and Archives was established at Metamora in 1969. Its sponsoring society publishes two periodicals. Retirement facilities and nursing homes are located at Tinley Park, Eureka, and Chenoa. Camp Menno Haven is at Tiskilwa (1957), and Camp Rehoboth is at St. Anne (1949). Four elementary schools (at Arthur, Chicago, Ewing, and Anna) and the Mennonite School of Nursing at Bloomington are among Mennonite institutions in the state.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: v. II, 407-409.
Horsch, James E., ed. Mennonite Yearbook and Directory. Scottdale: Mennonite Publishing House (1988-89): 21-22.
Smith, Willard H. Mennonites in Illinois. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1983.
Weber, Harry F. Centennial History of the Mennonites of Illinois, 1829-1929. Goshen, IN: Mennonite Historical Societyk 1931.
Wittlinger, Carlton O. Quest for Piety and Obedience: The Story of the Brethren in Christ. Nappanee, IN: Evangel Press, 1978: 131-132.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 6-9; vol. 5, pp. 421-422. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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