Middle District Conference (General Conference Mennonite Church)
The Middle District Conference of the General Conference Mennonite Church comprised 20 churches with a membership of 5,237, located in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Missouri. This district conference had its beginning in 1868, when four churches of Lee County, Iowa, and the church at Summerfield, IL, organized to carry on home missionary work. Other Mennonite churches were invited to this first meeting, but only the above five churches responded. A conference was organized and the name "Western District Conference" was adopted. Its purpose was to promote home mission work and a spiritual ministry among scattered Mennonite families in the "north and west." Christian Krehbiel, a minister in the church at Summerfield, IL, was the leader in this movement. By 1888, 30 churches, including a number of churches in Kansas, had affiliated with this district. The churches in Kansas, because of the close proximity to each other, had organized a local conference. When the Western District Conference met in 1888 in its twenty-first session, it was decided to divide the area into two districts. The western churches, which then were chiefly the churches of Kansas, organized and adopted the name "Western District Conference." The churches of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa then reorganized and chose as their name "Middle District Conference." In 1888 the Middle District was composed of six congregations: Berne, IN; Dalton, Ohio; Summerfield, IL; Donnelson, Iowa; West Point, Iowa; and Franklin, Iowa. In the course of the years other Mennonite churches within the area came into the district conference.
The Middle District Conference, in its constitution, stated that it sought to unite the Mennonite churches within its area in fellowship, and in evangelization and service. The major home mission project of the district was the Lima (Ohio) Mission Church (later First Mennonite Church of Lima). There was also active interest in the home mission efforts carried on in Chicago, IL. The standing committees of the district were the Home Mission Committee, Education Committee, Young People's Committee, Women's Work Committee, and Peace Committee. The district actively supported Bluffton College and elected members to its board of trustees. The district shared in sponsoring the program of summer camps at Camp Friedenswald. Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Chicago received the support of the churches of the district. The four churches near Bluffton took the initiative in promoting plans for a home for elderly people and were joined by other churches. The home was dedicated and opened in 1955.
The first session of General Conference was held in 1860 in a church (Lee County, Iowa) of this district. In fact much of the interest which led to the organization of the General Conference had its origin in the Middle District. Daniel Krehbiel and Christian Showalter, both from the churches of Lee County, urged and supported the union movement which led to the organization of the General Conference. Then, too, it was within the Middle District that the first Mennonite school in America for training ministers and Christian workers was established. This school was opened in 1868 at Wadsworth, Ohio, and served as the forerunner of Witmarsum Theological Seminary located at Bluffton.
In view of the fact that the churches of the Middle District and the churches formerly of the Central Conference of Mennonites were located in the same general area it was proposed by the Middle District that the two districts merge and be known as the Central District. This proposal was favorably received by both district conferences.
The merger was completed at the joint session of the two conferences held at Normal, IL, 25-27 April 1957. The newly organized conference is known as the Central District of the General Conference Mennonite Church.
Krehbiel, H. P. History of the Mennonite General Conference I. n.p., 1898.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 680-681. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Kreider, A. E. "Middle District Conference (General Conference Mennonite Church)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 23 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/M5335.html.
APA style: Kreider, A. E. (1957). Middle District Conference (General Conference Mennonite Church). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 23 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/M5335.html.