Northwest Mennonite Conference
The Northwest Mennonite Conference was originally known as the Alberta-Saskatchewan Mennonite Conference, which had its beginnings in the early twentieth century. Organization of the conference began after the Canadian government made available to Mennonite colonists free homesteads in the Province of Alberta. A number of Mennonites from Ontario settled at Carstairs and High River, Alberta, in 1902. In 1903 the Ontario (old) Mennonite Conference, held at Vineland, commissioned Bishop S. F. Coffman to visit these colonies, ordain ministers, and organize congregations. About this time A. S. Bauman, together with a group of Stauffer Mennonites from Eastern Pennsylvania whom he had pastored, settled at Mayton, Alberta. In 1904 the Alberta District Conference was organized with A. S. Bauman as temporary bishop, a position which he held for a few years. Another group of settlers emigrated from Ontario to Saskatchewan in 1906, with Eli S. Hallman of (Berlin) Kitchener, Ontario as their minister. In the Alberta conference of 1907, the Alberta-Saskatchewan Mennonite Conference was organized, and Hallman was chosen as their overseer. He was later ordained as bishop for the new conference. During the following years many groups moved to the West. A group of Amish Mennonites from Nebraska settled at Tofield, Alberta, with Bishop N. E. Roth in charge. Another group of Mennonites from Pennsylvania settled at Duchess, Alberta, with Henry B. Ramer as their minister. A few families moved from the East to Acadia Valley, Alberta, and Herbert, Saskatchewan. In these early stages of conference growth, more bishops were ordained; these included Israel R. Shantz, Norman B. Stauffer, Isaac Miller, Moses H. Schmitt, John B. Stauffer, John G. Hochstetler, and Clarence J. Ramer.
The number of congregations in the Alberta-Saskatchewan Mennonite Conference continued to grow. In 1949 a small Hutterite group near Stirling joined the conference as a congregation. Northern Alberta mission posts begun at Bluesky, Eaglesham, and Smith in 1948 developed into congregations under church planters Paul and Doris Burkholder, Loyal and Ruth Roth, and Willis and Florence Yoder and their families. The period from 1955 to 1973 was characterized by many voluntary service projects beginning with Ike and Lillie Glick at Calling Lake, Alberta. Many families moved to Alberta from the United States, including most voluntary service personnel, who chose to stay in Canada when their term was completed. This was followed by a shift to urban projects beginning with Edmonton and Calgary. In 1981, a house church at Anchorage, Alaska, joined the conference. Hispanic churches in Edmonton and Calgary (1981) expanded to other locations.
The education program and the congregational leadership within the conference changed over time. The congregational Winter Bible School begun in the 1940s was terminated in 1956 as a definite shift toward higher education in the 1950s and 1960s absorbed prospective students. The majority of students obtained their higher education in Alberta's colleges and universities with Bible school training taken in schools outside the constituency. Congregational leadership shifted from plural, self-supported ministry to single fully-supported pastors working with church councils. Although early leaders were selected from within the congregation, churches began to hire trained persons from outside the congregation, including an influx of leaders from other conferences. The bishop function has been replaced by a conference minister who works as pastor to the pastors.
The Northwest Mennonite Conference (called the Northwest Conference of the Mennonite Church until 1993) replaced the Alberta-Saskatchewan Mennonite Conference by delegate action in 1971. A new constitution patterned after the Mennonite Church (MC) General Assembly model (conference board and leadership, missions, nurture, and stewardship commissions) was adopted. Edgar Boettger became the first conference president who was not a minister. The conference convened its sessions in July and October and a renewal conference, Reach Out To Jesus, was held annually during the 1980s. The first salaried employee, executive secretary Timothy Burkholder, was hired in 1984.
In 1997, the conference was comprised of twenty-two congregations, with seventeen from Alberta, two from Saskatchewan, and one from each of the states of Montana, Pennsylvania and Alaska. Four congregations held dual membership (Mennonite Church/General Conference Mennonite Church) and one had formed a community church with the evangelical churches in the community. Church planting locations have included Browning, Montana, among the Blackfoot people; and Grande Prairie, Sherwood Park, and a Hispanic group at Medicine Hat, Alberta. The conference published a Newsletter of the Northwest Mennonite Conference. The newsletter was replaced by an Internet-based newsletter by 2002.
After the restructuring of the Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church into Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada, the Northwest Conference maintained provisional membership in Mennonite Church Canada. In early 2002 the conference voted to discontinue this relationship in 2003.
In September 2010 the conference website listed the following 16 congregations as members of the conference:
Gospel Herald (24 May 1988): 353-56.
Mennonite Yearbook & Directory, 1988-89, ed. James E. Horsch. Scottdale, PA: Mennonite Publishing House, 1989: 73.
Mennonite Yearbook & Directory, 1997, ed. James E. Horsch. Scottdale, PA: Mennonite Publishing House, 1997: 67-68.
Address: 2025-20th Avenue, Didsbury, Alberta T0M 0WO
Website: Northwest Mennonite Conference
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p. 34; vol. 5, pp. 639-640. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Gingerich, Melvin, Timothy Burkholder, Paul Voegtlin and Sam Steiner. "Northwest Mennonite Conference." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. September 2010. Web. 20 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/N6787ME.html.
APA style: Gingerich, Melvin, Timothy Burkholder, Paul Voegtlin and Sam Steiner. (September 2010). Northwest Mennonite Conference. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 20 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/N6787ME.html.