Western District Conference (Mennonite Church USA)
The Western District Conference of the General Conference Mennonite Church in 1957 comprised 67 churches with a membership of 13,561 located in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Mexico. The name "Western District" was formerly applied to what later became the Middle District Conference. Since Kansas was somewhat remote from the Middle District area of Iowa, Illinois, and Ohio, Mennonites of Kansas organized themselves into a local conference called the Kansas Conference. With the realignment and renaming of district conferences as recommended by the General Conference the Western District became the Middle District and the Kansas Conference became the Western District. The last session of the Kansas Conference and the first session of the Western District Conference were held at Newton on successive days, 26-28 October 1892.
Nineteen churches were represented at the first session of the Western District. First elected officers of the Conference were David Goerz, president; W. J. Ewert, secretary; and Andreas Wiebe, treasurer. Early concerns of the Conference dealt with the Halstead Preparatory School, home missions, especially as it involved the visitation of smaller groups in outlying areas, and the promotion of orderly and fruitful activity within the churches.
The Committee for Church Affairs exercised a pastoral concern over the churches, arbitrating differences, counseling with leaders, and exercising disciplinary measures. The Committee on School and Educational Concerns promoted Sunday-school work, parochial and daily vacation Bible schools, and encouraged the Mennonite or German Teachers' Association and the German Teachers' Institute.
In 1893 a committee for relief of the poor, later known as the Charity Committee, was established to give financial assistance to needy members. A Deaconess Committee was added in 1905 to promote the deaconess cause among the churches of the Conference.
Auxiliaries of the Conference, sometimes reporting directly to the Conference and later through established committees, are the Sunday School Convention, the Christian Endeavor Convention, the Youth Fellowship, the Women's Missionary Association, the Ministers' Conference, the Oklahoma Convention, the Men's Brotherhood, the Oklahoma Bible Academy, and some of the hospitals.
Upon the establishment of Bethel College it reported to the Conference, and after 1920 the Conference named a majority of the College corporation.
The entry of the United States into World War I gave rise to the creation of the Exemption Committee, which later became the Peace and Service Committee. Its primary concern was the status of men drafted for military service, while later it was concerned with all phases of peace education and promotion.
The Education Committee continued to promote daily vacation Bible schools, sponsored Sunday school and youth workers' institutes, and the Western District Loan Library and submited reports of Bible schools and Conference auxiliaries.
Home mission projects included such churches as the Grace Mennonite Church, Enid; the Meadow Mennonite Church, Colby; the Lorraine Avenue Mennonite Church, Wichita; and churches in Topeka, Kansas City, and Denver. -- JFS
The Western District Conference of the General Conference Mennonite Church was organized 26-28 October 1892 in Newton, Kansas, as an enlargement of the Kansas Conference. In 1987 there were 77 congregations with a membership of 13,628 located in Kansas (48), Oklahoma (16), Colorado (6), Texas (5), and Nebraska (2). In 2006 there were 65 congregations with 10,379 members.
A major development since the 1950s was the enlargement of program and the establishment of a central office with paid staff. The office has been located since 1965 on the Bethel College campus in North Newton, KS. The staff began with a part-time field worker in 1946 in the person of Bernhard H. Janzen. This developed into the position of district minister and the following persons served through 1987: William F. Unruh, 1949-1959; Elmer R. Friesen, 1961-1967; Elbert Koontz, 1967-1978; and Frank Keller, 1978- . Other full-time staff in 1987 were an office secretary, a church planting and program coordinator, a youth coordinator, and a camp director. Three part-time positions, at that time were: treasurer, loan librarian, and assistant camp director.
Standing committees in 1987 were: Executive, Board of Trustees, Education, Evangelism, Historical, Home Mission, Life Enrichment, Ministerial, Peace and Social Concerns, Program, and Retreat. Appointed committees were: Coordinating, Personnel, Tournament, and Spirituality Taskforce. A newsletter, Western District Edition, is incorporated into The Mennonite.
The movement of Mennonites from farms to urban areas was matched by a growing effort to start new churches in the cities. The effort that began in the 1950s gained momentum so that 11 new churches joined the conference in the 1970s, and 12 joined 1980-1986.
Cooperative efforts with the two sister district conferences of the Mennonite Church (MC), South Central and Rocky Mountain, increased. In 1964 the Rainbow Mennonite Church, Kansas City, KS, became the first congregation with dual affiliation. In 1987 there were 16 urban congregations with dual affiliation (MC, GCM). In 1965 the first joint high school retreat was held at Rocky Mountain Mennonite Camp. The Peace and Social Concerns Committee and the Education Committee have sponsored joint programs.
The Western District has been at the forefront in the involvement of women in pastoral ministry, ordaining Marilyn Miller on 19 September 1976. In 1987 there were five women serving as sole pastors, two as associate pastors, and six as co-pastors.
Following the realignment of the General Conference Mennonite Church, the Mennonite Church (MC) and the Conference of Mennonites in Canada into Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada, the Western District Conference became part of Mennonite Church USA in 2002. Several congregations joined the Mountain States Mennonite Conference when the former Rocky Mountain Conference reorganized in 2005/06. -- DHa
In 2010 the following 67 congregations were members of the Western District Conference:
Handbook of Information, General Conference Mennonite Church. Newton, KS (1988): 116-118, 142, 144.
Haury, David A. Prairie People: A History of the Western District Conference. Newton, KS: Faith and Life Press, 1981.
Address: PO Box 306, North Newton KS 67117-0306
Website: Western District Conference
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, p. 933; vol. 5, pp. 928-929. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Schmidt, John F. and David L. Habegger. "Western District Conference (Mennonite Church USA)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 23 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/W47803.html.
APA style: Schmidt, John F. and David L. Habegger. (1989). Western District Conference (Mennonite Church USA). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 23 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/W47803.html.