During August-October 1962, Mennonites began moving to La Jara, a small town of some 1,000 inhabitants in the rural San Luis Valley of south central Colorado after the Mennonite Board of Missions contracted to operate the town's new 20-bed Conejos County Hospital. La Jara had a large Hispanic population and was nominally Roman Catholic with a significant percentage of Mormons and some Buddhists. In 1962 the Wayne Miller and Eugene Richer families moved to La Jara to help ready the new hospital for occupancy. The new hospital facility was dedicated on 21 April 1963. The local hospital board consisted of Clifford King, Cheraw, chairman; Clayton Gingerich and Luke Birky, La Junta; Charles Harbert, Pueblo; and Robert Johnson, Pueblo. Wayne Miller was administrator, and Grace Augsburger, La Junta, was Director of Nursing Services. The hospital opened on 9 May.
For a period of time John E. Gingrich, pastor of Pueblo Mennonite Church, led mid-week services twice a month for Mennonites living in La Jara. With the aid of the Mennonite Board of Missions, the Mennonite Church of La Jara was organized on 4 January 1964, with 10 charter members to provide a spiritual home for Mennonites who worked in the local hospital and to extend Christian outreach/service to those in need in the community. Ronald D. Hargett, who also served as chaplain of the hospital, was installed as pastor on 2 January 1966. A church constitution was adopted on 11 January 1967.
Because the Mennonites in La Jara were few in numbers, they soon began worshiping with the local United Presbyterian Church on Sunday mornings while conducting their own Sunday evening and mid-week meetings. On 1 October 1967 the two churches held a joint communion service and reception of members. More than four years later, on 16 January 1972, the two churches conducted a merger service. The service included representatives of the Rocky Mountain Mennonite Conference and the Presbyterian Synod of Pueblo to commemorate the establishment of the United Church of La Jara with Standley P. Scott, the former Presbyterian minister, as pastor. At that time the congregation consisted of 26 Mennonites (including children) and 25 Presbyterians. Beyond the local church each group identified with its own denomination. During the early years of the congregation the Mennonite group undertook two outreach projects–sponsorship of the "Mennonite Hour" on a local radio station and maintenance of a Lifeline Book Rack in a local grocery store.
After the Mennonite Board of Missions terminated its administration of the Conejos County Hospital during the 1970s the Mennonite presence in La Jara declined. From 40-plus members who were actively involved in and providing leadership to a Presbyterian-affiliated local congregation, the number of long-term Mennonite residents in the rural area dwindled to three by 2002. Nevertheless, its primary mission and lifeline into the broader Mennonite Church continued through its sponsorship of a Mennonite Voluntary Service (VS) unit which was established in association with the United Church of La Jara, its sponsoring congregation, in 1983.
During its first 10 years, approximately 35 VSers served one- or two-year terms in the unit, along with more than 12 summer workers. Up to seven young adults joined the unit each year and involved local Mennonites in social ministries throughout surrounding communities. Originally focused on human needs in the immediate community–such as health-related ministries and establishment of a day care center in 1985–the unit branched out into varied types of social ministries and community work, thus resulting in many unit members commuting to placements with multi-county service agencies based in Alamosa, the county seat of Alamosa County some 15 miles north of La Jara. Such activities have served the needs of many who live in small communities throughout the San Luis Valley. After 2002, however, the unit began to re-focus on Voluntary Service opportunities that support specific outreach efforts of its sponsoring congregation, including interim pastoral responsibilities, outreach activities geared toward young families and seniors, involvement in the local branch of Habitat for Humanity, teachers' assistance and tutorial services in area elementary schools, and conducting adult English as a Second Language and computer literacy classes.
As of 2007 the Mennonite Church of La Jara continued to be affiliated with the ecumenical United Church of La Jara and served by Brian Reeves, a Presbyterian minister. As a combined congregation, the church averaged about 35-40 in weekly worship. While long-term Mennonite members were few, they enjoyed the fellowship and opportunities for extended ministry in the community of 4-6 full-time Mennonite Voluntary Service workers each year.
"La Jara Church Launches New Ministry." Conference Connections (December 2005):. 3.
Landes, Jan. "New ESL Program Opens Doors in La Jara." Conference Connections (April 2006): 1.
Miller, Wayne M. "Conejos County Hospital, La Jara, Colo." Gospel Herald (30 January 1962).
"The La Jara Story." The Echo, (19 February 1972): 4-5.
Unrau, Harlan D. In Pursuit of Land, Health and Mission: A History of Mennonites in the Mountain States Region. Printed in Canada by Blitzprint Inc., 2007.
Zook, Mervin D. "The Challenge at La Jara." Gospel Herald (22 November 1960): 1024-1025.
Address: Box 306, La Jara, Colorado 81140
Mennonite Church of La Jara Pastors
|Date Published||October 2010|
Cite This Article
Unrau, Harlan. "Mennonite Church of La Jara (La Jara, Colorado, USA)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. October 2010. Web. 20 Apr 2014. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Mennonite_Church_of_La_Jara_(La_Jara,_Colorado,_USA)&oldid=83485.
Unrau, Harlan. (October 2010). Mennonite Church of La Jara (La Jara, Colorado, USA). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 20 April 2014, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Mennonite_Church_of_La_Jara_(La_Jara,_Colorado,_USA)&oldid=83485.
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