While most of my fond memories are connected with the old building and the three of us girls who were in the same grade (Janet Bartel, Diane Deckert and Susan (Friesen) Schultz), I do recall some fun moments in the new church, as well — mostly connected with music. I remember often going to the church after school with Diane while she practiced playing the organ. Occasionally, I’d sing along, running the spectrum from the reverent “Panis Angelicus” (in Latin) to belting out the Hebrew lyrics to “Hava Nagila!” And sometimes, Susan and I would join her and get a whole different perspective of the sound as we’d climb the ladder to sit and listen, and peer out over the sanctuary from the “secret” room that housed the organ’s pipes as the baffles opened and closed. Just can’t be that long ago!
— Terrie (Janzen Richter) Ens
Our first time worshiping with First Mennonite was the dedication day. Don had signed a contract to teach and coach in Hillsboro for the fall of 1967. Art and Louise Balzer (and Ann) were longtime friends of Don and invited us to join them for the service and dinner. Driving from Holyrood, KS that morning, we discovered the church was completely full, so we sat in the back row of the balcony with our two little boys. Afterward we were joined by Irv and Mildred Schroeder and Hank and Verna Pankratz for a dinner featuring Hillsboro sausage. At the time, I thought it unusual to have sausage at Sunday dinner, (but I have often served it myself since that time). We had a good time of worship and fellowship that Sunday and joined First Mennonite shortly after moving to Hillsboro. Hospitality has long been an important trait of the First Mennonite family…. and can have lasting results.
— Carolyn & Don Penner
A Clean Porch
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as
you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13
There it was, built on the edge of the front porch light. A bird nest. I did not want to spend my summer cleaning droppings off of the porch. But after the mother bird repeatedly flew through the porch and scolded me, she finally decided to trust me. How could I knock down her home? She settled into her nest as I settled into my porch swing.
The swing became my perch during the summer of my cancer journey, and the mother bird became my symbol of God’s love and providence. She, and eventually her four hatchlings, followed their instincts and lived as God had intended.
As I watched God provide for them, I sensed His presence in my journey. As I trusted Him, He provided joy and peace.
One day the birds were gone, as I knew they would be. But the lessons I learned from them remain. Well worth cleaning my porch.
— Susie Kliewer
The church and church building have been an important part of our lives, and both of our parents and grandparents (Herb and Hildred Wiebe, Dave and Josie Toews, P.H. and Anna Schroeder, Gerhardt and Anna Schroeder), were members of this church. We were raised in First Mennonite and have been members all our lives.
At the time this current church was being built, we were in Scott City, so some of our recollections have been aided by documents of the past. Herb Wiebe was on the Trustees Committee and was asked to investigate the cost of the services of an architect and also served on the Building Committee. Clark’s grandfather, P.H. Schroeder, was on the Financial Committee. He lived to see the completion of the church. Seldom does an individual have an opportunity in life to help build a church and to most it is a rare privilege that never comes.
In 2013, we were instrumental in helping with the redecorating of the foyer, fellowship hall, nursery, and kitchen. We were glad for the vision of this church and wanted the opportunity to help since we were not around when the church was built. Clark spent many hours at the church organizing and remodeling the church kitchen, so now Anna Marie and the other ladies on the social committee were able to work in a newly remodeled kitchen!!
Clark enjoyed building other items for the church: new mailbox unit, two communion tables, a coatrack, and a beverage cart.
“Let us go into the house of the Lord.” Psalm 122: v. 1
— Clark & Anna Marie Wiebe
Friends, Gayle and I would be delighted to share this day with you, but the drive from Elkhart is more than we want to do at this point.
I have many fond memories of First Mennonite, though mostly of the old church (it is hard to believe this one is 50 years old!). Perhaps especially important to me was being baptized by my father, with my grandparents attending also. It was one early step that set me on the path I have walked. And people! Many wonderful people. They, the church, and the town provided a wonderful context in which to grow up.
With much gratitude and blessings as you move into the future,
— Ted Koontz
5oth Build-A-Versary Reflection
Nancy and I both have attended First Mennonite since we were children and became members about the age of 14. That said, I really didn’t know who she was until I was president of youth fellowship as it was called back then. Nancy was the secretary or treasurer and we needed to meet about something, so I went to her house one Sunday afternoon and that was it. Our first date was soon after at the HHS Polka Party on a Tuesday night at the school. I had to get her home early because I still had to go to the Star-Journal and build the Paul and Ray’s grocery ad that night for press the next day.
That was Nov. 26, 1963. By Nov. 26 of 1966 we were engaged to be married. We didn’t try to be the first ones to be married in the new First Mennonite Church building, but due to the timing of everything we ended up being the first couple to marry in the new church on June 8, 1967, less than three months after it was dedicated on March 19 of 1967. According to the number who signed our guest book, nearly 200 people were in attendance. It must have been the right decision because we are still married almost 50 years later.
It may be the only Thursday wedding ever recorded because at the time I was working at the newspaper and had to be back for Monday morning the next week to help put out the next edition.
Rev. Elbert Koontz officiated and precisely at 7:18 p.m. we were officially pronounced husband and wife. And how do I know that was the time—my father-in-law, Ennis Unruh, told me. The projector lens hole is now where the clock used to be.
The carpet has been changed one time in 50 years, and if you wish to see what the carpet was like that was in the sanctuary you can see it in the conference room in the Southeast corner of the church building.
Nancy has always said she should have known that something was up when I had to be back on Sunday in order to go to work the next day.
Rev. Koontz’s wife, Ruth, was my mother’s first cousin, so we knew them well and I spent a lot of time at their house which was also First Mennonite’s parsonage on South Main just three doors south of the Ford Garage. I spent a lot of time with their boys Ted, who is my age, and younger brothers Phil and Dick too. We spent a lot of time shooting baskets outside when weather permitted and in their garage when the weather was bad.
Rev. Koontz liked cars and was always trading for something different. Once he bought a 1955 Pontiac from Ott Schroeder, at Schroeder Motors which was located across the street from the church to the north, that had a big V-8 in it. He once challenged Ted and me, who were seated in the back seat, that he would put a dollar on the front seat and if we could get the dollar we could have it when he hit the gas pedal. That car had tremendous acceleration and neither of us could get the dollar bill. And maybe it was a quarter back then.
Ruth was a clever and witty person. The city of Hillsboro once had a competition for creating a slogan to be placed on a billboard on the west entrance into town to keep motorists from speeding in to Hillsboro. That was when it was US 56. Her entry was the winner:
“Slow down sir and read these words,
Excess speed is for the birds.”
— Joel Klaassen
Through the recommendation of a committed Mennonite friend I started attending First in 1985 and I became a member in 1991.
Now we’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of our current building. We’re on our original site at Ash & Grand which is still the hub of the town’s activities. So, for 133 years, we have been very involved in providing, selling, and generally enlivening the community.
Our building is small but welcoming: the interior contains much woodwork lovingly hand-crafted by members and, for me, our sanctuary’s sense of hospitality has been realized both through its excellent acoustics which enhance the musicality of our services, and its hand-quilted banners which depict each liturgical season.
We’ve made many excellent improvements over the years: I particularly like our remodeled kitchen and the two new sets of doors in the fellowship hall – one, with opaque glass from the main hallway and the other with clear glass looking out on to the patio. Another great improvement was reconfiguring rooms so the offices are conveniently clustered.
God has blessed us mightily: we have never lacked a wide variety of creative, talented members to enhance the spirituality of our services and deepen our relationship with Christ – from musicians to representatives of the visual arts to those who keep the physical plant operating to the constant stream of willing workers who meet every need. Each of our ministers has brought his or her spiritual insights, and then there are our children and youth who keep us laughing! We are, as Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 12, truly “one body, many parts.” Praise God.
— Pat Bartel
As the new church building was under construction, donations were sought for fixtures inside the building. My father, Melvin, asked his brothers and sisters to contribute for the purchase or restoration of one of the benches or pews in the choir loft in memory of their parents, P.A. and Emma Hiebert. Their father, P.A., had been particularly fond of choruses and choirs and had directed song fests while working as a school teacher.
I particularly recall our youth fellowship donating the sum of $1,000 for the wooden grill that covers the sound chamber of the church’s organ. I have no recollection of how we were able to come up with what was a considerable amount of money in the late 1960’s. I do recall hearing an explanation of the design of the grill. It is not a random design, but rather a recurring motif of crosses. I think of that each time I look at it.
— Ed Hiebert
As a biologist, I am supposed to regularly read the latest scientific journal articles in my field. I don’t always keep up with the latest issues, but like most of us, I strive to do better. Science is about being open to new ideas, and testing ideas at the frontiers of knowledge. Sometimes, scientists have their views flipped upside down, such as the discovery in 1887 that, unlike waves on the sea, light waves need nothing to travel through except “space”.
Religion in its best forms promotes lifelong curiosity and learning. As a Christian, I am not just curious about black holes or atoms or how speciation occurs, but how Jesus changes lives and gives us new insights into solving conflicts. Am I ready to have my world flipped upside down by a careful study of Jesus in the Gospels?
Of course, most religions, including Christianity, have their non-negotiables derived from tradition and scripture, sometimes referred to as doctrines or dogma or orthodoxy. For example, for Christians: God exists, God is good, love is good, Jesus Christ was fully human and fully God.
I am not suggesting that we be willing to flip these ideas on their heads as more information comes in or as we experience life’s trials. But as we immerse ourselves in the scriptures and in the advice of our local church, I think we can experience insights that change our life. A good scientist is willing to believe the evidence of careful study and experiments, even when they may contradict her intuition. Similarly, I aspire to be a Christian who is able to change my beliefs as Jesus convinces me of the value of myself and others and the intricacies of Shalom.
— Andrew T. Sensenig
The memory which stands out the most to me in our church janitor days was the early morning unlocking and evening lockup. It was always a little “spooky” checking the whole church upstairs and down for any person that might be hiding in the church to spend the night. On several occasions, I encountered someone huddled up in the doorway. We also had a former pastor that knew I was jumpy and would hide in a doorway and wait for me to get near and would jump out at me. It didn’t take long for me to repay him for his orneriness! To this day, when we meet the conversation always refers back to those nerve racking times.
— Bob Jantz
As the service of the 50-year celebration of the church building dedication was in progress, I was reminded of an incident that occurred while I was a trustee.
There are three spot lights mounted on the front arch beam positioned to shine on the cross and pulpit.
Roger Siebert was the pastor at this time and had suddenly passed away during his pastorship. In preparation for his funeral us trustees needed to replace one of the spot lights that shined on the cross, casting a shadow on to the wall behind.
As us trustees (about five of us) were moving and positioning the tall ladder to rest on the narrow beam at the top, none of us noticed that the bottom of the cross got hooked on one of the ladder rungs (steps). As the ladder was moved, the cross released from the step and started swinging on the chain holding the cross in position. The cross hit the ladder and a sizeable dent was put on the front of the cross about four inches from the bottom.
I found this kind of ironic that none of us noticed that the cross was being “disturbed”.
I like to think about this incident as maybe God’s way of making us blinded to not seeing the cross being disturbed and marking the cross with the dent saying Roger Siebert died in service as a soldier of the cross.
— Bob Jantz
The worship banners that grace the sanctuary of First Mennonite Church in Hillsboro continue to be a source of inspiration for many. It’s almost as if those who designed the sanctuary fifty years ago had these banners in mind.
The inspiration for the banners came during a Western District pastors’ retreat in 1997 at the Heartland Center for Spirituality in Great Bend, Kansas, a ministry of the Dominican order in the Roman Catholic Church. The chapel was shaped similarly to our sanctuary and had a large, long banner hanging in front.
We were also then awakening to the value of the church year and the seasons in the life of the church. Slowly the idea emerged of a series of banners, each of which would mark the beginning of another season, such as Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter and Pentecost.
Testing these ideas eventually led to a conversation with Robert Regier, then professor of art at Bethel College. Out of his creative mind came the current design of seven banners that would be displayed to mark the beginning of new season in the life of the church.
The project never would have gotten off the ground without the enthusiastic support and tireless labor of those who actually made the banners. In particular, Marcella Klaassen, Sylvia Abrahams and Cheryl Bartel embraced the project and “quilted” it into reality. The banners have been on continuous display since December/Advent of 1997.
Apart from the beauty that the banners bring to the sanctuary and those who worship in their presence, the project is emblematic of the partnership of dreamers, workers, quilters, artists and funders. The contribution of our college, Bethel College in lending the gifts of Robert Regier is noted in particular. Even the Roman Catholic Dominican sisters get a shout out. Thanks to everyone who made this project possible.
The brick wall that provides the background for these banners conveys strength and order. The designs introduce an element of complexity and playfulness while telling Gospel stories. For many, the soft fabric of the quilted banners conveys comfort and warmth and the rich colors stir and excite the imagination. Strength, order, comfort, story and imagination combine to inform our worshipful encounters with God in this place.
There is an interesting footnote to this story. In 2000 Mennonite Central Committee sponsored a goodwill visit and choir tour to Syria. Someone had the inspiration to include a gift to the Syrian Orthodox Church that included a replica of the banner that hangs in our sanctuary during the season of advent. A group in Colorado Springs quilted the banner in one week and sent it with the choir that was led by Bethel choir director, and former member of this church, Marlys Preheim.
We do not know what became of this banner but with all that has happened in Syria over the last years we may find some solace in knowing that this goodwill gesture may still be a source of beauty and comfort to our brothers and sisters in Syria.
— Keith Harder
In order to write about Eldon and Hilda Knak’s 20+ years of janitorial work at FMC I needed to contact my brothers Don, Glenn, Larry and Roger.
Combining memories, we think they started around 1960 with the old church. Thus began the daily routine of unlocking the church by 8 a.m. and locking it at 9 p.m. or later checking all rooms, making sure lights were out, windows closed and trash emptied. Heavy cleaning was done on Thursday, Friday and Saturday of every week.
Roger remembers taking his blanket along and taking his afternoon nap as a toddler. Glenn and Larry remember playing in the one room with the blocks and Lincoln Logs, and then picking up everything so the rooms were clean and being quiet.
Dad and mom set tables and chairs in the basement for meals, funerals and weddings. My brothers Mike, Ron and Don were in charge of mowing and trimming and helping with snow removal.
All of us remember that old big black scary furnace in the basement and the furnace room was even scarier. Dad was in charge of keeping it going. His greatest fear was that the boiler was going to blow when the church was full. Following the dismantling of the building he made the comment, “We beat the beast.”
We remember it being very cold for ground breaking and having church at Tabor College, and the dismantling of the old church. The boys were there some doing what they could. My memories quit with the dismantling because I left for school fall of 1966. However, years later, my daughters Cindy and Melissa remember helping me pick up around the church at times when their grandma and grandpa were unavailable.
With the opening of the new church came new things. One of these was the buffer. It was used to keep the fellowship hall floor shiny without wax. The floor was buffed weekly and in between if there was a funeral or wedding. The boys have fond memories of the thing. Don was thrown into a door. Glenn, Larry and Roger got spun around the floor; but they all said mom could run that thing with one finger.
There was a lot of setting up and taking down. Tables and chairs were set for meals, funerals, weddings and other functions. Mom and dad and the boys would set the tables then the boys would carry chairs from upstairs down then back up seeing who could carry the most at one time.
Following weddings on Saturday evenings the boys each had their responsibility of picking up the sanctuary and the other rooms, this often included beverage containers and food. Mom and dad had to redo the kitchen and fellowship hall floor for Sunday morning. When they had help they could finish around midnight but when the boys had left home they often got home after 3 a.m.
The boys also remember exploring. They found the attic and all the storage areas in the old and new church. They remember needing to get out and return Christmas decorations.
In the new church there was one room totally off limits and that was the pipes for the organ. They were told the pipes are too fragile and expensive to be messing around there.
They did talk about the tunnels under the church, which are the air ducts. They would crawl through them often with a broom. They found lots of cheerios and buttons, a few nickels and dimes, occasionally a quarter, Sunday School papers and small toy trinkets.
As long as dad had at least one of the boys home he had help with the yard work, mowing, trimming, snow and ice removal. When the last one left all cleaning and yard work fell on mom and dad.
We always sat on the back bench in both churches so dad could do temp or light control.
— Clarice (Knak) Warkentin
Some will recall those Sunday mornings at First Mennonite when they would hear a squeaky wash bucket as it was wheeled down the center aisle by Daisy, a cleaning woman wearing her house dress. That distinctive sound would prepare the congregation to hear about life lessons, often prepared for children’s time and interpreted by Judy Harder—not from words Daisy spoke but rather communicated by her actions and expressions.
Remembering Kaye Ratzlaff Bartel, who portrayed Daisy for several years at First Mennonite Church before she died in 1994. The photo is the bucket filled with daisies and a mop given at her memorial service.
— Aleen Ratzlaff
I treasure those moments when I’ve glimpsed into the sanctuary on a quiet afternoon. The setting sun through the stained glass envelopes the communion table, cross and pulpit, sometimes softly and other times brilliantly. I’ve also noticed the sunlight as its graced weddings and other special services. Noticing the glow in the quiet of an early evening when I least expect it, however, seems especially beautiful and sacred.
— Judy Harder
It was a very unique time for me as l was old enough to help with clean-up of the old church building, but not old enough to be concerned with all of the responsibilities that come with building the new. While cleaning up the old building, we soon realized that much of the construction was done with square nails. Many of us collected these nails as a keepsake.
Of course we couldn’t help much with the new construction, but we found new and interesting places to explore on weekends when the workers were not around.
We were very anxious to move in and start using the beautiful new building.
— Marlin Bartel
I was in the sixth to seventh grades during the time the new building was constructed, old enough to remember some details without assuming the many responsibilities and work contributed by adults. This transition time is my strongest memory.
During the months of construction, the congregation used the Tabor College chapel and classrooms for services and Sunday School. The chapel stage provided what seemed to be a huge venue for the children’s Christmas program that year. Then during the summer’s heat, the large downstairs room of the student center provided air conditioned comfort.
I was selected to speak on behalf of the children of the church at the groundbreaking. I committed to memory and recited a few typed sentences that were given to me on a tiny slip of paper, which I still have somewhere. My dad Wilbert Bartel, one of the trustees during the razing and construction years, ensured that a grassy area of the old building’s east lawn to be used for the ceremonial groundbreaking was watered and “pre-spaded” to ensure everyone had success with turning the soil.
The children of the church were engaged with financial goals by contributing coins to buy bricks. Entire families spent many hours pulling nails from boards as the old building came down. Some of the square nails were repurposed into items that ultimately contributed to the building fund. A crowd attended the auction of used lumber and furnishings that would not be needed in the new building. The organ console was stored in a member’s home during construction. And I recall how nice it was to hear the organ again that first Sunday in the new building.
A few short years later, I followed a line of other high school girls who were regular pianists and organists for Sunday services, choirs, music groups, soloists, weddings and funerals. Although I recall several adults playing the piano and the organ during my growing up years, I am amazed at the significant music responsibilities given to us during our high school years.
I am confident that my playing was far from stellar. Yet week after week one of my “cheerleaders” would thank me for playing and regularly comment on something I had done well. That encouragement expanded my experience and built my confidence, illustrating the lifetime impact well-placed words can have. The music bench is still my comfortable seat in church.
— Janet Bartel (Manhattan, Kansas)
Returns and Investments
Years ago I heard a stewardship sermon by Clarence Rempel who was then Senior Pastor at First Mennonite Church in Newton. In his soft determined voice, with a slight forward lean for emphasis, he asserted numerous times: “skimpy joyless investments lead to skimpy joyless returns.” That phase took hold of me, because at that time, I was experiencing skimpy joyless returns and Clarence’s words provoked me to review the character and significance of my investments. I don’t remember anything else from Clarence’s sermon and probably wouldn’t remember the “skimpy joyless” phrase except it became the basis for a number of account passwords.
In the parable of the Talents from Matthew chapter 25, three servants are entrusted with differing amounts of their master’s positions to hold in his absence. Later, when the master returns, he finds two servants have doubled the amount they were entrusted. Scripture doesn’t make it clear if these two invested with joy, but certainly, their investment was not skimpy. Each went whole hog, taking on the risk, which any investment having the possibility of doubling would have, in order to return a gain to his master. In the end, their investments paid off and the servants were rewarded. The third servant, out of fear, buried what had been entrusted to him to mitigate risk and prevent loss. His investment was skimpy and joyless and hence his return was also.
I confess that my investments in FMC and the work of the wider Church are not always joyful. As I walk out the door on my way to another stewardship or ministries council meeting or other Church activity I don’t always have a joyful spirit. More often than not, these meetings and activities feel like inconvenient interruptions to ‘real life’ and/or distractions to my other areas of investment. Additionally, I often strategize on how I can avoid additional encumbrances. What? Really?! God has so richly blessed me, yet I guard, manage, and confine the level of my investment in the work of His Church. As such, my investments in the ministries of FMC edge toward the skimpy and joyless.
Some fifty years ago, our FMC predecessors chose to invest in the future ministries of this congregation by undertaking a monumental building project. Like the first two servants in the parable of the talents, they went whole hog. The current ministries of FMC are the returns of that and many other extraordinary investments by our forbearers. With no guarantee of long term success, they invested copious amounts of prayer, time, energy, sweat, labor, worry, and money. I expect for some period of years the decision to build new and the investments required to pull it off was all-consuming. Which begs the question, what if their investments would have been guarded, managed and confined, or joyless and skimpy? If Pastor Clarence is correct, the returns would have been also. That’s a sobering thought, if they had been like the third servant, mostly interested in protecting the status quo, what would FMC be like now?
I wonder what the returns of our current investments will be in 50 years. It is clear that if our investments are skimpy and joyless the returns will be also. After all, Pastor Clarence said so. First Fruits giving is a practice in which the person donates from their income, some designated amount, first. The idea is, you give first your tithes and offerings and what’s left can be used to meet your other obligations not vice versa. What if the practice was not just applied to our financial investments in the Church? What if we applied it also to all our investments of time, energy, prayer, etc.?
So, is this another one of those spiels to extort guilt from the listener for not doing enough? For not committing enough time, energy, and money to the work of the Church? I hope not. My intent is to provoke a review of the current returns of your investments in the Church, if the returns seem skimpy and joyless, perhaps a more joyful and less skimpy investment is needed on the front end.
— Glen Diener