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Discerning God's Vision Together: A Refreshing Wind of the Spirit

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April 17, 2022

Our article this week, written by Roy Burkholder, is a brief look back to the earliest days of Neffsville Mennonite Church. Thank you, Roy!

This is a brief account of the birth of Neffsville Mennonite Church, about whom we are celebrating 70 years this month of April. You can read a fuller account of those beginnings in my 2002, fifty year history of Neffsville, entitled Pathways to Renewal, available in our church library. There are also about a dozen new copies still available in the church office and in my home.

The background of our history lay in the unrest with the printed Rules and Regulations of Lancaster Conference relating to dress, television, and other areas. Then in the summer of 1951 the Brunk Revivals held nightly tent meetings along the Manheim Pike. They had begun in Lancaster next to East Chestnut Street Mennonite Church. The meetings ran nightly for about seven weeks and drew up to 15,000 people a night! George Brunk and his brother Lawrence preached grace and the Holy Spirit's direction in one’s life. This de-emphasized in a subtle way the Rules and Regulations of Lancaster Conference. As a response there developed a growing feeling of freedom in Christ and against the Conference rules.

In 1952 a deacon ordination at East Chestnut Street triggered the movement that led a group of members leaving East Chestnut Street and starting a new church at Neffsville. The story goes like this. East Chestnut needed a deacon to replace the aging David Weaver. Fourteen names were given privately to the ministers to pass through the lot to choose a deacon. This was an unusually high number, possibly indicating a lack of unity in the congregation. Two names were immediately dropped as unqualified. The remaining twelve were questioned on their positions on the Rules and Regulations concerning dress and behavior. One by one each of the twelve dropped out, unwilling to go along with the rules. The ordination was canceled.

These twelve men now began to meet and discuss their problems with the conference rules. They later met with O.N. Johns, an Ohio Conference bishop who served as bishop for the Monterey church (now Forest Hills) which had formed earlier as an Ohio Conference church. Out of their meeting with Bishop Johns, the group decided to start a new group as an outreach of the Monterey church under the more lenient Ohio Conference.

On Sunday evening April 13, 1952 (70 years ago!) about 40 people gathered for a song service at a little vacant church building on Buch Avenue in Neffsville. The little brick church had been built by the Baptist Brethren (now Church of the Brethren). It is still used as a church today as a Christodelphian church. The following Sunday April 20, about 68 people met for the Sunday morning service. This marked the beginning of a new church, Neffsville Mennonite Church!

Most of the earliest leaders and first members of the new congregation 70 years ago have passed on. The only ones remaining today at Neffsville are Albert Brubaker, John Neff, Jean Zehr, and Eunice Hess. The new church grew rapidly as members from neighboring Mennonite churches found new freedom at Neffsville. By the fall of 1952, 80 persons were received as members. By 1956 membership nearly doubled to 145. The neighboring churches of Landis Valley, East Petersburg, and Lititz lost members but East Chestnut Street had the heaviest losses. A sense of freshness, vitality, and spiritual freedom permeated the atmosphere of the little red brick church on Buch Avenue. Neffsville was born!

- Roy Burkholder

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