by Laurie Oswald Robinson for Western District Conference
When Aoife Rose Compton was born Nov. 18 to Rachelle and Martin Compton, she was the last child to become part of Burrton (Kan.) Mennonite Church. After 108 years of ministry, the church will hold its final worship service Jan. 4.
The baby girl appeared at the end of a steady stream of funerals held at the church – 14 deaths in the last five years, with 10 of those occurring in the past two years. But Burrton Mennonite is no stranger to this cycle of life and death that has woven through its faith family for 11 decades. It’s a faith family that Rachelle Compton, 42, said she cherishes for how it nurtured her as a child and her children today.
“Even though our kids are the only ones here and sometimes wish there were more children in the congregation, they loved having 15 sets of grandparents,” Compton said. “It’s been hard on them with so many people passing away, including Merle Schrag, who was just like an uncle to them.”
Schrag was one of Compton’s youth sponsors when she grew up in the youth group, Compton said. She is the youngest of seven children belonging to former pastor Jim Gundy and his wife, Marjorie. They are still part of the 79-member church that about 25 people attend on Sundays.
“He taught us how to water ski, and we had a picnic at the lake that was a big highlight of the year,” she said. “We also put on a big concert on Christmas Eve during which the church was always packed. By the time I was growing up, the youth group was tapering down, but some of my older brothers and sisters were part of a large youth group that had 12 baptisms in one year.”
More baptisms than funerals were standard for many decades at Burrton Mennonite with its peak worship attendance numbering up to 125 in the 1950s-60s, Jim Gundy said. He was pastor from 1973 to 2004, followed by Pastor Jim Dunn (see companion story), who is retiring Dec. 28. Seventeen pastors – beginning with the late H.P. Krehbiel — served the congregation. WDC established it in the early 1900s for Mennonite families that had settled in the Burrton area in the late 1800s. The congregation first met in a house. Its first meetinghouse was built in 1910, and the present-day building was constructed in 1958.
In his 31 years of ministry, Gundy said the congregation was vibrantly involved in service projects for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), i.e. running the meat counter each year at the local relief sale and creating hundreds of school and hygiene kits. The church was deeply committed to Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS), including volunteering after a tornado in Hesston, Kan., and a prairie fire in Salina, Kan.
Lifetime member Ron Dick, congregational chair, whose grandparents were charter members, said it was a tearful day when they voted in favor of closing. “We had to face the fact that we were not showing the growth in numbers needed to keep alive the church’s original mission — reaching out to the community and sharing the word of God.”