Clarence’s Clarion Call – Celebrating Resurrection; Congregation Closing
by Clarence Rempel, WDC Conference Minister
In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity.
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
The congregation sang songs of resurrection and God’s providing faithfulness. Pastor Lynn Schlosser simply stated that our gathering at Bergthal Mennonite Church, Pawnee Rock, on Sunday, May 26, was a funeral service marking the demise of the church. And as we do at funerals, we were going to celebrate the gift of resurrection and recall with joy the goodness of one that had lived a long and full life – 138 years to be exact.
This congregation was founded by pioneer Prussian Mennonites from Volhynia, Ukraine, who survived their first bitterly cold winter in boxcars provided by the railroad. It grew to become a thriving congregation of 250 or so in worship in the 1950s. Members built a sturdy brick church building on the windiest corner of Kansas graced with curved pews and stained glass windows just three miles north of Pawnee Rock.
The impact of this congregation in the Western District Conference, across the Mennonite church, and around the world was evidenced by the 350 guests who packed out the sanctuary and overflow for this Memorial Celebration Service. Persons remembered hot summer weddings with bowing candles as we sweltered in “only” 90-degree heat and 25 mile-per-hour winds.
How is it that this strong and vibrant congregation diminished to twelve committed folk who were still packing 1,500 school kits a year for MCC?
- The depopulation of rural Kansas is a significant factor. In the pioneering days, farms were 40 acres. Today a farmer might be farming 4,000 acres.
- Mennonites valued education and sent their children to college. Graduates sought employment in the cities where jobs could be found.
- Prussian German Mennonites came to preserve their faith and their families. That fortress mentality made it difficult to share the faith and include nearby neighbors.
However, it didn’t prevent members of this congregation from going to the ends of the earth with the good news of Jesus. Less than two years ago the congregation commissioned Marie and Don Gaeddert to serve with Mennonite Mission Network as English teachers in China who also encourage Chinese believers. They represent a host of mission and service workers, pastors and teachers who were discipled in Bergthal Mennonite Church and sent to the ends of the earth. Fittingly, the service began with these words:
May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us –
so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.
The service marked the coming end of Bergthal Mennonite Church. The building will be dismantled and the church remembered with a granite engraved marker in the nearby cemetery. But because of the resurrection every healing word, every redeeming action, every stewarding practice of the members of this congregation through the decades will be caught up and added to God’s grand restoration of all creation to the shalom of God (I Corinthians 15:58)…something God alone can see.