At the turn of the 20th century, several factors came together, shaped by the direction of God’s Spirit that resulted in the birth of Elizabethtown Mennonite Church. Mennonites who were typically from rural farm families were retiring and settling in Elizabethtown. This meant a several mile drive by horse and buggy to one of the other three rural Mennonite churches in the Elizabethtown district. Because of the long drive, these retired Mennonites would often attend other local churches in town. Every 4-6 weeks about a dozen Mennonites would meet at the United Zion Church when a visiting Mennonite pastor was in town. Minnie Stauffer, a widow who returned from Indiana to care for her parents, missed the spiritual nurture that she had received by being part of a weekly Sunday School. She caught the vision for a meetinghouse in Elizabethtown. Even though Sunday School was a new thing in the Lancaster Conference, Minnie courageously went to the local bishop with her vision for a Sunday School and meetinghouse in Elizabethtown. With his blessing, she began to raise funds, $5,600, for what became the first building to house Elizabethtown Mennonite Church.
On March 28, 1905, ground was broken for the Mennonite meetinghouse in Elizabethtown at the church’s current location on the corner of Spruce and Bainbridge Streets. The land was deeded to the deacons of two local Mennonite congregations. Three retired Mennonite farmers living in Elizabethtown formed the building committee. By Thanksgiving Day, November 30, 1905, the building was ready to be dedicated. Constructed with lots of volunteer labor, the building was so packed for its dedication service that a second service was held in the basement for those who could not fit in the sanctuary.
In 1906, Noah Mack, an evangelist from the Welsh Mountain Mission in eastern Lancaster County returned to the newly established Elizabethtown Mennonite congregation and held revival meetings that continued for three weeks. One newspaper reported stated, “When the children were coming home from school, for miles buggies and carriages were wending their way to the evening services.” At the conclusion of these meetings there were 125 new converts ranging from the age of ten to sixty. On Easter Sunday, April 15, 1906, seventy-eight new members were baptized and became members of Elizabethtown Mennonite Church. It was a new experience to have members who were so young since up until that time Mennonites often joined the church after they were married.
Until February 11, 1909, the Elizabethtown congregation continued to function without a pastor. Sunday School was held weekly for adults and children and visiting preachers would give a sermon once a month. Sunday School attendance range from 50 to 105 under the leadership of a group of 9 people, including Minnie Stauffer. The Sunday School participated in collecting funds for missions oversees and in Lancaster city.
Through the next 100 years, the Elizabethtown Mennonite congregation continued to be at the forefront of many changes in the Lancaster Conference. The young people at Elizabethtown formed the first Young People’s Bible Meetings (youth group) in the Lancaster Conference in June 1911. The church hosted missions meetings and Bible conferences and sent more than ten couples as missionaries to Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Central and South America, beginning with the first who went to Argentina in 1925. Following World War I, the sewing circle was developed to provide clothes and other items needed for relief efforts around the world. Beginning with World War II, many young adults from this congregation have participated in short term missions (several months up to two years) in the US and aboard. At first these mission ventures were an alternative to serving in the military when drafted. However, this tradition of service has continued, resulting in many young adults still choosing to participate in short term missions during their college years. Members of the Elizabethtown congregation assisted in many local church plantings over the years including, Vine Street (Lancaster city), Marietta, Billmyer (near Bainbridge), Columbia, Newville and Steelton. Some of these are still active congregations today.
Although our congregation today has a very different appearance than 100 years ago, we still embrace many of the same convictions of those who had the vision to begin this church. Our current purpose statement declares, “Our purpose is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.” Our vision statement reads, “We will, by God’s grace mature in our relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ, live in healthy relationships with our families at home and church, and build relationships with our neighbors at home, work, school, church and abroad.”
At Elizabethtown Mennonite Church, we believe the best is yet to come!