Fonds Volumes 1-38 - General Conference Mennonite Brethren Church fonds

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General Conference Mennonite Brethren Church fonds

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CA CMBS Volumes 1-38

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  • 1876-2000 (Creation)

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22.59 m of textual records
518 photographs
and other materials

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Administrative history

The Mennonite Brethren were among the first Mennonites to come from Russia to the United States and settled in states such as Kansas in 1873 with others to follow in short succession. On 18-20 October 1879, 22 delegates from Mennonite Brethren churches in Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Dakota convened in the Henderson Mennonite Brethren Church to organize the first North American Mennonite Brethren Conference. Their goals were to promote spiritual fellowship among the churches, to define and establish a united position on points of doctrine and practice, and to unite themselves for more effective mission effort and other activities. The conference was incorporated under the state laws of Kansas in 1900; it adopted a constitution eight years later. From 1879 to 1909, the General Conference of the Mennonite Brethren Churches of North America held a convention every fall, holding its meetings in one of its larger churches. Beginning with 1883 the minutes and reports were printed in the form of an annual yearbook. As its constituency spread across the continent, the convention was reduced to a triennial event, and the conference divided into district conferences, each of which would hold an annual convention, do its own home mission work, and regulate the affairs of its churches. One of the first outreach programs as to send itinerant ministers to the Mennonite pioneers who had settled in Canada. These itinerant preachers were successful in founding a church in Burwalde, Manitoba (near Winkler) in 1888 with the first members coming from the Reinlaender Mennonite Church, which created some animosity. At the 1936 conference, a thorough revision of the constitution was accepted. Its new provisions covered all phases of conference work. The Committee of Reference and Counsel had the general oversight of the church and took care of its spiritual welfare; the Board of Trustees held in custody and managed the property and funds; the boards for foreign mission, city missions, publication, education, general welfare and public relations, Sunday school, and youth, executed the work entrusted to them. Restructuring has occurred throughout conference history, and boards and committees have come and gone under a variety of names. Nonetheless, the conference has kept several key ministries as their focus. Missions is one such focus. Early efforts focused on India and Comanche Indians in southern Oklahoma, but extended much beyond. The Home Missions Committee and the Board of Foreign Missions took leadership in these matters. The Board of General Welfare and Public Relations coordinated relief work, the resettlement of Mennonite emigrants, and the deployment of Christian service workers. It worked closely with Mennonite Central Committee, and eventually was subsumed under Mennonite Brethren Missions and Services, formerly the Board of Foreign Missions. Publishing was also important. In 1884, the conference published the Zionsbote as its church organ, followed by the Christian Leader in 1951 and overtook the Mennonitisch Rundschau in 1960. The Board of Christian Literature took responsibility for much of the publishing, initiating the publication of a variety of historical, Sunday school, and worship materials. Kindred Press became the official Mennonite Brethren publishing agency, with offices in both Hillsboro, KS, and Winnipeg, MB. The need for a Mennonite Brethren school was expressed as early as 1883 and repeatedly mentioned in the following years. In 1898 a Conference Educational Committee was elected and a German Department School was opened in conjunction with McPherson College in McPherson, Kansas. In 1933, the conference assumed ownership of Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kansas. Seminary education began at Tabor (1944), but soon was moved to Fresno, California (1955), where the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary was established. The Board of Christian Education has also played an important role in the ministry of the conference. It has produced Sunday school literature, and has focused on training Sunday school teachers and lay leaders. Organizing youth events and conferences was also a priority. The Board of Faith and life was founded to provide guidance in matters of theology and practice in the life of the Mennonite Brethren Church. It held study conferences where key leaders would present position papers to be considered on various topics. It became one of the key bodies for Mennonite Brethren in North America. As of 1969, telling and preserving the story of the conference has been the task of the Historical Commission, originally a branch of the Board of Christian Literature. The Commission was to coordinate the collection and publication of historical materials, and to initiate projects to raise the historical consciousness of the conference. It has also been responsible for coordinating the activities of the Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies in Winnipeg, Hillsboro, and Fresno. The Fresno centre is the official repository of General Conference records. A number of significant developments have taken place with respect to the Mennonite Brethren Church in North America since the middle of the 20th century. One of these was the merger with the Krimmer Mennonite Brethren Conference occurring in 1960. The Krimmer Mennonite Brethren membership at the time was 1,648. The merger brought six African-American congregations from North Carolina into the new Mennonite Brethren conference, as well as a significant number of members who had left Hutterite communities in South Dakota and other areas to join the Krimmer Mennonite Brethren. With the rapid growth in membership of the Canadian Mennonite Brethren churches in the years after World War II, there followed an increasing trend toward a greater degree of independence on the part of the Canadian churches. By 1951 the membership of the Canadian District had already exceeded that of the other three districts combined. At the general conference sessions in Hillsboro, Kansas in 1954, the issue of independence came to a head and the concept of "area conferences" emerged. Each area (United States and Canada) took on major responsibility in such matters as higher education, church schools, youth work and home missions. In 2003, the General Conference came to a formal end. At this point, its four remaining ministries—the Board of Faith and Life, Mennonite Brethren Missions and Services, Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, and Resource Ministries—were divested to the United States and Canadian conferences. While the formal ownership structure has changed, the two conferences still work together in several areas of ministry, including missions, history, publishing, and higher education. Nationalism, regionalism, and the theological diversity of constituents all played a roll in the dissolution, but so too did a desire to bring Mennonite Brethren ministries closer to the people in the churches. SOURCES: Adapted from Lohrenz, J.H. and Abe J. Dueck. "General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1990. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 10 August 2006; Like a Fire...Burning in my Bones, General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches Executive Report (2002); Mennonite Brethren Herald (8 August 1997).

Custodial history

The first deposits of General Conference records probably were made in the 1970s, sometime after the Centre for M.B. Studies was organized in 1969. In 1979, Bill Schroeder worked at sorting and organizing some of the materials. It is not entirely clear when the rest of the materials came in, though small deposits have been recorded in recent years. For instance, a General Conference Audio Visual report, consisting of 80 photographic slides, one audio tape and 6pp of textual records, was deposited in 1998, accession # 1998-043. Board of Trustees records (1978-1994) were deposited by Canadian Conference treasurer Jake Neufeld in 2000, accession # 2000-048. Two files of Board of Christian Literature records were deposited by Helmut Huebert in 1996, accession # 1996-050. Historical Commission records from 1984-1999 were deposited in 2003 by Abe Dueck, accession # 2003-028. Three videos of the General Conference closing celebration were deposited by Herb Kopp in 2003, Accession # 2003-015. Materials continued to be deposited on an irregular basis.

Scope and content

This fond consists of information for a historical sketch, directories, church portrait books, weekly bulletins, minutes for the membership, and church council meetings, financial information, correspondence, study papers, and information from the Facilities Review Commission.

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Associated materials

Related material: Related CMBS fonds: Yearbook Collection MB Herald Photograph Collection: General Conference convention, NP149-09 CMBS Audio-Visual Collection; a listing of relevant materials is provided at the end of the textual file list provided below. Personal Papers; see records of former missionaries and board members, i.e., the Helen L. Warkentin fonds. Several Board of Christian Literature and Historical Commission publications are available in the J.A. Toews library. Numerous periodicals are available in the CMBS Periodicals and Newspapers collection; see titles under "Mennonite Brethren Missions and Services" for instance.

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Finding aid updated by Donovan Giesbrecht, 26 May 2006.

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  • English

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