Science Ridge Mennonite Church History

Eleven years after the establishment of Whiteside County, Illinois, Mennonites began coming to this county. In 1852 Benjamin Stauffer and his wife were the first to arrive with a following, coming from Lancaster and Bucks County Pennsylvania. The group first met together in Joseph Snavely's corn barn. In 1858 a church building was built on land donated by Jacob Snavely. The site chosen was adjacent to a small community burying ground that was taken over by the church.

The name Science Ridge did not originate with the Mennonites but it was adopted from the surrounding community known by that name. The one room schoolhouse that stood opposite the church had acquired that name because of its prominent interest in science and education.

The first minister to serve the church for any length of time was Benjamin Hershey, when he came to Sterling in 1860 from Canada.

In 1882 the Sunday School was organized and its sessions were held immediately following the morning worship service, an order that is still maintained.

Another Bible education method that started in 1936 was Summer Bible School with S.G. Shelter from Johnstown, Pa. as director. It continued to be a witness to members and the surrounding community for many, many years.

Thirteen years after the first building was erected the first main addition was constructed and in 1882 the building was lengthened and a basement put under it with the installation of a wood furnace. An acetylene lighting plant was installed at this time. This served eleven years and then a large wing was added in 1921 and electric lights replaced the acetylene system. This building was used up until the completely new facility was constructed and dedicated on May 7, 1967. The main floor of this building contained the total of 15,520 sq. ft. and the approximate cost was $195,000. The members of the congregation furnished over 5000 hours of volunteer labor along with the special services and equipment donated to the cause.

In November 1900, the forerunner of the present MW was started at Science Ridge. Today this organization is still active. It is open to all the women of the church and its task is to help missions, any home activities, and varying and many relief projects for Mennonite Central Committee. Each year a quilt is made for the auction at the Illinois M.C.C. Sale in March.

Besides the first Church Conference in 1872 some notable events have taken place at Science Ridge. The first Illinois Mennonite Sunday School took place here. The second General Conference of the Mennonite Church of North America in 1900; and the first conference session of the then newly united Mennonite and Amish Mennonite conference of Illinois in June 1921. Miss Melinda Ebersole became the first permanent mission worker in the Mennonite Church in 1894, serving 20 years in Chicago. Noah Byers was the first president of Goshen College in 1903. Both were members of Science Ridge.

The social life of the young people was organized in February 1917 at A.C. Good's home when a literary society was formed. As time progressed, a monthly program with a social hour and refreshments continued until the present Mennonite Youth Fellowship (M.Y.F.) was organized in 1948.

Science Ridge has been blessed with many capable leaders. In its first half-century, Benjamin Hershey, Henry Nice, Abraham Ebersole was influential and in 1904 Samuel Good was chosen but after his death his brother Aaron C. assumed the leadership. He was ordained to Christian ministry on February 25, 1906. At a service honoring his 50 years of service on February 26, 1956 he was given the recognition of Pastor Emeritus. He remained active and assisted many times and at a variety of churches for another 10 years. In the year 1934 he was ordained to the office of bishop. He was probably the first supported minister in the Mennonite church. The records of the trustees show that on May 1, 1907 he received the sum of $150 that was the amount needed to pay his hired man. In the fall of the same year he was given $11 to attend the General Conference.

How many others since the Good days have led us on through the valleys and the high mountain experiences. During Robert Keller's short of service the peace testimony was strengthened and the administrative structure was re-organized. The newly formed concepts led the way to J. Frederick Erb taking over the pastoral responsibilities. Then came Edwin Stalter with his masterful leadership for 10 years. They were years of glory as well as years of grace to keep the congregation in the path of righteousness. Mark Lehman, Phil Helmuth, LeRoy Kennel, David Bell kept the pathway open to the Lord's calling. Edwin Stalter came back for a year's interim to take us into a leadership of S. Roy Kaufman.

These were the years that Robert Mackey and Laura were with us briefly and then departed to be of service to United World Mission. They spent a number of years in Russia and now are in the United States to train more persons to be messengers of the Word of God. Kathy Ebersole of this congregation was in seminary and during the summer interned (under Pastor Kaufman). As years passed she became a licensed pastor in Idaho and is presently in active service there.

Marlin Thomas, C. Timothy Rust, Mervin Miller, and Robert Smith spent short interims at Science Ridge. When Robert Smith resigned the pastorate, the congregation was without a pastor for some time. A portion of the group decided to start their own Fellowship so in January 2007 the Community Mennonite Fellowship was formed. Those who remained, still without leadership, decided to keep faith and trust the Lord's leading. Arnold Owens came by invitation to give this group occasional Sunday morning messages. Currently he is our pastor.

As we look back through the years we see many perplexing our fathers faced. It was a work of confident faith, expectant hope and enduring love.

Most important is the prospect and challenge of the future. It is for us to explore new and creative methods to carry on the work of the kingdom in our generation. This calls for an openness of mind, a searching heart, and a yielding to the Holy Spirit in following of the Anabaptist discipline.

Submitted by Mary Helen Wade, 2008

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