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Church raises money for needy

Staff writer

Without a little cleaning and a little prayer, Good News Christian Fellowship in Marion might have completely overlooked the 50th anniversary of the church building they will celebrate Sunday.

The first step came when Good News Pastor Val Newton took over from Larry King in January.

“Larry had his office the way he wanted his office, and now we were going to change it to suit Val,” member Roger Hiebert said. “We came across this little book, the charter members of the church.”

“We found some old records pertaining to membership, to the structure they had way back when, and records that pertained to the deed for the land,” Newton said.

The church moved to Marion in 1961, but didn’t have land, let alone a building.

“The church began to meet in the old stone school building,” Hiebert said. “It was condemned at that point for school use, but they could let us meet there as a church.”

Marion Mennonite Brethren Church, as it was known then, purchased a lot on the southeast corner of Weldon and Nickerson streets, and started construction of a church building in 1962.

While the records confirmed the start of construction 50 years ago, the idea of an anniversary celebration didn’t come up until later, as a result of a prayer service on the vacant space of the church lot.

“There was one day that God laid it on our hearts to pray for the land, to be open to what God wants,” Newton said. Hiebert offered one of the prayers.

Church member Kenny Newell was listening when Hiebert mentioned 50 years in his prayer, and he proposed having a celebration to mark the anniversary.

“It was a series of things that happened. I think God attuned us to that. I think we would’ve passed it on by,” Newton said.

Ebenfeld roots

The history of the Good News congregation goes back to 1905, when members of Ebenfeld Mennonite Brethren near Hillsboro formed Steinreich Church at the modern-day intersection of Remington and 120th roads.

“They started this church as a matter of convenience,” Hiebert said. “It was just so far for the Florence people and Peabody people to drive to Ebenfeld.”

The church remained affiliated with Ebenfeld, with members attending services at the larger church once a month. Steinreich membership peaked at about 100, but by 1961 only two dozen remained.

“When we moved here in ’48 I could see a farm house right down across the road here, there was a farmhouse on the hill, there were people living all over here. By 1961 none of those houses existed,” Hiebert said.

Moving to town seemed the best option to keep the congregation alive, and they debated between Peabody and Marion. They chose Marion.

Building the church

Hiebert said the congregation hired Marion contractor Steve Jost to supervise construction of the new church.

“The contract says that Steve will supervise and the work will be done by volunteers,” Hiebert said. “The materials were just over $16,000.”

“Wilbur Leppke was a part of this church since he was a kid here at Steinreich, and he was a tiger of a worker,” Hiebert said. “There was Dave Leppke who lived in Aulne, his trade was carpentry. Herb and Arnold Regier, and their brother-in-law, Elmer Loewen — there were probably a dozen guys.

“There’s one arch that’s only half-stained,” Hiebert laughed. “There’s one arch that when you look at it halfway up we got that much stained, and the rest is a little more blond.”

Building the faith

The church started moving away from its Mennonite Brethren ties during the latter part of the 1960s.

“We had a pastor come to this church in the mid-60s — he was here six months. He introduced us to life in the Holy Spirit in a way Mennonites had forgotten about,” Heibert said.

“The late 60s and early 70s we became aquainted with churches who were kind of rejecting the traditional,” Hiebert said. “This church joined in the early 70s a group called Shalom Covenant.”

“We were very idealistic and we wanted to change the world,” Roger said.

“Our affiliation with the Mennonite Brethren dwindled during that time,” Hiebert’s wife Mary Alice said. “We had a little different focus and aim, less traditional, the music changed.”

The composition of the congregation also changed.

“I would say at least two thirds of the church in the early 1970s was coming from Hillsboro every week,” Roger said.

Distance was an issue in 1905, and it became one again in the 1980s for the members from Hillsboro.

“There came a point when they said ‘Let’s just move the church to Hillsboro,’” Roger said. “Mary Alice and I said to each other when we came here we felt this is where we belonged, and we’re backing out on something we shouldn’t back out on.

“When the Hillsboro group stayed there, that’s when Larry King came, in 1988. We stayed here, hired Larry, and basically started with just a couple dozen again.”

King served as pastor of Good News for 24 years, longer than any other pastor in church history. Newton used a Biblical reference to describe King’s importance to Good News during that time.

“I believe we’re entering into the promised land. Pastor Larry was the Moses to get us to this point,” Newton said.

“There’s no question his influence changed the face of the church forever,” Roger said.

What hasn’t changed is the congregation’s ongoing affiliation with the Mennonite Brethren Church.

“I guess that says some pretty good things for them because they allow a lot of autonomy in the individual churches, and the churches can look very different — obviously, or they wouldn’t have tolerated us.”

“By now, there’s a whole lot more acceptance of the work of the Holy Spirit in the church than there was then,” Roger said.

The 50th anniversary celebration will start Sunday with worship service at the church at 10:30 a.m.

A barbecue pulled pork luncheon at Marion High School cafeteria will follow.

The congregation will return to the church to reminisce with stories of the church’s history, and the final activity will be a music-oriented worship celebration.

Last modified July 25, 2012

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