Congregation’s journey takes bold turn

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Maybe it affirms the adage that God works in mysterious ways, but it is at least ironic that one of the smallest congregations in town made perhaps the biggest news splash in Hillsboro during 2001.

A congregation of about a half-dozen households, known at the start of the year as the Hillsboro Christian Fellowship, opted in summer for a dramatic change in its religious expression by deciding to become catechumens, or learners, in the Orthodox Church, which considers itself to be the oldest church body in Christendom.

Like the Roman Catholic Church, Orthodoxy traces its lineage of leadership all the way back to Jesus himself.

The congregation’s decision marked the conclusion, in one sense, of an intense search it had pursued over the past two years to find and embrace the most authentic expression of the church of Jesus-a search that was led by the congregation’s pastor, John Baize.

Baize’s background, like some households within the congregation, had roots in the Mennonite faith. Over the years, the core of the congregation had moved toward a more charismatic expression before making a bold turn to Orthodoxy.

A few weeks after a story about the transition appeared in the local press, the Wichita Eagle followed suit. Their article, in turn, was picked up off the wire services in newspapers as far away as Chicago.

The congregation has since adopted the name Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Christian Church. It is the first Orthodox congregation in Marion County and one of the few in the entire state.

Congregational highlights

Meanwhile, the oldest continuing congregation in the Hillsboro area, the Ebenfeld Mennonite Brethren Church, celebrated its 125th anniversary July 27-29.

“That was the big highlight of the year,” said pastor Gaylord Goertzen. “It was significant because it was a chance to look back and see what God has done and to see what all the Lord has brought us through and to praise him for that.

“It was also a chance to see the changes we’re facing as a congregation are nothing new. All through the years there’s been continual change, and change is something we have to accept and recognize it’s not an enemy. It’s just a part of life.”

The events of the weekend drew several hundred people, including an estimated 500 at the two presentations of an original drama production based on the church’s history, 300 for a dinner and program, and more than 400 for the Sunday morning worship service.

“A lot of people were involved, and it was a lot of work to prepare, but it was worth it,” Goertzen said. “It worked out real well.”

One local congregation launched a significant redecorating project at the first of the year, and two other ones are considering substantial projects down the road.

Trinity Mennonite Church is totally remodeling the inside of the church,” said pastor Tim Kliewer. Old carpet is being replaced, pews are being rearranged
slightly, and walls are being painted.

“It’s been 35 years since any of that has been done in the church,” Kliewer said. He said the congregation hopes to have a celebration to mark the completion of the project Feb. 3.

The Hillsboro Mennonite Brethren Church voted Jan. 27 to buy the Vogt’s IGA property across the street from the church for future development. The congregation also approved installing a new energy-efficient computerized heating and cooling system and is considering major renovations in the sanctuary.

“I have seen an increased excitement about the possibilities for ministry within the community and expanding our influence and our ability to minister,” said Bruce Porter, who completed his first full year as pastor in 2001. “We want to make our church more accessible to more people. If that means that it costs us something to change our physical environment, I’m hearing our people say we’re willing to do whatever we can to reach people.

“I think there’s a renewed sense or longing to minister to children and families, and genuinely open our doors to the community. We have a strong link with the community already, historically, and have had a wonderful influence in the community along with all of the other churches.

“I’m just sensing our people are saying there are more opportunities than we can even imagine,” Porter added.

John Ryding, pastor of the Zion Lutheran Church, said his congregation is considering building a parish hall between the existing meetinghouse and parsonage, but no timeline has been set for that project yet.

He said the congregation has also established an Outreach Committee that has several boards on it: a worship committee, a caring committee, an evangelism committee and a building committee for the parish hall.

“That’s a ways down the road because we haven’t aggressively gone after any funds for that yet,” he said.

Another highlight of the year was sending seven youth and two adults to the national youth convention in New Orleans to join with 35,000 other Lutheran young people.

The youth at Trinity and First Mennonite churches welcomed a new youth pastor, Todd Lehman, who began his duties with the two congregations Oct. 16. He was officially licensed during an afternoon service Jan. 27.

Ken Peterson, who completed his first year as senior pastor at First Mennonite in 2001, said another highlight for his congregation was the formation of an outreach task force which adopted the theme, “Making Disciples Through Loving Relationships.”

As part of the outreach emphasis, the church is planning a community-wide Valentine’s Day party for children in February and a community-wide St. Patrick’s Day party in March.

Peterson said the congregation has also formed a worship and music committee that will, among other things, invite musicians, including those outside the congregation to offer special music for its services.

Parkview Mennonite Brethren Church has offered several activities for women during the past year. The Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) programs continues to draw young mothers from around the area to separate morning and evening monthly sessions.

A new event has been dubbed “First Fridays for Females.” The first Friday of each month, women gather for an outing or social event as a way to build relationships.

Main Street Ministries

Tim Sullivan, Parkview senior pastor, was elected chairman of the Main Street Ministries Board of Directors in March 2001. Main Street Ministries is an independent community organization that aims to provide material, emotional and spiritual resources to people in transition.

During the year, Main Street successfully completed its $55,000 capital campaign drive that funded significant renovations to its facility at the corner of Main and D streets, including the installation of 113 energy-efficient replacement windows and the creation of office and meeting spaces in the North Annex.

Shawn Winter directs the ministry and Lillian Bookless is assistant director.

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