Children playing at recess in summer Bible school, Protection Mennonite Church, Comanche County, Kansas, circa 1948.
Photo courtesy of Twyla White
There are in these United States of America around 60,000 Mennonites. Among this group there are some 15 or 16 different branches of Mennonites, with their beliefs varying in manner of expression as we find in other churches.
As early as 1750 on the ship, Patience, some early Mennonites, one among them a Daniel Miller, came to America. Also on the ship, Brotherhood, a bishop Jacob Mast, born in Switzerland in 1738, came to Pennsylvania, America in 1750. Both of these men are great grandfathers of Noah E. Miller and his sister, Mrs. Henry Baker, who came to Comanche County in 1907.
Doctrinally speaking, the Mennonites are literalists, that is, they take the Bible as the inspired Word of God, and interpret it literally, which is to say, when the Bible says to do so and so, they actually put into practice those commands, such as John 13, foot washing, anointing with oil, James 5:14; veiling of women during prayer II Cor:11.
The Mennonites have come to America from various European countries, chiefly from Switzerland, Holland, Russia and Germany. They are, as a rule, a rural people, living on farms and making their living on the land. Thus it may be readily understood why, forty years ago, Mennonites with large families migrated to Comanche County, Kansas where land could be purchased cheaply and in any amount.
With these brief preliminaries serving as a background, we are indebted to the local record of the Mennonite church of Protection, Kansas, for much of this material. This record is in the secretary's book and the same book has been used from the beginning of the local church. There have been to date but three persons during the 40 years of this church who have served as secretary, namely: N.E. Miller was the first and held his office until his death, May 21, 1910. Then Alvin Selzer was chosen to serve in this capacity and he served until 1935 when he resigned and Albert Schultz, the present secretary, was elected. Also for further information, and especially for the names of the charter members, we are indebted to Miss Gladys Schweitzer who wrote a theme about the church.
The first Mennonites to come to this county appear to have been the Jacob Zimmerman family, whose widow and children are still here and are prosperous farmers south of Protection. Others were: Henry Hostetler, George R. Brunk, Ben Horst, Alvin Selzer, who is living at present just south of the Mennonite church, and his children are good farmers living in the community. Also others were John Schrock, Cris Miller, Will Weaver, Mose Shenk, Joseph Landis, Jacov Stutzman, Noah Ebersole, N.E. Miller, John Baker, and Jacob Bauer.
Services for worship were held for about a year and a half in the schoolhouse in District No. 42, known as the Murray schoolhouse. Then actions were taken to build a church. Alvin Selzer donated the land for the building site and also for the adjacent burial grounds. The work for the church building was donated as well as the land. The church building is located 5 miles directly south of Protection (on the right hand side of the highway going out). It had been enlarged and otherwise altered since it was built. The church became an organization Oct. 6, 1907.
The first meeting in the church was on November 1, 1908 at which date the building was dedicated. Brother Kahlon Lapp, of Nebraska, returned missionary from India, preached the dedication sermon. Kerosene lamps were used for lighting the church prior to 1929 when electricity was made available from the Protection city plant. The church was first heated with coal stoves, then a furnace and is now gas heated.
Noah Schrock, who is now an ordained deacon in Northern Indiana, was the first church janitor.
In the newly organized church were the following ordained men: George R. Brunk, bishop; Noah Ebersole and Ben Horst, ministers; Jacob Zimmerman and John Schrock, deacons. As the Mennonites do not have a salaried ministry, they can well afford as many ministers as care to live in a group.
Names of the charter members were: George Brunk and wife Katie; Noah Ebersole and wife Mary; Ben Horst and wife Leah; Jacob Zimmerman and wife Sussan and 3 children: Pearl, Noah, and Crist Miller and wife Katherine and 4 children: Ella, Charles, Ray and Fanny; N. E. Miller and wife Sophronia, and 3 children: David, Howard and Baldwin; Mrs. Alvin Selzer; Will Weaver; Mose Shenk and wife Ella; Joseph Landis and wife Rosena; Jacob Stutzman and wife Maude; Henry Hostetler and wife Salome, and daughter Elsie.
Only 3 charter members of these 38 people remain and are still members of the church. Namely, Mrs. Jacob Zimmerman, Mrs. Alvin Selzer, and Mrs. Charles Schweitzer, who was Ida Zimmerman.
The first business meeting of the church was held April 8, 1908. It may be stated that this meeting was attended by men only and this custom is still followed; but this is a local custom only and not a general Mennonite custom.
A copied report of the first meeting follows:
Meeting called to order by Geo. R. Brunk, who also presided. The meeting was opened by a song and prayer. First, 3 directors were appointed by ballots as follows: Henry Hostetler, Jacob Zimmerman, and John Schrock. Also a treasurer and a clerk; C. W. Miller, treasurer, and N. E. Miller, clerk. The 3 directors with the treasurer and clerk are to compose a board. Term of office 5 years. The youngest members of the board shall serve only one year. Henry Hostetler was the youngest, N. E. Miller, next youngest serves two years, Jacob Zimmerman serves three years, C. W. Miller four years and John Schrock five years. Each year a new officer shall be elected. Term of office shall count from Jan. 1.
Three are appointed to find out how soon a church house can be built, to find out cost of basement and make known to the church at once. The church agrees on a location for a new church - Alvin Selzer farm, also a burial ground if suitable. The church asks for building with seating capacity of 150 people with ante rooms and gallery.
The church has decided not to make any more effort in the future to locate the Mennonite College at this place, and not to organize a Sunday School at the Tharp schoolhouse.
This church is named The Protection Mennonite Church.
Sec. N. E. Miller
That is a record of the first meeting of the church in a business capacity. N. E. Millers' grave was the first in the new burial ground, and his funeral was the first in this church. He died May 21, 1910.
It may be mentioned here that Ella Miller's and Will Weaver's was the first wedding among the newly organized church. It was not a church wedding, but was a home wedding, however. The first wedding in this church was that of Alice Toothaker and Chester Baker. The next was that of Nellie Selzer and Joseph Schultz. Another wedding in the church was that of Lois Zimmerman and Charles Lauffler of Greensburg by Samuel Jantzen of Greensburg. Also the wedding of Esther Schweitzer and John Troyer of Hutchinson by Charles Schweitzer was performed in this church.
The first ordination in the church was S. Enos Miller, to the office of deacon. He was chosen by lot and ordained following the death of Deacon Jacob Zimmerman. Other ordinations were Charles Schweitzer, who was ordained deacon following S. Enos Miller's move to Hesston, Kansas where he was called to teach in the church school at that place and where he served 11 years as registrar and instructor. Later Charles Schweitzer was chosen by lot and ordained to the office of minister. D. D. Miller was chosen by lot and ordained Bishop for this church, but the ordination took place at Harper, Kansas. Brother Glen Yoder, a young minister of the Protection Mennonite church, was ordained in his home church in Missouri before coming to Protection. Mr. and Mrs. Glen Yoder are now serving at Culp, Ark. in a parochial school there. Clayton Beyler was ordained in the church at the request of the Mission Board, to do relief work in China where he served 2 years and is now a minister here in the Protection Mennonite Church. L. C. Miller was ordained in the church here but for Limon, Colo. He is now pastor at Manitou, Colo.
The following named ordained men have some time had their membership in this Protection Mennonite church: Geo. R. Brunk, N. E. Ebersole, Ben Horst, Henry Hostetler, Jacob Zimmerman, John Schrock, C. W. Miller, Noah Schrock, Paul Hooley, and his father, Daniel Y. Hooley, passed on, was for years an ordained minister in Colorado and Idaho. Mary Miller, who was a relief worker in France 2 years during the war, was raised in this community and a member of this church. Since her return to Kansas she has been teaching English at Hesston College, Hesston, Kansas. Nora Miller, also of this community and church, is now a nurse instructor in the Nurses' Training school at LaJunta, Colo. Other nurses from this church are Osie Schultz R.N. serving in Sweet Home, Oregon; Myrtle Schweitzer R.N., serving as supervisor in the Mennonite Hospital at LaJunta, Colo. Three of our nurses are married and are now homemakers. They are: Mrs. Ruth Miller-Willems, Mrs. Velma Beyler-Weaver, and Mrs. Lester Selzer. Dan Troyer's daughter Ruth is married to an ordained minister. There are over 30 public school teachers who have been or are yet members of this church.
There were 5 of our young men in Civilian Public Service camps during World War II, where they served the United States government for no wages during such time as they spent in the camps, which time varied from one and four years. They are: Lester Selzer, Sanford Miller, Ethan and Eugene Miller and Vernon Schultz.
Other relief workers formerly from this church are: Paul and Dennis Miller, serving in Germany, and Mr. and Mrs. Emerson Miller who are now in Belgium. They are three sons of Bishop D. D. Miller. Also three sons of Elias A. Miller went on cattle boats, Glen, Adrian and Eugene Miller. These were boat loads of cattle sent for relief to Europe. Chester Miller also went on a cattle boat to Poland this past summer (1947).
The church activities are morning worship, with a Young People's meeting in the evening. Every summer a Summer Bible School is conducted for all children who will attend. In fact, all services of the church are open to the public and everyone is welcome to attend.
The Sisters' Sewing Circle was organized in 1912. The ladies mend old or used garments, make comforter tops, or do any work that needs to be done.
There is also a Junior Sewing Circle completely organized for the young girls.
The relief canning program had its beginning in connection with the sewing circle, but since attaining such vast proportions, it now has a committee separate from the sewing circle. They have canned over 2000 quarts of meat, vegetables, and fruit for relief, most of which has been sent over-seas. The church also contributed generously to the Friendship Train project. In 1908, a number of additional families moved to this county and bought land. Some of them are still living here. Among these are: Henry Baker, who at present is living in Protection. Their children, with one exception, are living on farms south of Protection and are well-to-do farmers. Others were Elias Miller, Alfred Miller, L.S. Miller, pastor of the Manitou, Colo. Mennonite church, S. Enos Miller, now living in Protection, Dan Troyer, and Wes Troyer.
Church membership in:
1907: 32 - 37
George Landis was a minister residing in the community and preaching at the church. He has two sons who are ministers, one of whom at one time belonged to this church: Brother Noah Landis, now a minister at Alpha, Minn.
Other early settlers coming to the county about 1907 to 1911, not charter members, however are: John and Henry Bakers, Wes Troyers, Dan Troyers, L.C. Millers, Alf Millers, Elias Millers and S. Enos Millers. These came in 1909.
Bishop D. D. Miller performed the marriages of Mr. and Mrs. Chester Baker and Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Schultz. The Schultz families came into the church and community in the 1920's.
There are now some 30 families belonging to the Protection Mennonite church. The following list of families may be incomplete: Chester Baker, Henry Baker, Ora Baker, Ralph Baker, Crist Beyler, Victor Beyler, Billie D. Miller, Eugene Miller, Harold Miller, N.T. Miller, Sanford Miller, S. Enos Miller, Alvin Selzer, Ernest Selzer, Glen Selzer, Lester Selzer, Roy Selzer, Truman Selzer, Charles Schweitzer, Albert Schultz, Eldon Schultz, Joseph Schultz, Virgil Schultz, Harry Stell, Henry Stoll, Aaron Willems, Glen Yoder, Mrs. Jacob Zimmerman, Elmer Zimmerman, Harry Zimmerman, and Jake Zimmerman.
Thus the work of a local church reaches out into the far places of earth and does good.
Written by Ursula Miller, 1948.
From the Ruth Botts History Collection
Protection Mennonite Church Charter Members:
George and Katie Brunk; Noah and Mary Ebersole; Ben and Leah Horst; Jacob and Sussan Zimmerman, Joe, Noah and Ida Zimmerman; John and Barbara Schrock, Noah, Pearl and Ollie Schrock; Nora Selzer; Noah E. and Sophronia Miller, David D., Howard E., and Baldwin F. Miller; Chris and Katherine Miller, Charles, Ray, Ella and Fannie Miller; Mose Shenk; Will Weaver; Joseph and Rosena Landis; Henry and Saloma Hostetler, and Elsie Hostetler; Jacob and Maude Stutzman.
Footnote by Lawrence and Ellen Selzer, 2005.
Mennonite Cemetery, Comanche County, Kansas
Protection Mennonite Church by Orlin Loucks, 1997.
Thanks to Ellen Selzer, Coldwater/Wilmore Librarian, and Lawrence Selzer, sextant of the Protection Mennonite Cemetery, for proof-reading this article and providing the list of the charter members of the church. Thanks also to Patricia Snyder for typing it for this web site!
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