History

EastBendSquareEast Bend Mennonite Church , (Mennonite Church USA) was largely developed in the “east bend” of the Sangamon River by settlers from Dillon Creek, Goodfield, Hopedale, and other Amish Mennonitecommunities in Illinois. The first Amish Mennonite settler in Champaign County was Charles Stormer, who came in 1882. Other early settlers were August Ingold (1883), Jacob Heiser (1887), Andrew Birky (1888), and Peter Zehr (1889). Sunday school was begun in the Dixon schoolhouse near by in the spring of 1889, and the next year a congregation was organized under the leadership of Peter Zehr, which for a time rented the Houstonville Methodist church. In 1895 the East Bend congregation dedicated a new frame church. In 1907 this building was wrecked by a tornado and was replaced by a larger frame church, 40 x 60 ft, seating 300, which was remodeled in 1919. In 1948 a new brick church, 50 x 80 ft., seating 750, was built adjoining the old structure, now in brick veneer.

The ministers who served this congregation through 1953 are Peter Zehr 1889- (ordained bishop in 1893), Daniel Grieser 1890-1923, Joseph Baecher 1893-1931, George Gingerich 1893-1907, Samuel S. Zehr (a deacon who preached when an English sermon was required) 1906- , Joseph A. Heiser 1917-1952 (ordained bishop in 1921), Harold Zehr 1931- , Dr. George Troyer (retired missionary) 1937-1944, Howard Zehr 1953- , bishop and pastor.

The East Bend congregation through its Christian Workers’ Band sponsored a number of extension projects. In 1936 services were begun in the home of a member living in Arthur. In 1940 this work was organized as an independent congregation with 59 members, and an extension Sunday school was opened in Dewey. Ivan Birkey served the Dewey group as acting pastor for a number of years. In April 1946 the African Methodist Episcopal Colored Church was reopened by the East Bend congregation, and services were held there each Sunday afternoon. In 1948 the East Bend congregation began to sponsor services at Lake City, Illinois, and Harold Oyer, a minister of the Morton congregation, was asked to move to that community to serve it. The East Bend congregation was a member of the Western District AmishMennonite Conference, which merged in 1921 with the Illinois Conference of the Mennonite Church. In 1951 a group of about 130 left the East Bend Church and formed the Gibson City Bible Church, with J. A. Heiser as pastor. The 1954 membership of East Bend was 350.  (Taken from the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online)


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