Bethel Mennonite Church is part of the so-called Kleine Gemeinde denomination. This denomination started up in Russia in 1812. The name denotes “small church”, a name given by those from a larger group out of which the small group came, but eventually the new group accepted the definition as their identity.
In 1987, the first two families of the Kleine Gemeinde moved to the Valley in the hope that soon more would follow. They came from Belize. When others did not come one family soon joined a newly formed group in the Valley and the other family fellowshipped casually with different Baptist congregations.
By 1995, three more families had moved to the Valley and fellowshipped in their homes. A minister came from Belize to give support, yet even though they enjoyed their fellowship, it was found that the group was not ready to commit themselves to each other in a permanent way. The minister who had come only for some months returned to Belize, and three of the families soon moved to other locations, leaving the first family alone again.
In 1998 the Benny Penner family moved to the Valley. He was a deacon of the Kleine Gemeinde. Again, they came in confidence that others would follow. The two families began to fellowship together with a third one at times joining in. In 1999, Arthur Penners as the minister came from Belize. During their two-month stay, instruction classes were held for youth, and regular church services were continued.
Before Penners left, an important service was held in the Grafton Community Hall. This was in July 1999. Two young men were baptized upon their confession of faith and a congregation of the Kleine Gemeinde was officially established in the Valley. That same year several more families came from Belize and joined the group, among them minister Larry Kornelsen with family. He was appointed as leader of the group. The name Bethel Mennonite Church was chosen, and a private school was begun, which was named Springfield Christian School.
By the year 2000, there were about eight families in the group, and within a few years almost twice as many. At first church services were held at the Grafton Community Hall, and later in various other rental facilities. In 2004, a new meeting house was built, including a large room for the private school. By 2018, more room was needed to accommodate more students, so the building was enlarged substantially. At the time of this writing, more than 20 families are part of this congregation.
Written January 4, 2021, by Arthur Penner
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