For nearly 100 years, the North Central Conference was an area conference affiliated with Mennonite Church and then Mennonite Church USA, following the merger of the Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church finalized in 2002.
In July 2015, the North Central Conference voted to withdraw as an area conference with Mennonite Church USA. This move was part of a larger realignment that began in 2010 of Mennonite congregations and area conferences that were formerly part of Mennonite Church USA. These congregations were unhappy with Mennonite Church USA’s failure to take stronger disciplinary action against area conferences and congregations who expressed openness to inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.
After considering invitations from several groups, five former North Central Conference congregations joined the USMB Central District Conference in November 2017.
Pioneers form conference in North Dakota, Montana
The NCC story begins in the early 1900s when families were moving into the prairies of North Dakota and Montana for farming opportunities. In 1920 there were enough congregations to form the Dakota-Montana Conference. In 1938 several families from eastern Pennsylvania felt the call by God to travel to northern Minnesota and Ontario, Canada, to do mission work.
That call resulted in the start of eight more churches. Along with several churches in northern Wisconsin that had begun in the 1930s, North Central Conference was formed with churches from eastern Montana through North Dakota, northern Minnesota to northern Wisconsin.
Over the nearly 100 years there were over 25 active congregations. However, the challenges faced in those early years from the great depression to today’s population decline, the change in farm size, smaller families, young people getting higher education and finding job opportunities elsewhere, has resulted in congregations closing.
Though scattered, churches foster a “family feel”
Despite the challenges, the North Central Conference has a rich history of accomplishments. The relationship between congregations had a “family feel” despite the many miles that separated them. This was due to yearly meetings, including annual conference sessions in June hosted by several larger congregations in each state. These meetings were very special, with whole families attending, enjoying programs and activities for all ages. All those attending would enjoy times of fellowship along with the necessary conference business.
Other yearly events included the fall Mission Meeting held in even more churches around the conference. There were women’s and men’s retreats, couples retreats, youth camp and youth rallies. All these gatherings felt like family reunions. The youth ministry and youth camp turned out to be our longest running, most successful ministry, and our largest budget line monetary investment.
Bible schools were held in most of the congregations for many years, ministering to many children, not only children of the congregations but from the surrounding community. Conference records show from one Bible School in one congregation in 1933, the number swelled to a high of 13 Bible Schools in 1972 and a total of 840 children attending.
Ministry includes publishing, women’s ministry, missionary work
The quarterly publication NCC Bulletin published from 1965 through 2013 provided a forum to keep the congregations informed. The Bulletin included feature articles, calendar of upcoming events, reports of conference events, letters from members in Christian service, especially our youth serving in voluntary service in the U S and overseas. The largest portion of the Bulletin was the congregational news keeping us informed of people and events from each congregation.
The women of NCC developed a very strong and effective Women’s Mission and Service Commission for many years working on projects to help needy families and individuals in their communities and the conference area.
2006 was the beginning of a partnership with the northern Argentina Mennonite Conference, PROMINOA. This resulted in several visitation exchanges, with us getting acquainted with their ministries and them getting acquainted with ours. It also gave our Conference an opportunity to help finance several of their missionary projects.
Other activities and opportunities were a Gift and Thrift shop in Minot, the Upper Midwest Relief Sales held first at Fargo and later Minot with the partnership of other Anabaptist groups in the area.
Although the NCC organization has ended, the conference mission lives on. Our congregations and their families have birthed and mentored many people over the years, which are now serving in other places near and abroad. Many inspiring stories have surfaced of persons that have served in our conference. Persons serving voluntarily, faithfully, and unselfishly that have inspired us all.
We now look forward to joining a larger family of like faith, to continue building on the past with renewed hope for the future.
By John I. Kauffman, NCC conference historian