Harvey MB Church planted by SD settlers
By Kevin Stafford
With the merger of Harvey MB Church and Bethel Baptist Church to form Cornerstone Community Church, for the first time in the history of Harvey, ND, there is not a congregation bearing the name “Mennonite Brethren Church” tending to the needs of a congregation.
The Harvey MB Church came here on the backs of German from Russia settlers who made their way largely from the Wittenburg, SD area near Menno and Parkston in 1895 and 1896. Those early settlers arrived by wagon or train and homesteaded mostly in a small enclave some 13 miles southwest of Harvey, straddling the Wells County/Sheridan County line.
Filing their homestead claims at the Land Office in Devils Lake, they set forth building their homes and farms and putting crops in the ground. The earliest homes were made of sod or stone, and later when the trains ran bringing lumber and other products, they built wood frame structures.
In 1898, with the baptism of its early members in a pasture belonging to Friedrich Faul on the Sheyenne River, Harvey MB Church was formally born as a daughter church of the one in Wittenburg, SD. Worship services were held in the homes of the church members for a period until George Bechtold built a new stone house and donated his three room sod house to be used for worship services.
The names of the earliest church members included Reimche, Faul, Seibel, Kroeker, Ollenberger, Bechtold, Baumbach, Unruh and Beier. Pioneer families tended to be large in number and with new converts the three rooms were soon stressed, and they began to plan for a larger structure.
In January of 1900, a new building was dedicated for worship services. Constructed of wood, it measured 20’ by 32’ by 10' and cost $600 to complete. The costs were paid for by the time the church was dedicated.
The congregation continued to grow and by 1916 had outgrown this new church, and plans were begun to build a larger structure near the old church. Completed in 1917-1918, this new church measured 30' by 50' by 14' with a “good basement.” The old church was used as a Sunday School for a time. The cost of the new church building was $6,000, and it too was paid for by the congregation close to the time of the dedication.
Like pioneering families of all faiths, the Harvey MB Church community experienced extreme hardships over the early years. Epidemics like diphtheria, measles, various fevers and, worst of all, Spanish Flu ravaged these families. The church cemetery began to be a busy place, but their deep faith sustained them, always believing that a righteous God had a plan for them and trusting he would carry them through.
Over the ensuing years of the Great Depression and the Dirty 30s, many members of the church contracted “California Fever,” and sold their farms to make the move to what they'd hoped was their new promised land.
The church also had grown, attracting new members who lived closer to Harvey. A number of members retired from farming and had moved to town also, and discussions began to build a City Church to minister to the needs of those who lived farther away.
On June 25, 1950, a ground breaking ceremony was held for this new church in Harvey. Elmer Seibel served as head builder and carpenter and much of the labor was donated by members of the congregation. Worship services began in the new church beginning in January 1951, and until 1975 both country and city churches ministered to the needs of their congregations.
Due to declining membership and the costs associated with keeping the country church open, it was decided to merge the two into one congregation utilizing only the city church for services. Sunday, August 17, 1975, the last service was held at the country church, marking an end to a long history in that area.
In later years, the old church was demolished but the parsonage still stands. Across the road, the cemetery is well tended and is still in use today.
Reverend Christian Reimche served as the first pastor of the church, a position he held for 36 years. Other pastors included Peter Wiens, Ludwig J. Seibel, Herman Hiebert, Robert Seibel, George Warkentine, Loyal Funk, John F. Froese, George Penner, David Weins, C.F. Plett, John K. Seimens and Ben Zerbe. Rick Eshbaugh, the most recent pastor, accepted a position as a USMB district pastor and recently moved to Sioux Falls, SD.
At one time, Harvey MB Church was the mother church to new churches in McClusky, Kief and Sawyer, ND.
Beginning March 6th, the new Cornerstone Community Church congregation will be served by Rev. Abel Threeton and his wife, Mary Lou. For a time at least, services will rotate between the sanctuaries of the Harvey MB Church and Bethel Baptist Church buildings.
The impact of the Mennonite Brethren Churches on our community is impossible to measure. At the very least, when the earliest of our ancestors settled here, this church, along with the other churches in the area provided not just a place of worship but also a place of community and society for the isolated farm families. The deep faith nurtured by the church extends well beyond the walls of the buildings and runs through the succeeding generations to this day, though those
generations are largely scattered far and wide.
Times change. Demographics are more complicated now than at any time in our existence. The reasons for the decline in church membership are probably manifold and complicated, but the truth is the Mennonite Brethren Church of Harvey has joined the long list of other area churches that have passed into history.
This essay was first posted on Harvey’s KHND Radio’s Bits and Pieces weekly newspaper Facebook page and is reprinted here with permission. In less than 24 hours after the article was posted, it received 6,000 views, likes and shares.