Shafter (California) MB Church will celebrate its 100th anniversary Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018. The centennial celebration will begin with a documentary video of church history at 9 a.m.
A celebration service will be held at 10:30 a.m. with keynote speaker Clint Arnold, dean at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California, and New Testament scholar. A Shafter native, Arnold placed his faith in Jesus through Shafter MB and the former South Shafter MB Church.
Lunch will be served in the fellowship hall, followed by a 2 p.m. service with a missions emphasis. A pie social will follow.
Both services will feature special music with a number of former pastors participating. Everyone is invited to join. To leave an RSVP or for more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 661-746-4969.
God’s “good work”
The church has published a book of its history, titled “Building on Faithfulness” by Helena (Loewen) Born. It is available on Amazon by searching for “SMBC Centennial.”
Senior Pastor Pat Coyle, who has served at Shafter MB since 2001, reflected on the church’s history in an email to the Christian Leader.
Overarching themes, Coyle says, are a commitment to local and global missions since Shafter MB’s founding and the heritage of faith many generations have passed to their families.
“When I think of Shafter MB and the 17 years we’ve been here, I often think of Philippians 1:6,” Coyle says. “God began a ‘good work’ here in 1918, and I’m confident in his faithfulness to continue that work.”
The theme of the centennial, “Building On Faithfulness,” comes from Numbers 1-2, Coyle says, and was also used for the church’s building campaign in 2001.
Pacific District Conference minister Gary Wall, in an email interview, expresses gratefulness for the life and ministry of the Shafter congregation.
“I’m looking forward to celebrating with the Shafter MB church family in what will certainly be a great day of thanksgiving and praise to God for his faithfulness these past 100 years,” Wall says. “I’m grateful for the faithful and generous support of conference and mission ministries that are clearly part of the church’s DNA. I also appreciate the leadership of Pastor Pat Coyle, who serves as moderator of the PDC, and Shafter MB Council chair Josh Wilson, who serves as chair of the Fresno Pacific University Board of Trustees. I’m thankful for the local kingdom impact of SMB in the Shafter community through some creative outreach initiatives. My congratulations to the congregation on this important milestone.”
Stan Wilson, chair of the SMBC anniversary committee provides this history of the congregation:
Mennonites began coming to the Shafter area in 1909, with the settlement of the ill-fated Martensdale colony. Even though these early settlers were evicted from their farms by the true owners of the land, they found a liking to the good soil, and many of them eventually bought land in the area for farming.
A small group of believers began meeting in homes and officially organized Dec. 29, 1918, as the Shafter Mennonite Brethren Church. P.P. Rempel was the first pastor.
The congregation met in the local school building at first. A 34 x 50 foot frame building known as the Tabernacle was built in 1920. By the mid-1930s, the congregation had grown to over 300 members. A new building, 102 x 54 feet with a full basement, was dedicated in December l937. By 1955, membership reached 559.
Through the years, additional education wings were added. A new fellowship hall was completed in 2006, built debt-free, with a gymnasium, dining room, kitchen and youth room. Today the congregation numbers about 285.
With the influx of migrants from the Dust Bowl who were settling in south Shafter, the church felt the need to reach these people with the gospel and started a Sunday school, which eventually evolved into the South Shafter MB Church. Today, the facility is home to a USMB Hispanic congregation, Iglesia Companerismo Cristiano.
A similar work was begun to reach migrants in north Shafter, known as the Park Lane Chapel, where Sunday school and worship services were carried on for many years. Both of these ministries saw many souls won for Christ.
In l958, those members living in the Wasco area organized their own church, the Wasco MB Church. After many years as a witness to the Wasco community, the congregation re-merged with the mother church at Shafter, although the Christian school begun by the Wasco congregation continues to operate in the former church facility as North Kern Christian School.
In addition to Coyle, the following have served as senior pastors of Shafter MB: P.P. Rempel, Henry Kohfeld, Herman Janzen, K.G. Neufeld, Wm. J. Bestvater, H.D. Wiebe, J.J. Toews, J.J. Wiebe, Waldo Wiebe, P.N. Hiebert, Henry H. Dick, Dan Friesen, Henry J. Harder, Lyle E. Cunningham, David Gerbrandt and Robert Kroeker.
The church has always had a strong Sunday school and youth program. After every high school home football game, a “Fifth Quarter” is held in the church facility to give a safe place for Shafter’s youth to go after the game. A Wednesday night AWANA ministry has been conducted for almost 40 years.
Worship through music has always been important in the life of the church. The Jugendfereind, the men’s chorus, various quartets, trios, instrumental groups and the church choir have all been utilized in praise.
Other ministries of the church include Kern Crest Manor senior citizens’ home, Kiddie Kollege preschool, The Fisherman’s Club, ladies’ sewing circle, women’s ministries and men’s fellowship.
In addition, the church has always supported foreign missions and sent a number of members into missions over the years, both short term and long term.
The congregation praises God for his care and support of Shafter MB Church for the last 100 years, Wilson concludes.