A Brief History of the New Market (Iowa) Mennonite Brethren in

Christ /United Missionary Church


William F. Hunter, PhD - billnflo2356@gmail.com

Photo courtesy of the Missionary Church Archives, Mishawaka, Indiana


In 1893, a new religious denomination, Mennonite Brethren in Christ, was introduced to New Market, Iowa.  Beginning in June, 1893, a series of revival meetings were held in a tent erected in the center of town by traveling evangelists and ministers of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church (MBC), Rev. Arkanzo A. Miller and Rev. Andrew Good.  An evangelist and church planter at heart, Miller was the pastor of the Shambaugh MBC Church from 1883 to 1894 .


The Mennonite Brethren in Christ had come westward from their eastern centers, primarily in Pennsylvania and Indiana, with the purpose of evangelizing and planting new churches.  They were distinguished from most other Mennonite denominations by having adopted the Wesleyan “holiness” doctrine of entire sanctification known also as the “second blessing,” “sinless perfection” or “perfect love.”  Sanctification was reputed to be a second work of grace subsequent to an individual’s conversion or regeneration (“new birth”).  Chapter 1, Article 12, of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Book of Discipline defined Entire Sanctification in this manner:


“Entire sanctification necessarily follows justification and regeneration,
for by it is implied a setting apart for the continual service of God the
individual justified and regenerated; also a cleansing from inbred sin or
original depravity, which is removed only by the application and cleansing
process of Christ’s blood.  It is an instantaneous act of God, through the Holy
Ghost, by faith in the atoning merits of Christ’s blood, and constitutes the
believer holy.” (quoted in Huffman, pp. 162-163)



Entire sanctification was thus considered to be a crisis experience in the Christian life, a full surrender to the Holy Spirit allowing one to arrive at a state of sinless perfection.  A prime biblical reference for the experience was “For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.  He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man but God, who hath also given us his holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 4:7-8, KJV). 


It was typical of the holiness movement of the times that its revival meetings were characterized by dazzling displays of religious ardor and intensity.  Mennonite Brethren in Christ meetings were typically highly emotional and exuberantly noisy.  Holiness people thoroughly enjoyed their religion.  They were demonstrative in their services as they laughed, cried, wept, clapped, waved their hands, leaped for joy, walked up and down the aisles while exclaiming “Amen,”  “Bless God,”  “Glory,” “Hallelujah,” or “Praise the Lord.”  Sometimes those who were so overcome with conviction fell into a trance-like state.  Little wonder that this approach met with considerable opposition from the more staid churches in New Market, though a similar form of revivalism had been something of a hallmark of post-Civil War Methodists and other mainline denominations.


The description of Evangelist A. A. Miller’s preaching gives some insight into holiness preaching styles of the era:  “A favorite evangelist and pioneer of the district was A.A Miller, a fiery preacher whose presence in tent or schoolhouse meetings generally meant that the whole community attended.  A man of ‘powerful frame, towering physique and stentorian voice,’ his reputation as a great preacher traveled like a dust storm over the prairie. … One who was to come under conviction through his preaching in the 1890’s wrote: ‘After hearing him for some time, we decided to go one Sunday night in company with some other young people and see him preach.  He was conducting a revival meeting in a sod church.  The walls were dark.  A few small kerosene lamps served to light the room. … ‘The preacher spoke with great power and the demonstration of the Spirit.  He shouted and leaped for joy, his head nearly striking the poles overhead.  Some responded to the call for seekers at the altar and one was slain under the power of God.  I remember one statement Brother Miller made:  he said that if he had the power he would shake everybody over hell until they felt the need of being saved” (from the Harvest Fellowship of Shambaugh, Iowa website, with the quotes taken from Lageer, E., Merging Streams.  Elkhart, IN:  Bethel Publishing Co., 1979, pp. 93-94).


The ultimate goal of the evangelists and workers was to fill the altar with those who would “pray through” to receive the blessing of entire sanctification.  Converts who had the experience spoke of it as being both “saved and sanctified.”


From their beginning in June 1893, there was a continuing series of protracted meetings in New Market lasting a number of weeks and with a regular stream of visiting ministers of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ.  There were significant results from the meetings which featured such preachers as New Market village blacksmith and lay preacher Charles. H. Herriman, and traveling evangelists A. A. Miller, Andrew Good, Jacob Hygema, Jacob Hostetler, Omer B. Henderson, A. Prior Utter, Homer. J. Pontius, Claudius K. Curtis, Sheridan Green, Nicholas Rice, Joseph Persell, Abraham B. Yoder, and others.  Several of these men later became pastors of the MBC churches in Shambaugh and New Market and even Presiding Elders of the denomination.  The Shambaugh and New Market churches were a relatively few miles apart from each other.


As a result of the initial evangelistic meeting in New Market, an MBC church (sometimes referred to as a “class”) was organized in fall, 1893 with the following charter members: Charles H. Herriman, Maggie Herriman, G. R. Parson, Mrs. Vill Parson, Mrs. Minnie Johnson, Maude E. Godfrey, Miss Edith Herriman, Miss Grace Herriman, Mrs. Mary E. Journey, and Mrs. Lyda Parson. 


The church was incorporated in 1894, with nine church members named in the Articles of Incorporation and G. R. Parson, J. L. Parson, and C. H. Herriman cited as the church’s first trustees.  The newly organized congregation constructed a church building in 1894 that was dedicated by Rev. Andrew Good.  Rev. J. J. Hostetler was designated to be the church’s first pastor.  G. H. Herriman was elected as Class Leader, G. R. Parson as Deacon and Steward, Maud Godfrey as Sunday School Superintendent and Edith Herriman as the church’s Librarian.  The church was placed in a circuit with the Shambaugh Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church.  At times in succeeding years, both churches were served by the same pastor. 


There was considerable opposition from the other churches in New Market because of the church’s holiness doctrine and what was considered to be “sheep-stealing.”  Some of the members of the town’s older churches had accepted the sanctification teaching and joined the new church declaring they were now “saved and sanctified.”  John Petit Brooks, a pioneer holiness preacher, had opined earlier that it was the carnal spirit of a “weakened and deteriorated Christianity” that was the reason holiness teaching had not made significant headway in the major denominations.  His scathing indictment was that, “Carnal preachers stand in carnal pulpits, and preach carnal sermons to carnal hearers, who sit with carnal ease to hear, and then go out with carnal desires and carnal purposes to live a carnal life.”


Evangelist A. A. Miller would have heartily approved of this estimate and applied it to the churches in New Market when he wrote in the Gospel Banner (January 9, 1894):  “The churches in this town let nearly everything that comes along into their churches except the Mennonites.  They even voted us out from having prayer meeting because some of their members were sanctified.  They say, You came into our house and gave one of our children poison (that is, sanctification), we will not let you in to poison any more with sanctification.”


Though it had been organized in the fall of 1893, the New Market church was not formally incorporated until May 12, 1894.  The names of nine members are given in the Articles of Incorporation with G. R. Parsons, J. L. Parsons, and C. H. Herriman named as trustees for the year commencing with the date of incorporation.  Gingrich states that “There were perhaps ten members in the church at the time of its organization and twenty members at the time of its incorporation. (p. 346).  The new church became a part of the denomination’s Nebraska Conference and together with the Clarinda class was a constituent church of a circuit with the older Shambaugh Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church.  In 1894, in response to the plea of A. A. Miller, Rev. J. J. Hostetler was sent by the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Conference to become pastor of the Shambaugh and New Market churches, thus releasing Miller for further evangelistic work.  (Huffman, p. 114).  The earliest Presiding Elders of the Nebraska Conference of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ included  C. K. Curtis (1896-1899); Jacob Hygema (1899-1900); H. J. Pontius (1900-1901); O. B. Henderson, 1901-1904); A. A. Miller (1904-1905); J. W. Morgan (1904-1908); and N. W. Rich (1908-1915).  A. A. Miller and J. W. Morgan served one year contemporaneously (1904-1905) when the Conference was divided into two districts, a division abandoned the following year (Huffman, p.117).  Hygema, Pontius, and Yoder at one time had served as pastors of the Shambaugh circuit that included the New Market Church.  It was not until 1937 that the New Market church was to have its first full-time pastor, Rev. T. J. Overholt.  That same year, 1937, the church became independent of the Shambaugh Circuit.


Rev. H. J. Pontius was the pastor in 1897 when John Godfrey was elected Deacon, an office he held continuously for 54 years.  J. R. Hunter remembered and referred to John Godfrey in his letter on the occasion of the June 21, 1953 Sixtiethth anniversary of the New Market United Missionary Church.  In 1947, as a result of denominational mergers the name of the church had been changed to New Market United Missionary Church


Following the ministry of the first pastor, Rev. J. J. Hostetler, succeeding pastors were Rev. A. B. Yoder, Rev. H. J. Pontius, Rev. S. J. Green, Rev. L. D. Whitcom, Rev. P. Utter, Rev. J. A. Persell, Rev. E. J. Menaugh, Rev. C. I. Scott, Rev. J. Hygema, Rev. J. H. Hess, Rev. J. K. Myers, Rev. E. D. Young, Rev. T. J. Overholt, Rev. J. B. Starkey, Rev. C. W. Severn, and Rev. Sherman Mills. 


A parsonage was purchased in 1938 and another in 1952.  The Women’s Missionary Society was organized in 1937 with Mrs. Glen Godfrey serving as President and Mrs. Luie Slaight as Secretary.  At the time of the church’s 60th Anniversary in 1953, it was noted that one of its members, Ronald Harper, had entered the ministry and had become pastor of the United Missionary Church in Harper, Kansas.


Because of New Market’s population decline and the church’s decline in membership, the New Market United Missionary Church closed its doors in July, 1968.  The last pastor, Rev. Sherman Mills, who served from 1962 to 1968, had left to assume the pastorate of the UMC church in Iowa City.  A final blow for the church came with the death in 1969 of H. Wesley Slaight, an important lay leader.  Slaight died as the result of an explosion that occurred in his New Market garage while he was doing some welding.  The Slaight family had for several generations been closely associated with the New Market church.


My personal interest in the New Market church came about as a result of research into the life and ministry of my father, Rev. John R. Hunter.  By 1897 both Ralph Olin Hunter and his younger brother and my father, John Roy Hunter, had been converted and had become members of the New Market MBC Church (usually referred to by New Market residents as “the Mennonite Church”).  Ralph wrote a testimony that appeared in the November 2, 1897 issue of the MBC weekly paper, The Gospel Banner, and ended it with “Your friend in Christ, saved and sanctified.”  In a 1953 letter on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the New Market United Missionary Church, Ralph wrote that he was the son of Mrs. Jessie Hughes and that the family had lived just across the street from the church in the same house that A. B. Yoder, the church’s second pastor, had lived in.  Ralph also added that he was converted when he was about 17 years of age at the camp meeting held in the yard of the Old Memory School.  He could not recall the exact date of the camp meeting, though if he had been 17 years of age at the time, it would have been in 1895.  He was married to Florence E.“Floss” Hayes on March 1, 1900.  In this 1953 letter he had also written that when he was young he had felt the call to help preach the gospel. 


J. R. Hunter also wrote an anniversary letter to the New Market Church in 1953.  In it he wrote of “the dear old Mennonite Church where I was reclaimed and also where I was sanctified.  It happened the same day at the afternoon service, and bless the Lord, it still holds good today.  Rev. Nick Rich was the evangelist and Rev. Joe Persell was the song leader. … Later I was baptized by immersion, in the old pond at the depot yard, by Pastor A. B. Yoder.  Those were very happy days but they were only the beginning of an unbroken Christian fellowship with our Christ.”  It is difficult to pinpoint the time in J. R.’s description, though Pastor Yoder had served the circuit of both the Shambaugh and New Market churches for several years beginning in 1896, later traveling as an evangelist and Presiding Elder.


J. R. Hunter’s association with the MBC church in New Market was to have a life-long effect on his life and ministry.  It was there that he was cradled in the faith and made the cardinal emphasis on entire sanctification his doctrinal position, one to which he adhered without wavering throughout his lifetime.  The style of evangelism that he saw and participated in with the Mennonite Brethren in Christ was to be his approach all through his ministry.  His years in New Market were years of learning and observing at the feet of A. A. Miller, A. B. Yoder, and others.  It was there he received his basic theological education as he was never able to obtain formal biblical or theological training.  .He made up for the lack through informal study and association with godly preachers and leaders.  There can be little question of the influence on his life of such mentors as A. A. Miller, A. B. Yoder, and others.  The influence of his brother Ralph also seems also to have been crucial in his development as an evangelist and preacher.  Surely J. R.Hunter saw what had happened to his older brother and was encouraged by what he saw and heard from him.


J. R. Hunter began his ministry with the Mennonite Brethren in Christ.  He was certified as a Conference Worker by the Nebraska Conference in 1905 and 1907.  After his marriage in 1908 to Dollye Bell Wilsey in Milford, Nebraska, he became pastor of the Beaver Crossing Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church near Milford in 1908-1909.  He later became affiliated with the Church of the Nazarene in which he was ordained as an elder and evangelist.  He ministered as an evangelist for some years in Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, and California.  In 1918, he founded the Church of the Nazarene in Delta, Colorado, which on October 5, 2008 celebrated its 90th anniversary.


Source materials:


Brooks, J. P.  Proceedings of Holiness Conferences Held at Cincinnati, November 26th, 1877 and at New York, December 17th, 1877.  New York:  National Publishing Association for the Promotion of Holiness, p. 92.


Gingerich, M., & Shambaugh, B. F.  The Mennonites in Iowa.  Iowa City, IA: State          Historical Society of Iowa, 1939, p. 346


The Gospel  Banner, weekly paper of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ denomination.       Mishawaka, IN:  Missionary Church Archives


Huffman, J. A (ed).  History of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church.  New Carlisle, OH:  Bethel Publishing Co., 1920, pp. 162-163.


Hunter, J. R., 60th anniversary letter, 1953.  Mishawaka, IN:  Missionary Church    Archives.


Hunter, R. O., 60th anniversary letter, 1953.  Mishawaka, IN: Missionary Church    Archives.


Lageer, E.  Merging Streams.  Elkhart, IN:  Bethel Publishing Co., 1979, pp. 93-94.


New Market United Missionary Church, Sixtieth Anniversary folder, June 21, 1953.         Mishawaka, \IN:  Missionary Church Archives.


The Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church Book of Discipline. p. 346 (quoted in     Huffman, , J. A (ed).  History of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church.  New        Carlisle, OH:  Bethel Publishing Co., 1920.


The Missionary Church Archives.  Mishawaka, IN.


Website, Harvest Christian Fellowship, Shambaugh, Iowa (http//hf.heartland.net/history.htm.




Copyright © 2008 by William F. Hunter