August 20, 2015

Strong roots, fruitful branches; Goods Mennonite Church celebrates 200 years

Written by  Scott Sundberg
Pastor J. Nelson Bechtold prays for Nelson Okanya, president of Eastern Mennonite Missions. Pastor J. Nelson Bechtold prays for Nelson Okanya, president of Eastern Mennonite Missions. Photo by Scott Sundberg.

BAINBRIDGE, Pa. — It was standing-room only Sunday, August 16, 2015, as Goods Mennonite Church in Bainbridge, Pa., celebrated its 200-year anniversary. Pastor J. Nelson Bechtold, chosen by lot, succeeded his father as pastor 35 years ago.

“Strong roots, fruitful branches,” was the theme in both word and song. Pastor Bechtold, as well as guest speakers, Nelson Okanya, president of Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM), and Clair Good, bishop with Lancaster Mennonite Conference (LMC) spoke at the celebration.

“We are gathered to celebrate a milestone in the life and ministry of Goods Mennonite,” Okanya said. “The theme you chose ‘Strong roots, fruitful branches’ captures the essence of Jesus’ teaching in John 15 and when combined with Jeremiah 17, we see fruitfulness as a result. You have been fruitful! Many people both locally and around the world have been touched by the gospel because of you for 200 years!”

“You have not only done missions overseas, you have also done and continue to do missions locally. You have planted two congregations; one in Harrisburg and one locally,” Okanya said.

“Your missional engagement is encouraging and continues to affirm the church’s role of bearing kingdom fruits in the world. Such fruit bearing only happens when we trust in God.”

Okanya reflected that if it were not for churches like Goods, he would not be here today. “It is because of EMM missionaries that my father began to take his faith seriously in Kenya.” David and Grace Shenk, long-term workers with EMM, were the first to introduce the Okanya family to the Mennonite church.

When Goods Mennonite Church was founded, it was a log building, and pastored by Melchoir Brenneman. The original members started the church after they became too large to continue meeting in homes. It was replaced by a frame structure in 1879. Bishop Good noted the church’s “commitment to ministry serving the community, and the larger world as unprecedented changes face today’s church.”

Bishop Good shared with the congregants his analogy of crops needing manure to grow like the general church needs challenges. “You can’t have growth, you can’t get fruit without the manure. So, too, a church without challenges isn’t going to grow.” It was a fitting comparison for a congregation where 80% of its members are still farmers. Pastor Bechtold then said, “What is the fruit? The fruit is people who live as faithful disciples with a missional impulse. All of this, it’s not about rules and regulations, it’s about following Jesus.”

“You are a fruit-bearing community,” Okanya said, noting the church’s partnership with EMM went back to 1952. “You have continued that partnership with giving to EMM’s general fund and supporting specific ministries. On behalf of EMM, we thank you for your support, your prayers, and your sending more than 27 people into mission through EMM. We are looking forward to further and greater partnership in God’s mission.”

“We must continue to abide in Jesus, the true vine,” said Okanya. “When we are nourished by Him, our fruit will be abundant. I pray that this will be so for Goods Mennonite in the next 200 years!”

In the closing remarks, Pastor Bechtold told the congregation, “You have answered the call to not just believe, but to do, and to follow Him.”

Before the closing of the service the crowd sang “The Mennonite Anthem,” singing “Old 606.” And all of the people said, “Amen.”