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Marion Mennonite Church turns 100

October 28, 1998

By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




MARION, Pa. - The Marion Mennonite Church, which celebrates its centennial next month, was built on a rock.

Marlin Shank, 69, remembers church men digging out that rock in the basement in 1949 to make room for Sunday School classrooms. A contractor dynamited the rock during the day and members hauled it away at night.

"One time I put too much dynamite in a charge and blew a railroad tie through the church floor," Shank said.

The new basement also allowed the women's sewing circle, created in 1918, to move its sewing machines from private homes.

The new quarters allowed the women to keep up their high production levels.

From 1942 to 1957, Hettie Hess knitted 782 sweaters for the poor, an average of one a week for 15 years. From 1956 to 1958, Lydia Hess made 747 bars of homemade soap for the poor, according to Clarence Shank's 1968 history of the church.

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Like most of its 150 members, Merle Cordell's life centers on the church at 4365 Molly Pitcher Highway.

Cordell, 73, was born into the church, baptized on July 24, 1938, married his wife, Beulah, in 1947, was ordained in 1954 and shared a ministry there with two other pastors for 19 years until 1973. He was named bishop in 1971 and today holds the title of bishop emeritus.

In 1961, in the middle of his ministry, Cordell broke church tradition by enrolling as a full-time student at Eastern Mennonite College in Harrisonburg, Va. Education from home was not encouraged in those days, writes Barbara Risser in her history of the church written for the 100th anniversary.

Cordell moved his family to Virginia and for the next three years made 100 trips between Virginia and Pennsylvania to tend to his pastoral duties.

In 1967, the Franklin County Conference, of which the Marion church belongs, broke from the more conservative Washington County-Franklin County Conference. The members felt the larger conference was too strict in its opposition to radio and television, even to the wearing of wedding bands, Cordell said.

"They said they didn't want their churches to become acculturated," Cordell said.

Roots for the Marion church began in 1730 when the first Mennonite settlers came to the Cumberland Valley. Called "The 100 lost years," little is known of that period, Cordell said.

The history of the modern church begins in 1830 with construction of a brick meeting house known as Brown's Mill Church near Brown's gristmill, four miles south of the present church.

In 1867, the Brown's Mill Church was disassembled, moved to the cemetery in the rear of the present church and rebuilt. It served the congregation until 1898, when it was razed and replaced with the present church.

The next addition after the 1949 expansion was the educational wing in 1973. It included a kitchen and 10 classrooms.

The three-day anniversary celebration begins at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6, with a processional and continues through Sunday, Nov. 8, with a centennial lunch.

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