History of First Mennonite Church
In 1873, Peter Jansen, a Mennonite from West Prussia, Germany, settled near what is now Jansen, Nebraska. He was convinced that Jefferson and Gage Counties had the best land available for raising livestock.
Mennonites had been in the Prussian region, then part of Poland, since the 1500s when they fled the Netherlands to escape persecution. While they were tolerated in West Prussia, life was still difficult. Mennonites were known to be hard workers and valuable to the economy, yet they were not a legally recognized religion and often faced suspicion and prejudice. They were sometimes even executed by authorities. In 1772, the territory where they lived became part of the German Empire. Mennonites were not allowed to buy land from non-Mennonites or baptize converts and were taxed at a higher rate.
In 1876 and 1877, about thirty Mennonite families followed Mr. Jansen from West Prussia due to their religious conviction,. They could not agree to serve in the military which was a new requirement started in the 1870s. When they arrived in Nebraska, they settled on the prairie near "Beatrice on the Blue".
The Church is Formed
First Mennonite Curch was organized in November 1877 with 138 charter members. In June 1878, seven young people were baptized in the congregational's first baptism service. In November 1879, the first church building was dedicated only to burn down a month later. Those hearty Mennonites were not deterred and in 1880, they constructed a second church building.
Because of the Mennonite commitment to peace,and non-violence, the Mennonites of Beatrice refused the option of homesteading. They feared that if they took the offer of free land offered by the homestead Act, they would be forced to serve in the military in the future. Mennonites instead bought land form other homesteaders or the railroad.
The railroad was deeply interested in settling Mennonites in Gage County and pursued them by forming an exclusive contract with the J.B. Weibe Lumber Company. The terms stated that Weibe, a Mennonite himself, could only sell lumber to other Mennonites and in return his shipping costs would be waived. The agreement lasted for two years and led to the newly arrived Mennonites to establish their lands and businesses.
During a church meeting on January 27, 1905, members of the Mennonite Church decided to build a hospital for the Beatrice community in order to give thanks to God and to their new neighbors for the privilege of living in this new land.
It was decided that the hospital would be run by Deaconesses, single women or childless widows. These women served the community tirelessly and at all hours, it was largely because of the Deaconesses that the Mennonites and their commitment to peace were tolerated during both World Wars. The hospital continues to serve the community and region under the name Beatrice Community Hospital.
The current building (pictured above), built by members of the congregation, was dedicated on Easter Sunday in 1951.