A Brief History of the Warden Mennonite Church , 1956—2007
In 1951, the pumping plants of the Grand Coulee Dam came online, and some 66,000 acres of land in central Washington came under irrigation. Mennonite families migrated from Kansas and Oregon to newly-arable land around the town of Warden . Initially, some of these families attended the Menno Mennonite Church in the countryside between Ritzville and Moses Lake, but as the Warden Mennonite contingent grew, so too did the desire for their own church. Warden families began to meet for worship in the basement of a member’s home in the spring and summer of 1956. The Menno congregation encouraged the formation of a new church, relishing the thought of a sister congregation nearby. Julius Franz and Joe Jantz purchased a 6-acre plot from the Milwaukee Railroad sometime in 1955/1956 (listed as the “Menno Addition” on the Warden city map) and donated this land to the nascent congregation in Warden. Menno Mennonite also assisted the budding congregation with a donation of hymnals, a loan of $2,500.00, and prayers.
For the next decade, the church continued to meet in the basement, growing incrementally each year as new families moved to the Warden area or joined the church from the local population. The church conducted a lively Vacation Bible School program, having 65 children in 1958, with 6 teachers and 2 helpers. In 1969, the sanctuary was added with the help of a $15,000.00 loan from Church Extension Services. Orval Troyer, a retired man with skills in construction, traveled to Warden to provide direction for the building effort. Most of the work was done by volunteers from within the congregation. There was also help from members of the Menno congregation. Frank Horst did most of the electrical work.
The identity of the church has long been linked to that of the other Warden Christian churches, particularly the Assembly of God and the Community Church . VBS has been held jointly with these churches (and sometimes with the Baptist church) since 1977. In 1979, pastor Chris Arney wrote: One of the things which has been a real joy for me is the fellowship and working together with the Assemblies and Community churches, and their pastors.
Warden Mennonite is a unique congregation geographically. While the charter members of the church were located in the Warden area, these families largely moved away. The majority of church members now live outside of Warden, mainly on the Royal Slope. Members drive in from Quincy, beyond Royal City, Othello, and Moses Lake .
Warden Mennonite has had a number of individuals involved in evangelistic-type ministries in the community. Don Johnson, a long-time member who passed away in 2006, was involved with Bible distribution through the Gideons. There has been a tradition of prison ministry in the church. Franklin Toews, Don Johnson, and Faith Wagner were all involved in ministry to prison inmates.
The Warden Food Pantry has been a ministry supported continuously by the WMC, and throughout the 1970’s it was housed in the church’s “sunroom” before later being moved to a City-owned building on the corner of Maple and Fifth. In 2004 a “Clothes Closet” was started out of the church basement by Irene Morrow and Graciela Gallardo. This was moved to the same City building housing the Food Pantry in late 2006 when members of the Community Church installed clothing racks in an unused room.
Warden Mennonite Church has long cultivated a strong sense of community-ministry. Pastor Frank Horst served on the board of directors of the Warden Chamber of Commerce. He was the vice president of the Warden Senior Citizens group. Pastor Chris Arney was also part of the Chamber of Commerce. Pastor David Morrow served, among other things, on the Community Board for the Catholic Diocese of Yakima’s low-income housing project in Warden. Pastor Brad Roth wass involved with community beautification through the Warden Development Council (the successor to the Chamber of Commerce) and chaired a committee working toward developing a community center in Warden.
When pastor David Morrow arrived in 1994 from having attended a Spanish-speaking church in Texas and done volunteer work with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in El Salvador , a vision began to develop for Spanish-language outreach in Warden. At this time there were a considerable number of former MCC workers in the congregation who had served in Spanish-speaking countries for extended periods of time. In August 1996, Pastor Morrow proposed an Hispanic Outreach in Warden that would have brought a couple from the Iglesia Menonita Pentecostes of Woodburn, OR . The hope of this early vision was that although the Spanish and English churches would meet separately, they would make intentional efforts to come together occasionally for worship. The couple from Woodburn was unable to come to Warden. Around that same time, Doroteo Rivera, a member of the Iglesia Menonita del Cordero in Brownsville, TX (the Morrow’s prior church) moved to Warden and gave leadership to the Hispanic outreach efforts.
The Hispanic congregation grew, and Doroteo decided to move to Moses Lake and plant a church there in late 1999. He installed Herman Rodriguez as pastor in Warden in January 2000 and the name of the church was changed to Iglesia Cristiana el Monte de Olivos.
In 2004, the congregation dissolved and reconstituted, this time taking the name Iglesia Cristo la Unica Esperanza. Rafael Gallardo, a member of the local church, was called to serve as pastor.
After a rocky couple of years, Iglesia Cristo la Unica Esperanza was formally dissolved in June of 2007. Its members began to attend bilingual worship services held by WMC, and together they entered into a prayerful search to find a fruitful model for Spanish-language ministry in Warden. Bilingual worship was later discontinued, but in 2008, a Spanish-language Bible study was begun on Tuesday mornings, and a Spanish prayer meeting formed on Sunday evenings.
Fifty years have passed since the Warden Mennonite Church was founded with the assistance of the Menno Mennonite Church . On September 15-16, 2007, the church gathered to look back on the ways that God has shown his faithfulness across the years and to imagine what our future holds as we seek to discern God’s will. The demographics in the town of Warden have certainly changed. It is no longer a community of primarily German descent. Spanish is more likely to be the preferred language in the homes of our neighbors.
What does a congregation committed to preaching Christ’s peace (Eph.2:14) look like in a place like Warden? That is the question that WMC will continue to prayerfully discern in the years to come. Central to asking that question is the assurance that God has plans for us, plans for our shalom and not for our harm, as the prophet Jeremiah once spoke (29:11). We can better walk according to those plans for our church and community if we, like Jesus, know where we have come from and where we are going (John 8:14).
[This is a summarized version of a longer history prepared for the 50th anniversary celebration of the Warden Mennonite Church, held in September 2007.]