Historical Sketch of Cornerstone Community Church
Written by Harold Winsinger
Cornerstone Community Church of Topeka has its origins in a fellowship formed int he 1950’s when a large number of young men of various peace church backgrounds came to Topeka to preform alternative service (1-W service). A Mennonite fellowship was formed in the mid-1950s and the 1-W house at 721 Polk served as the meeting place. Later a Seventh Day Adventist Church at 5th and Western was rented for Sunday services. In the late 1950s, discussion began on forming a Mennonite church in Topeka. There was not sufficient agreement between Mennonite Brethren and General Conference groups for the formation of one church, so the decision was made for each group to go its separate way.
On June 20, 1958, the Mennonite Brethren group of Topeka met with Rev. Barney Vogt and Rev. Loyal Funk of the Southern District Home Mission Board to lay the groundwork for a church. An organizational meeting was held July 10, 1958, and the document of charter members was signed September 4, 1958. There were 22 charter members:
Daryl and Rosalie Adrian
Wesley and Mary Braun
Jake and Esther Ediger
Donald and Wanda Goertzen
Orlando and Rosita Kroeker
Arlo and Miriam Kunkel
Harold and Eunice Nachtigal
Eugene and Joan Regier
Roger and Ruth Regier
Ed and Katharine Rempel.
Almost without exception, these people had come to Topeka to do alternative service. At first the group met in the second floor of a commercial building in the 200 or 300 block of West Sixth, but they moved back to the Seventh Day Adventist facility when it became available again.
At the business meeting in November 30, 1958, Daryl Adrian was formally elected as the first leader of the congregation. The other two members of the leadership committee were Jake Ediger and Ed Rempel.
Rueben Kliewers began service as the first pastor on December 21, 1958.
The congregation filed its articles of incorporation on February 25, 1959, as the Mennonite Brethren Church of Topeka. Its principal place of business was 5th and Western and the incorporators were: Rueben Kliewer, Daryl Adrian, Ed Rempel and Jake Ediger. On March 1, 1959, the congregation voted to purchase the property at 1836 Fairmont (5252 West 19th) for $7,500 and to build a chapel-parsonage. The conference Board of Trustees approved a $20,000 loan for the Topeka church. An architect in Wichita was hired in 1959 to prepare plans for the new church building; however, his plans did not please the congregation so the next year they asked the conference to supply plans. The plans furnished were basically those used for the Western Oaks Church in Bethany, Oklahoma.
On March 1960, they bought a parsonage at 5435 W. 18th for $16,900, and amended the articles of incorporation on May 2, 1960, to change the name to Fairlawn Mennonite Brethren Church. In November, 1960, a contract was signed with Thiessen and Ediger to construct a 44’ by 70’ frame building. Local donated help as well as outside donated help aided in construction of the building. The last service in the rented facility at 5th & Western was held the last Sunday in August 1961. The new facility, a chapel with educational facilities, was dedicated on October 15, 1961. During 1961, the members of the congregation had been busy selling $20,000 in bonds to finance the construction. The security was a mortgage to the A.B. Culbertson Company from Texas.
The congregation grew in the 1960’s, from the original 22 members to 45 in 1965, when discussions began about expansion. It is worth noting that the minutes for a March 1966 business meeting record the congregation of 50 had an indebtedness of $28,996. Going forward with an addition costing another $25,000 called for considerable faith. At that time the annual budget was around $12,000.
Groundbreaking ceremonies were held November 20, 1966. Designed by Knight and Remmele of Topeka, the addition added a new entrance, additional classrooms, a kitchen, and a pastor’s study, among others. A.N. Dick was hired to act as general contractor. Dedication was held October 15, 1967. And in what appears to have been a matter related to the enlargement of the facility, the congregation voted at its August 1967 business meeting to relieve the pastor and his family of the responsibility of the janitorial work. Also at the same time, the church’s address was changed from 1836 Fairmont to 5252 W. 19th.
In December 1970, the congregation voted to sell the parsonage and allow the pastor to purchase his own home. Some of the proceeds from the sale were loaned to the pastor to assist him with the purchase.
In 1971, the church voted to discontinue receiving subsidies from the Southern District Board of Home Missions. Such a subsidy had been received from the beginning and had reached a peak of $200 per month in 1964. In 1975, the congregation voted to employ a paid custodian, thus ending eight years during which the families of the church had taken turns doing the church cleaning.
In 1976 the congregation began sponsoring the weekly radio program “Words of the Gospel” on WREN.
The indebtedness on the facilities was paid off in 1978, and a mortgage burning ceremony was held on April 16, 1978. A facilities study in 1981 led to several changes, such as remodeling of the stage, carpeting, air-conditioning, removal of the wall at the south end of the sanctuary. The final change of substance to the building was the late 1980’s addition at the northwest corner.
Over the years the congregation has been presented with a variety of opportunities to help meet needs in the Topeka area; these include working with Mennonite Disaster Service on clean-up after tornadoes, floods, and storms, involvement with Habitat For Humanity projects, and assistance to Cornerstone, the Topeka Rescue Mission, Youth for Christ, to name just a few. The formation of the Olive Branch, a self-help shop, was a joint effort of the Southern Hills Mennonite, the Church of the Brethren, and Fairlawn (now Topeka) M.B. The facility opened in 1983.
Senior Pastors who have served this congregation are:
Rueben Kliewer 1958 – 1961
G. S. Warkentin ( Interim) 1962 – 1964
Roland Reimer 1964 – 1969
Marvin Schmidt 1969 – 1974
Harold Janzen 1974 – 1977
Loyal Martin (Interim) 1984 (June thru August)
Phil Esau 1978 – 1985
Jeff Wright (Associate) 1980 – 1983
Frank Huebert (Interim) 1988- 1988
Rick Eshbaugh 1989 – 2001
Kevin Friesen (Youth) 1989 – 1998
James Mason (Adult) 1996 – 1999
Mike Ayers (Youth) 2000 – 2002
Dave Plett (Interim) 2001 – 2002
Steve Prieb 2002 – 2006
Dave Buller (Associate) 2003 – 2007
Terry McIlvain (Interim) 2006 – 2007
Dave Buller 2007 – 2016
Dave Sletten (Interim) 2016 – Present
There were also times when no full-time pastor was on board, and a variety of people from the community and elsewhere served as pulpit supply.
In the early 1990’s, the congregation went through a process in which we identified our mission, vision, and goals and analyzed our facility in relation to the congregation’s goals and needs. That procedure has been followed a number of times in the life of this congregation. Initially that process led to the construction of the first facility on West 19th Street, and at least three other times it led to additions and/or remodeling projects. In 1992 it led to the decision to sell the old facility and seek a new location to construct a new building. As a result, the acreage here at 21st and Indian Hills was acquired and plans developed for this facility. And we can anticipate that it will become necessary to do that same analysis in the future of this facility.
The last service in the 5252 West 19th facility was held April 4, 1993. With the move from that location, the congregation changed its name to the Topeka Mennonite Brethren Church. For two months the congregation held Sunday services at the Women’s Club at 5252 SW West Drive. Then the former Friends Church on West 29th Street became available and was rented through the end of May 1994. The first service in the new facility was held June 5, 1994.
There are many who deserve acknowledgment for their efforts in bringing this building project to fruition, but the group that probably put in the most effort from the beginning to end was the Building Committee:
Dellis Birkey (chair), Ken Bartel, Robert Dick, Robert Ediger, Harold Winsinger, John Wohlgemuth, and ex-officio Pastor Rick Eshbaugh. And seeing the building through from excavation to finished product was Owen Faul, the construction superintendent. A major part of the funding for the structure came in the form of a loan from the Mennonite Brethren Foundation, evidencing the faith and confidence our conference has in this congregation.
The Dedication Service of the new facilities at 7620 SW 21st Street on July 10, 1994, was a highlight and celebration of the year. There were many special persons attending, including former pastors and members, Conference leaders and local celebrities including Governor Joan Finney. The release of the doves was a most impressive end to the service, representing the churches desire to go out into the surrounding community to spread God’s love.
After the dedication and for the next eight years, the congregation met in the gymnasium for the worship service, affectionately called the “Sanctugym”, since only the outer shell of the sanctuary part of the new complex had been finished. Many times throughout these years, the finishing of the sanctuary was discussed and occasionally meetings were held in the unfinished sanctuary to remind the church of the unfinished project. During this time the church was paying off a loan of over $400,000 and the congregation was reluctant to borrow additional monies to finish the sanctuary. Discussion at meetings generally favored finishing the sanctuary only if and when funds were on hand to do so without added indebtedness. A Building Fund was established in 1997 to finish the sanctuary.
1995 was a year of settling into the new facilities and completing unfinished small projects. Average attendance went from 100 to 114. The Praise & Worship Team became a part of each Morning Worship Service. An Active Older Adults Conference was held at TMBC with the MB Conference and Topeka community participating. The following year, TMBC became a “Target Church”; there were major revisions to the By-Laws and Constitution, and James Mason came as Pastor of Adult Ministries with increased emphasis on small groups and adult Bible fellowships (ABF’s).
Forty years of ministry in Topeka as Fairlawn Mennonite Brethren and Topeka Mennonite Brethren church was celebrated in 1998. A group of the church leaders attended a Leadership Conference at North View Community Church of British Columbia. Kevin Friesen resigned after nine years as Youth Pastor and Mike Ayers replaced him in August 1998. Pastor Rick started training for Church Resource Ministry (CRM). This resulted in a Refocusing Study and a new Vision Statement for the church. James Mason terminated as Adult Ministries Pastor in April of 1999.
Finishing of the sanctuary became a topic of discussion at church and leadership meetings. A Building Fund was established and sanctuary plans were finalized by end of 2001. Work began in earnest in January 2002, with dedication of the new sanctuary on June 30, 2002. Many members contributed time and effort to the completion of the sanctuary, with special appreciation to Robert Dick for his leadership as project coordinator.
In the fall of 2000, Pastor Rick Eshbaugh informed the church that he felt called to work full time in the Church Resource Ministry, starting the first of June 2001. A farewell service for Pastor Rick was held May 20, 2001, praising God for 12 years of pastoral leadership, the longest tenure of any pastor at TMBC. On December 27, 2001, the Church Board first met with Steve and Ruth Prieb and invited him to candidate the weekend of January 25-27, 2002. Steve Prieb was installed as Senior Pastor on June 30, 2002, along with the dedication of the new sanctuary.
After serving as Youth Pastor for two years, Mike Ayers, made the decision to move to Fresno, California, to attend Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary. A Farewell for Mike and Shana was held on Sunday, August 11, 2002.
In reviewing church records, it could be observed that the last 3-4 years are years of change for the Topeka Mennonite Brethren Church. They were exciting years of maturity and growth, trusting God for the future with faith and anticipation.