Powhatan Mennonite Church was organized in 1963 by a group of dairy farmers who had moved from the Newport News, VA, area. The congregation met in parishoner homes for a short time and then used a small cinder-block house. The first stage of the permanent building was dedicated in 1965. This provided six classrooms and an assembly room. When a growing attendance demanded an expansion, the present building was completed in 1983. Though the church was originally founded by farmers, the congregation has continued to grow with Powhatan County, both in size and diversity.
The Pastors of Powhatan Mennonite Church
Lewis A. Burkholder, May 1964 – 1982
Steve Freed, January 1982 – May 1984
Lewis A. Burkholder (interim pastor), 1984-1986
Paul Swarr, October 1987 – December 1989
Preston Nowlin, January 1990 – December 1998
Timothy Kennell, March 200 – January 2015
William Eberly, August 2015 – present
In June 1960, Bob and Marie Hertzler made a very daring and adventuresome move to rural Powhatan. It was daring because they were leaving the secure colony of Mennonites in Denbigh to move with their children into an area where there were no other Mennonites, nor family, nor farm.
Beginning a new life with new friends, new farms, and lots of uncrowded space was also adventuresome. For the first three years the Hertzlers milked their 80 cows, packed their children into the car, and traveled to the East End of Richmond to First Mennonite Church. This was better than no church, but it did not meet their children’s needs, because they were not able to get there for Sunday school or any of the other services or activities. After church they would go either to the park or down by the canal and eat their packed lunches before heading home to milk again.
In 1957, newlyweds Wally and Dorcas Schaefer left Denbigh and settled on a farm in Middlesex County, east of Richmond. They also had made a radical move from the close-knit Denbigh community. They often traveled to Powhatan in their white Cadillac to spend the night and visit with Bob and Marie. They, too, were longing for a church fellowship.
About the same time that the Hertzlers were settling in Powhatan, Jim and Miriam Tennafoss from Cheaspeake moved to Amelia. In 1961, Byron and Mary Alice Hertzler moved up to farm Lloyd Weaver’s place, the farm later managed by Art and Phoe and then later Ed and Doris Ranck. In 1962, Bob’s brother, Ray, who had been in IW service in Florida, came to help on the farm. By 1963, the number of families had increased to four when Wally and Dorcas moved from Middlesex to Powhatan. This was an exciting time for Bob and Marie. Marie says they planned their lives together; it was wonderful to have the fellowship of kindred spirits and playmates for the children It became a natural thing to want to fellowship together in church.
On March 31, 1963, a group of 29 persons, including children, met at Byron Hertzler’s home for the first Sunday school. This was a momentous occasion for the group. They began moving their meetings from home to home, but they desired a church house.
It is hard to recall the sequence of events, but things began to happen rapidly. The Mennonite colony of farmers in Denbigh was breaking apart because of the encroachment of the city. Farmers started looking elsewhere for land and Powhatan was appealing because of the location and availability of cheaper land. Bob and Marie had the blessing and support of their family, friends, and church, and it was natural for others to be attracted to their community. Leroy and Ruth Hertzler soon came, along with bachelor Marvin Hertzler, Sam and Dorothy Powell, and Nathan and Laura Layman.
Nathan was interested in land on Schroeder Road, behind Flat Rock. At the farm auction, the land started to go for more than Nathan felt he could handle. A quick recess was called during the auction, and H.P. and Arthur Hertzler, Bob’s grandpa and father, consulted with Nathan and agreed to buy approximately 85 of the acres, which included a small cinder-block house, so Nathan could afford the farm. This house was then given rent-free to the small church fellowship for use as a church house.
Marie remembers the warm fellowship of that little group but the little house was soon bursting its seams. They could put six rows of chairs across the living room in the back row and five on each of the other rows; two on one side and three on the other with an aisle in the middle. The living room held 26 with the overflow seated in the kitchen. The podium was put in the doorway so both groups could see the speaker. Warwick River Mennonite Church supplied different preachers until a permanent one could be worked out.
About the same time, Lewis and Helen Burkholder began looking for land in Powhatan. Lewis was asked to preach, and for about a year the Burkholders with their four small children, traveled to Powhatan for services in between morning and evening milkings in Denbigh. Different families took turns inviting the Burkholders for lunch; Dorcas said they always tried to have lunch ready after church because they knew the Burkholders had to return home to do the evening milking. However, Lewis was never in a hurry; he visited until he was ready to leave, saying his cows would wait. Marie remembers that someone stuck a note on the podium reminding speakers not to put their feet on the base. It was the only piece of furniture the group really owned. They had paid $13.50 to have it built, and they didn’t want it scuffed!
In April 1964, Lewis was licensed to serve as pastor, and in June of 1965 he moved his family and cows to Powhatan. On March 15, 1970, he was ordained to the ministry, and he served faithfully for seventeen years. He also served three years in 1982-85 as interim pastor.
In 1964 ground was broken for the first building phase of Powhatan Mennonite Church. It was a dream come true. The new building had six rooms and an assembly room with plans for a sanctuary to be built later.
Arthur Hertzler continued to support the ministry here by buying a second lot, where the cemetery is now, and the church purchased it from him at a later time.
On March 28, 1965, the first service was held in the new building and the dedication service was held November 28. This was a huge milestone for the church as they now had a church building and a pastor in the community.
In the next several years more families moved to the area. The Bill & Bertha Schaefer and Art & Phoebe Ranck families came in the spring of 1966, the Eli Miller family in the fall of 1967, Gene & Oliver Hertzler in the spring of 1968 and the Sylvanus Moyer family in the fall of 1968.
1969 was a momentous year for the young congregation. Their building debt was paid in full. The church was growing, and they also celebrated their first weddings and baptisms. In the fall of 1970, Wally Schaefer was installed as assistant pastor.
When the congregation was formed, it was made up of young families with growing children. Death had not yet visited—until the spring of 1978 when the little daughter of Gene and Pat Hertzler was born with a fatal genetic disease. The congregation was now faced with another stage; they had to establish a cemetery, and it was for one of their own—a baby. On April 2 they laid to rest Karla Annette Hertzler.
In January 1982 Steve Freed was installed as pastor, and he served until May 1984.
The congregation was quickly growing. Children of the first families were getting married, and the church was reaching out to the community. By the time the congregation was entering its nineteenth year, more space was needed. On March 10, 1982, ground was broken for the next building stage, and on August 15, 1982, the first service was held in the new sanctuary.
Our Mission Statement
God has called us in Jesus Christ;
To a life of holiness and worship in which we express our love for Him,
And to a life of nurture, equipping us to reach out,as the Holy Spirit leads, in evangelistic, spiritual, and social ministries.To God alone be the glory!
Cake was made by Beverly Burkholder.
On June 18, 1983 a very special wedding took place that was later to have profound signification. Pastor Steve Freed married Beverly Burkholder, daughter of our first pastor, to Tim Kennell, who years later would become our fifth pastor.
From October 1987 to December 1989 Paul Swarr served as Pastor. He and his wife Bertha had moved to the Powhatan area and were very active with YWAM.
On April 7, 1989, tragedy rocked the church when Howard Hertzler was killed in a senseless, tragic car accident. (A Story of Forgiveness). The first adult was laid to rest in the cemetery.
From the fall of 1989 until December 1998, Pres Nowlin was called to serve as pastor.
By the late 1980s and early 1990, attendance had reached 125-plus on most Sunday mornings with lots of children and young adults. Quite a few families were homeschooling their children, and the need arose for a church school. In the fall of 1992, Powhatan Mennonite Church School became a reality and opened its doors. Due to numerous factors the school lasted only five years and closed in May 1997.
In March 2000 Tim Kennell was called to serve as pastor. Tim and his family lived in Illinois and had just returned from serving as missionaries in Belarus. His wife Bev is the daughter of Louie and Helen Burkholder, our first pastor.
As the years moved on, it became clear that we once again needed to update and add to our structure. On October 7, 2012, ground was broken for the 3rd building program: the addition of a portico, atrium and multipurpose building that includes a new kitchen, gym and classrooms. In March of 2013 the church reached a significant milestone—fifty years! On November 2-3, 2013, we held a special 50th Anniversary and Building Dedication: Celebrating God’s faithfulness; Remembering the Past and Looking to the Future.
50th Anniversary & Building Dedication-Saturday Evening: November 1, 2013
There is still another building phase in the near future which includes extending the front wall of the sanctuary and remodeling the Sunday School wing of the original building.
Much has happened in these fifty years: prayers have been answered, souls saved, and babies born; death has visited, love has joined hearts together and a few have been torn apart; some have moved, new people have come, the church has grown and expanded, leadership has changed, and the first generation of founders have become great-grandparents. Two of the original four families are still serving in our midst, and one family is in South America sharing the gospel message. The church has continued to thrive with an average attendance of one hundred on Sunday mornings. We are a part of the church of tomorrow.
Great is Thy faithfulness.
In 2014, Pastor Tim Kennell informed the congregation that he was resigning and in January 2015 they moved to Lititz, PA to begin serving with Global Disciples.
God answered our prayer for and in August 2015 we welcomed a new Pastor, William (Bill) Eberly, Leslie, Judy and Rebekah from Thomas, Oklahoma.
Written by Pat Hertzler