Our History

Friendship Mennonite ChurchFriendship Mennonite Church began in 1948 as a humble tent, raised up on a piece of land on Louis Rd. which had been purchased by the Ohio Mennonite Conference. Dale Nofziger became the founding pastor, and with the help of many others, began to reach out to the community in Bedford, Ohio. Only a few years later Bedford would become Bedford Heights, as it is today. As people responded to the invitations for Bible studies and prayer meetings, plans were made for a more permanent structure to be built. By the end of 1949, Louis Rd. chapel would be completed, along with a parsonage house not long after. Pastor Dale along with others continued to do outreach in the area and the church began to grow. Lunch at the pastorís house on Sunday afternoon was a common occurrence.

Louis Road ChurchBy 1954, the church had already outgrown the small Louis Rd. Chapel, and work began on a new and larger structure on Libby Rd. which was dedicated October 9, 1955. At the time the building had been complete, there was no running water along Libby Rd. and a hose had to be run underground from the Louis Rd. buildings to the new church building on Libby Rd. After a year or two, Bedford Heights installed city water along Libby Rd. and the church was able to hook up to a permanent water supply. One unique feature of the church was the seating. Rather than church pews, FMC installed theater seating which they bought from a local theater. Though unconventional, the seats are said to have been comfortable. Louis Road Church

As Friendship Mennonite Church continued to grow, the need for Sunday School space became apparent. In 1957, the education wing was started, and was completed mostly by volunteer labor. Joe Kotva remembers that most of the building was constructed with recycled lumber and materials.

At the time the Libby Rd. church was constructed, much of the lot between Libby Road and Louis Road was covered in trees. Much of the land was a bog, and the trees could only develop a very shallow root system. One of the benefits of such a wet land was a pond that made for a natural ice skating area during the winter months.

As the Louis Road Churchchurch worked to build the education wing in 1957, they also worked to clear the trees on the property. Around this time, construction began on apartment buildings west of the church. As they dug out more and more bog material, they piled it up on the church property. Joe Kotva remembers that the pile of material was taller than the church building and that not even weeds would grow on it for years. After three years, the church got a bulldozer and spread the pile around. To this day there are low spots that are quick to flood.

On October 8, 1958 the educational wing was dedicated.

Dale, his wife and 6 kids continued to serve God at Friendship until 1963. Dale was remembered for how energetically he witnessed to the community, calling many to a relationship with Christ. Some remember his impassioned preaching, and the characteristic way he would rise up on the balls of his feet when making a particularly important point. Before leaving, Dale invited Marion Bontreger to shepherd the church, and call that Marion accepted.

Friendship KidsPastor Marion Bontreger continued Godís vision for his church at FMC. In 1964, the original theater seats were replaced with proper pews. Though costly for the time, there was a lot of help to pay for the pews. Joe remembers that one of the boys in 1W, an alternative service to the military draft, gave his entire bonus to help fund the new pews. Another improvements that was made to the buildings was the addition of a brick exterior. The original structure was concrete block, and brick greatly improved the look of the church.

Friendship Retreat

Around 1965, Pastor Bontreger had a vision for a place where people could go to camp and spend time together. Joe remembers going with Pastor Bontreger to look at a property near Pymatuning, Pennsylvania. They looked at the 220 acre last which was selling for $226,000, but eventually thought that people would find it hard to drive that far to camp and relax. On the way home, they stopped in Burton for a break. While Joe changed his young sonís diaper who had gone along for the trip, Pastor Bontreger decided to check out a real estate office across the road. The land that later would become Friendship Retreat was posted for sale. They later met with the land owner and bought the 95.6 acre property for $19,500.

Nine years later, in 1974 during the height of the oil embargo, a company that was drilling new oil wells around the area contacted the church about drilling on the retreat property. An oil and gas well was installed, and the revenue has continued to support the upkeep of the retreat ever since. Originally a playground and cabins were planned, but never were built. The retreat has a pond, a pavilion, a well, and a campfire area.

In the early years of the retreats development, Joe would get 50 pine trees per year from the county. The county wanted to promote tree planting and sold trees to FMC at a greatly reduced price. Most of them are still standing near the entrance of the property. Another way the county helped develop the retreat was in developing the pond during the mid Ď70s. While they didnít pay for the pondís construction, they helped greatly by offering testing and engineering advice on where and how to build the pond. The church continued to grow in numbers under Pastor Bontreger. Many remember the vibrant youth group at FMC during those years. In 1969, Leo Miller became the pastor at FMC. In 1986, stucco was added to the concrete block walls, and wood trim was installed. The flat roof of the education wing began to deteriorate, and a new rubber roof was installed.

Pastor Miller concluded his ministry in September, 1989, and in 1991 Pastor David Orr began. In 1998 Friendship Mennonite Church celebrated it 50th year anniversary. Many people who had ministered and been ministered to at FMC gathered to celebrate the call and work of God through his church. Pastor Orr concluded his ministry in 2004. In 2006, Pastor Walt Morton served as a Transitional Pastor, and in June, 2008 Kevin and Nan answered Godís call to become co-pastors at FMC.

God continues to work powerfully through his body at Friendship Mennonite Church to be a witness to the peace and love of Christ and to bring reconciliation with God to a broken world.