This is a brief summary of the history of the Manhattan Bible Church from its inception to the present time. Most of the information came from a history written by Norm Mulder who was grateful to Mr. Arie Droge for filling in some of the details that have taken place. Norm Mulder was acquainted with most of the incorporators of the Church and many times he heard them say that more than anything else their desire was that this church would be true to the Word of God. This was their prayer and also that those coming up in the church would be true to the Word of God. We pray that this church may be named among the faithful when the Lord returns.
In 1934, the country was in the middle of the Great Depression. Times were very difficult, but out of it came a spiritual awareness and awakening.
Apparently, there was some dissatisfaction with some of the Christians attending another church in the area, and several families began meeting in a home. Some of the families were the Harry TeSelle family, the Henry Jongeward family and also Henry Santhuisen. A home owned by the Manhattan Company was used for a short while and then the group moved to Main Street and rented a building at 118 East Main.
The apparent leader at this time was Harry TeSelle. There was also quite a bit of assistance from Dr. B.J. Heetderks of Bozeman who was instrumental in starting the work of the present Grace Bible Church and also the work of the Montana Gospel Crusade at KGHL in Billings and the Billings Church of the Air, which became Billings Bible Church.
In 1935, the Manhattan group moved from Main Street over to a vacant, boarded-up Baptist church at the corner of 5th and Gallatin Avenue. Rent was $10 per month and the group had difficulty raising this amount. It was also in the year 1935 that Arie Droge became a Christian and became a leader in the group.
During the next three to four years the group had a variety of different pastors. One of the main ones was Rev. Jim Baines. He was actually a pastor at Dry Creek Church, but once a month he would come over and minister to the Manhattan group and others would fill in the remainder of the time. The group called themselves the Manhattan Mission.
In 1936 the group purchased the building they had been renting for the price of $1000. It is reported that there were several townspeople who were quite unhappy about it.
Others that ministered were Mr. Russell, and a man from Oregon named Joner who owned a lettuce farm. He saved money in the summer to come out and minister to the group during the winter for two years. Also, Fred Elliot came and ministered for a while. He was the father of Jim Elliot, the missionary who was killed by the Auca Indians in Central America many years ago along with four other missionaries. (The story of Jim Elliot is told in Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot and the movie End of the Spear, 2005.)
On January 12, 1939, the church was incorporated under the name: Community Church of Manhattan, Montana. This charter shows the following as the principals in the incorporation: Arie Droge, Harry TeSelle, William Lindgren, L. W. Zeltner, Harley Tudor, Henry Santhuisen, M. D. Russell, B. R. Bates and Harold Oman.
The first pastor under the newly incorporated church was L. W. Zeltner who had been with the group before the incorporation. He was the pastor for about 3 years.
Then, for a period of 11 years, Rev. Hires came and ministered. During this time there was good growth.
After Pastor Hires left, Vincent Rosheger from Bozeman, a missionary candidate to the Slavic Gospel Association, ministered. He reorganized the Sunday School into different departments and the name of the church in the 1950’s was changed to Manhattan Bible Church; however, this change was not recorded at the state level at that time.
After Vincent left for the mission field, Jimmy Thomas from the area ministered for a short time and in 1954, Charles West came and ministered for somewhat less than a year. A problem of doctrine developed with his ministry as the group had basically followed the Plymouth Brethren doctrine and Mr. West was basically of the baptismal regeneration persuasion.
A call was then issued to Lee and Lila Bruckner of Malta, who were at MBC from early 1955 until 1957. Lee was a graduate of Bob Jones College in 1950 and graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary in 1954. He was advised to serve a church for two years before heading to the mission field. In the summer of 1957, he and Lila left for training, and eventually missionary service in Afghanistan, the beginning of sixty years together as missionaries.
Following this, Harry Engstrom came and pastored for about 3 years. He was a wonderful chalk artist. Sadly, he and his wife were killed in a car accident after they left Manhattan.
For about a year following Harry Engstrom, Ivan Pulis, a teacher at Montana Institute of the Bible in Billings, would come over every Sunday morning on the train. He would preach the morning service, stay for the evening service, and catch the 9pm train back to Billings so he could again teach his classes on Monday morning.
During the 1960's, ministers were Pastor Glenn Durr, Wilfred Bruns and Joe Bellanti. There was a one-year interim by Rev. Alvin House of Bozeman. The church was formally and legally incorporated as Manhattan Bible Church in 1965. In the 1970's, Pastor Phil Rabine came from Michigan. He and his wife Dorothy
were faithful ministers for a period of about seven years. During their ministry a new church was built. The old church required constant upkeep and updating. The bell tower was removed and in the 1950’s, the congregation dug out the partial basement by hand to create a fellowship hall.
In 1973, a loan was obtained for $42,000 for a new church. The congregation continued to meet in the old church until the new one was completed. Most of the construction was done by volunteers. Ed Feenstra, who recently moved from North Dakota, was the volunteer coordinator and supervisor.
Construction began on the new church next door and moved into in the summer of 1973. This is the present church building.
The new church was dedicated in the Fall 1973 and the old church on the corner was demolished.
Following Pastor Rabine’s ministry, Pastor Leroy Ensign, Ron Parkhurst (1982-1989), and Jon Eldridge ministered. Arlen Tofslie and then Mike Baber served as youth pastors during this period. Jon Eldridge left due to moral failure. The people were hurt; many left the church. Pastor Rex Heckel then served as interim pastor, and through his ministry, people began to heal. He faithfully preached the Word and loved the people.
In the early 1980’s, there was need for additional classroom space and the garage next to the parsonage was converted into “The Annex.” Tim Batts headed up the project.
A few months later changes were implemented once again, and Tim Batts was put back to work constructing a baptistry in the southeastern corner of the sanctuary. Funds for the project were given in memory of Mary Ann Capps by her husband Ted. There have been many baptisms and the warm water is appreciated by all instead of the cold, frigid water in a stock tank or the river.
In 1988, the original loan was paid off.
Pastor Ward had been ministering at Grace Bible Church in Bozeman until suffering a massive stroke in 1994. In spite of paralysis on his right side, and a number of other serious health problems along the way, he served faithfully from 1996 until his death in 2007. Pastor Ron worked hard to strengthen the leadership of the church. Men grew spiritually and new leaders were trained. His wife, Ann, coordinated the children’s Sunday school ministry and trained and added teachers. Ron challenged a half-dozen men in the church to preach, which helped them grow and this was good for the whole congregation. Ron also challenged people to join a discipleship course and an accountability group. Those who took part grew tremendously and are now leading others.
In 1998 Ryan Ward began working with the high school youth. When he graduated from Bible College in 2001, MBC brought him on as a full time associate pastor. He worked with the high school and junior high students and invested himself in the areas of worship, adult Sunday school, leadership development, and administration. He and his wife, Andrea, sought to mentor others into ministry. So, when God called him to take a position at Montana Bible College in 2006, Andy and Katie Powner were ready to step into the ministry.
In about 2002, an AWANA ministry was started and continued until 2006, with usually more than 20 church workers, and many more clubbers. There had previously been AWANA during the late 1970’s and 1980’s.
Also in 2002 and 2003, under Pastor Ron’s leadership, the MBC board labored in thought, study and prayer and wrote a purpose statement, followed by a spiritual covenant. In May 2003, the church added Pastor Jim Miller as a part-time associate pastor to aid in discipleship and preaching since Pastor Ron was facing major heart surgery. In the fall of 2003, the church adopted formal membership. This was an exciting and encouraging time as most who became members publicly shared their testimonies over a period of a few months. Jim and Kathy served in that part-time capacity until November 2005. After Pastor Jim resigned, he continued to work jointly with Manhattan Bible Church and Grace Bible Church to plant a new church in Three Forks. Currently, Three Forks Bible Church is thriving.
After 35 years, structural concerns in the sanctuary necessitated another big change. The rafters had to be reinforced and new side windows were installed. The stage was expanded, the original red wool carpet was replaced and a new roof was put on. Pews had been damaged by water and were replaced with chairs soon after.
This construction was coordinated by Randy Visser. An upstairs bathroom was added in the early 2000’s.
Due to his declining health and inability to fulfill all the duties of the ministry, Pastor Ron Ward resigned as pastor in August of 2006, effective when a new pastor would be found. The pastoral search process was started. Pastor Ron continued as he could until the annual meeting in February of 2007, at which time he relinquished the last of his duties. He died suddenly at his home the following Tuesday. God showed His timing to be perfect as He called Pastor Ron home on the very morning when the elders would have met for the first time without him.
After a year-long internship, Andy Powner became the youth pastor at Manhattan Bible Church in March 2007. In July 2007, Randy Jones became the new pastor of Manhattan Bible Church. He and his wife, Sherry, and their five children, had recently returned from 16 years as Wycliffe Bible Translators in Camaroon, Africa.
During the period from about 2003 to 2008, Manhattan Bible Church was blessed with many young families.
The “baby boom” ensued, and jokes were made about the“baby of the month.” The nursery was overcrowded...
Building addition plans were already drawn up, but the time wasn’t right for a full-scale addition so a small addition was added to the front northwest corner of the church building to add foyer space upstairs and nursery space downstairs. This was all volunteer work.
In 2016 new siding was put on the church with Ray Reichman heading up that huge project. Also in October 2016, Pastor Jones resigned to become the Gallatin County Chaplain.
Some of our history is a little vague after all these years, and we have tried to verify the accuracy as much as possible, but the history of Manhattan Bible Church continues to be written with each passing day, as the Lord Jesus continues to work in the lives of the people of His church.
First Written in November 1980
(Revised 2001, 2006, 2008, 2017)