Members of a conservative Mennonite congregation settling in a rural area outside Shickshinny have purchased land to start two new dairy farms, and a new school, church and cemetery are also in the works, according to Luzerne County planning/zoning records.
Nelson Martin, one of the new dairy farm owners, said the settlers belonged to a growing Mennonite church in Lebanon County.
Instead of building a larger church there, a committee decided to form a new worship community in a rural area that did not have an existing conservative Mennonite congregation, he said.
After reviewing prospective locations, the committee picked Luzerne County for the new Pinecrest Mennonite Church.
Seven families from the Lebanon County area were asked to relocate here. Martin said his family is among the sixth to purchase property near Shickshinny to date.
He and his wife, Carolyn, paid $590,000 in September 2016 for a 173-acre agricultural tract on Grange Hall Road in Ross Township, county property records show.
This summer, the county Planning Commission approved their subdivision/land development application to construct a heifer barn, dairy barn and two calf barns. Martin will have approximately 80 milking cows.
He already has moved the house to a different spot on the property and is almost done building the barns.
Congregation members Jess and Susanna Haltemann are building the other dairy farm on a 94-acre agricultural tract they purchased on Cherry Hill Road in Huntington Township, records show.
The planning commission also approved those plans in July, subject to completion of stormwater and erosion and sedimentation control requirements.
The Haltemanns have constructed a dairy barn with an attached feed room, a milk house, a heifer barn, calf shed and storage shed, according to Martin. They purchased the property for $400,000 in November 2016.
The new church, school and cemetery would be located on approximately 5 acres the church plans to purchase at the corner of Zachery and Holmes roads in Huntington Township, Martin said. A subdivision will be necessary because the parcel is part of a 111-acre tract owned by Isaac Witmer.
Martin sought a special exception from the county to build a private cemetery estimated at 1 acre. The county Zoning Hearing Board approved the exception last month.
No objections were raised about the farms or other plans, the county said.
Design plans for the church complex include a baseball field, a school for up to 40 students and a two-story church seating approximately 200.
The Pinecrest congregation is working with a surveyor on the subdivision, which also must be approved by the county, Martin said.
If the project proceeds as planned, the school will be built first. The congregation is meeting in a temporary location for now, noted Martin.
Conservative Mennonite worship is based on the New Testament of the Bible, he said. While followers dress modestly and do not watch television or listen to the radio, Martin said they drive cars.
The new congregation will welcome new members.
“We have room to grow the congregation and are doing our part to tell others about Christ,” Martin said. “Each person must decide for themselves.”