Our History

Laurelville-Young People’s Institute

Young People’s Institute, 1946

Laurelville Mennonite Church Center was founded in 1943 by a small group of Mennonites, wanting to create a wholesome place for Mennonite youth to spend their leisure time—a new phenomenon created as Mennonites began moving off of farms – in a way that would “mean the most to them physically, spiritually, and otherwise.” However the “second and most important” reason for Laurelville’s creation was “to provide a center for church activities.”

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Mennonite churches were holding Young People’s Institutes, an outreach program for teens and young adults consisting of Bible study, training and church teaching. A group of Mennonites affiliated with the nearby Mennonite Publishing House in Scottdale, Pa., sought a suitable place to start a Mennonite camping ministry. The acquisition of the Laurelville property—purchased in the fall of 1943 for $12,000 from Methodists who had operated a camp on its grounds—provided a home for these Institutes and began a long tradition of innovative programming that has since reached far beyond the Mennonite Church.

In the early 1960s Laurelville winterized buildings in order to move from a traditional summer only camp to a “Church Center” where year-round programming could take place. Laurelville brought leaders from across the Mennonite Church to create a strategic plan that would provide programming to adults as well as youth, in the form of retreats (an emerging concept at that time), workshops, seminars and conferences. As the first Mennonite camp, Laurelville set a vision soon adopted by Mennonite churches and communities across North America. Now, camps throughout Canada and the United States are a part of the Mennonite Camping Association.

From its inception, Laurelville hosted non-Mennonite groups on-site as well. In the early years, there were only a few families or non-Mennonite Christian groups using Laurelville facilities, but this ministry boomed in the 80s and 90s and currently makes up approximately 80% of Laurelville’s business. Denominational groups including Presbyterians, Baptists, Apostolic and many others as well as non-profit organizations, businesses and families fall into the category of “hosted groups”, or groups who rent facilities and receive Laurelville’s signature hospitality.

In 1963 Laurelville began a long-term partnership with the Pittsburgh Kids Foundation (formerly PYN) to host “mud weekends” at Laurelville every fall. Thousands of youth from the Pittsburgh area have played, prayed and discovered the love of Jesus Christ at Laurelville through this important partnership.

Though the original purchase was only 45 acres, today Laurelville has 600 acres where guests can walk along a large creek, watch spectacular sunsets, climb to the top of Chestnut Ridge for stunning views of the Laurel Highlands, or just rest on a rocking chair and take in the quiet. Laurelville still offers strong programming for all ages, include a full summer camp line-up for children ages six to seventeen and adult programming like the Music and Worship Leaders Retreat, among others. To learn more about Laurelville programs, click here.

Laurelville’s history continues to be celebrated—and its future, shaped— by those who have supported it through prayer, volunteer time and energy, and financial gifts. From the very beginning Laurelville has been owned by a group of families, known as the LMCC Association. Currently consisting of more than 300 families, this group meets annually for Association meetings, appoints a board of directors to provide organizational oversight, provides financial assistance for scholarships and building projects and promotes Laurelville around the country.

To see some of Laurelville’s history in action, hear from dear friends, and learn more about Laurelville’s past, present, and future, follow these links to videos created for our 75th Anniversary:

Lives Touched by Laurelville: A Snapshot View – Those First 50 Years Were Remarkable, Why?

Lives Touched by Laurelville: Appreciating our Past, Recognizing the Present, Anticipating our Future

Laurelville, A Platform for Ministry