Isaac R. Horst — Old Order Mennonite Historian

Isaac R. Horst was a struggling Old Order Mennonite farmer who discovered his true vocation after he retired. He became an interpreter of Old Order Mennonite life and thought to the “English” through his writings and public presentations. He also assisted in translating many obscure letters, diaries and documents from hand-written Gothic German to English, greatly assisted by his knowledge of Mennonite religious language.

He came numerous times to the Mennonite Archives of Ontario during my years there, both to sell his books and to do research on his many projects.

He had a folksy, somewhat undisciplined writing style that communicated well. He was a popular speaker to Elderhostel groups.

The article reproduded below from the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO) was written within the past month. Click on the link to see the article, along with a bibliography of his writings.


Isaac Horst’s first book, 1979

Isaac Reist Horst: Old Order Mennonite farmer, teacher, translator and author, was born 28 May 1918 in Woolwich Township, Waterloo County, Ontario, Canada to John B. Horst (10 April 1875-November 1960) and Anna “Nancy” Reist (5 July 1878-17 February 1942). Isaac was the sixth son, and youngest child in a family of eight children. On 26 October 1943 he married Selina M. Bauman (22 July 1920-9 December 2014); they had nine daughters and four sons. One son died in infancy. Isaac R. Horst died 18 November 2008; he and Selina were buried in the Cedarview Mennonite cemetery near Mount Forest, Ontario.

Isaac Horst grew up on a farm, and attended the public school system in his Mennonite community until the age of 14. He enjoyed reading from early in his school years. He was not physically strong, and was unable to perform some of the heavier manual labor on the family farm. After his 1943 marriage to Selina, Isaac took up market gardening on a small property purchased from his grandfather, though with limited success. For the following 25 years Isaac alternated between jobs at Snyder Flour Milling in St. Jacobs, Ontario, further attempts at farming, odd jobs off the farm, and two years of teaching at the Balsam Grove school within the Old Order Mennonite parochial school system that began in the 1960s.

In the mid 1960s Isaac and Selina Horst, with several other families, purchased farms in the Mount Forest, Ontario area, though for various reasons they did not move there until 1968. This was the first successful effort among the Ontario Old Order Mennonites to establish a daughter community geographically separate from the Waterloo County community. By 2002 there were 180 Old Order families in the Mount Forest settlement.

After retirement from farming, Isaac worked 10 years wrecking buildings for salvage; a business that was more remunerative than any of his earlier vocations. He also pursued his love of reading by taking correspondence courses in English literature.

Isaac then began a new vocation in translating texts from German to English, and in writing about Ontario Old Order Mennonite life and history. All of his early works were self-published, some of them issued as mimeographed sheets in three-hole binders.

His first substantial work was Up the Conestogo, self-published in 1979. It was a 450-page story of Old Order Mennonites in Ontario, combining family history and creative non-fiction enactments of events based on diaries, news accounts and oral history. It is illustrated with maps and pictures, many of them by Horst himself. It is not “history,” but rather is a variety of accounts of Old Order families and places.

Horst’s most useful historical text was Close Ups of the Great Awakening (1985), a detailed historical account of divisions within the Ontario Mennonite community in the 19th century, based on letters, diaries and official documents of the era. Especially useful are lengthy quotes from translations of German-language sources otherwise virtually unavailable, and Horst’s interpretation from an Old Order perspective of the impact of 19th century Pietism and revivalism on the Ontario Mennonite community.

Over the years Isaac Horst became comfortable speaking to outsiders wanting to learn more about Old Order Mennonites. He often spoke to Mennonite Studies classes at the University of Waterloo, and to Elderhostel groups. He wrote a column, “Old Order Voice,” in the Mennonite Reporter from 1989-1997 as well as a number of articles for Mennogespräch, the historical bulletin of the Mennonite Historical Society of Ontario.

Perhaps Isaac R. Horst’s most lasting contribution was through his translations from German to English of handwritten letters and documents, many of them in the gothic script. His familiarity with Mennonite religious terminology, and his encyclopedic knowledge of Mennonite family relationships in Ontario gave him insights that translators external to the community would not have had. His translations included 1600 letters from the Jacob Mensch collection–letters written to a conservative Mennonite leader in Pennsylvania in the 19th century. He also translated 300 or more hymns for Wilmer Swope, and worked on various “Pennsylvania Dutch” dictionary projects. His translation work combined the need for a small source of income with a love for delving deeply into his Mennonite heritage.

Isaac Horst had a self-effacing wit, an engaging extroverted personality, and a desire to better understand the people and world around him. For a time he may have been the best-known, and most read, Old Order Mennonite in North America.

— Sam Steiner

Orland Gingerich — Amish Mennonite Bishop

Orland Gingerich was a soft-spoken man who carried progressive ideas forward with a humble persistence. Although a farmer and cheese-maker (Kochäse or cook cheese) by vocation, Orland accepted his church’s call to leadership and became a minister and bishop. For Orland, leadership meant advanced education, something not readily welcomed by many in the Ontario Amish Mennonite Conference (later Western Ontario Mennonite Conference).

The article by Virginia Hostetler  in the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO) that is replicated below outlines his impact on the Ontario Amish Mennonite community.

Perhaps less recognized is his contribution to Amish Mennonite history in Ontario. He wrote the first book-length history on Ontario Amish, and participated in some foundational oral history projects.

The full article, with bibliography, can be seen at,_Orland_S._(1920-2002).


Agnes and Orland Gingerich. Family photo

Orland Steinman Gingerich: Ontario minister and bishop, active in Mennonite historical research and interpretation, and in leadership in other Mennonite organizations; born on 12 November 1920 in Wilmot Township, Waterloo County, Ontario, the oldest child of four born to John Z. Gingerich (24 January 1887-9 December 1962) and Annie (Steinmann) Gingerich (7 January 1893–4 July 1973). Orland married Agnes Irene Roth (1924- ) on 3 July 1948; they had 10 children. Orland died 23 January 2002 in Kitchener, Ontario.

In 1950 Orland graduated from Eastern Mennonite College in Harrisonburg, Virginia, with a Bachelor of Arts in the Bible. He also studied at Goshen Biblical Seminary and later at Waterloo Lutheran Seminary. Orland became the first theologically trained pastor in the Ontario Amish Mennonite Conference (later called Western Ontario Mennonite Conference). He was ordained in 1951 and served as a minister at his home congregation, Steinmann Mennonite Church, from 1951 to 1972. In 1954 he was selected by lot for the office of bishop, the last bishop in the conference to be selected by this method.

In the early years of his ministry, Amish pastors and bishops did not receive a salary from their congregations, so Orland earned a living through farming and cheese making. He served as a pastor at St. Jacobs Mennonite Church (1973-1974), Bloomingdale Mennonite Church (1974-1984), Wilmot Mennonite Church (1986), East Zorra Mennonite Church (1987-1988, 1994-1996,)Preston Mennonite Church (1988-1989), and Rainham Mennonite Church (1989-1991). Church administrative matters also interested Orland. In 1963, when the Ontario Amish Mennonite Conference was re-structured and was renamed the Western Ontario Mennonite Conference, Orland became the ministerial superintendent (conference minister) for the conference. He also served on the conference’s mission board for 12 years.

Although the Amish tradition in which he grew up did not encourage education beyond elementary school, Orland was a strong proponent of learning. During the 1950s and 1960s he taught in the Winter Bible Schools of the Ontario Amish Mennonite Conference and in the Ontario Mennonite Bible School and Institute. He was a founding board member of Conrad Grebel College, the Mennonite church college associated with the University of Waterloo. He served on that board from 1961 to 1979.

Orland had a deep love of history and used his skills to promote knowledge of Mennonite history in particular. On 8 May 1965, at the first meeting of the Mennonite Historical Society of Ontario, he gave a presentation on the reasons to form a historical society. He went on to become a charter member of the Society, serving as the first vice-president of the board (1965-1977) and as president (1977 to 1980). Over the years, he conducted research, wrote and spoke on many historical topics of southwestern Ontario. For a period of time Orland held the title of “Conference Historian” for the Western Ontario Mennonite Conference. He also served on the committee which planned the events for the sesquicentennial commemoration of the arrival of the Amish to Canada, celebrated in 1973.

Orland was the author of The Amish of Canada (Conrad Press, 1972), the first major source on the Canadian Amish Mennonites. His writings appear in five-volume The Mennonite Encyclopedia, in the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO), and in the publications of Mennonite Historical Society of Ontario. His profile ofChristian Nafziger, who played a key role in the Amish settlement in Canada, appeared in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.


. . . .

Known for his soft-spoken and humble manner, Orland Gingerich has been described as a “risk taker,” a “church statesman,” and a “servant- leader” who had deep respect for others and who helped lead the church through times of much change.

Elsie Cressman and midwifery in Ontario

Elsie Cressman was for many years a medical missionary in Africa. But what made her famous was her role in achieving legal status for midwifery in Ontario. Her pioneering efforts were not without personal consequences for Elsie. At age 75 she was sued in relationship to a birth 13 years earlier. This experience led to further clarification of the rules for informed-consent in relation to midwives.

The article below, written by Howard Bean, from the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO), relates Elsie’s conservative Mennonite background and a hint of her personality. See the article for bibliography and a link to a news article about Elsie.

A book by Nancy Silcox, Elsie Cressman: A Trailblazing Life, provides more information.


Elsie Cressman in Africa, 1960s. Family photo.

Elsie Cressman: missionary and midwife; born 13 April 1923 in Wilmot Township, Ontario, Canada, to Curtis and Amanda (Byler) Cressman, the fourth in a family of 4 daughters and 2 sons. She never married. She died 11 September 2012 in New Hamburg, Ontario. She became a Christian in her youth and became a member of the Biehn Mennonite Church (later Nith Valley) where her father was a pastor.

Elsie attended Niagara Christian College, Goshen College (Indiana), and Eastern Mennonite College (Virginia), and attained a Bachelor of Arts degree. She chose nursing as a career and graduated as a registered nurse from St. Mary’s Hospital in Kitchener. Elsie spent two years at Mennonite Children’s Home in Kansas City, Kansas, caring for the medical needs of 70 children.

In 1953 the Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities approached Elsie, and asked her establish a leprosarium in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) on the shore of Lake Victoria. Elsie accepted the challenge and was instrumental in turning a no-man’s land of briars, thorns, vines, and rocks into an attractive area of huts, medical dispensary, medical wards, and a chapel surrounded by flowers and fruit trees. After 15 years of leprosy work and attending the births of numerous infants, Elsie enrolled at Mothers’ Hospital in London, England, to become a certified midwife. She returned to Africa and managed a medical clinic on Rusinga Island, Kenya, for three years. She supervised the delivery of over 1000 babies there. She also spent several months inSomalia under the Eastern Mennonite Mission Board.

Upon returning to Canada in the late 1970s, Elsie attended Grace Mennonite Fellowship until her death. She worked at Grand River Hospital in Kitchener, Ontario, for a time before concentrating her energies on providing midwifery services to those who desired a home birth. She was instrumental in attaining legal status for midwifery in Ontario and was awarded the Order of Ontario for her efforts. She helped establish a birthing center in St. Jacobs, and helped to deliver over 3000 babies. Many Old Order Mennonitesappreciated this service.

Elsie was the subject of a Metamedia television documentary, Return to Africa, in 2010. In 2012, Nancy Silcox wrote Elsie’s biography, Elsie Cressman: A Trailblazing Life, which includes accounts of her shooting a hippopotamus, riding a motorcycle, and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

Elsie’s strong personality and love for adventure enabled her to pursue goals that were unusual for women of her generation. In 2013, Elsie was inducted into the Waterloo County Hall of Fame.

Founder of the Ontario Old Order Mennonites


Martin Mennonite Meetinghouse (1993) in Waterloo, Ontario, where Abraham Martin was bishop. Photo by Sam Steiner

Many issues helped to create the group called Old Order Mennonites in Ontario. The same issues had affected other parts of the Mennonite Church in North America, especially in Indiana and Pennsylvania. Indeed by the time the Old Order Mennonites identified as such in 1889  in Ontario, there had already been a division in Indiana, and one would soon follow in Pennsylvania.


Abraham W. Martin, the Mennonite bishop in the northern part of Waterloo County, could be identified as the spiritual leader of the Old Order Mennonites in Ontario. His leadership in resisting certain kinds of change, and his refusal to baptize converts who had experienced their change of life in emotional evening meetings, drew the line that separated the groups.

The article in the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO) can be seen with bibliography at,_Abraham_W._(1834-1902)

Abraham Weber Martin: bishop and farmer; b. 27 April 1834 near St. Jacobs in Waterloo County, Ontario to John and Anna (Weber) Martin. He was the second son and third child in a family of three sons and nine daughters. On 17 March 1857 he married Elizabeth Bauman (1838-1902). Soon after their marriage they took possession of the farm on which Abraham was born and they lived there the rest of their lives. Abraham and Anna had three sons and seven daughters. Abraham died 8 February 1902. Elizabeth died 30 April of the same year.

Little is known of Abraham Martin’s education, although it was certainly limited to the primary schools of the day. He was said to be of “medium height, well proportioned and rather fleshy,” with a “pleasing countenance” and an easy and dignified bearing.

On 1 September 1861 Joseph Hagey ordained Abraham Martin as the minister for the congregations in the Woolwich Township area north of the village of Waterloo. On 17 September 1867 Hagey ordained Martin as the bishop for these congregations—one of three bishops in the Waterloo County Mennonite community.

Abraham Martin can be considered the father of the Old Order Mennonite movement in Ontario. He corresponded frequently with leaders of the earlier conservative movement in the United States, and he took traditional positions on most of the contentious issues. In the 1870s he called a meeting of ministers and deacons at his home to discuss disputed issues within the Mennonite Conference of Ontario. The conservatives indicated that they would drop their objections to protracted evening meetings and English-language preaching only if Sunday schools were not continued in the conference. Their objections to Sunday schools included the following: 1) Sunday schools promoted associations with other churches that were not nonresistant; 2) teaching was often done from books or materials other than the Bible, and 3) Sunday schools usurped the parental role of teaching their children. This effort at reconciliation ceased, and conservative opposition on all these issues continued. Evening meetings and English preaching also encouraged relationships beyond the Mennonite community, and the emerging Old Order group ultimately rejected these innovations as well.

In 1885 preachers Noah Stauffer and Solomon Gehmen held evening meetings in Woolwich Township, the geographic area in which Abraham Martin was bishop. Thirty persons requested baptism because of their experience in the meetings, but Martin refused to give them instruction or to baptize them because of the nature of these meetings. Bishop Elias Weber later baptized the group, but this quickly led to a more formal schism in 1889 when the two factions within the Mennonite Conference of Ontario held separate annual meetings with their ordained leaders.

Despite his conservative theology, Martin was not as rigid as other conservative leaders. In 1885 he decried the “inflexible” discipline of the Stauffer Mennonites in Pennsylvania.

As bishop of the largest group of Old Order Mennonites in Ontario, Abraham Martin had enormous influence on the first years of the group’s development. He was not a flamboyant, charismatic leader, but he represented the theological views of a high percentage of those in congregations for which he was responsible.

— Sam Steiner

John Bear – 19th Century Mennonite Builder and Religious Innovator


John Bear’s tombstone. Photo by Allan Dettweiler.

John Bear was an early settler in Waterloo County, Ontario, being born there in 1804. He was a farmer and a carpenter, and was a significant contractor as a young adult. Later, his sons, John and Benjamin, gained local historical fame for building the West Montrose Covered Bridge.

John was attracted by the new pietistic theology that came to Ontario in the 1830s, and ultimately embraced it fully, becoming an early leader in the Mennonite Brethren in Christ movement.

The GAMEO article on John Bear, recently slightly updated, can be seen with bibliography at,_John_(1804-1894)

John Bear: minister and building contractor; born 15 May 1804 near Preston, Upper Canada to Martin Bear (1774-ca. 1845) and Catharine (Gingrich) Bear (ca. 1783-ca. 1849). He was the oldest child in a family of six sons and seven daughters. On 11 February 1827 he married Anna Pannabecker (23 April 1812-16 February 1875); they had 10 sons and three daughters. John died 24 December 1894. He is buried in the Wanner Mennonite Church cemetery.

By vocation John Bear became a carpenter and builder. One of his projects was the Union Mennonite/Tunker school and meetinghouse of 1829 that predated the Wanner building of 1837. This building was used as a school until 1848. He did much of his construction work between 1823-1835. He also farmed between Preston and Hespeler (both now part of the city of Cambridge).

John Bear was baptized as a member of the Mennonite Church in 1833; on 2 December 1838 he was ordained as a minister by Benjamin Eby particularly for service in the Wanner/Hagey area of the conference. He was widely read, but had only the basic primary education of the day. He was a second generation minister in the conference; his father had been one of the first persons ordained as a minister in the Waterloo region.

When Daniel Hoch challenged Mennonite traditions in the late 1840s, and called for prayer meetings and personal conversion experiences, Bear briefly joined Hoch’s movement, but confessed his divisive behavior and rejoined the conference in 1851. His theological leanings towards a pietistic faith remained, as indicated in a letter to European Mennonites in 1858 in which he lamented that too many Canadian Mennonites were “satisfied with baptism without a change of heart.”

When doctrinal conflicts again arose in the Ontario Conference beginning in 1869, John Bear was asked to lead an party of three ministers to investigate revival activities in Solomon Eby’s congregation at Port Elgin, Ontario. Bear’s group brought back a positive report in early 1870, but a division ultimately could not be averted. Bear then joined the new “Reforming Mennonites“; a group that ultimately became part of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ denomination (later known as the Evangelical Missionary Church). He served as a minister in that denomination until his death. He was ordained as an elder in that denomination on 4 March 1888 by Menno Bowman.

Bear’s departure from the Ontario Mennonite conference was very significant because of his longstanding leadership role in the conference. As leader of the investigation committee to Port Elgin he carried the respect of his fellow ministers, and his loss to the conference was keenly felt.

— Sam Steiner

Ross T. Bender-Amish Mennonite Educator

Ross T. Bender was an Amish Mennonite farm boy from Tavistock, Ontario who went on to become dean at the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries in Elkhart, Indiana and president of Mennonite World Conference.

He felt a inner call to pastoral ministry as a young person, but this was frowned upon by a church that still believed calls to ministry should only come through use of the lot.

Ross Bender came to have a profound impact on the theological training of a generation of Mennonite Church pastors, both in the United States and Canada.

This article was written for GAMEO in 2011. The full article, with bibliography, can be seen at,_Ross_Thomas_(1929-2011).


Ruth and Ross Bender. Herald Press photo courtesy of Mennonite Church USA Archives (Goshen)

Ross Thomas Bender: educator, pastor and seminary dean, was born 25 June 1929 to Christian K. Bender (2 August 1888-20 December 1960) and Katie S. Bender (5 July 1891-8 June 1950) on a farm near Tavistock, Ontario. He was the youngest child in a family of four sons and one daughter. On 22 December 1950 he married Ruth Eileen Steinmann (8 July 1931-13 December 1997); they had two sons and three daughters. Ross Bender died 21 April 2011 in Goshen, Indiana.

Ross grew up in the Cassel Amish Mennonite Church, a branch of the East Zorra Amish Mennonite Church that was established in a former Evangelical Church. He was baptized at Cassel on 10 October 1943 by Bishop Daniel Iutzi. His father, Christian, a leader in the congregation’s Sunday school, valued education and took two years of high school through continuation school at a time when this was very rare among Amish Mennonites, and continued to read widely throughout his life. Ross’s oldest brother, Walter, almost completed high school as an adult, and encouraged his family to give Ross the same opportunity. Ross, who was not inclined towards farming, completed high school and took summer school classes to qualify for elementary school teaching. Over a six year period he taught in three elementary schools in Oxford County, Ontario and took course towards his BA at Toronto Teacher’s College (formerly Toronto Normal School) and the University of Western Ontario. He completed his BA at Goshen College in 1954. Ross had a good singing voice, and was part of a Bender Quartet during these years.

With the encouragement of leaders like Nelson Litwiller, Ross and Ruth Bender decided to pursue seminary studies at Goshen Biblical Seminary, with the vision of mission work in South America. This did not develop, and so in early 1955 Ross accepted a position at Rockway Mennonite School in Kitchener, Ontario to serve as Dean of Students with part-time teaching and student recruitment responsibilities. The position attracted the Benders as Ross hoped to serve on the pastoral team at the Tavistock Mennonite Church which was seeking additional pastoral leadership, and where they had attended after their marriage. Bender completed his requirements for a BD degree in December 1955 and for the MRE degree in March 1956. Bender and a older farmer were nominated at Tavistock for ordination in 1956. When the supervising bishops ruled the other candidate not suitable there was dissension within the congregation and the ordination process was terminated. One issue was the uneasiness of some persons in the congregation about seminary-trained pastors. Unexpectedly the Principal at Rockway resigned in mid-April 1956 and the school’s board asked Ross to take the position of Principal. He accepted and served in that role until 1960. In 1958 Bender was invited to join the Goshen Biblical Seminary faculty after some pastoral experience and additional academic studies. The Mennonite Conference of Ontario requested that he be ordained by his home conference to facilitate his leadership role at Rockway School. The Ontario Amish Mennonite Conference executive agreed to this unusual procedure in early 1958, and he was ordained at the Steinmann Mennonite Church by Bishop Ephraim Gingerich on 28 May 1958 for “ministry-at-large.” The Erb Street Mennonite Church invited him to serve as an Assistant Pastor, which involved occasional preaching and working with the youth; he served in this role until 1960.

With the promise of a seminary position, Ross Bender went to Yale University for graduate studies in 1960. He completed an MA and PhD at Yale in 1962; his dissertation was on “The role of the contemporary family in Christian nurture: a theological perspective.” He began to teach at Goshen Biblical Seminary in 1962. In 1964 Goshen Biblical Seminary and Mennonite Biblical Seminary, already in a cooperative relationship known as Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries, each named him as Dean. In this role he led the “Dean’s Seminar” from 1967-1969. This study project developed a model for theological education in the Free Church tradition, and redesigned seminary training for Mennonite pastors. The fruits of this work shaped the seminaries’ teaching program for a generation. His work at combining the curricula of the two seminaries was key to encouraging the move of the Goshen seminary to the Elkhart campus, as well as the increasingly close relationship of the seminaries. Bender served as Dean of the seminaries until 1979. He also served as Professor of Christian Education until his retirement in 1996, and as director of the Institute of Mennonite Studies beginning in 1991. In 1996 he was named Dean Emeritus of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary.

Ross T. Bender also undertook major assignments for his denomination. From 1961-1971 he served on the Mennonite Commission for Christian Education, serving as its chair beginning in 1963. After the Mennonite Church restructured in 1971, during a two year leave he served (1972-1974) as the first executive secretary for the new Mennonite Board of Congregational Ministries. He was moderator of the Mennonite Church from 1981-1983, and served on its executive board from 1979-1985. He also served as President of Mennonite World Conference from 1984-1990. Through this latter association he participated in a wide variety of ecumenical relationships, including a trip to Russia for the millennium of Christianity in 1988, and co-chairing theological conversations between Mennonite World Conference and the Baptist World Alliance from 1989-1992. During a six year leave from the seminary he also served as pastor of the Glennon Heights Mennonite Church in Colorado (1984-1989).

In all the positions that Ross T. Bender held he was valued for his sensitive leadership and creative thinking. He was also known for his gentle sense of humor, often used in a self-deprecating way. During the last two decades of his life, Ross was less able to participate in church and seminary activities because of the effects of Parkinson’s disease. His interest in the seminary and the church did not waver to the end. Ross and Ruth Bender are buried at the Violett Cemetery in Goshen, Indiana.

— Sam Steiner

Ada Moyer Barker, Early Missionary from Ontario

This week’s GAMEO article tells the story of a Ontario Mennonite missionary to Turkey at the very end of the 19th century. She grew up in the Vineland, Ontario area, and is descended from the earliest settlers. Her great-grandparents, Dilman and Barbara Moyer had arrived in 1799. Her parents, Allen and Dinah Moyer, were among the charter members (in 1881) of what became the Vineland Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church.

I’ve been saddened that most of the early women leaders in the Mennonite Brethren in Christ movement (now Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada) have been virtually forgotten.

This article was written by Clare Fuller, a historian for the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada. See the article, with bibliography, at,_Ada_Moyer_(1875-1982)

Ada (Moyer) Barker was a city mission preacher and missionary of the Canada/Ontario Conference of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church.

Ada Moyer was born 8 August 1875 at Jordan Station, Ontario, Canada to Allen Gehman Moyer (28 April 1848-4 October 1893) and his first wife, Dinah Rittenhouse (23 May 1848-19 May 1883). Ada was the third child (of five), the oldest daughter of at least three girls. She was married in Smyrna, Turkey, to Thomas Ford Barker on 2 June 1901. Ada and Ford had four daughters and one son. One child with deafness was admitted to a school run by Alexander Graham Bell in Maryland, USA.

Ada Moyer’s husband, T. Ford Barker, from New Brunswick, Canada, was born 14 November 1874 at Gibson, York County. His farming family descended from Loyalists. He was the fifth child of at least six (four boys and two girls). His parents were Thomas F. Barker (3 September 1828-26 December 1896) and his first wife Hannah Miles (1838-21 November 1874). The family were Church of England members. Ford was converted at 18 through the Salvation Army in St John, New Brunswick, and became an officer for six years against family opposition before launching out for six months of evangelism on his own. He joined the Mennonite Brethren in Christ at Bright, Ontario, and did two years of evangelistic work before sailing for Turkey in 1901.

On the other hand, Ada Moyer was converted at nine years of age at The Twenty, Ontario, the MBiC charge that became the Vineland MBiC church. She became a member at 16. Feeling God was calling her to missionary work, Ada took assignments with the city mission program of the Canada Conference 1897-1899: at Vineland, the East End Mission (Toronto), and then as a tabernacle (tent) evangelist. Her sister Laura also joined the city mission work in 1898.

Ada Moyer went to Turkey in 1899 to help with orphans surviving the massacres of Armenians of 1894-1895. She joined others in orphanages inherited from the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions. Her work was soon to be organized as the United Orphanage and Missions Board. This independent mission had mainly Mennonite Brethren in Christ personnel. Funding came from Mennonite people in Europe and North America. Ada and a partner, Fredericka Honk, were assigned to the main orphanage at Hadjin and began language learning. Ada’s evangelistic work in other towns and villages were greatly assisted by able Armenian converts such as Esther Haigazion and many young men. In time the mission added career training and arranging marriages to the orphanage work.

Missionaries in Turkey

Summer 1913. Ada Moyer Barker is third from the left in the back row. Her daughter, Evangeline and husband, T. Ford, are beside her. Her children, Ruth and Theo, are the babies in the front row. Photo from website of Ruth Russel on “Hadjin-Missionaries.” See


After two years in the field, Ford Barker was made the superintendent in Turkey, serving until 1914. The family had one extended furlough to Canada in 1908 due to illness. Just after a brutal siege of the Armenian town described by fellow missionary Rose Lambert, they buried one child in Turkey in 1909 shortly after returning. Famine conditions followed, with hundreds starving in the region while Ada and her fellow missionaries did what they could with few resources.

A second orphanage was opened at Everek, Turkey in 1912, and the Barkers transferred to the new city. Unfortunately, just when their mission seemed poised for expansion, the Ottoman Empire declared war on Britain and her allies in October 1914. As most of the missionaries were Canadians (British subjects), they fled, narrowly avoiding detention at the ports.

Back in Canada, Ada and Ford Barker took pastoral appointments with the Ontario Mennonite Brethren in Christ Conference at Collingwood and Clarksburg (1915-1917) and Squire (Kilsyth) (1917-1918). Ford was not well enough for the Barkers to join the Armenian mission in Turkey which re-opened briefly at the end of the war before further massacres of Armenians made refugees of the remnants. Ford and Ada were encouraged to work among Armenians and newcomers in Toronto and Hamilton when they were well enough (1917-1925). In 1925 they announced they were moving to Cleveland, Ohio, to continue the ministry. Ford maintained his credentials with the Ontario Conference, first, to “labor as the Lord may direct,” but retired fully in 1930 with serious health problems. From 1936 to his death on 22 May 1944, the Barkers lived in Fort Bradenton,Florida.

Ada Barker then lived close to her surviving children in Maryland. Her last years were spent at a Presbyterian Home for the elderly in Fairfax, Virginia, where she died in July 1982 at the age of 106. She too is buried at the Manasota Memorial Park, Bradenton, Florida.


— Clare Fuller

George R. Brunk II in Ontario


Brunk Brothers revival in Waterloo, Ontario, 1952. Garfield Schmidt photo; provided by Mennonite Archives of Ontario

George R. Brunk II, a conservative Mennonite leader from Virginia, visited Ontario with his tent revival crusades on numerous occasions, beginning in 1952. Many Mennonite seniors from the Region of Waterloo may have memories of some of these meetings.

In 1959 Brunk assisted in creating a division in the Mennonite Conference of Ontario when he encouraged a minority group of pastors and bishops in forming the Conservative Mennonite Church of Ontario. There is more detail in my book, In Search of Promised Lands.

On a happier note, George R. Brunk’s youngest son, Conrad, established the Peace Studies program at Conrad Grebel College in the late 1970s.

See the article on George Rowland Brunk, with bibliography, at,_George_Rowland_(1911-2002)


George R. Brunk II family outside their trailer at the Brunk Brothers Revival Campaign in Waterloo, Ontario, July 1952. Back (L-R): George R. Brunk II, Margaret Brunk; Middle: George R. III, Paul, Gerald; Front: Conrad, Barbara. David Hunsberger photo, Mennonite Archives of Ontario

George Rowland Brunk (George R. Brunk II): evangelist, seminary teacher, pastor and administrator, was born 18 November 1911 in Denbigh, Virginia, USA to George Reuben Brunk (31 December 1871-30 April 1938) and Catherine “Katie” E. Wenger Brunk (25 March 1875-7 October 1957). He was the sixth child, and third son, in a family of nine children. On 30 September 1933 he married Margaret Grace Suter (12 March 1911-5 January 1999); they had four sons and one daughter—Gerald, George R. III, Paul, Conrad and Barbara. After Margaret’s death, on 12 May 2001 George married Rhoda Weber Neer (20 January 1929- ). George R. Brunk II died 21 April 2002 in Harrisonburg, Virginia. George and Margaret are buried at the Weavers Mennonite Church Cemetery near Harrisonburg.


George R. Brunk II graduated from the Denbigh High School, and worked on the family fruit farm. On 22 July 1934 George R. Brunk II was ordained by lot to the ministry of the Warwick River Mennonite Church. As Mennonite ministers were not paid, he supported himself with a peach and apple farm. Brunk found preaching to be difficult until he had an experience of the filling of the Holy Spirit in 1939. In 1942 he founded the Warwick River Christian School.

After becoming a minister, George R. Brunk began to pursue higher education. He earned a ThB from Eastern Mennonite College, a BA from the College of William and Mary, and a BD, ThM and ThD (1967) from the Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. His ThD dissertation was on “Some changing concepts in twentieth century evangelism and missiology.”

Brunk taught at Eastern Mennonite College from 1949-1978, as well as Eastern Mennonite Seminary, where he served as Dean from 1967-1976.

Beginning in 1951, George R. Brunk II became involved in tent revival crusades, initially in conjunction with his brother, Lawrence. Known as the Brunk Brothers Revival Campaign, he led evangelistic crusades in many of the major Mennonite centers in North America for 30 years. He is said to have participated in over 100 crusades, 25 of them in Canada. The first crusade in 1951 was held in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and lasted seven weeks. The crusades were a dramatic change from traditional Mennonite experience, and George’s oratorical skills, showmanship and plain-speaking preaching style influenced many to make life-changing decisions.

The role of Margaret Brunk was crucial, especially during the tent-revival years, as she managed the home life and raising of children as George was gone for extended trips, or while the whole family was part of tent crusade trips during the summers. She was a humble, self-effacing woman who was steadfast in support of her family.

George R. Brunk II’s theological perspective was reflected in the Sword and Trumpet, a periodical founded by his father. He was associate editor of the periodical from 1943-1989; he then became editor, serving until 2001.

In 1984 as George became increasingly concerned about doctrinal issues within the Mennonite Church (MC), including theological liberalism he believed to be taught in Mennonite post-secondary schools, as well as evolving understandings of biblical nonresistance, and women in leadership, George R. Brunk II, together with J. Otis Yoder and Sanford Shetler founded the Fellowship of Concerned Mennonites.

Brunk withdrew from the Mennonite Church (MC) and the Virginia Mennonite Conference in 1988 when that conference allowed the ordination of women. In 1990 he formed the independent Calvary Mennonite Fellowship in Harrisonburg, which he pastored until 1998. In his last years he was recognized as a minister in the Biblical Mennonite Alliance.

George R. Brunk II has an enormous impact on the Mennonite Church, especially during the most active years of his tent revival ministry. His later years were more controversial when he publicly charged specific Mennonite colleges and seminaries and specific individuals with faulty theological teaching. Although he was blunt in his criticism, he was loyal to his family, including his sister, Ruth Brunk Stoltzfus, who became an ordained minister.

Joe Lapp, a president of Eastern Mennonite University said of Brunk on his 90th birthday, “There have been occasions when his sense of clarity on some things challenged me. Yet, Brother George’s sincere desire for the church to be faithful to the living Word and the word written, caused me to listen and to take note of his concerns.”

— Sam Steiner, August 2016

Ontario Mennonites in GAMEO

I’ve taken quite a hiatus from posting on this blog — since spring, in fact. Much of my time has been involved with the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO).

For the next number of posts I thought I would include recently uploaded articles that are linked to Ontario Mennonites. Some of these will have been written by myself; I’ll also include articles by other authors.

Today I’ll start with Gerry Vandeworp, long associated with the House of Friendship in Kitchener, Ontario. The article was written by Ferne Burkhardt. The article, with bibliography, can be found at Vandeworp, Gerrit “Gerry” Jan (1936-2014)


Gerry Vandeworp. Family Photo

Gerrit “Gerry” Jan Vandeworp was an outsider who became known and loved among Mennonites as a pastor and within the community as an advocate and friend of poor and marginalized people. Gerry, one of eight children, was born on 15 May 1936 to Evert (20 December 1908–12 May 1959) and Antje (Roessink) Vandeworp (25 February 1915–10 July 1995) in Heino, Overijsel, The Netherlands. He came to Canadawith his Dutch Reformed immigrant family on the Vollendam in April 1951, settling in Exeter, Ontario. He married Sandra Finkbeiner of Exeter, daughter of Alvin (1909-1967) and Marguerite Amy Finkbeiner (1916-2009) on 12 July 1963. They had a son, two daughters (one died in infancy) and four grandchildren. Gerry Vandeworp died at Queensway Nursing Home on 17 April 2014 in Hensall, Ontario. His funeral was held on 22 April 2014 at the Haskett Funeral Home in Exeter. He is buried in the Crediton Cemetery in southern Huron County, Ontario.

In The Netherlands as was the custom in his church, Gerry was baptized as an infant. After studying New Testament Scriptures as an older teenager, Gerry chose to be re-baptized, a dramatic experience which he said had a great impact on his spiritual journey and truly made him an “Anabaptist.”

Gerry sensed a call to ministry and after coming to Canada studied at Briercrest Bible Institute in Caronport, Saskatchewan, graduating in April 1961. For two summers he helped at a rescue mission in London, Ontario and then at Daily Vacation Bible School at Exeter Mennonite Church where Stan Sauder was pastor. Stan was also a member of the Kitchener House of Friendship board, and suggested that the board consider Gerry for the position. Despite having limited education and no social work training or experience, Gerry received a call from Bishop C.F. Derstine of First Mennonite, chair of the House of Friendship Board, who interviewed and hired him on the same day. “It happened so fast I didn’t have time to think,” said Gerry. He moved from Exeter and began as executive director on 1 October 1961, keeping the job until 1978. The Mennonite Conference of Ontario recognized his work at House of Friendship as ministry and ordained him at First Mennonite Church on 2 December 1973.

Within the first decade as executive director of House of Friendship, Gerry moved the agency, which was strongly supported by Mennonites but also other denominations and city officials, from a mission of primarily evangelizing alcoholic vagrants who came to the hostel for food and a bed, to a broader social vision. He worked hard at advocating for the poor and building relationships, winning respect and trust from clients, neighbors, staff and a growing support base. Under his leadership, House of Friendship added several buildings to accommodate its expanding services, including delivery of food hampers to hungry families. The budget multiplied by more than 100 percent. No doubt his greatest achievement at House of Friendship was launching a recovery home for alcoholic men and a three-quarter house for its graduates to prepare them to re-enter the community.

While in Kitchener, Gerry also was a Federated Appeal Board member, served on the Social Planning Council, the Kitchener-Waterloo Council of Churches, Regional Development Council, Alcohol Recovery Homes Association of Ontario (president in 1977) and the Rotary Club.

After 17 years as executive director of House of Friendship, Gerry recognized the need for a new direction and new leadership. Having laid aside his sense of call to pastoral ministry for two decades, he picked up that mantel, serving as pastor at Bethel Mennonite Church, Elora, Ontario (1978–1983) and Stoner Heights Mennonite Church,Louisville, Ohio (1985–2000). He returned to Ontario where he served interim pastorates in London, Nairn and Preston (2000–2002) before retiring to Exeter, Ontario.

Alongside pastoral ministry, Gerry conducted worship services in nursing homes, served on the Northern District Mennonite Ministerial, the Inter-Mennonite Board of Congregational Resources, Project Teach and as a camp ambassador, all in Ontario. In the Ohio Mennonite Conference, he served as an overseer, on the Leadership Commission and as the first Mennonite/Brethren fund raiser for Habitat for Humanity in Canton, Ohio.

Another of Gerry’s remarkable gifts to the community was donating more than 50 pints of blood through the Red Cross over many years, a direct response to seeing his two-year-old brother die of leukemia. This quiet, unrecognized action was a contrast to his very public work on many fronts, far beyond anything he imagined as a 20-something Vacation Bible School helper, a legacy which continues to live on.

Ferne Burkhardt, posted June 2016

I welcome your comments.

1816 – The Year with no Summer

At a recent meeting of the Mennonite Historical Society of Ontario’s board, Laureen Harder-Gissing, the archivist at the Mennonite Archives of Ontario, reminded us that 2016 was the 200th anniversary of the “Year with no Summer.” It was a good reminder.

Mount Tambora

Aerial view of the caldera of Mt Tambora at the island of Sumbawa, Indonesia, formed during the colossal 1815 eruption. Photo by Jialiang Gao ( (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia tells us that the unusual weather patterns in 1816 resulted from “severe climate abnormalities that caused average global temperatures to decrease by 0.4–0.7 °C (0.7–1.3 °F). This resulted in major food shortages across the Northern Hemisphere.” The article goes on to say that “evidence suggests that the anomaly was predominantly a volcanic winter event caused by the massive 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia.”

The Mennonite settlement in what became the Region of Waterloo was still very small.  “Block 2,” which had been purchased by Lancaster Country, Pennsylvania, Mennonites from land developer Richard Beasley, became identified as Waterloo Township in 1816, in honor of the British victory over Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo in June, 1815. By some estimates there were less than 60 people living in the township at the time.

Ezra E. Eby

Ezra E. Eby (1850-1901). Source: Waterloo Region Generations

On the bottom of page 45 of Ezra Eby’s Biographical History of Waterloo Township there begins a detailed account of the township in 1816:

The summer of 1816 was what is called the “Cold Summer.” There was frost every month and in June and July there were seven heavy frosts. On the 1st of June it was frozen so hard that men and wagons could cross the mud-puddles on the newly formed ice without breaking through. On the 21st of June quite a lot of snow fell. All kinds of provisions were exceedingly scarce. Wheat was from two to three dollars per bushel. The only hay that the farmers could secure was made from the wild coarse grass which they cut on the banks of the river, in marshes or beaver meadows. Food for both man and beast was at starvation prices. The hardships these early settlers had to endure during this cold and inclement year, are almost indescribable.

In this year Joseph Bowman and family of twelve children, Dilman Ziegler and family, Samuel Eby and family, Joseph Clemmer and wife, who settled to the west of J.Y. Shantz’s sawmill dam, John Brubacher and his mother, and Henry Weber came from Pennsylvania to Canada. The Bowmans had 2 four-horse teams and 1 two-horse team. The Zieglers had 1 four-horse team. Joseph Shantz and his mother, old Barbara Shantz, returned to Canada with this company. They were to Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, on a visit. In all there were thirty-three individuals in the company, and the number of horses brought with them was twenty-eight.

1816 was also the year that Abraham Erb, founder of the city of Waterloo, built a grist mill to accompany his saw mill.

The corduroy  road that has been discovered under King Street in Waterloo during the construction of the Light Rail Transit system in Kitchener-Waterloo, likely was built prior to this time. But it reminds us we’re not that far removed from the settlers who transformed this land purchased from the Crown supposedly on behalf of the Six Nations.

To learn more about early life in Waterloo Region, read In Search of Promised Lands.