Ontario Mennonites and British Royalty

Since today is Victoria Day, I thought it would be interesting to reflect on various ways Mennonites have thought about, and related to, the British crown. There are not a lot of accounts, though I must confess it is also not something I’ve spent time researching. So below are some random thoughts.

We discussed earlier whether the first Mennonite settlers in Canada came because they favored the British monarchy to revolutionary democracy. I believe that wasn’t the primary motivation, though they were comfortable living under the presumed stability of a constitutional monarchy.

King George IV

Lithograph of George IV in profile, by George Atkinson, printed by C. Hullmandel, 1821. Wikipedia Commons.

Christian Nafziger, an Amishman from Bavaria, came to Canada in 1822 looking for land for some of his Amish compatriots. He sought assurance from local officials that land would be granted if the Amish came to Upper Canada. The response he heard in Niagara-on-the-Lake from the Lieutenant Governor was a bit equivocating, so on his return to Europe he stopped in England and sought and received assurances from “His Royal Highness.” Scholars now think this was not King George IV, but rather the King”s younger brother, the Duke of York.

When Mennonite immigrants have come to Canada, to obtain citizenship they have had to pledge allegiance to the British monarchy. They have done so unhesitatingly, though they always maintained concern about their rights and privileges as conscientious objectors.

George VI during 1939 royal tour

George VI and Elizabeth touring Queen’s Park in Toronto, 1939. Wikipedia Commons.

On June 6, 1939 the Mennonite Conference of Ontario delayed the beginning of its annual conference meeting from morning until mid-afternoon, so that delegates could join the welcome to King George VI in Kitchener. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth stopped briefly at the Kitchener train station during their royal tour of Canada in May-June, 1939. Later in their conference sessions, the delegates (all ordained bishops, ministers and deacons) sent a letter to Prime Minister Mackenzie King, saying “on the event of their visit to Kitchener, we joined in the general welcome to their MAJESTIES, to their Dominion of Canada.” The letter conveyed the conference’s “most hearty and dutiful appreciation” for their  visit. It noted that Kitchener had once been known as Ebytown, after Bishop Benjamin Eby, the first Mennonite bishop in Waterloo County.  It went to say, “We appreciate the expression of Christian faith and practical Christian spirit of THEIR MAJESTIES. We admire the exemplary and practical home life of our GRACIOUS SOVEREIGNS, and pray that God may ever bless them and all those who are dear to them.” It closed by expressing appreciation for the religious liberty available to Mennonites in Canada. The letter was signed by moderator Curtis Cressman and secretary Gilbert Bergey.

Queen Elizabeth II

Elizabeth II during a walkabout in Queen’s Park, Toronto, 6 July 2010. Wikipedia Commons

In times of war, Ontario Mennonites have prayed for the monarchy, as most Mennonites do for their government in difficult times. Respect for authority means that Old Order Mennonite schools today will have a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II hanging in their classrooms.

And then of course, there is the story of Ontario Mennonite native, John Rempel, who served as chaplain at Conrad Grebel College, Mennonite representative to the United Nations, and faculty member at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary and currently heads the Toronto Mennonite Theological Centre. On a trip to England he had occasion to be introduced to the Queen. He told the Queen that he was a Mennonite from Canada. It’s said that the Queen turned to an aide and asked, “Do we have any of those here?”

Perhaps you have your own story of Mennonites and British royalty. Comment by clicking on the button above.



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