Daniel Hoch, Cautious Innovator

Daniel Hoch was a religious innovator, who worked hard to maintain a core of Mennonite faith and tradition in the New Mennonite movement he helped to launch in the late 1840s as a defense against more radical movements.

Daniel and Margaret Hoch

Daniel and Margaret Hoch, 1870s. Mennonite Archives of Ontario photo

Daniel Hoch was born in 1805 in Lincoln County, Ontario, in the middle of a family of six children. His parents had come to Canada in 1800 as part of the emerging Mennonite settlement at The Twenty (Vineland area).

His growing up years were not distinguished. He attended grade school, and was a farmer all his life. When he was 21 he married Margaret Kratz, the 18 year old daughter of one of the settlement’s ministers.

At age 26 (in 1831) he was chosen by lot to be a minister, after the early death of the bishop’s son, who was also a minister by that time.

Within a couple of years, the religious tranquility of the community was tested when the pietistic Evangelical Association (now part of the United Church of Canada) sent missionaries to the Niagara Peninsula to seek converts among German-speaking people who had not had a crisis conversion experience. This included most Mennonites.

Daniel was influenced by this movement, and ultimately had his own sense of conversion. He welcomed innovations like Sunday school, and encouraged practices like family worship, oral prayers before meals, and the holding of prayer meetings.

The ordained leaders at The Twenty were divided on these issues. The bishop, Jacob Gross, wanted to go even further, using highly emotional services to pressure potential converts. Hoch was not prepared to go that far, and took a more restrained view. However, the two other ministers at The Twenty wanted none of the innovations.

Finally in 1849 Daniel Hoch, Bishop Gross, and a deacon who agreed with Gross’s more flamboyant views, were “silenced” as ministers by the senior bishop from Waterloo, Benjamin Eby. Jacob Gross and the deacon led a third of the congregation to join the Evangelical Association.

Daniel Hoch led another third to form a “New Mennonite” congregation that consciously retained adherence to major points of Mennonite faith, including nonresistance, non-swearing of oaths, etc. The remaining third stayed with the Mennonite Church of Canada.

For the next 20 years he worked with other Mennonite renewal groups in Ontario, Pennsylvania and Ohio to seek unity on core values, with greater flexibility on things like dress and association with other evangelical Christian bodies.

Unfortunately, Daniel Hoch, although devoutly Mennonite, had a somewhat blunt, abrasive personality. He spurned numerous efforts to reconcile his “New Mennonites” with the Mennonite Church of Canada. His movement withered, and he died alone. His funeral was handled by a minister of the Evangelical Association, and the remaining New Mennonites eventually joined the movement that became the Mennonite Brethren in Christ (now Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada).

Not many years after Hoch’s death, the Mennonite Church of Canada came to theological positions that mirrored what Daniel Hoch had desired in 1849.

To learn more about Daniel Hoch and the New Mennonites, read In Search of Promised Lands.


One thought on “Daniel Hoch, Cautious Innovator

  1. Pingback: Valentine Kratz–First Mennonite Minister in Canada | In Search of Promised Lands

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