The Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference in Ontario

The Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference descended from the immigration of Mennonites from Russia to Manitoba in the 1870s, These immigrants had been assisted by Ontario Mennonites on their arrival, but there had been little contact since that time.

This specific group resulted from a division within the Sommerfelder Mennonite Church in 1937. The Sommerfeld Mennonites had themselves begun in 1890 as the result of a division within the Bergthal Mennonite Church, one of the large groups in the 1870s migration. A minority of the Bergthal Mennonites accepted English education in their schools, and had interest in higher education and foreign missions. They accepted evangelical theology. The more conservative majority resisted these changes and were named after the village, Sommerfeld, in which their bishop lived.

Rosenbach_Rudnerweide_Church_1942_2

An early Rudnerweider Mennonite Church (Rosenbach, Manitoba) from 1942. GAMEO photo.

By  1937 a portion of the Sommerfeld group was also attracted to evangelical theology, Bible schools, and mission outreach. When they were still German-speaking, they called themselves the Rudnerweider Mennonite Church. They were exclusively located in Southern Manitoba

In 1959 they changed their name to  the Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference (EMMC). In the 1950s this group was in the midst of a shift from German to English, and its members were gradually moving from Manitoba’s rural areas into towns. In the 1940s they had dealt with various internal theological controversies ranging from Pentecostalism to universalism. They developed into a mainline evangelical denomination.

The EMMC had a shared history with Old Colony Mennonites who had lived in southern Manitoba from the 1870s to the 1920s when the Old Colony had left for Mexico.

The EMMC became interested in reaching out to Old Colony Mennonites returning to Canada beginning in the 1950s because of their desire to see the Old Colony accept the same evangelical salvation understanding they had embraced. EMMC missionaries had served in Mexico under the General Conference Mennonite Church in the 1960s.

Already in 1958 John G. Froese of Manitoba, the EMMC Reiseprediger (traveling minister) serving isolated Mennonites descended from the 1870s immigration, held evangelistic services in the Vineland area and encouraged the EMMC to send a permanent worker to Ontario.

EMMC Church, Aylmer

The Evangelical Mennonite Mission Church at Summers Corners near Aylmer, ca. 2003. The church was built in 1966. The initial building was the lower portion on the right and about 2/3 the length. The back 1/3 was added in 1968. The main sanctuary and the canopy at the front were added 1979-80. Photo courtesy Abe Harms.

In 1965, the Low German radio program The Gospel Message, began to be broadcast on a Tillsonburg (Ontario) station. John D. Friesen, the radio preacher, visited the Aylmer area in early 1965, leading meetings in homes. That summer he returned with his brother, David D. Friesen, and held services in an old United Church building. David and Helen Friesen returned to Ontario in December 1965 to provide leadership to a new EMMC congregation that had emerged from the earlier meetings. The congregation erected a new building in the summer of 1966 at Sommer’s Corners, a little east of Aylmer. Within five years it expanded to seat up to three hundred persons.

By 1970 three other EMMC congregations started in southern Ontario. Other new churches were established in the 1980s as the Low German Mennonite immigration to Ontario continued.

Abe Harms and Eva Reimer

Abe Harms and Eva Reimer at the Aylmer Bible School in 1989. Abe was the long time principal of the school. Photo courtesy Abe Harms.

The EMMC began a Bible School in January 1976 in a former United Church building at Summers Corners under the leadership of EMMC conference minister Ben W. Sawatsky. Sawatsky taught Bible courses while local leaders taught English as a second language and other courses. Daytime courses were mostly in English, while evening courses were in German. Thirty-five students were registered that first term. After the first year it formally took the name Aylmer Bible School.

By 1993 financial difficulties threatened the school as the student population had dropped. Immigrant children who grew up in Canada now completed high school and attended more conventional Bible colleges or public universities. By summer 1997 the EMMC annual conference decided to close the school in spring 1998.

By 2015 three EMMC congregations remained in Ontario — in Aylmer, Leamington and the Chatham area. Although not a large group, they had a significant impact on Ontario Mennonites, especially during the era of the Aylmer Bible School.

To learn more about the Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference in Ontario read In Search of Promised Lands.

One thought on “The Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference in Ontario

  1. Pingback: The Evangelical Mennonite Conference comes to Ontario | In Search of Promised Lands

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