A Brief History of Shalom Counselling Services (Ontario)

I recently wrote a short biographical article on Delphine Martin for the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO). She was the first executive director of the Waterloo office of Shalom Counselling  in Ontario. This led me to explore a bit more the history of this inter-Mennonite counselling enterprise.

Bill Dick

William W. “Bill” Dick.

Two men gave leadership to the emergence of Shalom Counselling. One was William W.  (“Bill”) Dick (1926-2002), who had served as a pastor at the Ottawa Mennonite Church and the Toronto United Mennonite Church, and then served for many years as the Director of Counselling Services at the University of Waterloo.

The second was Ralph Lebold, pastor, conference minister, and in the early 1980s the President of Conrad Grebel College. As a young pastor in the early 1960s, a young Mennonite man who had boarded in his home committed suicide. Lebold felt his training from seminary did not adequately prepare him to deal with this crisis. He went on to do  graduate studies at Crozer Theological Seminary in pastoral counselling.

In 1981 these two men gathered a group of 13 persons to discuss the possibility of establishing counselling centers across Ontario under an inter-Mennonite sponsorship. Mennonite Central Committee Ontario, at its annual meeting in late 1981, agreed to be the sponsor. Bill Dick agreed to serve as the first board chair. Counselling centers were envisioned for the Niagara area, the Region of Waterloo, Toronto, the Aylmer area and Essex County. Ralph Lebold also  served on the Ontario board for many years.

The pilot project was established in St. Catharines, Ontario in November 1982. Rudy Bartel, pastor of the Virgil Mennonite Brethren Church, chaired the local board. A part time receptionist dealt with requests, and matched callers to Mennonite or Brethren in Christ counselors suited to their needs. Funding came from the local region.

Delphine Martin

Delphine Martin, 1978. Courtesy Mennonite Archives of Ontario.

The second center to open was in Waterloo, Ontario in the facilities of the Erb Street Mennonite Church in December 1983. Delpine Martin, who had  an MA in Psychology and Counselling certification in Marriage and Family Therapy, served as the first Executive Director. As the office expanded, she became the clinical director in 1989 when Glenn Brubacher became the half-time  Executive Director. He was followed in 1997 by Wanda Wagler Martin.

The third, and last, office, in Windsor/Leamington, did not open until 1993. Marian Wiens established this office, and served as director until she and her husband, Erwin, accepted an assignment with Mennonite Church Canada Witness in South Korea in 2002.

In 1993 Shalom Counselling Services left the Mennonite Central Committee Ontario structure and incorporated as a non-profit charity.

Each of the centers related to a local board under the auspices of an Ontario board. Initially the St. Catharines center provided counselling services that included marriage and family issues, financial management, career changes and conflict resolution. That location did not initially place emphasis on specific credentials for counselors, and indeed some early counselors were volunteers.  At all the centers this changed over the years, and credentialed counselors became essential when efforts were made to obtain some government funding. With qualified counselors, services included emotional and mental health issues.

Shalom did not see itself as supplanting the counseling provided by pastors to their congregants, but rather as supplying additional resources over a longer term than was realistic in a pastoral context.

All the centers tried to provide services even to clients who could not afford regular fees. This made fund-raising an important part of their organizational life. This was often done through breakfasts or dinners with well-known speakers.

The Niagara and Windsor/Leamington centers did not survive over the long term. For various reasons the office in St. Catharines closed in 1996, and the Leamington office closed in 2009.

The Waterloo center has continued to thrive. In 2002 it moved out of the Erb Street Mennonite Church building to a stand-alone house also owned by the church. In 2015 an addition costing over $1,000,000 was built for the staff of ten persons, plus three evening receptionists. Its 2014 operating budget was just under $500,000.  The top three reasons for clients seeking counseling were 1) Mental health concerns (depression, anxiety, etc.) 30%; 2) Relationship challenges 22% and 3) Family and parenting concerns 13%.

The closing of the Leamington office led to a restructuring of the Shalom organization. The former Ontario-wide board was disbanded, and the Waterloo Regional Board became the board of directors for Shalom Counselling Services, now based only in the Region of Waterloo.

The mission of Shalom Counselling Services as stated in 2016 is “Helping People Grow Toward Peace and Wholeness” through the provision of therapeutic counselling, consultation, and educational programs that integrate emotional, relational and spiritual dimensions. It regards itself as a faith-based agency that respects the diversity of persons, backgrounds and beliefs within our community. Professional staff are Christians who are accredited with a minimum of a master’s level counselling education.

For more information visit the Shalom Counselling Services website.

Information for this article have come from issues of Shalom’s  newsletter, Seedlings, and from various issues of the Gospel Herald and Mennonite Brethren Herald. I hope to do further research into MCC Ontario annual reports.

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