Rufus Jutzi, the unlikely Pastor

Recently I wrote a short biographical article on Rufus Jutzi (1915-2011) for the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO). I knew Rufus very casually in his later years when he was filling some interim pastoral roles.

My look at his early life revealed a man who would not have been expected to rise to leadership roles at a time when pastors were beginning to obtain seminary degrees before entering pastoral ministry.

Rufus can only be described as having been born into a poor family in Wilmot Township, Waterloo County, Ontario. His parents lived on a farm with his grandparents until he was nine years old. After renting grandfather’s farm for two years, Simeon and Leah Jutzi purchased their own farm in 1926. As the oldest child, Rufus graduated from grade 8 at age 13, and passed the exams to qualify for high school, but he was needed on the farm, and had no further education until he became a minister. His father did instill in Rufus a love for reading.

The declining economic environment and  the poor health of Leah Jutzi forced the family to sell its farm in 1932. Rufus began to work out on other farms in the neighborhood, partly to help pay family debts. After he turned 21, Rufus began to work in factories in the city of Kitchener. His first job was with the Gypsum Lime and Alabastine Glue Company in Kitchener. He was working in the Murawsky Furniture Factory when he was called to service during World War II. He elected alternative service, and served for 19 months in British Columbia.

Near the end of this service, in October 1943, he married Ruth Good, who had grown up in the Evangelical Church. Rufus had often attended a nearby Evangelical Church Sunday school when growing up, so their views were compatible. During their four years of dating, they often attended First Mennonite Church in Kitchener in order to hear Clayton F. Derstine, the flamboyant bishop of that church.

After marriage Rufus worked on a poultry farm for two years to complete his Alternative Service obligation, then returned to the furniture factory.  He wanted something better, and in 1947 took a job with Shirk and Snider, Ltd. in Bridgeport.  They soon asked him to transfer to Elmira to work at Klinck Company, Ltd., a farm equipment firm owned by Shirk and Snider. There Rufus sold and serviced farm equipment. This provided some business experience, which would prove helpful.

Rufus and Ruth purchased a home in Elmira, but post-war restrictions kept them from evicting the tenants living there. So in 1947 they rented a farm house next to the Floradale Mennonite Church  and lived there two years, before moving to Elmira. However this was long enough to build a strong link to the Floradale congregation.

Between March 1950 and January 1951 both the deacon, Henry Bauman, and the pastor, Reuben Dettwiler, passed away unexpectedly. After Dettwiler’s death, Rufus suddenly had an inkling that he would become a minister.

As was still customary, the lot (see GAMEO for a description) was held in March 1951 to select a deacon. Only two men were in the lot — Rufus Jutzi and Ivan Gingrich. Ivan was selected as deacon. Three weeks later, on April 1, the congregation ordained Rufus to be the minister, without using the lot.

Rufus recognized his limited education, so enrolled in the Ontario Mennonite Bible Institute and was part of its first graduating class in 1954. The Institute was more advanced training offered at First Mennonite Church in conjunction with the Ontario Mennonite Bible School which I described earlier.

Preston Church Council

Preston Mennonite Church Council, 1967. L-r: Rev. Rufus Jutzi, Mearl Steckley, Ralph Shantz, Orval Shantz, Gerald Steinman, Stewart Witmer, Donald Buschert, Milo Shantz, David Bechtel. David Hunsberger photo. Mennonite Archives of Ontario

Rufus and Ruth Jutzi remained at Floradale for 13 years, and then served at Preston Mennonite Church for a further 10 years. Following that, Rufus became the first staff person hired by the new Mennonite Foundation of Canada. He was the Ontario regional director for two years, and then national director for another five years. After “retiring”  in 1981 he continued in a series of interim pastoral leadership assignments.

Rufus Jutzi was short of stature, exuding  a high level of energy that frequently resulted in him taking on leadership roles both in the local Mennonite Conference of Ontario and in the larger Mennonite Church. In the eulogy at his father’s funeral, son David said Rufus was the “go to guy.”  He had the answer to any question, and was not afraid to take a position on a controversial topic. However he was happy to raise children who were able to develop their own strong opinions.

Rufus Jutzi might not have become a pastor in a more urban setting where churches were beginning to hire preachers with training, and no longer used the lot to select an untrained leader from within the congregation.

Most of this information derives from Rufus Jutzi’s short unpublished memoir, and from David Jutzi’s eulogy at Rufus Jutzi’s funeral.

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