Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO)

Last Friday and Saturday the Management Board for the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online met in Goshen, Indiana. Some significant decisions were made, but I’ll wait to comment on them until after a press release is distributed. Rather, I thought I’d reproduce a blog article on GAMEO I first published in January 2016, since GAMEO has significant roots in Ontario.

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Mennonite Encyclopedia celebration

Celebration of the Mennonite Encyclopedia, 4th Volume, August 11, 1959: Left to right: Cornelius Krahn, Harold S. Bender, Melvin Gingerich.
Source: H.S. Bender Photographs. HM4-083. Mennonite Church USA Archives – Goshen. Goshen, Indiana.

GAMEO (pronounced găm-e-o) descends from two earlier projects. The first is well-known–the five-volume Mennonite Encyclopedia that was published from 1955 to 1959, with a supplementary fifth volume in 1990. It began as the brainchild of Prof. C. Henry Smith, who suggested in 1945 that an inter-Mennonite group of American Mennonite scholars translate and expand the earlier volumes of the Mennonitisches Lexikon published by European Mennonites. Even though Smith died in 1948, Harold Bender and Cornelius Krahn brought the vision to fruition. Cornelius J. Dyck and Dennis Martin brought the supplemental volume to completion in 1990.

The second project related to the three-volume Mennonites in Canada history series sponsored by the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada (MHSC) from 1968 to 1996.

Marlene Epp

Marlene Epp in 2015. Courtesy Conrad Grebel University College.

In the mid-1980s, Marlene Epp, presently a Professor of History at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, was a research associate for her father, Frank H. Epp. He was then preparing to write a third volume in the series. Both Frank and Marlene were based at Conrad Grebel.

Frank Epp died in early 1986 while awaiting a heart transplant. This suspended the writing project until Ted D. Regehr of the University of Saskatchewan was identified as the author for the third volume. Marlene Epp continued as research associate for the project, and spent much of her time developing databases of information on Canadian Mennonites — on congregations, institutions, conferences, businesses, periodicals and biographies. By far the largest of these databases was the one on congregations. It included basic information on 1200 Canadian Mennonite congregations, some of which no longer existed.

In 1987 the MHSC created a database committee to consider how best to utilize this wealth of material. The committee members were archivists at three Mennonite historical centers in Canada (Bert Friesen, chair; Sam Steiner, Lawrence Klippenstein, Ken Reddig) plus Ted Regehr, the vol. 3 author and Marlene Epp. Already in early 1988 Marlene Epp mentioned the possibility of a Canadian Mennonite Encyclopedia.

Since the World Wide Web was not yet available, discussion within the committee focused primarily on how to make this electronic data available at the various Mennonite historical research centers in Canada.

Finally in 1995 the MHSC authorized a committee to study the feasibility of loading the database onto the Web. In 1996, with the assistance of the University of Waterloo Library, Sam Steiner, then the librarian-archivist at Conrad Grebel College,  loaded a prototype Canadian Mennonite Encyclopedia utilizing the congregational database onto an MHSC website hosted by the university library. At the end of 1996 it contained 550 brief congregational articles.

In March 1998, MHSC obtained permission from Herald Press (Scottdale, Pennsylvania) and the Institute of Mennonite Studies (Elkhart, Indiana) to digitize the print Mennonite Encyclopedia. The project also received a significant Canadian government grant that year to facilitate the work. In the initial year Sam Steiner selected Canadian-related articles from the print encyclopedia for copying and adding to the website. Because of his technical work on the website, Steiner became identified as the managing editor.

Finally, in 2004 it occurred to the encyclopedia’s editorial board (still composed of representatives from various Canadian Mennonite archives) that this could become a larger project that was worldwide in scope.

In 2005 the name changed to Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Volunteers from Mennonite archives throughout North America began to scan and proofread sections of the print Encyclopedia. They forwarded the articles to Waterloo for loading onto the site, hosted after 1998 on Conrad Grebel College’s own server. By the end of 2005 there were 2,700 articles on GAMEO. In 2008 web hosting moved from the College to Peaceworks Computer Consulting (now Peaceworks Technology Solutions), a firm that has provided software support to GAMEO from the late 1990s.

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GAMEO Management Board meeting, May 2017. L-R: Sam Steiner, Jason Kauffman, Jon Isaak, Richard Thiessen, Eric Kurtz, John D. Roth, Bert Friesen

In 2005 two partners — the Mennonite Brethren Historical Commission and the Mennonite Church USA Historical Committee — joined the project. Mennonite Central Committee joined the partnership in early 2006, Mennonite World Conference joined in January 2007 and the Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism (Goshen, Indiana) in October 2011.

GAMEO was invaluable in the research for In Search of Promised Lands. Visit GAMEO if you have not already done so.

The Diversity of Mennonites in Ontario

In my presentations on May 5 and 8 to the “Annual Networking Conference for Service Providers to Low German Speaking Families” in Leamington and Aylmer, Ontario. I talked about the diversity of Mennonites in Ontario. I said there were over 30 different Mennonite groups in Ontario, and tried to explain it in 25 minutes.

David Martin Mennonites working the fields

David Martin Mennonites working the fields. Photo by Mark Burr

Since the audience was half or more non-Mennonite, I first gave a little historical background, and talked about four Mennonite characteristics upon which almost all Mennonites in Ontario agree: 1) Adult baptism; 2) Rejection of participating in war; 3) Refusing to swear oaths; and 4) A call to live a Christian life consistent with the teachings of Jesus that sometimes means a simpler lifestyle. The last characteristic has led some groups to embrace visible symbols of separation from the world in dress, technology, education and vocation.

I then said that most Ontario Mennonites descend from one of six migrations to Canada, though there have been new voices added to the Mennonite mix over the years, from intermarriage,  from conversion, and most recently from incorporation of refugee groups into the Mennonite community. These migrations explained some of the Mennonite diversity; division on theological issues within the individual migrations has also contributed to the diversity.

The six migrations I reviewed were:

  1. Pennsylvania Mennonites from 1786 to the 1830s, primarily in search of cheaper land, and encompassing some 2,000 people over the years.
  2. Amish Mennonites from Europe (with a few from Pennsylvania) beginning in the 1820s, in order to escape the economic problems of post-Napoleonic Europe and to find cheaper land. These folks numbered less than 1,000.
  3. Mennonites from Russia in the 1870s who feared the loss of their privileges of self-government, freedom from military service, and control of the education of their youth. Seven thousand of these Mennonites came to Manitoba, with the assistance of the Ontario Mennonites, who provided loans, guaranteed a government loan, and housed over winter those who arrived in the fall. Some of these Mennonites left for Mexico and Paraguay in the 1920s when the Manitoba and Saskatchewan governments tried to force acculturation through the public school system. Some of these folks returned as part of migration 6 below.
  4. Twenty thousand Mennonites from the Soviet Union came to Canada in the 1920s in
    Refugees walking up Erb Street.

    Mennonite immigrants from the Soviet Union approaching Erb Street Mennonite Church, July, 1924. Mennonite Archives of Ontario photo.

    the aftermath of the Russian Revolution and the beginning of communist domination. Fifteen percent of these folks settled in Ontario, and brought different customs, different foods, different names, and a very different history to the Ontario Mennonite world. They had little to do with the descendants of migrations 1 & 2 until World War II.

  5. The fifth immigration included Mennonites from the Soviet Union who had been displaced by the World War II, and had retreated with the German army when it left the Soviet Union.  There were only 12,000 out of 100,000 Mennonites remaining in the Soviet Union who were able to leave for Canada or to South America. About 1300 of these people came to Ontario between 1947 and 1952.
  6. The sixth migration was that of Low German Mennonites from Mexico and other parts of Latin America, beginning in the 1950s. The largest group among them were the Old Colony Mennonites. These \were the descendants of the Mennonites who moved from Manitoba and Saskatchewan to Mexico and Paraguay in the 1920s. This was the largest Mennonite migration to Ontario that has ever occurred. Canada became an attractive alternative to economic difficulties in Latin America, because many Low German Mennonites still had Canadian citizenship, or were able to reclaim citizenship because their parents or grandparents were Canadian citizens.By the mid-1990s the Low German Mennonite population in Ontario was between 25,000 and 30,000. By 2011, Mennonite Central Committee Ontario was using a number of “over 40,000.”  There has been no Mennonite immigration to Ontario quite like it. In 2012 Low German Mennonites made up at least 25 percent of the Mennonite population in Ontario.

I then talked about the theological variants among the Mennonites that I used in my book, In Search of Promised Lands: 1) Assimilated; 2) Separatist Conservatives; 3) Evangelical Conservatives; and 4) Old Order Amish and Mennonites. That’s a complex discussion I’m not sure worked very well in the presentation, or would work in a short blog.

If I do this kind of presentation again, I would likely add a seventh migration: the non-English economic and refugee migrant groups that have joined the assimilated Mennonite world since the late 1970s. Probably 15-20 languages are used in assimilated Ontario Mennonite churches on Sunday mornings.

To learn more, read In Search of Promised Lands.

The Old Colony Mennonites move to Mexico in the 1920s

On May 5 and 8, I spoke to the “Annual Networking Conference for Service Providers on Low German Speaking Families” in Leamington and Aylmer, Ontario. I gave presentations on the diversity of Mennonites in Ontario. The experience led me to focus today’s blog on a piece of the Low German Mennonite story — the departure of these Low German Mennonites from Canada in the 1920s.

The Mennonites from Russia who immigrated to Manitoba in the 1870s successfully sought assured exemption from compulsory military service from the Canadian government. They also welcomed the Canadian government’s promise that Mennonites could maintain and control their own educational system “without any molestation or restriction whatever.”

The fact that education in Canada was under provincial, not federal, control unsurprisingly escaped the attention of the new immigrants. This oversight led to major problems for these Mennonites fifty years later.

During and after World War I the provincial governments in Manitoba, and later Saskatchewan, began to supervise more strictly their public educational systems, in which many Mennonites participated.

As long as Mennonite-background school inspectors like Henry H. Ewert in Manitoba did the supervision this worked well. But in the first quarter of the twentieth century provincial educational priorities changed. World War I prompted governments to emphasize patriotism and to anglicize the school curriculum. As a result, more conservative parts of the Mennonite community began private schools for their children.

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Old Colony Mennonite couple leaving for Bolivia, 1968. Mennonite Archives of Ontario photo, 92-14-3973

A clear majority of the 1870s immigrants in Manitoba and Saskatchewan still preferred a separatist response to the surrounding culture. Conservative Mennonite groups, including the Reinländer (popularly called “Old Colony”), Chortitzer, and Sommerfelder, comprised 80 percent of the Manitoba and Saskatchewan Mennonite population in 1901.

During World War I both Manitoba and Saskatchewan eliminated the bilingual public schools that had helped Mennonites to retain their German language. In 1918, as some Mennonite communities were shifting to private schools, the provinces began to impose public schools on the Mennonite communities. They arbitrarily reopened public schools in Mennonite areas that had utilized only private schools for years, and they built new school buildings and hired teachers over the objections of the local community. The provinces also demanded that the private schools use provincially recognized teachers and textbooks, and that instruction be in English.

The boards of Mennonite private schools that did not meet these new standards could be prosecuted. The postwar anti-German sentiment also fueled these provincial initiatives. The Mennonites pursued legal appeals, but ultimately the Privy Council in England in 1920 refused to hear them.

As provincial enforcement of the stringent new laws increased, the more separated groups planned for emigration, even as their French and Ukrainian neighbors, and many of the more assimilated Mennonites, accommodated themselves to the new educational policies. The large Reinländer church explored Argentina, Mississippi, and even the province of Quebec as settlement options before ultimately focusing on Mexico. They signed a Privilegium (a document outlining any special privileges accorded the immigrants) with the Mexican authorities in early 1921 and began purchasing land in the state of Chihuahua. Emigration started in March 1922.

Front-Cover

Leaving Canada by Rosabel Fast, a Plett Foundation publication for use in Low German Mennonite schools.

By 1926 almost two-thirds of the Manitoba Reinländer, almost 6,000, had emigrated. Additionally, and for similar reasons, about 1,800 Chortitzer and Sommerfelder Mennonites went to Paraguay and formed Menno Colony.

Life was not easy in Mexico, and the Old Colony Mennonites’ determination to retain separation through language created tensions with the indigenous Mexican population. Political unrest and the unfamiliar climate, combined with different soils and crops, also impeded their settlement. Full Mexican citizenship did not appear to be an option even if desired.

Nonetheless, some Mennonites prospered in Mexico, while others remained on the economic margins. Internal unrest led some to migrate to other Latin American countries like Honduras and Bolivia while others wanted to return to Canada.

Further unrest resulted from the arrival of evangelical Mennonite missionaries by the 1940s. The missionaries sought to improve local educational, medical, and spiritual life. The latter goal especially offended Old Colony leaders, and they excommunicated an increasing number of persons who identified with evangelical Mennonite groups. As the population grew it became more difficult to purchase land, especially for those with limited financial means. By 1975 the Mennonite population in Mexico was estimated to be 40,000, about a third of whom did not own property.

Old Colony theology contained some similarities to that of Old Order groups among the North American Amish and Mennonites, in part because their theology did not include 19th- and 20th-century evangelical theology. David Schroeder, a Canadian Mennonite theologian who grew up in a conservative Sommerfelder family, described the Old Colony and Sommerfelder view of salvation as future oriented: “I trust I will be saved,” while the view of evangelical Mennonites was past tense: “I have been saved.”

The demand for assurance of salvation and a particular conversion experience led many evangelical Christians (including many Mennonites) to intensely criticize the salvation understanding of these pre-evangelical Mennonite groups. The Old Colony and Sommerfelder Mennonites, like their Old Order religious cousins, emphasized Christian “formation” rather than conversion or education. According to Schroeder, formation meant induction into the Old Colony world.

A high level of separation from the surrounding culture was required for this approach to work successfully. The conservative groups emphasized character formation through teaching the catechism and through the telling of stories of both exemplary behavior and human folly. The church defined the boundaries of the community of faith and determined the lifestyle of its members as well as their economic, educational, and social standards. According to Schroeder, the conservative groups usually maintained the use of Low German to separate them from the surrounding culture.

The story of the Old Colony has continued to the present, with many returning to Canada (including Ontario) in the second half of the 20th century.

To learn more about the Old Colony Mennonites and other Low German Mennonite groups, read In Search of Promised Lands.

Mennonite Church Eastern Canada–a Synopsis of its History

This past weekend (April 28-29, 2017), Mennonite Church Eastern Canada held its 30th annual meeting. It seemed appropriate to reflect on the history of this assimilated Mennonite regional body affiliated with Mennonite Church Canada. I reflected earlier on how this conference differed from its counterparts in the United States.

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The moderators and secretaries signing the merger documents, 1987. Seated (L-R): Robert Snyder (lawyer); Roy Scheerer (WOMC secretary), Ed Epp (UMC secretary), David Kroeker (MCOQ secretary); Standing (L-R): Gerald Good (WOMC moderator), John Cornies (UMC moderator), Lester Kehl, MCOQ moderator). Mennonite Archives of Ontario photo 1992-1-42.

In 1988 three assimilated conferences (Western Ontario Mennonite Conference (WOMC), United Mennonite Churches in Ontario (UMC), and Mennonite Conference of Ontario and Quebec (MCOQ)) merged to form the Mennonite Conference of Eastern Canada (later Mennonite Church Eastern Canada). At one level this was a logical progression, as the three largest assimilated Mennonite groups in Ontario overlapped geographically and each had lost its distinctive symbols of separation from the larger Canadian society. The boundaries between the Ontario Amish Mennonites and the Mennonites who originated in Pennsylvania had always been porous, even in the 19th century, as they shared many religious and cultural values, cooperated in petitioning government on matters of joint concern, and frequently intermarried. The Mennonites who immigrated in the 1920s had been hosted by these earlier groups for varying periods of time when they arrived in Canada, but their variant historical and cultural experience led them to soon establish their own churches and social communities.

World War II had brought a measure of cooperation among all the Ontario Mennonite groups through the Non-Resistant Relief Organization and the Conference of Historic Peace Churches. Certainly this experience served as a bridge to the cooperation that followed. Four other factors brought these three assimilated groups together. One was the increasing urbanization that sprinkled Mennonites into urban settings that were often disconnected from their traditional communities. Mennonite communities in Kitchener-Waterloo and St. Catharines were still compact enough for members to locate their particular group there. But Mennonites living in Toronto, Hamilton, London, or other urban areas had to commute long distances to find faith compatriots.

The second factor was the emergence of Conrad Grebel University College. The decision of the Mennonite Brethren and the Brethren in Christ to opt out of this project in 1962 left the three conferences that would eventually merge working together on a highly visible and symbolic cooperative project.

The third and most important factor was the renewed emphasis on urban missions. The Valleyview Mennonite congregation in London, Ontario, emerged from cooperation between the Western Ontario Mennonite Conference and the Mennonite Conference of Ontario. By 1963 the mission boards of these two conferences had worked out a “policy on cooperative church extension” that also included the United Mennonites. It emphasized mutual respect and acceptance in cases where practice or doctrinal details differed. In 1965 they established an inter-Mennonite mission committee that in 1967 became the Mennonite Mission and Service Board, which had already sponsored a joint service project in Sudbury.

A fourth factor was Stirling Avenue Mennonite Church in Kitchener. This congregation had emerged out of the 1924 division at First Mennonite Church. It joined the U.S.-based Eastern District of the binational General Conference Mennonite Church in 1946. By the late 1960s it seemed more appropriate to nurture Mennonite connections closer to home. It became an early dual-conference congregation by joining both the United Mennonites and the Mennonite Conference of Ontario in 1969. Perhaps as much as anything, this initiative stirred discussion on the possible union of some of the Mennonite conferences.

By 1974 an Inter-Mennonite Executive Council (IEC) formed, composed of the three conference moderators and secretaries, the Conrad Grebel College board chair, the chair of the (by then named) Inter-Mennonite Mission and Service Board, and chairs of the joint education committees. Although this group never had independent authority, it attempted to become a clearinghouse for inter-Mennonite activity, sometimes including the Mennonite Brethren.

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Newton Gingrich (standing right), talks with Jesse B. Martin, at the time that Gingrich became moderator of the Mennonite Conference of Ontario in 1961. Mennonite Archives of Ontario photo 1984-1-229

The individual working hardest for this cooperation was Newton Gingrich, who was moderator of the Mennonite Conference of Ontario from 1961 to 1970 even while he pastored a congregation in the Western Ontario Mennonite Conference beginning in 1966. Despite limited education (he left school at age 13, but eventually completed junior college-level studies at Eastern Mennonite College), he had enormous organizational skills. He chaired the Inter-Mennonite Mission and Service Board beginning in 1970, which put him on the Inter-Mennonite Executive Council. At the time of his sudden death in 1979 he was the strongest advocate for formally merging the three conferences, and he chaired a committee exploring that possibility. His death slowed the merger process since most other conference leaders were more cautious and preferred what came to be called “organic growth” in cooperation.

The path to merger was not smooth. The Western Ontario Mennonite Conference and the Mennonite Conference of Ontario began to share staff positions (conference minister and office staff) and began to hold their annual meetings at the same time and place. This distanced them from the United Mennonite Conference, which had less shared history and was seen by the other two conferences as more independent in its polity and more aggressive in asserting its positions.

This ambivalent state continued until the United Mennonite Conference’s moderator, Ed Janzen, prepared a study paper called “Blowing of the Wind,” which suggested that new urban congregations be permitted to join the joint (unincorporated) Inter-Mennonite Conference (Ontario), which formed in 1974, without having to join one of the three existing conferences. The paper caused a stir among the conference leadership with its suggestion of a fourth super conference, but its recommendations were ultimately dropped.

This seeming retreat from merger outraged the church planting leaders of the three conferences, who felt they were left with unwieldy structures that forced new Mennonites to make unnecessary choices between three similar conferences. In 1984 the three conference executives agreed to take another look, and at a meeting on December 19, 1984, they agreed to move toward an integrated conference that would be launched in 1987.

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The first Executive Secretary and first Conference Minister for MCEC were Peter H. Janzen (left) and Herb Schultz (right). Sam Steiner photo.

Delegates from all three conferences overwhelmingly approved an integration proposal in March 1986. A formal structure was approved in fall 1987, and the Mennonite Conference of Eastern Canada (MCEC) came into formal existence in February 1988. Congregations were given a six-year period of associate membership in the North American denominations in which they were not already a member, whether the Mennonite Church, the General Conference Mennonite Church, or the Conference of Mennonites in Canada. It was understood they would become full members of the denominations after the associate period. Thus MCEC became the first “dual-conference” regional conference, as discussions began on merging and realigning the denominations, which would take place a little over a decade later.

There were glitches and tensions in the early years of the merger as historical polity differences generated concerns and reactions. The former smaller Western Ontario Mennonite Conference sometimes felt its voice was lost in the larger conference and that its family ethos had been taken away. United Mennonites sometimes believed their congregational autonomy emphasis was threatened by a top-down administrative structure. Also, individual leaders from the United Mennonite background sometimes articulated their views in confrontational language, which was not the style of communication among most of those of Mennonite Church background. A large $6.3 million fund drive for building expansions at Rockway Mennonite Collegiate and Conrad Grebel University College, and for the missions program, fell well short of its goal. But despite these limitations, pastors began serving in congregations without regard to the denominational “lineage” of the pastor or of the congregation. This cultivated a sense of comfort in the new structure.

As Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (as it became known in October 2001) exists in 2017, it has maintained relative health, albeit with a reduced number of program staff and tightening budgetary concerns. Some new congregations emerged, especially in urban settings and non-English contexts. Some church plants provided alternatives to traditional congregational styles, usually without the Mennonite name.

To learn more about Ontario’s 30-plus Mennonite denominations, read In Search of Promised Lands.

Lewis J. Burkholder–Mennonite historian

Today I am reproducing a reflection on the life of Lewis Josephus Burkholder, a Mennonite minister in Markham, Ontario, who wrote A Brief History of the Mennonites in Ontario in 1935. It was a remarkable work, containing biographical snippets about every Mennonite minister he could identify in the Mennonite Conference of Ontario, the Old Order Mennonites, Reformed Mennonites and Amish Mennonites, as well as historical sketches of each congregation and each settlement. It revealed remarkable and deep original research, and remains a valuable resource today.

The reflection was written by Oscar Burkholder in 1950, shortly after Burkholder’s death in 1949. Burkholder was a prominent minister in Breslau, Ontario. The article was published in Mennonite Yearbook and Directory 41 (1950): 25-26.


BurkholderLewisJ

L. J. Burkholder. GAMEO photo

 

L. J. Burkholder, as he was best known to his brethren in the Ontario Mennonite Con­ference, was born June 15, 1875, about two miles east of the village of Markham, in the County of York, some twenty miles northeast of the city of Toronto. He was born on the farm where he spent his entire life. He was the eldest son of his father’s second marriage. His father, Abraham G., was married the second time to Elizabeth Reesor thus bringing together two of the pioneer families of the district. There were eleven children in the two families. The first family was composed of six children as follows : Elizabeth, Mrs. David Steckley ; Elsie, Mrs. Enos Nighswander; Adeline, Mrs. Isaac Boadway; Maria, Mrs. David Brownsberger ; Barbara, Mrs. Ozias Snyder ; and Aaron. The second family, of which Lewis was the oldest, was as follows: Phares ; Ada, Mrs. Noah Weber ; Amos ; and Norman.

 

On May 11, 1904, he was married to Lucetta High, of Vineland, Ontario, who passed away June 4, 1923. To this union was born one daughter, Luella, Mrs. Alvin Reesor. In May, 1925, he was married to Emma Meyer, of Mark­ham, who passed away April 14, 1944. To this union was born one son, Paul. “L. J.” passed away at his home on September 28, 1949 at the age of 74 years, 3 months, 13 days. During the last ten years of his life, he was not able to preach. At the beginning of this period he suffered a slight stroke, which later developed into blindness and gradual bodily weakness. These ten years were in great contrast to his intense activity in preaching and making his living. But he remained true to his faith, and we have every reason to believe he left for his heavenly home in triumph.

Brother Burkholder was ordained to the Christian ministry for the Cedar Grove congre­gation, Cedar Grove, Ont., on January 12, 1896, by Bishop Elias Weber of Breslau, Ontario, five months before he reached his twenty-first birth­day. This was quite an historical event, for it was not customary in the Mennonite Church at this time to ordain men so young in years. But he had been converted under the ministry of J. S. Coffman about four years previous and was baptized on May 18, 1892, thus revealing the splendid type of evangelism that Brother Coff­man rendered in those beginning years of evan­gelism in the Mennonite Church. And it was this same conviction and service that marked Brother Burkholder’s entire ministry.

For “L. J.” was much used by the church both at home and in the United States. But it must be mentioned here that a servant of the Lord, in order to be so much used, must live a steady life of great activity and corresponding sacrifice, and that such a program is shared by the family as well. Such is the record of this godly man and his family through his years of service.

In a number of instances he was a pioneer. After his ordination he decided not to be a farmer, but purchased several acres of land from his father near .the place of his birth. Here he erected his home, and from here he carried out his entire ministry. In 1906 he was one of the strong supporters of the Bible school movement when the Ontario Mennonite Bible School was organized by the conference. He was one of the first teachers, with S. F. Coffman, in 1907. He was one of the first officers of the Nonresist­ant Relief Organization formed in 1917 and which has played such an important role in the relief work of the Mennonite Church in Ontario in the years since. He was one of the first ministers in the church to see the great good in the summer Bible school movement and gave it his hearty support. He was strongly missionary-minded and was among the brethren who organized the Rural Mission Board in Ontario and served as president and in various other capacities. It was while he was officially responsible for the outreach of this Board that he discovered the Ammon Mast family east of Clarence Center, New York, and began the revival of the Mennonite Church in this area.

Besides these beginnings he was a faithful and tireless supporter of the established work of the church. He served as moderator of the Ontario Conference longer than any other man before or since. He was assistant moderator of Mennonite General Conference for a term of two years. He was a faithful evangelist for a number of years and led many souls into the kingdom. He was a searcher for workers for the kingdom, and was the instrument in the Lord’s hand to lead the writer into the ministry. He was acting bishop for the York County district for a number of years, when the problems were delicate and difficult of solution. He preached 2,836 sermons, the last one on December 31, 1939, at Cedar Grove on the text, Psalm 90:12. He was then only 65 years of age but had been preaching 44 years.

It is appropriate to ask, How could one per­son get so much done under such limited cir­cumstances? For Brother Burkholder was truly a very versatile man. He was an excellent car­penter and cabinetmaker Besides he was a very good repairer of clocks and watches. Added to this he was a good gardener, and a splendid apiarist. Then, too, he was a weaver of no mean ability. He wove the first rug for the floor of the Cedar Grove Church. He often used his various skills as illustrations in his sermons. He was intensely interested in old things in many lines and made a very valuable collection in his life time.

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Source: AbeBooks.com

Naturally, then, he was also historically minded, and served as conference historian for many years. His crowning work in this field is his book, Mennonites in Ontario, which repre­sents some of his most patient and painstaking work. He deserved a far greater reward for his effort than was given him.

Finally, Brother Burkholder is a shining example of “Little is much when God is in it.” He had very few educational advantages. There was no high school, let alone college, in his youth program. He attended one year at the Elkhart Institute where he made some life­long friends and received his initiation into the general program of the Mennonite Church, From there on it was, “prepare while you work and work while you prepare.” “The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich,” was his constant experience. He could truly say while he lived and served, and we say in his memory, “But by the grace of  God I am what I am … yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”

I am grateful for the privilege of writing this tribute to the life and work of my uncle, who has been a great inspiration to me to do my best under all kinds of circumstances.

— Oscar Burkholder


See also the article in GAMEO on L. J. Burkholder.

Ontario Mennonites who fought in World War I

The recent coverage in the national and local press about centennial anniversaries of great battles during World World I (Vimy Ridge, Hill 70), has led me to reflect more about Ontario Mennonites in relationship to the “Great War.”

The war was before the Mennonites from the Soviet Union arrived in the 1920s, so virtually all the Ontario Mennonites were descended from Mennonite immigrants from Pennsylvania, or Amish immigrants from Europe or the United States. The Mennonite Brethren in Christ had attracted a number of converts from a variety of other cultural backgrounds.

Much has been written, including in my monograph, In Search of Promised Lands, about Mennonite efforts to get the Canadian government to recognize their conscientious objection to war, and their unwillingness to participate in active military service. I alluded to this in an earlier blog post.

Less has been written about the few self-identified Mennonites who went into active military service. I have limited information on this topic, and would welcome input from anyone who can add to the information shared here.

I’ve worked at the topic by using two online data sources. One is the Library and Archives Canada website where one can search the Personnel Records of the First World War, including the attestation (enlistment) records of members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. These records include the religious self-identification of soldiers. The other source was the World War I Soldier Information Cards kept at the Grace Schmidt Room of the Kitchener Public Library. One can also search these records of Waterloo County soldiers for the word “Mennonite.”

This approach has limitations. The self-identification does not say whether the person was a member of the church. The Kitchener Public Library cards do not provide religious information on everyone. Many Mennonites lived outside Waterloo County, and could not be easily searched in this way. Some Mennonites had military personnel records after conscription began in the second half of 1917, even though it was only because they were not immediately exempted from service for a variety of reasons and may have been unwillingly detained at a military base for a period of time.

Daniel Brenneman (1895-1957), William Brenneman (1894-1953) and Henry Roth (1894-?) of the East Zorra Amish Mennonite near Tavistock, and Simon Roth (1890-1918) of the Steinmann Amish Mennonite Church were examples of persons who inadvertently got caught in the military for a number of months in 1918. (Simon Roth died of influenza in October 1918). William Roth (1895-1961), who appears to have been a Reformed Mennonite in New Hamburg, and Alvin Roth (1895-?), from Gadshill, Ontario, likely had similar experiences, though the available records are unclear.

Similar stories took place in the Old Order Mennonite community. Norman Bearinger (1896-1963) of Elmira, was shifted among various units while the military tried to decide what to do with him. Bearinger did not appear to remain a Mennonite after the war. Old Order Mennonite Jeremiah Steckle Bauman (1896-1967) was part of the military for only a month at the end of 1918 before he was discharged. Old Order Mennonites Peter M. Martin and John M. Martin mostly had leaves of absence without pay for the six months in 1918 they were formally part of the army. This allowed them to mostly work at home on their family farm.

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Carl Reesor and Simeon Reesor in military camp in uniform. Mennonite Archives of Ontario photo Hist.Mss.1.287.13-3

Joseph Lehman Smith (1897-1993) of Unionville, Ontario, had perhaps the most difficult experience, since he initially willingly put on the military uniform, and did not tell the officers he was a conscientious objector until he refused to participate in bayonet practice. He was detained in camp at Niagara-on-the-Lake almost six months before he was discharged as part of the general demobilization in 1919. Others from the Markham area who were briefly in the Niagara-on-the-Lake military camp were Carl Reesor (1895-1968) and Simeon Reesor (1896-1988).

There were, however, self-identified Mennonites who actively served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. One Mennonite soldier who died during the war was Ira Diefenbacher, who enlisted in September 1915 at the age of 24. He was a single man who was born in Roseville, Ontario, and grew up near Hawkesville. He was a bookkeeper by profession. In the army, Ira was first an infantry soldier, and later a company runner, who carried messages between units. He was killed by a sniper on one of these missions on August 30, 1918 near Arrass, France. His will left everything to Edna Davey of Kitchener, Ontario. On his “casualty report” he is listed as a Methodist, perhaps reflecting the his rejection by the church of his youth.

A second Mennonite soldier who died was Daniel Russell Fretz (1897-1918), who was born in Jordan, Ontario, but later lived in Didsbury, Alberta. He was drafted in May 1918, and got as far as England, where he died of influenza in October 1918.

One Mennonite Brethren in Christ minister, Thomas John Drinkall (1883-?) of Stratford, enlisted in the army medical corps in July 1916. (The Mennonite Brethren in Christ are now known as the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada.) Drinkall served as a clerk in the army, and returned to Canada in 1919. He did not appear to serve as a Mennonite minister after his return.

Other self-identified Mennonites who served in the military included:

  • Albert Brubacher (1894-1993) of Elmira, Ontario, who enlisted in April 1918;
  • Gordon Henry Good (1894-1943) of Conestoga, Ontario, who enlisted in May 1917. He was a member of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ denomination;
  • Albert Franklin Thoman (1895-?), originally of Markham, enlisted in April 1917, and was wounded twice;
  • Oscar Gingrich (1897-1957), enlisted in March 1916, and worked primarily in railroad construction. At his death Oscar was an active member of the Erb Street Mennonite Church in Waterloo;
  • Aulton (Alton) Cressman (1892-1966) of Breslau, enlisted in December 1915. He served as a sapper for part of his service;
  • John Joseph Burgetz (1895-1980) of Kitchener, enlisted in January 1918. He appeared to serve in the Forestry Corps. He was later a member of the Stirling Avenue Mennonite Church in Kitchener;
  • Addison Brox (1896-1968) of Elmira, enlisted in May 1918. After the war he lived in Saskatchewan;

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    Gordon Christian Eby in camp. Mennonite Archives of Ontario photo Hist. Mss. 1.66.4.1-063

  • Gordon Christian Eby (1890-1965) of Kitchener, enlisted in September 1915. He was a direct descendant of Bishop Benjamin Eby, but probably never joined the Mennonite Church. His diaries and photographs from the war years are located at the Mennonite Archives of Ontario.
  • Milton B. Wismer (1898-1970) of Baden, son of the Shantz Mennonite Church minister, Orphen Wismer, appeared to enlist in 1916, but the remainder of his military records are not yet available online.
  • Franklin Leroy Fretz (1895- ?), a brother of Daniel Fretz mentioned above, enlisted in May 1916. He was likely a member of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ. He served as a private in the infantry for three years.
  • Moses Gascho (1886-1966) of Zurich, Ontario, later of Saskatchewan, enlisted in March 1916. He served overseas, but did not appear to experience combat.

I would be happy to learn of other Ontario Mennonite men who served in the military during World War I, especially from outside Waterloo County. I will update this blog with new information if it becomes available.

If you are interested in the Mennonites of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, who were descended from Mennonite immigrants from Russia, you can see a listing of drafted and enlisted men at http://www.mennonitegenealogy.com/canada/WWI/WWIMennonitesIndexSorted.htm.

To learn more about the Ontario Mennonites response to World War I, read In Search of Promised Lands.

 

Earliest Ontario Mennonites joined their neighbors’ congregations

The small group of Pennsylvania Mennonites who settled near Thirty Mile Creek (between modern-day Grimsby and Beamsville)  did not have a spiritual leader when they arrived in 1786. It is not possible to tell from existing records if they ever sought guidance from their home communities on establishing a congregation.

Conestoga Wagon Trek historical marker

This historical marker about the Conestoga Wagon, located on the Niagara Parkway near the intersection with Netherby Road, commemorates the earliest arrival of Pennsylvania Mennonites in Ontario.

Historian Frank Epp has suggested the 1786 immigrants were “fringe” Mennonites since none of them remained Mennonite. Epp’s assumption seems to be based solely on the fact that they did not become part of the Mennonite congregation that finally organized at The Twenty (Vineland) in 1801; they had begun to fellowship with other denominations in the 15 years before a permanent Mennonite congregation was available.

Tradition has suggested that Staats and Susannah Overholt worshiped with a small so-called Baptist fellowship at Clinton by the mid-1790s, though the earliest record is their charter membership in the Beamsville Baptist congregation that formally organized in 1807, twenty years after their arrival in Upper Canada. It is also possible the Overholts were part of a Tunker (Brethren in Christ) congregation for a time, along with their Kulp neighbors, before joining the Baptists.

Staats Overholt’s family did not join the new Mennonite congregation when it formed in 1801 under the leadership of later Mennonite immigrants, but it is probable they worshiped with the Mennonites or Tunkers occasionally, especially during the years before the Baptist fellowship was functional.

Indeed, the Staats Overholt family had an uneasy relationship with the Baptist fellowship after it was formally organized. Already by early 1808 Staats, his oldest son, Isaac, and their wives declared a “disfellowship” with the Baptist church because “they could not walk with us because we bore arms.” They then returned to the Baptist fellowship for periods of time, though a Jacob Overhault is listed as “Menonist” in the 1818 Lincoln [County] Militia Return.

Overholt’s neighbors, Jacob and Tilman Kulp, might have been Tunkers before they immigrated to Canada, but it is more likely they were Mennonites influenced by the Tunker settlement at Pelham that began in the late 1780s. The only confirmation of their being Tunker is the 1818 militia return, some 30 years after their arrival in Canada.

Affiliation with the Tunkers by some of the Clinton Mennonites need not have included traveling to Pelham Township for worship services, since the Tunkers did not have meetinghouses until much later—in the 1870s. It is more likely that Tunker Bishop John Winger or Minister Christian Stickley traveled occasionally to Clinton Township to the home of the Kulps or others who wished to participate in such a worship service. This could have been as infrequently as several times a year to perhaps monthly.

Early services would likely have included lengthy sermons, singing, and testimonies. The meetings in private homes would have continued the intimate nature of worship that reflected the group’s Mennonite and Pietist roots. The early Tunkers had no hymnbooks of their own, and may have continued to use hymnbooks inherited from their Mennonite roots. Indeed, John Winger’s family records are said to have been kept in an Ausbund, the hymnbook used by Mennonites in North America until they began to create their own in 1803.

In an earlier post, I discussed whether these early Mennonite immigrants were Loyalists.

To learn more about Mennonites in Ontario, read In Search of Promised Lands.

European Amish come to Canada in the 1820s

Although Mennonites had not yet filled Woolwich Township, north of Waterloo Township, by 1819 they were looking for more land to develop to the west, particularly the Crown Reserve that became Wilmot Township. As they became aware that more townships were being surveyed by the government in preparation for settlement, in April 1819 they petitioned the Executive Council of Upper Canada to set aside a township, or part thereof, for Mennonites.

The Mennonites received a quick refusal since some government leaders, including Anglican priest (later bishop) and educator John Strachan, believed (correctly) that the pacifists in Upper Canada had financially benefited from the War of 1812.

The council also believed the pacifist sects had not made an appropriate sacrifice in the war effort, and had actually obstructed that effort. While the petitioners wanted a block settlement similar to their experience in Waterloo and Woolwich Townships, they likely also wanted to profit from land development as Mennonites continued to arrive from Pennsylvania.

The government changed its mind about providing land to pacifist groups in 1821, when it tried to develop the “Crown Reserve for the County of Lincoln” (roughly the present Township of Wilmot) in order to defray the expenses it had incurred in purchasing other lands from the First Nations. British immigrants, who would have been preferred by the government, were less able to contend with the pioneer world in the vast rural areas of Upper Canada.

So the government was forced to look elsewhere. The most interested settlers were Mennonites. News of the government offer in November 1821 to reserve a township for Mennonites reached Pennsylvania just about the time an Amish pioneer seeking economic opportunity for himself and his Amish countrymen arrived in North America. Christian Nafziger set out from near Munich in Bavaria in late 1821, and arrived in New Orleans in January 1822. He visited an Amish settlement in western Ohio, and made his way to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, by May. There his hosts advised him to seek land in Upper Canada, probably because of the recently reported Canadian government’s offer. Nafziger soon followed the suggestion.

The Amish in Bavaria were looking for alternative economic opportunities, at least partly because of the Napoleonic Wars and their aftermath. The imposition of military conscription became widespread during the Napoleonic Wars, even though the option of paying for substitutes was available in Bavaria and elsewhere. These policies, which created difficulties for Amish and Mennonites, encouraged widespread consideration of emigration.

Christian Nafziger did not come to North America promoting a mass migration of Amish. Rather, he was searching on behalf of 70 or 80 Amish families from his region of Bavaria. In early September 1822 Nafziger and two or three Mennonites from Waterloo Township traveled to Niagara to meet Lieutenant Governor Peregrine Maitland. Nafziger asked for assurance that land would be granted if the Amish settlers came. Maitland’s civil secretary, George Hillier, reported such a guarantee was not possible. However, the discussion did confirm the parameters of the land grants that would become available—fifty acres, with an adjoining 150 acres that could be leased.

The role of Waterloo Township Mennonite land developers is puzzling. In many ways Jacob Erb and others seemed to use Nafziger’s petition to strengthen their own desire for more land at favorable prices. Jacob Erb’s February 4, 1824, petition said “a great number of Persons [are] ready to settle on said [proposed] Roads.” One suspects most of the “great number” were Mennonites from neighboring Waterloo Township looking for a good land deal.

Nafziger returned to Bavaria, stopping in England on the way. There he conferred with Prince Frederick, Duke of York and younger brother of King George IV. Prince Frederick provided further assurances about land grants. Nafziger successfully encouraged some Amish families from Europe to settle in Upper Canada, but not many.

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Wilmot Township settlers in 1830. Ontario Mennonite History 14, no. 2 (September 1996).

In addition, two families he encountered in Pennsylvania came to Upper Canada in October 1823: the Jacob Kropf and John Brenneman families. The Michael Schwartzentruber family, newly arrived in Pennsylvania from Hesse, Germany, and perhaps a few others, also came along to Canada with the Kropfs and Brennemans. They arrived even before the location of the government’s land grant had been confirmed.

Another young couple who came to Upper Canada in 1824 from Alsace was Joseph Goldsmith and his seventeen-year-old bride, Elizabeth Schwartzentruber. At the same time or a bit later in the year, Amish bishop John Stoltzfus visited the emerging Amish settlement, perhaps to see property that his father, Christian, had purchased in Woolwich Township many years before. Stoltzfus ordained two ministers and a deacon for the Amish community while there: John Brenneman and Joseph Goldsmith (ministers) and Jacob Kropf (deacon).

The arrival of the Amish continued until controversy arose from the 1828 decision of the Upper Canada government to transfer ownership of the recently surveyed Crown Reserve west of Waterloo to the new Anglican-controlled King’s College (later University of Toronto). This transfer introduced complications for the Amish settlers. It raised the prospect that their land costs would become much higher than they had assumed from Christian Nafziger’s 1822 conversation with Lieutenant Governor Maitland. Indeed, concerns raised by this controversy led to the early departure of some Amish families for the United States.

For more information on Amish and Mennonites in Upper Canada, read In Search of Promised Lands.

Ontario Mennonites and Christian Peacemaker Teams

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Ron Sider, 1970s. Photo from Mennonite Church USA Archives-Elkhart, HM4-299

In 1984 Ron Sider, an Ontario native who grew up in the Brethren in Christ Church, gave a speech at the Mennonite World Conference sessions in Strasbourg, France. In it he called for a nonviolent peacekeeping force to move into areas of violent conflict. This developed into Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in 1986, with initial leadership from the binational Mennonite Church, General Conference Mennonite Church, and Church of the Brethren. The Mennonite Brethren were part of the early discussions but then withdrew their sponsorship. Hedy Sawadsky of Vineland, Ontario, was on the founding steering committee. Gene Stoltzfus became the first staff person in 1988.

In the 1990s the organization took on the motto “Getting in the Way,” based partly on the New Testament meaning of “The Way” (the name followers of Jesus gave their movement in Acts 9:2) and partly on CPT’s clear confrontation of injustice. Other denominations and denominational peace groups later joined CPT.

Ontario participation in CPT has been extensive, and has involved both assimilated Mennonites and non-Mennonites. In 1989 CPT in Canada initiated protests of low-level military flights over Innu territory in Labrador. In 1995 a long presence in Israel and the West Bank began. In August 1997 MCC Ontario asked CPT to consider establishing a local team to respond to violence affecting aboriginal communities in Ontario. Since then CPT Ontario has organized numerous visits to First Nations communities and advocated for First Nations in many land claim controversies. The most widely publicized CPT mission, however, was in Iraq: in 1990 CPT sent its first delegation to Iraq.

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George Weber talking with Mexican soldiers. CPT photo

In January 2003, George Weber of Chesley, Ontario, was killed in an auto accident while on another delegation in Iraq. Then in 2005, four CPT members were kidnapped and held for several months near Baghdad, including James Loney of Toronto and Harmeet Singh Sooden of Montreal.

Christian Peacemaker Teams was not endorsed by theologically conservative Mennonite and Amish groups. They saw CPT as clear evidence that assimilated Mennonites had left traditional Mennonite peace positions. In the broader public, MCC and CPT’s involvements in Iraq, Israel, and Palestine were not always seen favorably. While some saw their work as courageous efforts to maintain dialogue with people most North Americans considered the enemy, others considered them naive or one-sided in their political views.

Some critics may have seen Mennonite Central Committee and Christian Peacemaker Teams as cut from the same cloth; in fact, however, they had an uneasy relationship, particularly as CPT more frequently chose sides in most conflicts while MCC was less inclined to advocate a political position. Nonetheless, many early CPT leaders and volunteers had their first international experiences working for MCC.

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CPT member, Stephani Sakanee, in a vigil at the Kenora courthouse. CPT photo

By 2007 CPT’s sponsoring bodies has expanded to include the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, the Congregation of St. Basil (Basilians), Every Church a Peace Church, Friends United Meeting, On Earth Peace, and the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. In 2017 Pierre Shantz, an Ontario native now living in Colombia, is on the CPT steering committee.

Ongoing CPT projects in Ontario have focused on First Nations justice issues in Asubpeeschoseewagong Netum Anishnabek (Grassy Narrows), Kenora, and Haudenosaunee Territory (Brantford, Six Nations). These have not been continuing projects, but have involved periodic delegations to stand in solidarity with the local community. More information is available on the CPT website.

To learn more about Mennonites and social action, read In Search of Promised Lands.

 

 

Mennonite-Muslim Dialogue – a Review of Events

Assimilated Mennonite conversations with other faith groups increased considerably in the 1960s. These Mennonites began to send observers to events sponsored by the World Council of Churches and similar ecumenical organizations in 1961. A series of Believers Church conferences that included Baptists, Disciples of Christ, Pentecostals, and others began in the 1960s and accelerated during the 1970s and later.

After Vatican II (1962–65), conversations began between Mennonites and the Catholic Church. Mennonite graduate students began to study at Catholic institutions like Notre Dame University in Indiana and St. Michaels College in Toronto.

Intentional dialogue between Mennonites and Catholics began in the late 1990s; perhaps the best-known forum was Bridgefolk, “a movement of sacramentally-minded Mennonites and peace-minded Roman Catholics,” established for shared conversation and worship at Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, and other locations. These meetings often included Ontario Mennonite participants.

In more years there have specific academic conversations with Lutherans.

Mennonite academics also began to hold dialogues with non-Christian faith groups. Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) had worked in relief efforts in Muslim-majority countries for years. In the early 1990s MCC carried out relief work in Iran after devastating earthquakes in that country. MCC then began to initiate student exchanges with Iran.

The Shia (Shi’ah) seminary in Qom, Iran, the world’s largest, has about 50,000 students. The Imam Khomeini Institute, which is attached to the Qom seminary, offers graduate-level training in the humanities to a small number of people who are already imams, or Islamic clerics. The Institute also sought wider dialogue, particularly with Christian theologians.

Under a formal agreement, Mennonite Central Committee sent Christian scholars to Qom for two-year terms. The Khomeini Institute particularly stressed that it wanted scholars who were very strong in their Christian faith because their purpose was to explain Christianity to Iranian students. In exchange, the Imam Khomeini Institute sponsored two Iranian students to come to Canada and to earn doctorates at the Toronto School of Theology.

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A. James Reimer. GAMEO photo

These exchanges led to a series of academic conversations between Mennonite and Shia Muslim academics beginning in 2002, initially at the Toronto School of Theology, with the deep involvement of Conrad Grebel College theologian, A. James Reimer. Quite remarkably this first dialogue took place when the events of 2001’s 9/11 attacks remained fresh in North American minds.

The first conference addressed “The Challenge of Modernity”; the second, held in 2006 in Qom, focused on “Revelation and Authority.” The papers for the first two conferences were published in the Fall 2003 and Winter 2006 issues of the Conrad Grebel Review.

The third dialogue in May 2007 took place at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ontario, and attracted considerable media coverage. Macleans magazine raised an alarm in an article that portrayed naive Mennonites meeting with thugs, and protesters threatened to overwhelm the event.

Although all of the Muslim scholars attending the 2007 conference had doctorates from schools in North America or Britain, opponents tried to get Canadian authorities to deny them visas. According to Macleans, opponents contended that the Khomeini  Institute “[was] a training ground for the Islamic regime’s most repressive elements.”

Representatives of MCC and Conrad Grebel invited the protesters to a meeting on the evening of May 23 to express their concerns. Arli Klassen, then executive director of MCC (Ontario) recalled, “They felt that if we knew about the human rights abuses in Iran then we would automatically cancel the conference. They were shocked to discover that we do know about the abuses, and we were intending to carry on with having the dialogue.”

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Riot Police at Mennonite-Muslim Dialogue. Photo by Jen Konkle, Conrad Grebel University College

Riot police from Toronto were brought in and attendees remember police stationed on the roof of the college’s academic building. The initial public meeting was canceled in the face of protesters shouting down the speakers. (See Canadian Mennonite coverage and an article by Jim Coggins in CanadianChristianity.com for more detailed commentary on the event.)

Ultimately police action was not required, and the formal conversations continued the following day as scheduled. The event at Conrad Grebel took place eight months after Mennonite Central Committee had facilitated another controversial meeting at the United Nations in New York between North American church leaders and then Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The essays from the third dialogue were published in 2010 as On Spirituality: Essays from the Third Shii Muslim Mennonite Christian Dialogue.

Despite the 2007 controversy, further dialogues took place: the fourth in Qom, Iran, in 2009 and the fifth in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 2011 without incident. The papers from these conferences were published as Peace and Justice: Essays from the Fourth Shi’i Muslim Mennonite Christian Dialogue  and On Being Human: Essays From The Fifth Shi’i Muslim Mennonite Christian DialogueThe sixth dialogue took place in Qom, Iran in 2014. The seventh dialogue is scheduled for Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 2017.

Inter-faith consultations are a preoccupation of highly assimilated Mennonites only. Other Mennonite groups regard them as having no value and possibly dangerous in compromising Mennonite understandings of faith.

To learn more about Ontario Mennonite history, read In Search of Promised Lands.