“Pure” – the CBC drama – Episode 4

My comments on previous episodes of “Pure”are at Episode 1, Episode 2 and Episode 3. I have also commented on Episode 5 and Episode 6.

Most of episode 4 relates to the crime drama and introduces little new about the life and culture of the Low German Mennonites. The plot continues with its plausibility shortcomings, and introduces an additional layer of corrupt police detectives. One plausibility concern is why Noah Funk is ordering Low German Mennonite caskets for the two bikers killed by other bikers. These are two Ausländer (non-Low German Mennonites) with their own families and community. How are these deaths to be kept secret?


From Episode 4 of CBC’s “Pure”

The funeral scene for the two Low German Mennonite men who died in the plane transporting the drugs is the one new Low German Mennonite cultural scene. Of course the burials were illegal since no permits were received.

There was no church funeral service, but I suppose that is excused by the necessary secrecy for these particular burials. The theology expressed by Preacher Noah Funk in his brief remarks does not reflect theology of Old Order Mennonites or Amish or any traditional Low German Mennonite theology. His comments seemed to imply there was still hope for the men who had died; this would not be the case for traditional Mennonites. None of these groups would ask a  layperson to lead in prayer at the graveside. Closing the graveside service with the Doxology (“Praise God from Whom all blessings flow”) seems unusual. Some Mennonites use this hymn to close regular Sunday worship services, but it is not generally associated with funerals. And they sang it way too fast for a traditional Mennonite group.

The cemetery itself looks most like an Old Order Amish cemetery, but could pass for an Old Colony Mennonite cemetery which also feature simple markers.

The most objectionable part of this series continues to be the mashing of Low German Mennonite, Old Order Amish and Old Order Mennonite culture. No Low German Mennonites in Canada use horses and buggies and lack electricity in their homes.

To better understand the complexity and reality of Ontario Mennonites, read In Search of Promised Lands: a Religious History of Mennonites in Ontario.

Lorna L. Bergey–Business Woman and Historical Mentor

Last week we looked at Peter Shirk, an Old Order Mennonite businessman in Bridgeport, Ontario. This week we look at one of his granddaughters — Lorna Lucille Shantz Bergey.

Lorna’s parents were Walter and Selina Shantz. Selina was the daughter of Peter Shirk and his second wife, Judith. Because Lorna’s husband, David, was incapacitated by a serious farm accident in 1954, the family was forced to begin its own commercial business. This was a cheese business that they operated from multiple farmers’ markets and two cheese shops in Southern Ontario.

Although a successful business woman, Lorna was likely better known for her historical research and writing, and her assistance to many historians who wanted to research and write about the Ontario Mennonite story. Lorna’s own historical writings have been collected in  Lorna (Shantz) Bergey: Her Literary Legacy, published by the Pennsylvania German Folklore Society of Ontario in 2011.

See the article and bibliography about Lorna, who taught me much about Ontario Mennonite history in the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online.


Lorna Bergey, 1999. Mennonite Archives of Ontario photo

Lorna Lucille Bergey: businesswoman and community historian; born 29 May 1921 in Wilmot Township, Waterloo County, Ontario to Walter C. Shantz (13 April 1894-10 December 1987) and Selina (Shirk) Shantz (21 May 1898-14 June 1979). She was the oldest child in a family of three sons and five daughters. On 29 May 1940 she married David D. Bergey (1916-1980). They had two sons, Edward and Robert. Lorna died 22 March 2009, and is buried in the Blenheim Mennonite cemetery.

Lorna grew up on the family farm, and attended the local public school through grade eight. She was only 12 years of age at this time. She passed her high school entrance exams, but following the custom within much of the the Mennonite community her education ended at that time, and she worked at home helping to raise her younger siblings. Nonetheless she developed a lifelong interest in reading; and she recalled reading about church news in the Gospel Herald stored in her parent’s home. She was a member of the Blenheim Mennonite Church until it closed, and later was a member at the Nith Valley Mennonite Church and First Mennonite Church in Kitchener after she moved to the city during retirement.

After marriage to David Bergey on her 19th birthday, she lived on the Bergey family farm west of New Dundee, Ontario where they farmed and operated a cheese stand at the Galt Farmers Market. In 1954 David suffered serious injury in a 14 meter fall from a silo, and Lorna was forced to become the major financial support for the family. David and Lorna gave up farming and developed the Bergey Cheese business that also expanded to farmer’s markets in Waterdown, Hamilton, Burlington and Milton, Ontario. When David was sufficiently recovered from his injuries, two cheese/deli shops were opened in Toronto and Hamilton. After David’s death in 1980, she scaled back the business, and retired in 1988.

In the 1950s Lorna became passionately interested in local history and the history of her Pennsylvania German Mennonite forebears. She joined the Waterloo Historical Society, and later the Pennsylvania German Folklore Society (secretary 1980-2005). She served as President of the Waterloo Historical Society in 1969. She was a founding member of the Mennonite Historical Society of Ontario, and served as its secretary from 1968-2000. She also served on the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada (treasurer, 1980-1985), Mennonite Bicentennial Commission (1983-1993), and the Historical Committee of the Mennonite Church (1969-1979). She was historian for the Mennonite Conference of Ontario (1971-1988) and served on the Historical Committee of Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (1988-1994). She was also active with Doon Pioneer Village, and was central to establishing the Brubacher House Museum on the University of Waterloo campus and the restoration of the Detweiler Meetinghouse near Roseville, Ontario. She was acting archivist at the Mennonite Archives of Ontario from 1967-1974. In the business world she served on the credit committee of the Mennonite Savings & Credit Union and was secretary of the Eastwood Mennonite Community where she lived in retirement.

Lorna’s frequent role as committee secretary was characteristic. She held organizational positions that got the work done. Her minutes were meticulous, and her reports detailed. She was the Society member who would do the mailings, sit at the display table in malls, seek out the donation of artifacts for the Brubacher House Museum, and speak to elementary school classes. A special gift Lorna had was developing tours of various Mennonite communities in Ontario. Lorna “put feet” under the projects that others thought up.

Lorna’s greatest impact, however, may have been her influence on the academic historical interpretation of Ontario Mennonite history. Lorna was always aware that she attended school fewer years than the people who consulted with her. Although Lorna was modest about her education, academics streamed to her door for direction to sources, counsel on interpretation of the Pennsylvania German Mennonite story, and basic fact-checking on Ontario Swiss Mennonites. She sat on the all the reading committees for the three-volume Mennonites in Canada series written by Frank H. Epp and Ted Regehr, and vigorously championed the place of Pennsylvania German Mennonites in Canadian history. Her contribution is acknowledged in many volumes of Ontario Mennonite history.
— Sam Steiner

“Pure” — the CBC Drama – Episode 3

In the past weeks I have commented on Episode 1 and Episode 2. I also have comments on Episode 4Episode 5 and Episode 6.

For me episode 3 ranged between interesting character scenes (Noah’s son talking about baptism and the daughter and policeman’s son) interspersed with highly unlikely bits of  action.

The German hymn briefly shown in the book in which Noah Funk is keeping his records of the drug operation is authentic, and appears in many German-language Mennonite hymnals.

The age of baptism implied in the son’s conversation with Noah is reasonable. This statement by the son should mean that he will be part of a “class” of baptismal candidates that studies a catechism before they are baptized; we’ll see if that happens in a future episode. Apparently the Edenthaler bishop lives some distance away and needs to be contacted by mail. However usually baptisms take place at a standard time of the year; a special communication would not be necessary.


From Episode 3 of “Pure”- CBC

The scene of 30 men and four horses pulling the crashed plane loaded with drugs and two bodies from the lake was ludicrous in the extreme. Apparently the Mennonites and their horses had more “horsepower” than a high-powered SUV. Bringing Mennonites from the “colony” who are not involved in the drug business into what “Pastor” Noah Funk knows is a crime scene makes no sense. Clearly this was done for visual “Mennonite” impact and was not realistic. Noah then casually lies to the group as if he knew nothing about the drugs on the plane. But if he knew nothing, why hadn’t the Mennonites simply called authorities to deal with an accident? It all makes no sense.

The pastor and his wife show increasingly limited moral agony over the crimes they know they are committing. They have no answer for the “straight” members of the community that chastise them for their involvement that has become widely known. Yet Noah still believes he’s being righteous. He makes no effort to utilize the police for whom he is now presumably a snitch. Perhaps it’s all supposed to reflect Mennonite naiveté.

The shooting scene at the end of the episode makes no sense. Why would the motorcycle gang leader move to murder Noah over price negotiations that haven’t even been discussed with the boss, Eli Voss, yet? I now that TV dramas have to move things along at a brisk pace, but they should make some sense. I guess we find out next week who killed the motorcycle gang leaders.

My previous comments about “Pure” mixing Amish and Old Order and Low German cultures remain.

Some of my reflections were quoted in the Winnipeg Free Press last Saturday.

If you want to learn the truth about Ontario Mennonite history, I invite you read my book, In Search of Promised Lands.

Peter Shirk–Old Order Mennonite Local Politician

Peter Shirk, a draft dodger from the U.S. Civil War, came to Canada in 1862 and became a successful business person, owning two significant flour mills that shipped widely, especially into the Maritimes.

Although aggressive in business, Peter was traditional in his theology, and was concerned about the changes he saw happening the Mennonite Church. In letters preserved that he wrote to a friend in Pennsylvania, Shirk expressed concerns about worldly worship services, preachers taking too much pride their sermons, the conduct of singing schools in church buildings, erecting church buildings in the style of Protestant churches, and overemphasis on abstinence from use of alcohol and tobacco. He would have seen the temperance movement as an outside influence on Mennonites coming from groups like the Methodists.

Surprisingly, however, he served on the local high school board for 26 years, even though his children did not attend high school. He was also treasurer of Waterloo Township for two decades. These were very unusual positions for an Old Order Mennonite to hold.

The article and bibliography about Peter Shirk can be seen in the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online.


Peter Shirk, 1912. Source: Mennonite Archives of Ontario

Peter Shirk: Old Order Mennonite businessman and local politician, was born 11 November 1839 near Churchtown, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, USA to Christian Shirk (9 August 1796-19 May 1870) and Elizabeth Hoffman Shirk (25 November 1807-3 August 1862). Peter was the youngest child in a family of three girls and three boys. On 5 June 1866 he married Magdalena Martin (2 March 1845-7 November 1895); they had 13 children. After Magdalena’s death, he married a widow, Judith Weber Krempien (4 July 1855-9 April 1942); they had one daughter in addition to the five children from her first marriage. Peter Shirk died 1 October 1919 in Bridgeport, Ontario, Canada; he and Magdalena are buried at First Mennonite Church in Kitchener.

Peter grew up on the family farm in Lancaster County, and apprenticed as a miller. In 1862 while the Civil War was raging, Peter and a sister, Barbara, moved to Waterloo County, Ontario, making Peter a draft dodger from the war. He worked a brief time for his uncle, Jacob Hoffman, who had a furniture factory and sawmill in Berlin (now Kitchener). Because of his experience in milling, Peter soon took a position at the Union Mills in Waterloo where he worked until 1866.

Peter Shirk had an entreprenuerial spirit and soon began operating his own mills. In 1866 he purchased the mill at Blair, Ontario, thoughhe sold it in 1869. In 1870, in partnership with Samuel S. Snider, he purchased the Lancaster Mills in Bridgeport. A sawmill and cooperage also operated near the mill. After Samuel Snider retired in 1887, Shirk continued as the sole proprietor. He then purchased the Baden Mills from James Livingstone in 1887. Shirk operated both mills until his death, after which they continued operation within the extended family until sold to the Waterloo County Co-operative in 1949. The Baden Mill was lost in a fire in 1942, and the Lancaster Mill burned in 1970. In its last years, the Lancaster Mill was operated as a feed mill for local farmers.

Although Peter held conservative theological views, he was an innovator in business practices. He had telegraph service installed at the Lancaster Mill at an early date, followed by installation of the first telephone in the town of Bridgeport.

In 1878 Peter Shirk was elected to the Berlin High School Board, and served on the board for 26 years, though none of his children attended high school. For 20 years (1892-1912) Peter Shirk also served as treasurer for the Township of Waterloo. His son, George, followed him in that position.

It appears that Peter and Magdalena Shirk were members until the 1890s at what became First Mennonite Church. However, three of their daughters were baptized in 1896 by Magdalena’s brother, Abraham Martin, the founder of the Old Order Mennonites in Waterloo County. Peter strongly believed that Mennonites should remain separate from world. This was reflected in a series of letters he wrote between 1893 and 1908 to Jacob Mensch, a conservative leader in Pennsylvania. Shirk expressed concerns in those letters about worldly worship services, preachers taking too much pride their sermons, the conduct of singing schools in church buildings, erecting church buildings in the style of Protestant churches, and overemphasis on abstinence from use of alcohol and tobacco.

Interestingly, Peter Shirk’s funeral was held at First Mennonite Church, led by two ministers from the more assimilated Mennonite Conference of Ontario and one Old Order Mennonite minister. Shirk’s ambivalent relationship to the modern world impacted the Old Order Mennonite community from the beginning, as the Ontario Old Order Mennonites always allowed telephones in places of business because of Peter Shirk’s telephone in the Lancaster Mill in Bridgeport.

— Sam Steiner


“Pure” — the CBC Drama – Episode 2

Last week I commented after the first episode of “Pure.”

I said it succeeded as a crime drama, though I had a number of issues with the presentation in terms of Mennonites.


Source: CBC TV

This morning I watched episode 2. I’m much less certain about the quality of drama. Too many things don’t make sense — why would you make the Ontario drug “boss” someone as highly visible and slow moving as a farmer-preacher with no criminal experience? It boggles the mind.

The visual portrayal of the group is closer to Amish this week, though the women’s dresses do look somewhat “Old Colony.” The bonnets are definitely Amish. The Saturday night “sing” had an Amish feel.

Most Old Order Mennonites and even Old Order Amish use cell phones at time. They are not as ignorant about technology as Noah Funk was. Old Orders draw the line at smart phones, but have used cell phones for business for many years. Low German Mennonites also have no issues with cell phones.

Women do not say “amen” at the end of family prayer before a meal. That’s the role of the head of the family, who is male. Certainly if he is sitting there, the prayer does not end until he says so.

Noah Funk’s “sermon” was wrong on many levels. It must always be tied to scripture, even if trying to make the point about God living within us that he did.

The women working in the drug distribution shop (or whatever it was) is not possible. Married women don’t work away from home. They might operate a business from home, but that scene was strictly for looks.

The young peoples’ singing was nice, and seemed to follow the Amish pattern.

For now let’s change our assessment to an over-the-top crime drama, with limited relationship to any previous “true story.”

See also my comments after Episode 1,  Episode 3,  Episode 4,  Episode 5 and Episode 6.

Jacob Moyer–First Mennonite Bishop in Ontario

About a month ago we wrote about Valentine Kratz, the first Mennonite minister in Canada. Today we look at Jacob Moyer, also part of the first Mennonite congregation in Canada at Vineland, Ontario. Moyer was ordained as a minister in 1802, one year after Kratz. In 1807 he was ordained as a bishop, the most senior position in the Mennonite ministerial hierarchy.

Historically the bishop performed the rites of the church — marriages, baptisms, serving communion to members, ordinations of ministers, etc. He (in the age of bishops they have always been men) also gave oversight to church discipline, determining when a member might be “set back” from ability to take communion (indicating a good relationship with the church and fellow members), or even revoke membership.

Jacob Moyer was a more gifted leader than Valentine Kratz; at least he is remembered that way. After his death in 1833, divisions within the Ontario Mennonite community began to occur.

The full article and bibliography can be seen in the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online


Mennonite Bicentennial monument at The First Mennonite Church in Vineland, on Jacob Moyer’s original land. GAMEO photo

Jacob Moyer: bishop and farmer; born 24 November 1767 in Bucks County, Pennsylvania to Samuel and Catharine (Kolb) Meyer. He was the fifth child and third son in a family of nine children. On 1 September 1791 he married Magdalena Bechtel (24 March 1773-23 June 1816). They had ten sons and no daughters. After Magdalena died, he married Catherine Bechtel Hoch (14 April 1776-6 February 1851), the widow of immigrant, Daniel Hoch. Jacob died 5 June 1833 while on a trip to Pennsylvania, and was buried in Bucks County.

By vocation Jacob Moyer was a farmer. He, with several others, scouted for land on the Niagara Peninsula in 1799 and purchased 1000 acres. He returned later that year with a larger group of families to settle. In 1802 he was ordained as a minister in the Mennonite Church, the second Mennonite minister ordained in Canada (one year after Valentine Kratz). He was ordained as a bishop in 1807; the first Mennonite bishop in Canada. Jacob Moyer was a gifted peacemaker, and had a reputation for being a good speaker. Three of his sons — Jacob, Abraham and Dilman — also became ministers in the Moyer congregation at Vineland. Dilman also served as a bishop.

Jacob Moyer was one of the natural leaders of the Mennonite community, and himself the son of a minister. His Bible records the first meeting of ordained leaders in 1810 that became the Mennonite Conference of Ontario. His location near Jordan Station made his home a natural stop for new settlers moving on to the larger settlement developing in Waterloo County, Ontario. As bishop he also ordained the earliest ministers in Waterloo County, probably including Benjamin Eby. Along with his cousin, Samuel, who was the local schoolteacher in the Vineland area, Jacob Moyer successfully forged a lasting Mennonite community. — Sam Steiner


“Pure” — the CBC Drama – Episode 1

A new crime drama by the Canadian Broadcasting Company entitled “Pure” features drug-trafficking Mennonites in Southern Ontario. Interviews with cast members have emphasized the inspiration for the story comes from actual events that have been widely reported. A “Fifth Estate” telecast about  the Low German “Mennonite Mob” can be see at http://www.cbc.ca/fifth/episodes/40-years-of-the-fifth-estate/mennonite-mob. In April 2004 Saturday Night Magazine had a feature story on the Mennonite Mob (https://web.archive.org/web/20151006210521/http://caj.ca/wp-content/uploads/2010/mediamag/awards2005/(Andrew%20Mitrovica)%20Saturday%20Night%20Magazine.htm), and periodically news stories show up on the theme, for example the story from 2014 at: http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/mennonites-linked-to-mexican-cartels-established-cocaine-smuggling-pipeline-near-alberta-border-police.

pure-hero-2That brings us back to “Pure.” At the time of writing I have seen the trailer for the show and the first episode.

As my friend, Armin Wiebe, wrote in a Facebook post, “It’s a tightly written, relentless crime drama.” On that level I think it succeeds very well. I’m not embarrassed by the writing or the acting.

Others will have to speak to the “Low German” accent of the actors; I suspect it’s somewhat off. One “Pure” actor in an interview on CBC spoke of listening to Mennonites at a farmers’ market in Nova Scotia. Now there aren’t that many Mennonites in Nova Scotia; he may have been listening either to Holdeman Mennonites (two congregations near Waterville and Tatamagouche) or some Kleine Gemeinde Mennonites near Truro that came from Belize.

As a historian I do have some problems with numerous aspects of the presentation. Reading comments on the “Pure” Facebook page, it’s clear that many people are confused about Mennonites and their history. This drama doesn’t help the confusion. For Mennonites, the show has many distracting elements because of the obvious “mistakes” in confusing various Mennonite cultural and historical streams. The producers of “Pure” try to avoid the issue by identifying the group as “Edenthaler,” a group that doesn’t exist, though they are identified as Low German Mennonites with connections to Mexico. However the producers then proceed to mix the cultures of Low German Mennonites, Old Order Mennonites and Old Order Amish in many visual aspects of the drama.

For me the horses and buggies are a complete distraction from the story line. No Low German Mennonites in Canada use horses and buggies. I guess it makes a certain kind of visual statement, but only the Old Order Mennonite and Amish groups still use this form of transportation, and their history has no relationship to Mexico except for the most recent decades when some Amish schoolteachers have provided some assistance to Old Colony Mennonite schools.

Some of my concerns about the show lessened when I saw how pointless the horses and buggies were to the plot. I felt it less likely than I first feared that the general public will confuse this story with the “real” Old Order Mennonites and Amish in Southern Ontario.


Old Colony Mennonite women, Durango Colony, Mexico, 2013. Canadian Mennonite photo

By and large the physical appearance of the players is also confusing for anyone familiar with Mennonite culture. The men are clean shaven and sort of look like Old Order Mennonites, except that they’re wearing Amish-style straw hats. The women look much more Amish in their clothing and bonnets, with mostly solid color dresses. They look nothing like traditional Low German Mennonite women in their clothing or headgear.

I suspect this was done because Old Order Mennonites are more quickly identifiable as “Mennonite” in the wider Canadian culture than traditional Low German dress would be. Is that a good enough justification for deliberately “borrowing” Old Order Mennonite culture? I would say no.

There are more problems with the worship and polity of the Edenthalers. The senior clergyman in any traditional Mennonite group is the Bishop or Ältester. Among the Edenthalers it seems to be the “Preacher.” Interestingly, Noah Funk is chosen by lot, a practice not used by Low German Mennonites, but only by Mennonites of the Swiss-South German historical tradition. The way the lot process was run was also incorrect; only a Bishop ordains, and he would have been the person checking the books indicating which man had the slip of paper.

Additionally, although the Edenthaler appropriately located women on one side of the church and men on the other during worship services, they allowed women freedom to speak in the service. This would not happen in a traditional service, which is much more stylized and formal in how things are done than was indicated here.

Noah Funk’s ploy to introduce the child, Ezekiel, as a nephew, would not have worked in a traditional Mennonite community. People in close-knit Mennonite communities know relatives and family lines, and would have known of the existence of any such child.

I’m sorry the CBC didn’t adhere more closely to the research they must have done. Adulterating the Low German culture with Old Order Mennonite imagery doesn’t help the plot, and simply confuses the general public.

Through my experience with Gadfly: Sam Steiner dodges the Draft, I have some understanding of what dramas “based on a true story” can lead to — what was true and what was fiction? The CBC could have done a better job on that part of the production.

I’ll enjoy the rest of the series for the drama, but not for its informational value about Mennonites.

If you are interested in a more accurate historical account of Mennonites in Ontario, see In Search of Promised Lands: a Religious History of Mennonites in Ontario.

See also my comments after Episode 2Episode 3Episode 4,  Episode 5 and Episode 6.

Ilda Bauman–Unsung hero

Ilda Bauman was born in the wrong generation to get the recognition she deserved. It was classic case of being the person who made the institution operate smoothly, while her male boss got the public recognition.

Ilda was a single woman, born in 1898, who got an education at Toronto Bible College. However she did not go on to the mission field or work for years in city missions–places that would have a least brought modest recognition.

No, she was a founder of the House of Friendship in Kitchener, Ontario. It began as a mission to Jews, but quickly turned to the physical and spiritual needs of transients and immigrants.

Ferne Burkhardt’s short sketch of Ilda Bauman’s contribution to the House of Friendship was written for the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO). Go there to see the article and bibliography.


Ruby Dettweiler, Joseph Cramer and Ilda Bauman, ca. 1940. Source: House of Friendship

Ilda Bauman: key leader in the launch and development of the House of Friendship in Kitchener, Ontario. She was born 26 August 1898 on the family farm to Ira S. Bauman (14 July 1865-13 October 1935) and Matilda (Groff) Bauman (29 April 1865-10 September 1949). She was the sixth child and fourth daughter in a family of eight children. Ilda died after lengthy illness on 2 April 1974.

The city of Waterloo now covers the farm where Ilda was born. At age 11, her parents moved the family into a town home near the Erb Street Mennonite Church where they attended. Ilda became a baptized member on 21 March 1913.

In 1923 Ilda graduated from Toronto Bible College (now Tyndale University College and Seminary). She served briefly with  her sister, Emma, at the Mennonite Orphans’ Home in West Liberty, Ohio, sometime between 1924 and 1927. She worked at House of Friendship from its beginning in 1939 until October 1949 as a co-worker of founding director Joseph Cramer. About 10 years later she suffered a stroke which paralysed her and kept her in Scott Pavilion for 13 years. Ilda was moved to Sunnyside Home in Kitchener where she died in 1974.

Ilda did not hold prominent church or public positions but she worked tirelessly at House of Friendship. In 1939 she was part of an interdenominational women’s prayer group in Waterloo intent on reaching Jewish people. When the women learned of Joseph Cramer, a Jewish teacher turned Christian, they sought him out to lead their vision. Cramer soon set up shop in rented quarters in downtown Kitchener. Ilda worked alongside Cramer, making hundreds of home and hospital visits, distributing books and thousands of pieces of literature in many languages, and helping with numerous worship services in the rented room. Ilda also cooked meals for clients from donated food in a small adjoining kitchen. The House of Friendship, which began as an interest in Jewish evangelism, quickly turned to attending the physical and spiritual needs of transients and immigrants, some of whom were Jewish.

Ilda’s signature appears with Cramer’s on formal reports and documents. People close to the mission saw her as the real manager, yet, after Cramer’s death, the all-male “Advisory Committee” did not consider inviting Ilda to become the new director. Rather, they gave her a month’s salary ($65.00) to  “help toward your waiting on the Lord for your next move.” It was a bitter end to her sacrificial service and her rejection may have contributed to the ill health which plagued her for the rest of her life.

Moses H. Roth–Mild-mannered Dissenter

Moses H. Roth was one of the founders of the Conservative Mennonite Church of Ontario. This group resulted from a division in the Mennonite Conference of Ontario in 1959 when a small group of ordained leaders believed the conference had become too lax in enforcing visible symbols of separation from the world. This included “innovations” like church weddings with flowers and veils, the wearing of wedding rings, women cutting their hair, and the wearing of less modest clothing.

Moses Roth was a more outgoing personality than his friend, Curtis Cressman, and had a more pastoral approach in personal relationships. He was founder of the congregation that became one of the largest conservative Mennonite congregations in Ontario–Countryside Mennonite Fellowship.

An interesting fact from the article reproduced below is that Moses Roth witnessed the last hanging in Stratford in 1954.

This article in the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online by Howard Bean was written in 2013, and can be seen there complete with bibliography.


Barbara & Moses Roth, early 1960s. Family photo

Moses H. Roth: bishop and farmer; born 1 February 1898 in Oxford County, Ontario, Canada to Rudolph “Rudy” Roth (10 December 1868-1 March 1943) and Lavina (Hostetler) Roth (7 August 1873-24 April 1927). He was the fourth child in a family of four boys and two girls. On 7 February 1923 he married Barbara Martin (3 April 1901-1 May 1991). They had one daughter, Gladys. Moses died on 24 December 1978, in New Hamburg, Ontario.

Moses farmed near New Hamburg, and was reasonably prosperous. It is said that Milo Shantz, prominent Waterloo County entrepreneur, got his first loan from his uncle, Moses.

Prior to his ordination, Moses Roth served regularly as Sunday school superintendent at Biehn Mennonite Church (now Nith Valley) near New Hamburg. In 1931 he was ordained minister to assist Ozias Cressman, at Geiger Mennonite Church (now Wilmot Mennonite Church). He was ordained bishop in the Mennonite Conference of Ontario in 1937 serving primarily at Geiger Mennonite Church but also in such places as Poole, Ontario (1949-1959) and Clarence Center, New York.

Moses believed strongly in missions. He planted the seed for the beginning of the London Rescue Mission and Nairn Mennonite Church through his teaching at a winter Bible school in Wellesley, Ontario. He was a long-time summer Bible school superintendent at the Baden mission. He gave supervision to such mission outposts as Markstay and Minden.

In the mid to late 1950s Moses became increasingly alarmed by what he saw as apostasy in the Ontario conference with the acceptance of the wedding ring, sisters in the church cutting their hair, and a weakening of dress restrictions. In 1959, Moses, along with Curtis Cressman (bishop), preachers Elmer Grove and Moses Baer, and deacons Andrew Axt and Clarence Huber withdrew from Ontario Conference and organized the New Hamburg Conservative Mennonite Church. This was the beginning of what became the Conservative Mennonite Church of Ontario and Midwest Mennonite Fellowship, together having approximately 2000 members (2013).

By the end of 1960, Moses began a second congregation in Heidelburg, the location of which changed in 1983 to Hawkesville and was renamed Countryside Mennonite Fellowship. Moses served as bishop at Heidelburg until 1968 when he withdrew his oversight due to difficulties in the congregation. Prior to his death in 1978, he made peace with the congregation and preached for them again at least once. From 1968 to 1978, Moses pastored a small independent Mennonite congregation at Crosshill for a year or so, and then a second congregation at Ethel.

In his ministry, Moses Roth earned a reputation for having the gift of healing as he prayed for the sick and anointed them with oil.

Moses was present on 16 February 1954 at the last hanging at the Stratford jail. Moses visited Reuben Norman, who was convicted of murder, in prison and led him to repentance.

Ron Sawatsky–Denominational Visionary

Today I’m recalling the GAMEO post of a contemporary–a friend with whom I shared many stimulating conversations. Ron Sawatsky was not born in Ontario, nor did he die in Ontario. But his greatest contribution to the Mennonite world occurred during the 20+ years he and Sue lived in Ontario during his graduate studies, and he gave leadership to the Mennonite Conference of Eastern Canada and Mennonite Church Canada during years of enormous change.

Ron had a creative mind administratively, seeing possibilities for moving forward when others saw obstacles. He also loved technology, and would introduce me to new “gadgets” acquired since the last time we had met.

This article and bibliography, written in 2014, can be seen in the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online.


Ron Sawatsky. Photo courtesy of Sue Sawatsky

Ronald “Ron” George Sawatsky: consultant, denominational leader and retirement community administrator, was born in Altona, Manitoba, Canada on 19 March 1950 to Bernhard “Ben” Sawatsky (26 January 1913-21 January 1998) and Susanna “Susie” Falk Sawatsky (25 April 1924-27 May 2014). He was the youngest of three children, and the second son. On 12 August 1972 Ron married Susanna “Sue” Thiessen (1950- ), daughter of Frank Thiessen (1928- ) and Aganetha Bergen Thiessen (1928- ). Ron and Sue Sawatsky had one son (Bevan) and one daughter (Laresa). Ron Sawatsky died 28 June 2014 in Warrington, Pennsylvania. His ashes are interred at the Cedar Grove Mennonite Cemetery in Markham, Ontario.

When Sawatsky was very young, his family moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he grew up. His father was an Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference minister, who also worked as a building contractor. Ron attended elementary school and high school in Winnipeg, though he graduated from Steinbach Bible Institute. He grew up in the Gospel Mennonite Church in Winnipeg. The Sawatsky family was a musical one that often performed together in local churches.

When his parents attended Eastern Mennonite College for two years in the late 1960s, Ron attended there for one year as well. He also obtained training in studio photography, and small equipment repair (cameras).

From 1975-1977 Ron and Sue Sawatsky served a Voluntary Service term with Mennonite Central Committee in Akron, Pennsylvania. Immediately after this they moved to Ontario where Sawatsky completed a BA (1979) and MA (1980) in Religious Studies at the University of Waterloo. He earned a PhD in Religious Studies at the University of Toronto in 1986. Ron found employment in various areas of interest during the next years, including retirement communities and their development. In 1993 the family moved to Waterloo, Ontario when Ron became Vice President, Administration and Finance for Conrad Grebel College. This was a time of severe financial constraints in Ontario higher education, and this position ended in 1995.

Ron then worked in management consulting, leading in 1998-99 to a consulting contract and then role as chief executive officer for Rockhill Mennonite Community (a continuing care retirement community in Sellersville, Pennsylvania), a position he held until December 2012. During these years he was actively engaged in expanding Rockhill’s program and operations, as well as participating in a variety of professional organizations related to long term care both within and beyond the Mennonite community. Ron’s Mennonite organizational leadership began in 1985. He chaired the steering committee for a three-day Canadian Mennonite Bicentennial event planned for the Harbourfront Centre in downtown Toronto. The event, which utilized up to 600 volunteers, featured music, food, art, crafts and literature, and brought Ron’s organizational skills to the attention of denominational leaders.

He became the assistant moderator (1990), then moderator (1991-1996) of the Mennonite Conference of Eastern Canada (MCEC). During his time as MCEC moderator he hired the first female executive secretary of a regional conference in the Mennonite Church.

His role as MCEC moderator placed him on the General Board of the Conference of Mennonites in Canada (CMC) at a time when the Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church merger and restructuring was a major issue in both denominations. Sawatsky’s election as moderator of CMC in 1996 allowed him to exercise his organizational gifts and his willingness to take calculated risks during CMC’s transformation into Mennonite Church Canada. As CMC moderator he was deeply engaged in the merger negotiations that led to the creation of Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada. His term as MC Canada moderator ended in 2002.

One of the challenges during Sawatsky’s time of leadership was the creation of the Mennonite Publishing Network (later MennoMedia) through the merger of Mennonite Publishing House (MPH) and Faith and Life Press. The merger revealed a serious financial crisis at MPH that required the downsizing of the new denomination’s publication program, and included the laying off of many staff. Ron was part of the leadership group that oversaw this transition as well as the fundraising required to address the liabilities. In 2002 he chaired the transition MPH board.

Sawatsky’s organizational gifts also extended to music. He was the founding president of the Pax Christi Chorale in Toronto, formed in 1987, and served on the executive of Menno Singers in the Kitchener-Waterloo area.

In 2009 Ron Sawatsky was diagnosed with Lyme disease, though he had begun to experience mobility concerns a few years previously. He engaged aggressive treatment programs with determination, but his health continued to decline and he died unexpectedly from cardiac arrest.

Helmut Harder, General Secretary of the Conference of Mennonites in Canada during the formation of Mennonite Church Canada, said Ron Sawatsky was a “born leader and a committed churchman. He was a keen observer of group dynamic, and he listened well. It was a joy to collaborate with him.” — Sam Steiner