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.

…..

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.

GAMEO-Board-2017

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.

Elsie Kolb: a Shy Ontario-Born Mennonite Matriarch

Elsie Kolb (1875-1949) was born on an Ontario Mennonite farm near Breslau, Ontario to Joseph and Nancy (Stauffer) Kolb. She was the eldest daughter in a family of two sons and two daughters. Her childhood was probably unremarkable, with a basic elementary school education. She has been described as shy and retiring. As a teenager she began to work away from home as a maid. When she was 18, she worked for a time with newly-married Eli S. and Melinda Hallman who were partners in a dry goods store in Berlin (now Kitchener).

George Lewis Bender (1867-1921) was born in Maryland in the middle of a large Amish family. He didn’t want to farm, so went to normal school to become a teacher, first in Maryland, then in Iowa. In 1890 he was invited to come to Elkhart, Indiana to work for John F. Funk’s Mennonite Publishing Company. Because of his ability to speak German, George did a lot of traveling for Funk’s company to Canada and the western United States.

George Bender and Elsie Kolb

George Bender and Elsie Kolb (seated) wedding, 1896. Courtesy George and Elsie Kolb Bender Photographs. Box 1, Folder 4. HM4-043. Mennonite Church USA Archives – Goshen. Goshen, Indiana.

When visiting Berlin, George sometimes stayed with Eli and Melinda Hallman, and it was here that he met Elsie Kolb. Much of their courtship was by correspondence, but George made several visits a year, and in October 1896 they were married in Elkhart, Indiana. None of Elsie’s family could attend the wedding because of limited finances, and because George was teaching school, he could not come to Ontario.

Elsie and George were both highly committed to the Mennonite Church. George was ordained as a deacon in the Elkhart Mennonite Church in 1907. This church, later known as Prairie Street Mennonite Church, was more assimilated than most Mennonite churches, borrowing many ideas from neighboring revivalist churches. It had begun an “evangelizing committee” already in 1882.

In 1894 George became treasurer of this “evangelizing” venture that eventually, through various mergers, became the Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities, the primary mission agency of the binational Mennonite Church. Much of his work was volunteer work, particularly related to fundraising for mission projects. George went back to teaching in 1896 to earn a better income, and in 1906 he became a postal clerk in Elkhart. It was only in 1915 that he became a fulltime employee of the Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities.

George and Elsie Bender family

The George and Elsie Kolb Bender family of Elkhart, Indiana in 1913. From the left: Florence, Wilbur, Elsie, Robert (on lap), Harold (H.S.),John, Violet, George, Cecil. Courtesy George and Elsie Kolb Bender Photographs. Box 1, Folder 4. HM4-043. Mennonite Church USA Archives – Goshen. Goshen, Indiana.

Elsie and George had eight children, though their youngest child, George, Jr., died within a few days of birth in 1915.   But the other seven children went on to achieve surprising careers for a humble Mennonite family.

As the children were growing up Elsie often took them back to Ontario during the summers, where they enjoyed the rural life.

Unfortunately, in 1918 George began to suffer from Parkinson’s Disease, and he died in 1921 at the age of 53, when the youngest surviving child was eight years old. During the last year he was mentally unstable, putting great stress on Elsie as she tried to manage a household with six children still at home amidst severely limited finances.

Historian Al Keim has described George and Elsie Bender as part of the new “urban Mennonite middle class.”  They emphasized good manners, doing well in school, and learning foreign languages. As dress regulations in the Mennonite Church became more strict in the early 20th century, George supported the conservative shift. Elsie was more lenient, not believing in keeping young people “too tightly reined in, because knowing human nature, when they get out where they are their own dictators, there is a reaction.”

After George’s death in 1921, Elsie stayed in Elkhart with the remaining children for another three plus years. At the end of 1924 she moved to Goshen to live with her eldest son, who returned to Goshen to teach at Goshen College.

Most Mennonites know of this oldest child, Harold Stauffer “H. S.” Bender. He was born in 1897, almost nine months to the day after their marriage, and went on to become one of the dominant Mennonite leaders of the 20th century. As a theologian and historian he taught at Goshen College, was a leader in the formation and growth of Mennonite Central Committee and Mennonite World Conference, and wrote “The Anabaptist Vision,” which helped Mennonites shift from a fundamentalist theology, and rethink their place in church history. Harold died in 1962.

The remaining children were also quite remarkable in their individual ways.

The second child, and oldest daughter, was Florence Elizabeth Bender, born in December 1899. Like her older brother, she attended and graduated from Goshen College. She went on to earn a Master of Science degree in Home Economics at Purdue University.  During the 1930s she had a position with the state of Indiana under the Works Progress Administration (WPA) providing oversight to nursery schools. She later taught as an assistant professor at Bowling Green State University from 1944-1952. Florence, who never married, died in 1987.

The third child, Violet Esther Bender, was born in November 1901. She contracted polio when she was three years old, which would have increased the family management burden for Elsie. Violet attended Goshen College, but it closed in 1923 for a year, so she graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio. From 1927 to 1930, she headed the American Community School in Beirut, Lebanon. In the 1930s she married J. Sheldon Turner, a diplomat for the U.S. Foreign Service. She accompanied him on assignments to Iraq and Thailand, and was a radio and television news editor for the U.S. Information Agency while in Thailand. She was also a published poet, with her work appearing in Poetry Magazine, The Washington Post, and elsewhere. She died in 1990.

The fourth child, Wilbur Joseph Bender, was born in October 1903. He began his post-secondary studies at Goshen College, but after it closed in 1923, completed his undergraduate work at Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts where he graduated in 1927. He went on to an M.A. degree at Harvard in 1930. In the early 1930s as assistant dean at Harvard, Bender helped organize the Harvard National Scholarship program. He left Harvard in 1933 to teach at Phillips Andover Academy. Wilbur then served in the Navy in World War II. He returned to Harvard and was dean of Harvard College from 1947 to 1952, and dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Harvard from 1952 to 1960 when he retired. He died suddenly in 1965.

The fifth child, Cecil Kolb Bender, was born in December 1906. He obtained his B.A. at Goshen College, and went on to earn an M.D. at Northwestern University in 1934. He became a physician and surgeon in Goshen, Indiana where he died of a heart attack in 1960.

The sixth child, John Ellsworth Bender, was born in July 1909. He also received a B.A. from Goshen College. His obituary said he went on to obtain a master’s degree and doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania, though I wasn’t otherwise able to confirm this. He was teaching in a high school in Pennsylvania in 1940 when he was dismissed because he was a conscientious objector. He went into Civilian Public Service, part of which included writing a book on Paraguay and the Mennonite colonies for Mennonite Central Committee. The book, to be titled Paraguay Calling, was never completed. John married, but the marriage ended in divorce. He taught in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, school system for many years. At his death in 1993 his passions were said to be teaching Shakespeare, playing chess and making puns.

The seventh child, Robert Leighton Bender, was born in March 1912. He also graduated from Goshen College – in 1932. He went on to study medicine at Harvard Medical School, and obtained an M.D. in 1937. He considered going into practice with his brother, but finally established his own practice in Elkhart. My research did not reveal how long he practiced in Elkhart; later in life he and his wife, Carolyn, moved to Southern California where she died in 1980 and he died in 1999.

Although Elsie did not have a high profile, her spirit of leniency surely affected the multiplicity of skilled vocations her children pursued. Most did not remain in the Mennonite Church, but their contributions were significant. Elsie Kolb Bender was indeed a shy matriarch.

Much background information comes from Albert N. Keim, Harold S. Bender, 1897-1962. Additional information comes from the obituaries to which there are links, as well as the chapter in John S. Umble’s Mennonite Pioneers on George L. Bender.

20th Anniversary of Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO)

GAMEO's front page, 2016

GAMEO’s front page, 2016

This year is the 20th anniversary of the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO).

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.

GAMEO Management Board

GAMEO Management Board, 2011. L-R: Abe Dueck, Bert Friesen, Richard Thiessen, John Thiesen, John Roth, John A. Lapp, Sam Steiner. GAMEO photo

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.

In 2012 GAMEO shifted its financial relationship from the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada to Mennonite World Conference. A management board composed of representatives of all the partners gives oversight to GAMEO. Bert Friesen remained chair of the management board in 2015. Richard Thiessen of Abbotsford, British Columbia became managing editor in 2012. In 2015 there were over 15,900 articles in GAMEO.

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

Mennonite World Conference comes to Ontario

I say very little about Mennonite World Conference (MWC) in In Search of Promised Lands. However, the 16th assembly of Mennonite World Conference begins in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on July 21. This leads me to recall the experience of Ontario Mennonites who hosted the 7th assembly from August 1-7, 1962 in Kitchener.

Mennonite World Conference started in 1925 when European Mennonites began a series of meetings to deepen ties among the growing number of Mennonite groups, to remember shared histories and to strengthen their common spiritual interests. These meetings were intially held every five or six years in European locations like Zurich (1925), Danzig (1930) and Amsterdam (1936) with a relatively small number of Mennonite leaders participating. After a break during World War II, North American Mennonites became much more involved in these meetings, and the meetings became much larger, attracting lay people as well as leaders. Assemblies were held in Goshen (Indiana)/Newton (Kansas)(1948), Basel & Zurich, Switzerland (1952) and Karlsruhe, Germany (1957). The 1957 assembly created a more formal structure for MWC, and redefined its purposes to include “regularly recurring meetings of brotherly fellowship” in order to strengthen “awareness of the world-wide brotherhood” and “to deepen faith and hope and aid the church in its ministry to the world.” The earlier emphasis on appreciation for the historic heritage of faith was no longer featured. Thirteen hundred people participated in the Karlsruhe assembly.

Mennonite World Conference 1962

Public session of Mennonite World Conference in Kitchener, 1962. Archives of the Mennonite Church  (Goshen) photo.

The seventh, and by far the largest assembly to that time, came to Kitchener in 1962. Over 12,000 persons registered for the event, almost 10 times the number that participated at Karlsruhe, which had previously been the largest assembly. Six thousand of these persons were housed by local Mennonites during the conference. This was a massive organizational effort for the meetings held for a week in the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium. Hundreds of local Mennonites volunteered for duties including arranging housing, ushering at mass meetings,  preparing food, and registering delegates.

Mennonite World Conference registration, 1962

Registration at Mennonite World Conference in Kitchener, 1962. Archives of the Mennonite Church (Goshen) photo.

Harold S. Bender, Dean of Goshen Biblical Seminary in Indiana and a longtime Mennonite leader in North America, had served as President of Mennonite World Conference since 1952. He envisioned MWC not only as a tool to help keep the worldwide Mennonite community together, but also as a place where the worldwide Mennonite community could reflect together more theologically. The latter was a new concept that had not been part of MWC’s mandate earlier.

Bender was terminally ill with cancer at the time of the 1962 meetings, and was not able to attend the early part of the meetings. He did appear at the closing sessions where he expressed some of these sentiments on MWC’s future. Some historians of Mennonite World Conference have suggested the Kitchener assembly was a crowning work of Harold S. Bender, who died six weeks later on September 21. On a more ironic note, in later years a few persons also recalled that Harold Bender had mentioned the death of Marilyn Monroe in his public comments. Monroe had died early Sunday morning, August 5. It appeared later this was a faulty memory, but it made for an interesting story that circulated in Mennonite circles for several years.

Since 1962 Mennonite World Conference has become the focal point where almost all Mennonite groups from six continents meet. The majority of Mennonites now live in the global South. MWC has become a worldwide communion with increasing theological conversation at a time when Mennonite theology globally is becoming more and more diverse.

I am indebted for much of this analysis from an article by John A. Lapp and Ed van Straten, “Mennonite World Conference 1925-2000: from Euro-American
Conference to Worldwide Communion,” in Mennonite Quarterly Review 77, no. 1 (Jan 2003): 7-45.

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

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Ordination of Women in Ontario

Ministering sisters, 1900

Ontario ministering sisters ca. 1900. Photo courtesy Missionary Church Historical Trust.

In an earlier post, we noted that the Mennonite Brethren in Christ (now Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada) had women pastoral leaders already in the 1880s. They were called ministering sisters, and often led congregations in small cities like Owen Sound or St. Thomas, or mission congregations in places like Toronto. Although these women participated in annual conference meetings with other pastors, they were never ordained for ministry. Ordination of Mennonite women for ministry did not come to Ontario until the last quarter of the 20th century. There were anomalous exceptions in the case of some overseas missionaries, like Leona Cressman of the Stirling Avenue Mennonite Church, but in most cases the ordination for mission service did not have the same status in North America.

The objection to women in congregational leadership focused on biblical passages that appeared to circumscribe the role of women in the church, such as 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Timothy 2. Some commentators, like Mennonite Brethren leader, Henry H. Janzen, also suggested that women were more susceptible to emotion in teaching and that “sexual appeal” was an additional negative factor. In contrast, other biblical interpreters based acceptance of women in ministry on passages like Galatians 3:28 (“There is … neither male nor female …”) and numerous references to the apostle Paul’s female coworkers in Romans 1.

The first woman in Ontario to serve as a co-pastor was Doris Yantzi Weber, who served with her husband, Rod, at the Avon Mennonite Church in Stratford. At that time Avon was part of the Western Ontario Mennonite Conference, a regional conference of the Mennonite Church. Weber had grown up in the Ontario Amish Mennonite community west of Kitchener. When she was about ten her parents took her to a neighboring non-Mennonite church for a musical event. The musicians were introduced by a female pastor. Doris asked her mother the next day if she would ever be able to be a pastor. Although her mother honestly answered, “No,” Doris’s inner call to ministry never died. She attended Ontario Mennonite Bible School, where she met her husband. After bearing six children, she returned to school to obtain her BA and MDiv degrees. In June 1974 Rod and Doris began to serve the church at Avon. Although they functioned together as a team, Rod Weber was licensed for ministry in July 1974, and Doris was not. However, in February 1979 they were both “commissioned” to pastoral ministry, and this was later understood to be equivalent to ordination.

The commissioning language reflected a brief period in binational Mennonite Church history when the “recovery of the Anabaptist Vision” movement stimulated by Harold S. Bender emphasized the “priesthood of all believers.” This sixteenth-century Anabaptist precept caused some Mennonite academics and congregational leaders to reject the hierarchy they perceived in the rite of ordination, which invested leaders with a special office. Some young male pastors sought commissioning instead of ordination, believing this fostered a flatter power structure, and it was not assumed to be lifelong in the way Mennonites had previously understood ordination. John Howard Yoder, the prominent Mennonite theologian, was one academic who argued against the practice of ordination, saying it detracted from the vision of universal ministry and had little biblical foundation. Since a few women were just entering congregational leadership, this change in language from ordination to commissioning led some women to believe commissioning was a lower status that diminished their authority in the congregation. Thus while young male pastors reacted against traditional ordination language, emerging female pastors preferred ordination to undergird their authority in an unfamiliar role. Ironically, within a decade or so, most of the Ontario Mennonite male pastors in congregational leadership also abandoned commissioning language for traditional ordination.

Doreen Neufeld

Doreen Neufeld preparing communion soon after her ordination in 1980. Photo by Hugo Neufeld.

Doreen and Hugo Neufeld moved to Hamilton in July 1971 to direct the Welcome Inn Community Centre. Hugo, a social worker, had grown up in the Niagara United Mennonite Church in Virgil, where his father, Cornelius K. Neufeld, was an early leader. Doreen (née Dueck) grew up in British Columbia and was an elementary school teacher by training. The Neufelds worked cooperatively in their leadership of the Welcome Inn Community Centre activities and its large voluntary service program. Gradually, when their work included more church-like events, including worship services, the Hamilton Mennonite Church was no longer able to accommodate all the activity. Hugo and Doreen were both ordained as ministers on October 19, 1980, at the request of the Hamilton Mennonite Church, with Peter H. Janzen officiating. Janzen was the moderator of the Conference of United Mennonite Churches in Ontario, a regional conference of the General Conference Mennonite Church. As with the case of Rod and Doris Weber, the fact that Doreen’s ordination was for a co-pastorate with her husband likely reduced concerns about the appropriateness of women in leadership.

Martha Smith Good

Martha Smith Good in 1982. Photo courtesy Mennonite Archives of Ontario.

Martha Smith joined the pastoral team at Stirling Avenue Mennonite Church in Kitchener in November 1977 and was commissioned in January 1978. In March 1979 she married Gerald Good, a widower with four children who was pastor at the Hillcrest Mennonite Church in New Hamburg. After her wedding Martha worked half time, and she left Stirling Avenue in September 1979. In summer 1981 she became the pastor of the new Guelph Mennonite Church. The congregation requested ordination for Smith Good, but the leadership of the Mennonite Conference of Ontario and Quebec (MCOQ), also part of the Mennonite Church, hesitated. There were several reasons for this hesitation. First, the Guelph congregation’s affiliation also with the Ontario United Mennonite Conference necessitated conversation between the two conferences because of their different procedures for recognizing pastoral leaders. Second, MCOQ remained uncertain whether it wanted to promote commissioning as a replacement for ordination. The conference’s ambivalence and delay in response to the ordination request caused Martha Smith Good much pain, but she was ordained in April 1982 and went on to serve in a number of locations in Ontario and the United States. She was the first ordained woman to serve as the sole pastor of a Mennonite congregation in Ontario.

Eventually these three conferences, composed of highly assimilated Mennonites, merged in 1988 to form Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (MCEC), a regional conference of Mennonite Church Canada. Other Ontario Mennonite groups resisted ordaining women into the 21st century.

To learn more about ordination of pastors among Ontario Mennonites, read In Search of Promised Lands.

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