Our own Mennonite church takes a break on holiday weekends in summertime. So for the last three years, I’ve aided Sam’s research with our annual Sunday morning “drive by” of Mennonite-related churches.
Last Sunday we located as many such churches as possible on a route planned by Sam. Our explorations took us into Perth and Wellington counties as well as Waterloo Region. We did our “driving by” from 9:50 to 12:20, often stopping to take photos of conveyances in parking lots. Our route took us past 26 worshiping groups.
Many of the churches we passed represent less assimilated groups than our own conference, Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (MCEC). So as we drove through the countryside, we listened to a CD of music from my less assimilated days – Mennonite Hour favorites from the 1950s (Hallelujah! Amen!).
Four of our sightings especially intrigued me:
- In the town of Millbank, we were pleased to find a lot full of horses unhitched from open carriages. We realized we were close to an Old Order Amish service taking place in a house, shed or barn– a “bishop district” worshiping in its usual manner.
- We came across two Old Colony Mennonite churches, originating with Mennonites who had migrated to Mexico from Canada. We were intrigued by the boat hitched to the maroon pickup truck in front of the Crosshill Old Colony church, and surprised by the large size of the new-looking Old Colony church at Carthage. We happily noted the Amish-run Misty Pine Bulk Foods store across a side road.
- We were excited to locate the Hesson Christian Fellowship, now meeting in a former mainline church in the small village of Hesson. It’s the only local church belonging to Charity Ministries, a Lancaster County Pa.-based group which does not call itself Mennonite. It holds to dress codes for women and doctrines similar to those of conservative Mennonites, but with a charismatic twist. A sign in the yard with an evangelical message told us that the big old church no longer houses mainline worshipers.
- At one time or another, we’ve seen 14 of the 15 Old Order Mennonite meetinghouses in Waterloo, Perth and Wellington counties. Our route on Sunday took us past four of them, including the Conestoga meetinghouse.
At 12:20 we came upon it on Three Bridges Road near St. Jacobs. From a distance, the yard seemed full of wonderful colour swatches! As we came closer, we saw one block of white shirts and black pants (younger men and boys); another block of black (older men); and yet another swatch of solid-coloured dresses, some black (older women) and some even pink (little girls). People visited with each other in these groupings after the service. We saw horses hitched to open carriages or closed buggies at various locations around the yard, as well as a pile of bicycles.
I’ve always had a special interest in the Conestoga meetinghouse. The Old Order split of 1889 separated families who had worshiped together near the present school and cemetery at the intersection of Three Bridges Road and Hawkesville Road. Part of that group formed the Conestoga Old Order congregation. I once pastored the other part of the group, which became the St. Jacobs Mennonite Church in the town of St. Jacobs. I likely saw some of the Conestoga meetinghouse people at funerals in town.
Other reflections: I’m amazed (and personally shamed!) by the number of Mennonite-related people worshiping on a holiday weekend. Perhaps, I mused, we “should” have joined one of them for worship rather than just driving by!
Sam identified 13 different groups to which the 26 churches on our route belong. Do we really need to do all that splitting, I wondered? On the other hand, new church structures do sometimes bring spurts of growth and new freedoms. Or they preserve doctrines and practices which some believe others have let lapse.
The drive through the countryside was of itself nourishing. When the Mennonite Hour CD finished, I pulled out Vivaldi’s Four Seasons for us to enjoy.
We hoped to find stooks amongst the Amish in Perth County, but didn’t see any there.
We did take photos earlier in the week of stooks in the Amish community near Aylmer, Ontario. I love those squat stooks! We found them located between two Amish businesses we enjoy – Pathway Press (a major Amish publisher) and the Country Flavour-Rites Bakery.
Question for Reflection:
How do you view the splitting of Mennonites into different groupings? A good thing? An unfortunate thing? Or just “the way it is”?
Next Week: Second Best Isn’t Bad!