#112A – An Amazing Sunday Afternoon Drive

I’ve long  had a respect for the Old Order and other conservative Mennonites of our region, and have been pleased to live in proximity to them.

So it’s not surprising that the other Sunday afternoon, our drive took us past the Conestoga Old Order Mennonite Meetinghouse near  St. Jacobs.

Conestoga-Meetinghouse-June-2019As we approached the meetinghouse, we saw young men on bicycles or with horses and buggies dash out of the parking lot.  We saw groups of young women walking energetically along the rural road.

As we got closer, we saw dozens of young women – all wearing pastel dresses – lined up along one side and part of the front of the building, all apparently waiting to be picked up by a young men’s buggies on the far side of the meetinghouse. The meetinghouse yard was jammed with conveyances.

“What on earth is going on here?” we wondered.

Then we remembered.  We’ve come upon instruction class!

All the late teenagers being baptized this fall in 25 Old Order districts in Waterloo region are attending catechism class for 2 ½ or 3 hours on six consecutive Sunday afternoons in June and July, with two-four adjacent districts meeting together.

I knew this group used the Dordrecht Confession of 1632 to learn the catechism, but I had some other questions. So Sam phoned a well-informed Old Order deacon with these inquiries:

  1. How far do people come to attend? From as far away as Mt. Forest.
  2. What are the demographics of the people who attend? They are mostly young people, and the parents of those being baptized.
  3. Everybody seems happy when the class leaves out. Is it a social event too? The youth are probably just happy to get out of there after 2 1/2 -3 hours of instruction!
  4. Is this a way of “keeping the theology” of the group together? Yes!
  5. In what language is the instruction? Each week there is an initial Scripture in High German and a sermon in Pennsylvania German. Then each week three articles of the Confession are read in High German. Two ministers have been assigned in advance to expound on each of the 18 articles in Pennsylvania German. After each of the  three expositions that day, each baptismal candidate is asked whether he or she is in agreement with the article.

(The 18 articles deal with such matters as… of God and the creation of all things…the reason for Christ’s coming…revenge…foot washing…of holy baptism…the ban and shunning….and the office of the secular authority)

All the candidates are baptized in the fall in their own district.

Martindale-Mennonite-MeetinghouseThe following Sunday afternoon we came across an instruction class already in progress at the neighbouring Martindale Meetinghouse near Heidelberg.  The meetinghouse is smaller and newer than Conestoga.

My reaction to all this?

I’m amazed at this level of instruction, with its uniform theology.  And I wonder:  what would happen if our conference tried to have six weeks of regional catechism each summer?  Could that help us “keep the theology of the conference together?” Do we want to have a uniform theology?

If we could do it, would we? how might this approach to instruction class further our mission? How might it hinder our mission?














 If we could, how might it help us

#69 – Our Annual “Drive By” of Mennonite Churches

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:IMG_6268

  1. 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.IMG_6256
  2. 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.IMG_6271
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
    Conestoga Mennonite Meetinghouse without people

    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.

IMG_6225We 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!