Grand River Branch

United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada

 

 

 

 


Selected Reprints from the

Grand River Branch Newsletter, Branches



"The Mennonites Close Waterloo Meeting House"

Doris Lemon, February 1994, Vol.6 No.1, Page 25

 

   We thought it was appropriate to draw to your attention an interesting "insight report", which appeared in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record on January 20, 1994.  The article, "An era ends, Mennonites close Waterloo meeting house", by Frank Jakobsh, a professor of German at the University of Waterloo, briefly summarizes the history of the Old Order Mennonites in Woolwich Township and their meeting house in north Waterloo.  The record article notes that "... Dec. 26 (1993) was the last regular church service the 'buggy people' held in this historic building".  the meeting house will continue in use by the "Markham Mennonites", who are similar to the Old Order community, except in their use of black cars.

 

   Martin's Meetinghouse on December 26, 1993, the last regular Sunday services were held by Old Order Mennonites

Martin Mennonite Meetinghouse (Waterloo, Ontario)

December 26, 1993

  The original Waterloo building was constructed sometime between 1824, when land was set aside, and 1831.  It is one of the oldest buildings within the region of Waterloo.  The building had become associated with the Martin name.  Henry Martin originally left part of his land for the church meeting house and Peter Martin was an important early leader.  Professor Jakobsh noted that...

".. When the split between the reforming Mennonites (urban, in towns of Berlin and Waterloo) and the Old Order Mennonites (rural in Woolwich Township) occurred in the 1880's, this building was the centre of the traditionalists.  They were the ones who opted for retention of their German language, distinctive dress, isolation from the influences of the outside world, holding fast to the old ways -- 'even though foolish to the world'..."

  In recent years, especially since the 1950's, Waterloo has grown from a small town to a much larger city.  The meeting house gradually has become surrounded by an industrial park over the past decade and accessibility has become a major problem for "horse and buggy".  Even on Sunday, the traffic can be a hazard.

  The Old Order congregation has moved to one of the more northerly meeting houses in Woolwich Township, where the members will not have to contend with either the traffic or the tourist cameras and they may worship in the quiet surroundings of the countryside.  Again, quoting Professor Jakobsh:

".. It has become fashionable for interest groups in our society to protest or petition governments for special arrangements on their behalf.  No doubt the Old Order community would be heard if they appeal and some special access routes could be devised.  But that is not their way.  They accept certain developments as inevitable and prefer to withdraw gracefully..."

  The meeting house on King Street in north Waterloo, has served as place of worship for Old Order Mennonites for approximately 165 years.  Diane and I very recently moved to Heidelberg, which lies in the heart of "Old Order Country".  In the few short months that we have lived here, we have explored alternate routes to drive to our own church in Waterloo.  Often, on Sunday mornings, we have gingerly passed many buggies travelling down Benjamin Road on their way to the old north King Street, Waterloo meeting house.  According to my understanding, the Old Order people do not necessarily eschew progress or technical change.  Most of the Old Order farm families employ quite modern agricultural practices and accept many other attributes of modernity.  It would be wrong to accuse them of exercising a blind obedience to tradition for its own sake.  Around the turn of the century, the non-reforming communities decided to reject the adoption of the automobile and certain other modern innovations, because it was felt that they would threaten the structure of their faith communities.  The conception of what constitutes "progress" is different from that of the surrounding society.  It is best to observe the introduction of an invention, change or technique, as an example, the automobile, for fifty or one hundred years, before adapting or adopting it.  Change is inevitable, but desirable only if the community has had ample time to evaluate the innovation and accordingly place its stamp of approval.  The Old Order folk have had to contend with regulatory changes, especially in the past twenty years.  The enormous power of modern bureaucratic states is hard to fight and I often wonder whether the unique Old Order Mennonite community will still be with us thirty, fifty or one hundred years from now.  We hope so, and we also hope that the local Mennonite Historical Society and other heritage groups will cooperate to preserve the old meeting house in north Waterloo.

Determination, as a result of faith, in the face of relentless change.