What is a Mennonite?

Mennonites are a subgroup of Anabaptist Christians named after Menno Simons (1496-1561). Simons outlined Anabaptist beliefs, emphasizing "the baptism of believers only, the washing of the feet as a symbol of servanthood, church discipline, the shunning of the excommunicated, the non-swearing of oaths, marriage within the same church, strict nonresistance, and in general, more emphasis on true Christianity involving being Christian and obeying Christ.” Mennonites have become well-known for their commitment to pacifism—known as peace churches. 

Generally, contemporary Mennonite churches affirm a Trinitarian understanding of God, the authority and importance of the Bible as God’s revelation and a congregational model for the organization of the local church. They emphasize the regular practice of the Lord’s Supper and reference the practice of foot washing as a model for community life. Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective provides an overview of faith and practice for Mennonite churches in Canada, including distinction from the government, avoidance of oaths, peace, justice and non-resistance. 

Among Mennonites there is a diversity of belief and practice. Mennonites denominations are a global presence, with churches is the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia. These denominations represent the ethnic and cultural diversity of their contexts. Within Canada, there is a growing diversity in Mennonite churches as those without traditional Mennonite cultural roots find a place to belong in an Anabaptist community.

A Brief History of Mennonites in Canada
from https://www.mennonitechurch.ca/about/history

The first Mennonites came to Canada in 1786 from Pennsylvania. Annual ministers meetings beginning in 1810 led to the formation of the Mennonite Conference of Ontario eventually called the Mennonite Conference of Ontario and Quebec. Congregations of this conference maintained close ties with Mennonite congregations in the United States through church-wide gatherings convened every 2nd year from 1898 to 2001 by the Mennonite Church (MC), commonly known as the “Old” Mennonite Church. 

A second wave of European immigrants starting in 1822 established a large Amish settlement which eventually led to the formation of the Ontario Amish Mennonite Conference in 1923. This group dropped the “Amish” in their name and became known as Western Ontario Mennonite Conference after 1963. 

A third wave of Mennonite European immigrants to the North American prairies came from Russia and Prussia beginning in the 1870s. Leaders of these groups who settled in Manitoba and Saskatchewan founded the Conference of Mennonites in Central Canada in 1902. From the inception of this conference, there were close ties with Mennonite congregations in the United States through the General Conference Mennonite Church (GC) which was founded in 1860 and met every third year. 

With another wave of Russian Mennonite immigrants starting to arrive during the 1920s and settling in small communities from Ontario to British Columbia, the Conference of Mennonites in Central Canada stopped using the term “Central Canada” by 1932 and became known as the General Conference of Mennonites in Canada. The name changed to Conference of Mennonites in Canada in 1959. 

Additional provincial conferences were organized after the arrival of this fourth wave of immigrants resulting in the founding of Conference of United Mennonite Churches in Ontario (1945), Conference of Mennonites in Manitoba (1947), Conference of Mennonites in Saskatchewan (1959), Conference of Mennonites in Alberta (1929), and Conference of Mennonites in British Columbia (1935). The 1988 the integration of three Ontario groups (Mennonite Conference of Ontario and Quebec, Western Ontario Mennonite Conference and Conference of United Mennonite Churches in Ontario) forming Mennonite Conference of Eastern Canada became the precursor for Mennonite Church Canada.