Old Order Mennonite Groups in Ontario

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The following is a brief introduction and timeline of Old Order Mennonite Groups in Ontario, Canada.

Old Order Mennonite Church

Established in 1889, the Old Order Mennonite Church in Ontario was a division from the (Old) Mennonite Church (now Mennonite Church-Canada). Throughout the mid-1800s, several of the more traditional Mennonites in Waterloo County (in southwestern Ontario) felt increasingly uncomfortable with changes in the church, including revival meetings, the addition of Sunday Schools, and prayer and other services in English.

The Old Order Mennonite Church, the oldest and largest of the Old Order Mennonite groups in Ontario, is today a moderately traditional group. Like most Old Order Mennonites, they utilize horse and buggy transportation, and wear plain clothes. They do use tractors on their farms, as well as electricity and phones in their homes. Some use of computerized technology is tolerated but not condoned, in modern tractors for example. However, cell phones and laptops are not permitted. The Old Order Mennonite Church uses private church run health insurance, and has its own church schools to grade 8. Over the years they have expanded into several other communites in Ontario, and are in fellowship with Old Order Mennonite groups in several states in the United States.

Independent Old Order Mennonite Church

The Independent Old Order Mennonite Church (formerly known as the David Martin Mennonite Church), was established in 1917, as a division from the Old Order Mennonite Church. At the time, Minister David Martin and his son, Deacon David W. Martin of the Peel congregation (in Peel Township) largely objected to what they considered laxity and lack of discipline among the Old Order Mennonites, and left with a group of other conservatives to form what they considered as a continuation of the true church.

Independent Old Order Mennonites are an interesting mix of old and new. Although their farms are quite plain, using gas powered generators instead of electricity, their level of business activity has seen the increased usage of computerized technologies over the years. In addition, while they use horse and buggy transportation, it is not uncommon to see them talking on cell phones. They are a very private group personally and in their church life, and do not discuss religion outside of their group. Unlike other Old Order Mennonites, they utilize government programs and send their children to public schools. Smaller than their parent group, they nevertheless have expanded into other rural communites in southwestern Ontario, although the majority still live in or near the Waterloo Region.

Markham-Waterloo Mennonite Conference

Established in 1939 with earlier roots, the Markham-Waterloo Mennonite Conference was a division from the Old Order Mennonite Church. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the more progressive Old Order Mennonites in the Markham area near Toronto began using automobiles for transportation. When other church members in Waterloo followed their lead, the local church leaders there objected. After driving to Markham for communion for some years, the church divided over the issue and the new church was formed.

Markhams, as they are nicknamed, are the most progressive of Old Older groups. Although they utilize considerable technology on their farms and otherwise (they do monitor it), they still worship (altough in English) and design their meetinghouses in the same way as other Old Order groups, and they similarly adhere to the Dordrecht Confession of Faith (Mennonite, 1632). The Markhams are known also as "Black Car Mennonites", have electricity and modern appliances in their homes, and use computers and cellphones, although internet usage is monitored. Mennonite Plain Clothes are still worn in church services, but it is less common for men to wear traditional clothing in public. The Markhams have their own private schools and share several with their parent group, with which relations are generally very good, although they do not share communion. Although having left Markham because of urban expansion in the Toronto area, they have expanded into other communities in southwestern Ontario, and they are in fellowship with progressive Old Orders in the United States.

Orthodox Mennonite Church, Wellesley Township

The Orthodox Mennonite Church of Wellesley Township, or Wellesley Orthodox Mennonites were established legally in 1962, as an earlier division from the David Martin Mennonite Church. After the excommunication of minister Elam S. Martin in the late 1950s, he and several others from his previous church formed their own body. He became their Acting Bishop, and their group was initially known as the "Elam Martin Mennonite Church". After they built their first meetinghouse in Wellesley Township near the city of Waterloo in 1962, they registered their present legal name.

Since their inception, the Wellesley Orthodox Mennonites have shunned the technologies of their parent group, and are the most traditional and plain of the Old Order groups. They do not use electricity, own tractors or use telephones, and they strictly adhere to the Dordrecht Confession of 1632, including the usage of the ban. After serious divisions in 1974 and 1986-87, they today (2016) are the smallest of the Old Order Mennonite groups.

Orthodox Mennonite Church, Huron County

The Orthodox Mennonite Church, Huron County, or "Gorries", as they are nicknamed, originated as a division from the Wellesley Orthodox Mennonites in 1974. After several changes, including men beginning to wear beards, and the Bishop Elam S. Martin beginning to liberalize his interpretation of the ban, the latter divided from their church to form their own group. In 1979, this new group moved to the Gorrie-Wroxeter area of Huron County, and legally registered as the Orthodox Mennonite Church, Huron County.

In practice, the Gorries are almost identical to their parent group in Wellesley Township. However, their more open interpretation of the ban keeps the two groups of Orthodox Old Orders separate. The Gorries have grown over the years to a much larger church than the Wellesley Orthodox, specifically in that they have taken in several of the more traditional members of the Old Order Mennonite Church. Because of this, they have expanded into other rural Ontario communities. In addition, they have come into full fellowship with small Old Order groups in he United States. The Gorries have a close relationship also with the Kinloss Old Order Mennonites, a small but growing conservative sub-division within the Old Order Mennonite Church.