A Mennonite Community established in 1979 in Westmeath Township is growing. The group belongs to the Markham-Waterloo Conference, a branch of the Mennonite faith with less than 1,000 members. In the liberal-conservative spectrum embraced by various churches bearing the Mennonite name, the Markham- Waterloo Conference is quite near the conservative end of the scale. The Westmeath group is more liberal than the Old Order Mennonites numerous in Waterloo County, but adheres to strict guidelines for the lifestyles of its members laid down in its constitution. Life insurance is not tolerated, and labour unions are to be avoided.
The nonconformist emphasis runs through many other areas of living, which is read in church every communion Sunday, reads in part……..
“Cars are to be black with no trimmings. Sport models and unnecessary accessories are discouraged. For brethren we recommend plain suits. It is inconsistent to have fashionable hair styles, whether long or short. For sisters, they are to wear a plain cape dress coming well below the knees, with necklines and sleeves to be modest. Coloured and transparent hose are immodest and are discouraged as well as fashionable shoes. Radio, television, record player, tape recorder, is not tolerated. All other musical instruments are strongly advised against.”
A policy of non-resistance has been a long-standing principle of the Mennonite faith. Consequently, all forms of government hand-outs are refused, because their acceptance would impose obligation to serve the country in whatever the government stipulated, including militarily. Mennonites are descendents of the Anabaptist movement which sprang up in various places in Europe in the early 1950’s. Pacifist policies made early Anabaptist sitting ducks for all manner of persecution. Because they believe in re- baptising adults who have been baptised as infants, since they regard only “believer baptism” as valid, they considered heretics by the early established churches.
Because of persecution, and militarism in Europe, Mennonites began migrating to the U.S. in 1683, in the first wave of Mennonite migration to this continent. After the American Revolution, they were concerned that they might lose their military exemption enjoyed under British rule, so they came to Canada as a place of security, many came to Waterloo County.
The parochial school plays an important part in preserving the Mennonite way of life, protecting children from pressure to conform to ways inconsistent with their philosophy. The classroom is decorated with crafts and paintings done by the students interspersed with mottos such as “Truth is like oil – it always comes to the surface”. Children conduct themselves in a very orderly and respectful fashion in the classroom. Converts to the faith are sometimes made through marriage. A Mennonite marriage can be solemnized only between members who have received believer’s baptism and have accepted church membership with all its responsibilities, this for a male, includes willingness to become a minister, should he be chosen by the congregation. Their homes have all the conveniences taken for granted except those forbidden by the constitution , such as television and radio, as one can control what comes into the house by phone, but not by radio or TV. The children have no war toys, toy radios or television.
The first family to arrive was Mr. and Mrs. Leander Bowman and family; the first teacher was Lovina Bauman. They now have a church and school and in 1988 there are approximately ninety persons in their community.
Compiled by Noreen Desjardins, Feb. 1988
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