Wellesley Orthodox Mennonites

From Anabaptistwiki

The Wellesley Orthodox Mennonites are a group of Old Order Mennonites located in Wellesley and Mapleton Townships in southwestern Ontario, Canada. The church was formally registered as the "Orthodox Mennonite Church of Wellesley Township" in 1962.[1] The group, originally known as the Elam Martin Mennonites, celebrated their first communion together on April 6, 1958, after several families left the David Martin Mennonite Church (today legally known as Independent Old Order Mennonite Church) in Waterloo County, Ontario in the late 1950s, "on account of serious disagreements within the church".[2]Evidence shows that the families who left were concerned about modernization in their previous church, including the usage of power tools and welders. [3] From that time, the Orthodox Mennonites have focused on distancing themselves from modern technology, including electricity, telephones and computers. They use horses for farming instead of tractors, and their dress is very plain. Their Sunday service practices are centuries old and in German, although English may be used when visitors are present. The Wellesley Orthodox Mennonites consider themselves the true descendants of the apostolic Church, in their area[4], in accordance with their understanding of lineage as presented in the Martyrs Mirror. Their beliefs center on the Bible, the Dordrecht Confession of 1632, and the Martyrs Mirror.

Genesis of the Wellesley Orthodox Mennonites

On March 11, 1956,[5]Minister Elam S. Martin was excommunicated a second time from the David Martin Mennonite Church, due to disagreements over the interpretation of Matthew chapter 18 in the New Testament.[6] Elam Martin (1907-1987), ordained a minister in the David Martin Church in 1934,[7] decided eventually to unite with several others who left the David Martins, and became the Bishop ("by circumstance") of the group, which at their first communion in 1958 included 20 married couples plus 17 single members. [8] This new Elam Martin Mennonite Church held their first worship service at their newly completed 13th Line (WellesleyTownship) meetinghouse on June 24, 1962. It was during that time that the church legally registered with the name of "Orthodox Mennonite Church of Wellesley Township".[9]

The Division of 1974

For some time there was peace in the church. As the church took in new members, however, some things began to change, a little too quickly for many of the more traditional members.[10] One of the issues that came to a head was the issue of beard wearing for men, which caused disunity. Also, "the fact that Elam began to accept the David Martin group's interpretation of the ban ultimately resulted in a division between Anson Hoover and Elam Martin in the late winter of 1974."[11]

With Elam Martin taking the side of the beard wearing group, the church was left without a Bishop. Anson Hoover (1920-2008) took the leadership as Acting Bishop. He had been ordained by Bishop Elam as a minister in 1965. [12] Amos Sherk, who stayed with the church, wrote, "On account of serious upheaval in the church under the leadership of Elam S. Martin and to establish the lamp of righteousness and of the truth of Jesus Christ once again into the assembly of believers a meeting was called upon this day (February 26, 1974) to see who all would be found willing to clasp the hands in fellowship and communion in Jesus Christ."[13] Perhaps a portent of this "serious upheaval" occurred in the Spring of 1971 when the Orthodox meetinghouse burned to the ground.[14] Now not only a building needed to be rebuilt. In the end, the Orthodox Mennonite Church of Wellesley Township was left with about half its former members.[15]

The Sherk Years

On April 29, 1975, Amos Sherk (1947-) was ordained a minister in the church.[16]His family had been with the Orthodox Mennonites from the beginning. More turbulence in the church saw the excommunication of Anson Hoover in the early Spring of 1976, and Amos Sherk became Acting Bishop on October 3, 1976. [17] Meanwhile, the Bishop Elam S. Martin group that separated in 1974 made the decision in 1979 to move as a group to the Gorrie area (Howick Township) in Huron County, also in southwestern Ontario. [18]In October of 1980 John Sherk (1939-) was ordained Bishop ("in Office") for the Gorrie group,[19] who began to refer themselves as the Orthodox Mennonite Church, Huron County.

Eventually, by the mid 1980s, trouble again arose in the Wellesley Orthodox church. It happened that the two Orthodox groups were now led by two brothers, Amos and John Sherk. According to the present leader of the Wellesley Orthodox, Bishop Amos Sherk became increasingly uncomfortable with the separation of the two churches, and began to advocate for a reunion with his brother's church.[20]Ultimately this resulted in the excommunication of Bishop Amos Sherk in March, 1986.[21] The bishop himself described it as a "terrible scourge" which "descended upon the church".[22]After Deacon Tillman Hoover (1937-), ordained in October, 1974, [23]put the Bishop in the ban, confusion ensued. Both of the church's ministers began to support the bishop.[24] After several attempts by the ministry to continue on, confidence was lost, but Amos Sherk records that an effort to "unite with the other part of the 1974 split" continued in earnest. [25]

Meanwhile, there arose a heightened interest among the majority of church members to leave the Orthodox Mennonites all together. This they did, with about seventy percent of the members uniting with their former David Martin Mennonite Church (which they had left some 30 years earlier) by April, 1987, along with Deacon Tillman Hoover.[26] By April 25th, the former Bishop left the church with the other members of the ministry and a few other church members for the Gorrie group. Former Bishop Sherk then declared in capital letters in his history of the church that "There is now again only one Orthodox Mennonite Church in Ontario."[27] Needless to say, the remaining members of the Orthodox Mennonite Church of Wellesley Township disagreed.

Into the 21st Century

After a few years, the Wellesley Orthodox Mennonites regrouped under a new leader. Elam M. Martin, son-in-law of former Bishop Elam S. Martin, became the Acting Bishop of the church on January 17, 1993. [28] After his death in 2002, the church went through a period of introspection under the informal leadership of David E. M. Martin, son of the last bishop. David Martin formally became minister of the church in 2009.

On January 20, 2013 Minister David E. M. Martin completed his 48 page hand written treatise entitled, "A Confession and Explanation of the Primary Reason why I am in Unity with the Orthodox Mennonite Church and why I not in Unity with the Other Churches." Martin explains his primary purpose of writing; "The topic of discussion in this article is the inappropriate and unscriptural practice of putting members out of the church without the ban."[29] The treatise discusses Martin's understanding of the Scriptures, in particular with regards to what he calls the "ordinance of excommunication and shunning of apostate members of the church."[30]Although not an historical paper, he does invoke his reader to understand his view of the historic approach of truly orthodox Mennonites as the church of Christ; that "there are only two houses...one built upon the rock (teaching of Jesus Christ); the other one built upon the sand (human wisdom)", [31]as revealed in the Scriptures. As such then, there can only be one truly orthodox Christian church in any given geographical area, stating his belief that "if there is another church in southern Ontario where it is right for a Christian to be a member of, then it cannot be right for us (the Orthodox church) to continue separate from the other church in the upbuilding and upholding of the faith of our fathers and forefathers."[32]Thus then, in pointing out the "relativism" and "lukewarm Laodicean condition"[33] of almost all churches today, he critiques specifically Mennonite churches that "sanction the practice of letting members of the church leave the church without banning them, "[34] including the Gorrie group, which in his opinion is heterodox.

We see then in Martin's treatise an explanation of his beliefs in the historicity of the Martyrs Mirror approach to church history, along with the visible church and strict banning approach of the Dordrecht Confession of the Mennonites of 1632 (Articles 8, 16, and 17), and the fallacy of the "big circle" of "churches that all hold one another to be in the right and all consider the other churches to be part of the bride of Christ". [35]

In 2016, the Wellesley Orthodox Mennonites made an earnest attempt to unite with a group of traditional Old Order Mennonites in Kentucky and Indiana. This group were from Reidenbach and Amish backgrounds. Unfortunately, after cross border visits, disagreements over Sunday observance kept the two churches apart.[36]

Conclusion

The Wellesley Orthodox Mennonites, which have continued as a legally recognized church in Canada for 55 years as of 2017[37],have experienced many challenges over their unique history in the overall Anabaptist story. No challenge, however, may be so unique as the increasing modernization of other Old Order groups, and their continued survival, within the new technological realities of the 21st century world and beyond.

See Also

Old Order Mennonite Groups in Ontario
Traditional Old Order Mennonite Groups
Independent Old Order Mennonite Church
Orthodox Mennonite Church, Huron County
David B. Martin: Pioneer of Mennonite Orthodoxy
Elam S. Martin: Father of the Orthodox Mennonite Church
Dordrecht Confession of Faith (Mennonite, 1632)
Martyrs Mirror

References

  1. [1]
  2. Amos Sherk: Unpublished history of the Orthodox and David Martin Mennonites (Primary Source), no date, page 18.
  3. Royden Loewen: Horse-and-Buggy Genius: Listening to Mennonites Contest the Modern World, University of Manitoba Press, Winnipeg, Manitoba, 2016, page 56.
  4. David E.M. Martin: A Confession and Explanation of the Primary Reason why I am in Unity with the Orthodox Mennonite Church and why I am not in Unity with the Other Churches (Primary Source, unpublished), January 20, 2013, 48 pages.
  5. Amos Sherk: Unpublished history, page 16.
  6. Donald Martin: Old Order Mennonites of Ontario: Gelassenheit, Discipleship, Brotherhood, Pandora Press, Kitchener, Ontario, 2003, page 179.
  7. Amos Sherk, Unpublished history, page 8.
  8. Ibid, pages 18-19.
  9. Ibid, page 21.
  10. Donald Martin: Old Order Mennonites in Ontario, page 183.
  11. Ibid., page 180. This is disputed by Minister David E. M. Martin of the Wellesley Orthodox, who is the grandson of Bishop Elam S. Martin. He states that his grandfather held the same view as the David Martin church regarding the ban. Perhaps the confusion lies in evolving opinions regarding interpretations of church discipline as discussed in Matthew 18 in the New Testament (Private conversation, 2016).
  12. Amos Sherk: Unpublished history, pages 21-24.
  13. Ibid., page 25.
  14. Ibid., page 24.
  15. Donald Martin: Old Order Mennonites of Ontario, page 180.
  16. Ibid., page 343.
  17. Ibid., page 183
  18. Ibid., page 180.
  19. Amos Sherk: Unpublished history, (Addendum)
  20. Conversation with Minister David E.M. Martin, 2009
  21. Donald Martin: Old Order Mennonites of Ontario, page 183.
  22. Amos Sherk, Unpublished history, page 32.
  23. Ibid., page 26
  24. Private conversation with Minister David E. M. Martin, 2016.
  25. Amos Sherk: Unpublished history, page 32.
  26. Ibid.
  27. Ibid., page 33.
  28. Donald Martin: Old Order Mennonites of Ontario, page 185.
  29. David E.M. Martin: A Confession..., page 4.
  30. Ibid., page 3.
  31. Ibid., page 8
  32. Ibid., page 11.
  33. Ibid., page 9.
  34. Ibid., page 4.
  35. Ibid., page 21.
  36. Private conversation with Minister David E. M. Martin, 2016.
  37. The continued existence of the church over this time as a distinct legal entity is supported by the following evidence: 1) The deed to the land with the original (1971 rebuilt) meetinghouse in Wellesley Township is in the hands of trustee David E. M. Martin, present leader of the Wellesley Orthodox Mennonites. Clause 11 of this deed clarifies that this is the property of the "Orthodox Mennonite Church". Date of acquisition of the property is listed as "Jan. 8, 1962". 2) The deed for the original Beechvale School house in Wellesley Township is also in the hands of previously named trustee David E. M. Martin. Dated 26 April, 1967, the deed is addressed to the "Trustees of the Orthodox Mennonite Church, of the Township of Wellesley, in the County of Waterloo." 3) Dated Feb. 25, 1998, the 'List of the Licensed Cemeteries in Ontario that have Exemption from the Perpetual Care Fund', lists the "Orthodox Mennonite Cemetery (Wellesley Township) as belonging to the "Orthodox Mennonite Church", with the license number of 3308264. This cemetery is attached to the property of the present meetinghouse. This document is also in the possession of David E. M. Martin, and was addressed to his father, Elam Martin, former Acting Bishop of the Wellesley Orthodox Mennonites (1993-2002). 4) A Property Assessment Notice for the previously mentioned school house, dated Oct. 18, 2016, at 3497 Hutchison Road in Wellesley Township, is addressed to trustee David E. M. Martin, legally recognized leader of the Wellesley Orthodox Mennonites since 2009. The document lists the school house as the "Orthodox Mennonite Church School".