In 1915, in the midst of the First World War, the Swiss Mennonite congregation that had been meeting at the Conestoga Meetinghouse moved to the village of St. Jacobs. Founded in 1834, the congregation had been meeting in a simple structure at 2035 Three Bridges Road, where St. Jacobs Mennonite Church still maintains a cemetery.
The oldest graves in the cemetery date back to before the first meetinghouse was built, so why move from the country into the village? Trevor Bauman, the historian for St. Jacobs Mennonite, noted that the original building was designed for the two-hour, two-sermon services common in the mid- to late-19th century, but by the early 20th century the new Sunday school program needed rooms in which to teach children and adults.
Other local congregations had built new-style buildings with basements, and St. Jacobs followed suit, moving three kilometres southeast to a more centralized location for the growing group. This building, dedicated on Nov. 14, 1915, had a full basement and electricity. In the years that followed washrooms and parking for cars were added. The horse barns that were also used for vacation Bible school classes were eventually demolished.
In planning this centenary celebration of the building, pastors Mark Diller Harder, Wendy Janzen and Kevin Derksen worked with a lay committee to create a year of thoughtful looking back and setting the stage for the years to come. Sermons on “doing and being,” “tradition and change,” and “truth and love” helped the congregation understand some of the challenges that impact the church in the 21st century. These sermons were accompanied by many articles in the congregational newsletter and a sermon on the annual general meeting Sunday by Derksen on “Holding On, Letting Go.”
“We are at a very healthy place as a congregation right now,” said Harder. “We have good energy and participation of all ages. We have a very healthy pastoral team of three that works well together in a strong collegial model. We are able to tackle the issues of the day, and continue to ask what it means to be church in this post-Christian post-modern era.”
Two issues the congregation is working on currently are Mennonite Church Canada’s Being a Faithful Church process and a Syrian refugee sponsorship that includes ecumenical partners in the village.
In the year to come they plan to have a worship series that intentionally looks forward, entitled “From the past will come our future,” said Harder. They have wrapped this whole anniversary weekend in a longer period of worship, asking who the church has been, who they now are, and where they are going.
During the anniversary year the sanctuary was remodelled, with some pews at the front removed to leave space for drama and other activities and to create more room for wheelchairs. The auditorium was given a general sprucing-up and the audio-visual capabilities were upgraded.
There has been fun as well. On the anniversary weekend a variety show (so named to not only draw on “talented” folk) brought laughter and singing to accompany the food and worship. Two of the entries in the show were video clips—one showed a young man with significant health problems flying his model plane with his father, and the other documented the making of the children’s offering plate by a senior member of the congregation. Mark and Sharon Bauman—as Abner and Ethel—kept the program moving with their earthy humour and inappropriate comments as groups, soloists, duets and skits entertained the congregation.