On the weekend of Oct. 3 and 4, 2015, Shantz Mennonite Church congregation celebrated its 175th anniversary.
Church members recalled how, in the late 1830s, Mennonite families began to settle along what eventually became Erb’s Road in Wilmot Township, west of Waterloo. By 1840, a congregation formed there at the corner of Erb’s and Sandhills roads. A stone building was built and used until 1929, when it was replaced by a brick edifice. In 1956, that building lost its roof to a tornado! Additions on the south and east sides added needed Sunday school, office and foyer space, and an accessibility lift was built.
On the evening of Oct. 3, historical displays, visiting, a full-course dinner catered by a local restaurant, and a music program bridging many years of the congregation’s history took place. Congregational singing from Life Songs I and II books, the red Mennonite Hymnal, Sing and Rejoice, the blue Hymnal: A Worship Book, and Sing the Story and Sing the Journey was interspersed with a men’s quartet of late-teen singers, fiddle and flute players, and an anniversary choir singing the song “A Wonderful Place to Be” written by conductor Rick Martin.
When Pastor Don Penner, congregational chair Brent Pavey, and elder Bob Good talked about the congregation, worship and music were high on their list of strengths in the present tense.
The leaders spoke about the multi-million-dollar bequest from Harold and Enid Schmidt, noting that the interest from the bequest is being dispersed to various local, national and international groups. A committee checks to see if each request fits congregationally-agreed-upon qualifications and then passes the whole list to the congregation to prioritize. In the last round, 19 organizations had petitioned for funds.
The congregation of 125 average attendance currently has 10 children in Sunday school and about 15 youth. Care packages are sent yearly to students in college and university to remind them of the love and care of their spiritual family.
Penner, who has been at Shantz for three years, spoke of the spirit of trust and unity in the congregation at this point. Referencing the story of Jesus and the disciples on the Sea of Galilee, he noted that, although the church may feel like a boat with waves crashing into it in this postmodern shift of theologies and ideologies, the congregation is not alone, because Jesus is with it and awake. Instead of fear, he said there was boldness and hopefulness in the congregation at this point.
Pavey echoed this, saying that the congregation is trying to think missionally, reaching out into the community around it. While the congregation is on a sure footing now, Pavey said it is not able to forecast what the situation will be like in 25 years, when the church turns 200.
As the celebrations were taking place, a decision on whether or not to build anew was in process. The vote was not to be a final decision, but one to guide the committee tasked with thinking about facilities. Thanks to the Schmidt bequest, the congregation has funds to build what it needs to continue reaching out to the rural community around it and into the village of Baden, just four kilometres to the south.