First Mennonite Church (Kitchener, Ontario, Canada)

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Artist's rendition of Benjamin Eby's Meeting House, 1813 building.
Source: Mennonite Archives of Ontario
First Mennonite Church, Kitchener, 1834 building.
Source: Mennonite Archives of Ontario.
First Mennonite Church, Kitchener, ON.
Source: Ontario's Places of Worship

In the late 1700's a steady stream of Mennonites began migrating from Pennsylvania to Upper Canada. Establishing communities en route, this migration continued northward reaching the German Company Tract (now part of Waterloo County) by the early 1800's.

Predominantly farmers and a few millers, these people carved a settlement in the wilderness with a nucleus in what is now downtown Kitchener. This community was known as Eby's Settlement, later Eby's Town, Berlin and finally Kitchener.

From 1804, pioneer families met for worship in homes and later in a schoolhouse. By 1813 more space was needed and a log building, known as Benjamin Eby's Meeting House, was erected. This church and an adjoining cemetery were the first in the area. A larger frame church was built in 1834 and was replaced by a brick church in 1902. This building remains the center section of the present day church. Additions to the structure were made in 1927, 1949-50, and 1985. The church became known as First Mennonite Church in 1917.

Sunday School classes for children were begun as early as 1841, combining the teaching of the German language with Christian Education. In 1907 the church became home to the Ontario Mennonite Bible School, which held classes for adults during winter months and attracted students from across North America. This program continued until the 1960's. Under C. F. Derstine's leadership, the first summer Bible School was held for the community in 1928 with an enrolment of 243. This program has continued annually.

Over the years groups of members from First Mennonite church left to form other congregations in the city. These include Bethany Missionary Church in 1875, Stirling Avenue Mennonite Church in 1924. Rockway Mennonite (1960) and the Baden Mission (now Wilmot Mennonite) were outreach efforts of First Mennonite Church.

As the community changed dramatically over the years from rural to urban, from Pennsylvania German to multi-ethnic, the church reflected these changes. Following the sponsorship of several Southeast Asian refugee families in 1979, a group of Hmong from Laos began using the facility on Sunday afternoons for worship and Sunday School in their own language. Several years ago they moved to their own building and named their congregation "First Hmong Mennonite Church." Since 1986 some of the Hispanic refugees coming to K-W from Central and South America have become an integral part of First Mennonite Church.

The Ontario Mennonite Bible School and Institute, started in 1907 by the Mennonite Conference of Ontario, was held at First Mennonite for many years. Community groups, which have used the church facilities on a regular basis, include Our Place Family Resource Centre, Live and Learn (House of Friendship), Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, and Community Justice Initiatives.

In 2003 worship services preceded by Sunday School classes for all ages, including adults, were held each Sunday with Spanish Worship Services held on the second and fourth Sunday of each month. Children's ministries included Venture Club, Vacation Bible School, and Junior Youth activities. A youth/advocate program, faith exploration classes and fellowship activities were offered for youth. Adult activities included Women's Mission and Service Commission, small groups Faith exploration classes, Spanish Bible Studies, Senior Fellowship and Visitation. Community Life, inter-generational services and social events were held regularly.


Mennonite Reporter (18 February 1974): 1; (10 June 1985): 13; (1 May 1989): 16.

CMC Nexus (February 1996): 10.

Burkholder, L. J. A Brief History of the Mennonites in Ontario. Kitchener, ON: Mennonite Conference of Ontario, 1935: 73-77.

Cressman, J. Boyd. "History of the First Mennonite Church." Mennonite Quarterly Review 13 (July and October 1939), 60 pp.

Bauman, Salome. 150 Years: First Mennonite Church, 1813-1963. Kitchener, ON: The Church, 1963, 24 pp.

Good, E. Reginald. Frontier Community to Urban Congregation : First Mennonite Church, Kitchener, 1813-1988. Kitchener, ON: First Mennonite Church, 1988, 160 pp.

Congregational records at Mennonite Archives of Ontario.

Additional Information

An 30-second audio clip of C.F. Derstine from a 1956 sermon in Pennsylvania can be heard.

Table 1: First Mennonite Church Congregational Leaders*

Bishops Confirmed
Benjamin Eby 1812
Joseph Hagey 1851
Elias Weber 1879
Jonas Snider 1895
Manasseh Hallman 1910
Clayton F. Derstine 1921 (In Illinois)
Pastors Years
of Service
Samuel S. Bowman 1878-1924
Urias K. Weber 1907-1924
Clayton F. Derstine 1924-1967
Merle Shantz 1939-1949
John H. Hess 1949-1955
Edgar Metzler 1957-1962
Robert N. Johnson 1962-1976
Ernie Martin 1973-1975
Glenn Brubacher 1976-1989
Brice Balmer 1979-1996
Jean-Jacques Goulet 1984-1986
Ann Weber Becker 1987-1995
Rudy Baergen 1990-2001
Rebecca Yoder Neufeld 1992-2000
Cath Woolner 1995-1996
Dan Epp-Tiessen 1996-1998
Tanya Dyck Steinmann 1996-2001
Oscar Carvajal 1998
Mark Diller Harder 1998-2005
Noé Gonzalía 2000-2011
Waldemar Regier 2001-2002
Joél Schmidt 2001-2005
Gary Knarr 2002-2012
Catherine Hunsberger 2004-2012
Sarah Pinnell 2005-2008
Michael Turman 2009-2011
David Penny 2011-2013
Rene Baergen 2011-Present
Nancy Brubaker 2012-2021
Christina Edmiston 2012-August 2022
Sandra Baez April 2022-
Liz Weber (Interim) September 2022-

*All pastors in the Waterloo District served equally until 1890;see L. J. Burkholder, A brief history of Mennonites in Ontario for names

Table 2: Membership

Year Members
1900 195
1925 125
1950 498
1965 542
1975 557
1988 522
1995 439
2000 399
2003 357
2010 340
2015 275
2020 245



Map:First Mennonite Church (Kitchener, Ontario)

Author(s) Barbara Burkhard
Date Published July 2003

Cite This Article

MLA style

Burkhard, Barbara. "First Mennonite Church (Kitchener, Ontario, Canada)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. July 2003. Web. 13 Jun 2024.,_Ontario,_Canada)&oldid=174174.

APA style

Burkhard, Barbara. (July 2003). First Mennonite Church (Kitchener, Ontario, Canada). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 13 June 2024, from,_Ontario,_Canada)&oldid=174174.

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