Ontario Mennonite Brethren in Christ

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Ontario Mennonite Brethren in Christ (after 1948 called United Missionary Church, still later Evangelical Missionary Church). One of the most important sections of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ has been the Ontario Conference, which was in effect in the beginning a separate movement though closely related to the Indiana movement led by Daniel Brenneman. Its real founder was Solomon Eby (1834-1931), a Mennonite (MC) minister ordained at Port Elgin in 1858, who had an unusual spiritual awakening in 1869 that he called his conversion. He immediately began prayer meetings and the promotion of "conversion" among his members with great success. Since his bold advocacy of the new piety and insistence upon the type of conversion experience which he held essential was unacceptable to the Ontario Mennonite Conference, of which he was a member, he was excommunicated (May 1874), followed by the Waterloo County ministers John Bear, Samuel Schlichter, Daniel Wismer, and Moses Erb (the last two soon returned to their former loyalty) and Waterloo deacons William Hembling and Joseph S. Schneider. In the Markham district ministers Abraham Raymer and John Steckley, who had been introducing a similar prayer meeting and revivalistic emphasis and were probably by the 1860s completely outside the Mennonite Church, joined forces with Eby. Daniel Hoch (1806-78) at Vineland, who had been working in the same direction since ca. 1843 and was in difficulty with the old church and who was affiliated with the Oberholtzer group (eventually part of the General Conference Mennonite) 1851-1869, together with three small congregations in Ontario (Markham, Vineland, Waterloo), seems to have been drawn into the new Eby movement together with his following.

On 15 May 1874 Eby called a conference to meet in the Berlin (Kitchener) church (Mennonite Church), which may be considered the actual origin of Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church in Canada. Daniel Brenneman, who had visited Eby in 1873, was expelled from the Indiana Mennonite Conference in 1874 also, followed by a substantial group of members; they were called New Mennonites. In 1875 the Eby and Brenneman groups formally united at a meeting held in the Snyder Mennonite meetinghouse near Bloomingdale, ON. (the only congregation that went over completely with meetinghouse to the Eby group, except Port Elgin), on 23 March 1875, calling themselves United Mennonites. The organization formed in May 1874 had been called "Reforming Mennonites." It had two districts, Ontario and Indiana. The Ontario District had its first meeting at Port Elgin on 18 September 1874.

The Dordrecht Confession of Faith was specifically adopted as the doctrinal platform of the group although it did not of course include the specific doctrinal emphases which caused the division. The new body was immediately organized into two conferences—Canada and the United States, with Eby as Presiding Elder for Canada and Brenneman for the United States. In 1879 a merger of the United Mennonites with the Evangelical Mennonites of Pennsylvania resulted in the Evangelical United Mennonite Church, which in 1883 became the Mennonite Brethren in Christ when the small Swank faction of the Brethren in Christ (River Brethren) in Ohio joined the Evangelical United Mennonites.

Throughout the years of growth and merger described above the Ontario Conference remained the largest. In 1880 the conference had nine congregations and 19 ministers, with a total of 37 preaching places. By 1955, however, Ontario with 2,471 members in 35 congregations was the second in size in the denomination, having been passed by the Indiana Conference with 2,694.

The proportion of members who left the old conference in Ontario to join the "New" Mennonites was not clear, but possibly at least a third. It was a serious blow to the Mennonite Church (MC) in Ontario. L. J. Burkholder, the historian of the Mennonite Church conference, says, "At least four able ministers and three deacons were lost to us. A much larger number of promising young men who became active ministers of the new branch might well have been used had they remained. A great many devoted families were carried away," among whom was the noted Jacob Y. Shantz.

The Ontario Mennonite Brethren in Christ Conference showed great spiritual vitality and evangelistic zeal. Much work was carried on in the older Mennonite settlements, and during the 1880s congregations were established at the following places: Berlin (Kitchener), Blair, Bethel, Bright, Breslau, Bloomingdale, Conestoga, Wallace or Maryboro, Port Elgin, Jordan (Twenty), Sherkston, Markham, Scott, Stayner, and Puslinch, largely at the expense of the old church. Among the chief leaders were Solomon Eby, Noah Detweiler, John Bear, Menno Bowman, Amos Eby, Joseph Raymer, John McNally, H. S. Hallman, Henry Goudie, Samuel Goudie, C. N. Good, Ward Shantz, P. G. Lehman, and Michael Houck. In 1908 a group of over 100 left to join the Pentecostal movement, among them the leading ministers Solomon Eby and Amos Eby. Berlin (Kitchener) has always been the center of the conference; its Bethany congregation is the largest (1957, 320 members). In 1885 the denominational printing plant was moved from Goshen, Indiana to Berlin, and with it the church paper, the Gospel Banner, where it remained until 1909. In 1940 Emmanuel Bible College was established in Kitchener as the Bible Institute of the Ontario district.


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

Conference Journal, Proceedings of the Ontario Conference of the United Missionary Church (MBC).

Huffman, Jasper A., ed. History of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church. New Carlisle, Ohio: The Bethel Pub. Co, 1920. Available in full electronic text at http://www.archive.org/details/historymennonit00huffgoog

Storms, Everek R. History of the United Missionary Church. Elkhart, IN, 1957.

Author(s) Harold S Bender
Date Published 1959

Cite This Article

MLA style

Bender, Harold S. "Ontario Mennonite Brethren in Christ." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 29 Jul 2021. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Ontario_Mennonite_Brethren_in_Christ&oldid=133314.

APA style

Bender, Harold S. (1959). Ontario Mennonite Brethren in Christ. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 29 July 2021, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Ontario_Mennonite_Brethren_in_Christ&oldid=133314.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 66-67. All rights reserved.

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