Sherk, J. Harold (1903-1974)

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J. Harold Sherk in 1944. Photo courtesy of J. Harold Sherk, Jr.
Mila Sherk in 1944. Photo courtesy of J. Harold Sherk, Jr.

John "J." Harold Sherk, Sr.: pastor, educator, peace worker, was born 20 December 1903 in Berlin (now Kitchener, Ontario, Canada) to John Hubert Sherk (1 March 1878-1962) and Lydia Troxel Sherk (25 June 1877-1946). J. Harold was eldest of five sons and four daughters, two of whom died in infancy. On 16 October 1926 he married Mila Senor (3 December 1900-13 January 1983), daughter of David and Florence Senor of West Berlin, New Jersey, USA. They had two daughters and two sons, Iva (Taves), J. Harold, Jr., Arthur and Mildred. J. Harold died 28 February 1974.

A baptized member of the Bethany Mennonite Brethren in Christ (later Evangelical Missionary) congregation in Kitchener, J. Harold Sherk studied from 1921-1924 at the Chicago Evangelistic Institute. Upon his graduation, he entered the ministry of the Ontario Conference of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church. It was at the Chicago Evangelistic Institute that he met Mila Senor.

With Mennonite Brethren in Christ polity that required pastors to change charges every three to five years, the family moved frequently. (A "charge" might include multiple preaching locations in a geographic area.) J. Harold Sherk`s ministry included numerous Ontario Mennonite Brethren in Christ charges: Markham (1924-25), Shrigley (1925-1926), Maryboro (1926-28), Elmwood (1928-31), Sunnidale (Ebenezer; 1931-36), Stayner (1936-40), Aylmer (1940-41) and Markham (1942-1943). The assignments began and ended in October, at the time of the annual conference meeting when pastoral assignments were made. He was ordained on 22 September 1929. During these years, J. Harold Sherk also served as secretary of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Ontario Conference and Foreign Mission Board.

During World War II and after, J. Harold Sherk also served extensively in inter-Mennonite peace work. Secretary of Ontario's Conference of Historic Peace Churches from 1940-44, he was called in 1941-42 as resident chaplain to the Montreal River Alternative Service camp. The family lived in Stouffville during that year where he taught in the three-month teaching program at the new Emmanuel Bible College. He was part of the College from its inception in January 1940. In 1944, J. Harold Sherk Sr. and his family moved with the college to Kitchener, Ontario, where he continued to teach while filling the roles of registrar and treasurer at the college.

Late in the war, J. Harold Sherk also responded affirmatively to Mennonite Central Committee's call  to do relief work in India. This meant leaving his family for two years as a June 1944 letter to Orie Miller attests: "My wife and I … agree fully with your desire that the Will of God be done in this matter," Harold wrote. "We do not enjoy the prospect of a separation of years, but we feel that God`s hand is in this matter and we hope to see clearly the parth (sic) that we should take."

His varied service augmented by the stint overseas prepared J. Harold Sherk for further inter-Mennonite and ecumenical peace work. October 1949 brought him and Mila to Akron, Pennsylvania where he would serve until 1958 as Executive Secretary of MCC`s Peace Section. In 1958 responsibility as director of the National Service Bureau for Religious Objectors (NSBRO) took the couple to Hyattsville, Maryland until retirement in 1969.

Described by their son J. Harold Sherk Jr. as "Mennonite Methodists," regular family worship undergirded a home affected by the many changes and challenges brought by J. Harold and Mila's joint commitment to his ministry. At home, J. Harold Sr. and Mila Sherk took turns reading the Bible and leading in prayer; led by Mila`s soprano voice, the family also sang together. During their time in Markham, in addition to pastoral and teaching duties, the family cleaned the church to save money for a piano.

Although J. Harold Sherk Sr. was away from home often, family life was both loving and disciplined. Daughter Iva Taves has recalled as a young teen accompanying her father to services morning, afternoon and evening on his three point charge in Sunnidale that expanded to include a fourth. J. Harold Sherk's commitment to the "small, but faithful group" at nearby Wasaga beach that gathered in the schoolroom located on the 2nd floor of Aberhart's Store was demonstrated on at least one occasion by his braving a blizzard, walking on a road not fit for travel under the protection of an army blanket wrapped around his great coat. 

With the unflagging support of his wife Mila and their family, J. Harold Sherk faithfully lived out his calling as minister and educator, always demonstrating a deep commitment to maintaining a peace witness. A "Mennonite Methodist," his influence was felt by his family, the Ontario Mennonite Brethren in Christ (Evangelical Missionary) constituency, and internationally in inter-Mennonite and ecumenical circles. The J. H. Sherk Education Centre at Emmanuel Bible College in Kitchener, Ontario was named in his honor, with a summary of his career mounted on the entrance walls.


Marr, Lucille. The Transforming Power of a Century: Mennonite Central Committee and its Evolution in Ontario. Kitchener, Ont.: Pandora Press, 2003.

Sherk, J. Harold Jr. Interview by Lucille Marr (4 June 1996). Mennonite Central Committee Ontario History Collection, Mennonite Archives of Ontario.

_______. Personal papers. J. Harold Sherk Sr. to Orie Miller. 16 June 1944. Copy in Mennonite Central Committee collection in Mennonite Archives of Ontario

_______. Telephone conversation with Lucille Marr (13 June 2013).

Taves, Iva. Interview by Linda Huebert Hecht (29 August 1996). Mennonite Central Committee Ontario History Collection, Mennonite Archives of Ontario.

Author(s) Lucille Marr
Date Published July 2013

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MLA style

Marr, Lucille. "Sherk, J. Harold (1903-1974)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. July 2013. Web. 23 Feb 2024.,_J._Harold_(1903-1974)&oldid=172589.

APA style

Marr, Lucille. (July 2013). Sherk, J. Harold (1903-1974). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 23 February 2024, from,_J._Harold_(1903-1974)&oldid=172589.

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