Snyder, John Wilfred (1925-2012)

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John Snyder and Lois Buckwalter wedding photo, 1951. Family photo.

John W. Snyder: pastor and institution builder, was born 20 September 1925 on the family farm near Hespeler (now Cambridge), Ontario, Canada to Oliver A. Snyder (12 October 1894-15 August 1977) and Lillian N. Snyder (10 December 1895-21 October 1987). He was the oldest of three sons. On 9 August 1951 he married Lois Buckwalter (16 September 1925-30 August 1990). They had three children: John “Jed,” Patricia and Julie. Lois was a gifted musician who taught at Rockway Mennonite School for four years, and remained involved in musical activities throughout her life. After Lois’s death, John married Iva Sherk Taves (6 May 1928-29 March 2011) on 16 November 1991. John died 2 October 2012 after a fall on the farm on which he lived all his life. John and Lois Snyder are buried at the Wanner Mennonite Church cemetery.

John’s life on the family farm gave him many practical skills he used the remainder of his life. He obtained and made good use of a small plane’s pilot licence for many years. He attended Goshen College in Indiana, and earned a BA in Natural Science in 1948. After a break to serve in Voluntary Service with Mennonite Central Committee, he returned to Goshen Biblical Seminary to study for a Bachelor of Divinity (BD) degree, although he did not complete that degree until 1958.

In those years, Goshen seminary students were “placed” in assignments. Harold S. Bender and Jesse B. Martin found a pastoral position for John Snyder at the Snyder (Bloomingdale) Mennonite Church, where he was ordained to ministry on 10 June 1951 by Benjamin B. Shantz. At the same time he began work at the Golden Rule Bookstore (later Provident Bookstore) in Kitchener. He continued at the bookstore until 1967, most of those years as manager. He served as Bloomingdale’s pastor until 1962. He attended Yale Divinity School where he earned a Master of Sacred Theology (MST) degree.

John, Lois and their children began to attend Rockway Mennonite Church in 1964; he served as Rockway’s part time pastor-coordinator from 1967 to 1991, though the last year was a sabbatical. During his pastorate Rockway was known as an “intellectual” congregation that welcomed persons with questions about traditional Christian theology.

Almost from the time of his ordination, John Snyder became a leader in helping to shape, and sometimes initiate, institutions to better serve the needs of the church. He was a member of the Rockway Mennonite School board 1952-1960 and 1971-72, serving as board chair 1955-1958, and as the school’s administrator for six months in 1972. The 1950s were years of expansion at the school, both in students, facilities, and vision for greater engagement with the world.

He also served on the Mennonite Conference of Ontario’s Peace Problems Committee (1953-1959), Educational Council (1956-1958), and the conference’s executive committee (1958-1962, 1971-1972). During his first term of service on the executive, six ordained men withdrew from the conference and formed the Conservative Mennonite Church of Ontario. He served as the Mennonite Conference of Ontario's representative to the Mennonite Board of Education from 1956-1960 and 1966-1968.

John Snyder was part of the earliest discussions that led to the creation of Conrad Grebel College in Waterloo. He was part of the founding board’s executive committee, and served on the board 1961-1982, except for two one-year gaps while studying at Yale and taking a sabbatical in England. He was Conrad Grebel board chair 1970-1974. He was also a founding executive committee member for Mennonite Publishing Service, which launched the Mennonite Reporter in late 1971. He served in this role for a number of years.

John held strong views on institutional policy and procedural matters, and sometimes this led to conflict and broken relationships. Despite his many contributions to church institutions, in his later years John became distrustful of church institutions, and became something of a gadfly at conference annual meetings.

At his funeral, John Snyder was described as a man of few words, and a “friend of mystery.” His faith, and the faith he encouraged for others, was always open to new thoughts.


Brubaker-Zehr, Scott. “Brevity and Mystery: a Meditation on the life of John W. Snyder.” Rockway News 19 (November 2012): 10-12.

Erb, Peter C. “Preface.” On Being the Church: Essays in Honour of John W. Snyder, Peter C. Erb, ed. Waterloo, Ont.: Conrad Press, 1992: iii-vii.

Hunsberger, Brian. "Heart with Loving Heart United: Rockway celebrates 50 Years of 'Being the Church'." Rockway News 13 (October 2010): 6-10.

Mennonite Conference of Ontario annual reports, 1952-1973

“Rev. John Wilfred Snyder.” Funeral bulletin (6 October 2012).

Steiner, Sam. “John Snyder celebrates 60th Anniversary of Ordination.” Rockway News 15 (June 2011): 7.

Author(s) Samuel J Steiner
Date Published January 2015

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Steiner, Samuel J. "Snyder, John Wilfred (1925-2012)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. January 2015. Web. 22 Jul 2024.,_John_Wilfred_(1925-2012)&oldid=165448.

APA style

Steiner, Samuel J. (January 2015). Snyder, John Wilfred (1925-2012). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 22 July 2024, from,_John_Wilfred_(1925-2012)&oldid=165448.

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