The following was written by Jack Schade and appears in Zurich Mennonite Church: Celebrating 100 Years – 1908 to 2008.
At special times like this it is always good to look back to our roots, discover where we came from and take note of how our history has evolved to the point where we are today. We need to learn from past experiences to discover ourselves and others. There is much to learn and appreciate from those who have gone before us. Their hard work and the hardships they encountered are more than most of us can imagine.
Mennonites have lived in the community around Zurich since the 1830s. The earliest mention of a Mennonite Church in this area is 1837 when Henry Shuh, a minister from Berlin (now Kitchener), made a preaching trip to Hay Township.
During the early 1850s, many Amish and Mennonite families moved to Hay and Stanley Townships. Some came from the Grand River Settlement near Berlin and others came from the New Hamburg area. The main reason for moving to this area was the availability of cheaper land and homes for their families. Some of the names known included Wideman, Otterbein, Vincent, Detweiler, Lehman, Wambold, Martin, Clemen, Bechtel, Baer, Reesor, and Newschwanger. They worshipped in homes for a number of years until a church building was erected in 1864. It was located 3 miles south of Zurich where our present cemetery is located. After this building was no longer needed, it was sold for twenty five dollars and moved to a neighbouring farm. The church enjoyed considerable prosperity for a period of time.
Daniel Brundage moved to Hay Township around 1850 and was this congregation’s first minister. Abram Vincent was ordained the first deacon in 1861. Later, with a number of families moving away, no new members and no resident minister, the congregation began a gradual decline. The membership dwindled from 35 in 1883 to one in 1908 – that being a Sister Otterbein. She was the one remaining link between the Hay Church and the soon-to-be established Zurich Mennonite Church.
In 1889, a group from the Wisler Mennonites, now known as the Old Order or Waterloo County Mennonites, emerged from the Mennonite Conference of Ontario. With most of the Steckle relation being members of that group, Daniel Steckle and his sons Henry, Menno and John affiliated with that fellowship. They held services in their homes approximately every six weeks, with ministers coming from the St. Jacobs and Elmira areas. Gradually, most of the next generations joined the Zurich Mennonite Church.
In the winter of 1908, Peter Ropp, a Minister from Michigan, came to Zurich to visit his wife’s parents. While here, he conducted several evening meetings at the Amish Mennonite Church on the Bronson Line. This was the first time evening meetings were held in this building. As a result of these meetings, 19 persons asked to be baptized. Part of the tradition of the church at that time required male baptismal candidates to wear the ‘mutzi’. This was a traditional Amish frock-tail coat which was fastened with hooks and eyes. Many men did not wear this coat to regular services, but it was reserved for special occasions such as weddings, funerals and baptisms. Apparently these young men did not own such a jacket, and were unwilling to follow this tradition. The bishop, therefore, refused to baptize them. The parents evidently stood with their children and overtures were made to the Mennonite Churches in Waterloo Country to have the converts baptized. As a result, a Mennonite Bishop named Jonas Snyder travelled to Zurich and baptized them on the 26th of March, 1908. These nineteen persons, along with Sister Otterbein, became the Zurich Mennonite Church. They were: Moses Gascho, David Gascho and wife, Emma Gascho, Ida Gascho, Ezra Gascho, Simeon Kipfer, Christian Erb, Moses Erb, Joseph Brenneman, Norman Brenneman, Lily Baechler, Lidia Baechler, Elizabeth Oesch, Emma Kennel, Clara Kennel, Sarah Gingerich, Clara Oesch, and Jacob Gingerich.
The following persons were received into membership in the Zurich congregation from the Blake Amish Mennonite Church on June 1st of the same year: Rudy Oesch, Joel Baechler and wife, Sol Kipfer and wife, John Meyers and wife, Chris Gascho and wife, Joseph Gascho and wife, Menno Schwartzentruber and wife, Jacob Oesch and wife, John Oesch and wife, David Gingerich and wife, Sam Gingerich and wife, Chris Schrag and wife, Jacob Kipfer and wife, Jacob Meyers Jr. and wife, Jacob Meyers Senior, John Baechler and wife, Menno Kipfer and wife, Menno Oesch, Catherine Gingerich, Caroline Oesch, and Joseph Schwartzentruber.
The formal organization was held in the summer of 1908 with Jonas Snider, Noah Stauffer and Peter Ropp officiating.
Services were held in homes, barns or wherever they could find room. An old Baptist Church in the village was used for a short time. In 1910, land on Goshen St. North in Zurich was purchased from Oscar and Nancy Koehler for the sum of $175.00. That same year a brick church was built on this property for a total cost of $3,600.00. Further renovation and expansion took place in 1954 and 1975. In the winter of 1954, a major job of re-decoration of the Zurich Mennonite Church was undertaken. This included floor covering with insul board as a sub covering, refinishing benches, painting walls, ceiling and woodwork of the auditorium and counter shelves in the kitchen.
In 1974 it was decided to build an addition on the west end of the church to include a fellowship hall and kitchen. The basement was remodelled for Sunday School classrooms and the sanctuary was completely redone providing a larger seating capacity, a Pastor’s study and a nursery. After several unsuccessful attempts to purchase adjoining property for expansion, it was decided to look elsewhere. A parcel of land on the Hensall-Zurich road was purchased from Catherine Letts – this is the site of our present building. It was constructed in 1988 and 1989 at a cost of slightly under one million dollars. It was built by Don Hockey Construction along with many, many hours of volunteer labour. The building was dedicated on June 18th, 1989 and was totally paid for in ten years.
Truly the characteristics and virtues of enthusiasm, courage and conviction as portrayed by the early church leaders are much to be desired and should be a challenge to all of us today. May we all be faithful as we follow in the footsteps of our forefathers. May we learn from their mistakes and build on their successes.
Past and Present Leaders of Zurich Mennonite Church:
- Peter Ropp: 1908 – 1911
- Christian Schrag: 1911 – 1935
- Stephen Peachey: 1935 – 1949
- Albert Martin: 1949 – 1962
- Orval Jantzi: 1962 – 1966
- Ephriam Gingerich: 1966 – 1970
- Cyril Gingerich: 1971 (Interim)
- Clayton Kuepfer: 1972 – 1990
- Winston Martin: 1992 (Interim)
- Phil & Julie Bender: 1993 – 1997
- Reynold Kipfer: 1998 – 1999 (Interim)
- Harold & Judy Shantz: 2000 – 2003
- Doug Schade, Youth Pastor: 2000 – 2002
- Virgil Gingerich: 2003 (Interim)
- Phil Wagler, Lead Pastor: 2003 – 2010
- Tim Doherty, Associate Pastor/Kingsfield Lead Pastor: 2004 – 2011
- Tom Roes, Pastor to Youth & their Families/ZMC Pastor: 2007 – 2013
- Dennis Estep, Pastor of Pastoral Care: 2011 – Present
- Stu Blyde, Worship Developer: 2011-2013
- Janelle Gingerich, Leader of Youth Ministry: 2011 – 2013
- Ken Gazley, Interim Kingsfield Lead Pastor/ZMC Pastor: 2012 – 2014
- Debbie Gingerich, Leader of Youth Ministry: 2013 – Present
- Ryan Jantzi, K-Clinton Pastor: 2011-2015; K-ZMC Lead Pastor: 2016 – Present