Everything I Don’t Know About Holdeman Mennonites

One day late last summer, I pointed out to Andrew that we hadn’t visited Greenland yet. And so we hopped in the car and went! It’s just north of Blumenort. It was here that we realized this was largely a Holdeman cemetery, and I came face-to-face with my woeful ignorance: I didn’t even know that Holdemans are Mennonites.

Thus declares the sign at the cemetery:

How have I lived to be this old, right here, and not know this stuff?

I feel like I’m the last person to endeavour to learn about the Holdeman Mennonite church. Everyone else seems to either knows a very good baker who is a Holdeman, has worked side-by-side with Holdmans, or does a lot of business with Holdeman people.

I don’t even know how to refer to them, I feel like I’m probably doing it wrong. “The Holdemans” — is that even correct?

Because they dress plainly, they stand out… so this whole time, I’ve felt like they were some exotic ‘other’. I hadn’t realized we share the exact same roots.

And I wonder, if a Holdeman person leaves their church, would they still be considered a Holdeman, because it’s still their culture? (Just like the Mennonite question in general.)

You know, the story of how the Holdeman church (Church of God in Christ) came to be so prominent in southeast Manitoba is actually kind of fascinating. Rather than look up stuff in books, I’m going to tell you what I think I know and/or remember about what I’ve read. Sometimes the facts swim together into an entirely new faulty assumption, of course. That’s the risk. Diving in!

The 1874 Mennonites hadn’t been here on the East Reserve for very long when they invited a guy to come rouse them out of their perceived spiritual slump. This guy was John Holdeman, an American evangelist. At this point, the Kleine Gemeinde (later called EMC) church building in Steinbach had not yet been built — they were still meeting in a house. In Franz Kroeker’s house. (I believe Kroeker Avenue in Steinbach was named after these Kroekers, as they had lived at the corner of Main and Kroeker.) And so the KG folk invited John Holdeman to come out from the United States and hold a series of revival meetings in the Kroeker house, in 1881. (This is of particular interest to me because it turns out Franz Kroeker was Andrew’s great-great-great-grandfather.) This was the beginning of a massive spiritual movement that saw the Kleine Gemeinde church rip itself in two: the remaining Kleine Gemeinde, and the Church of God in Christ — the Holdeman church.

I try to imagine what it was like around here back in the late 1800’s, everyone was in the midst of adjusting to this new life here, and suddenly this split occurred. It must have been heart-wrenching. It tore families apart. A unique emotional catastrophe, is what it seems like to me.

But of course in time, everyone adjusted and settled into this new way of life. New, fancier revivals came along; more church splits occurred. Such is life.

I will keep learning.

About the feature photo… after Andrew and I visited Greenland cemetery, we drove on for a bit and noticed this old barn in the middle of a corn field as the sun set behind us. We wished that barn could tell us stories.