He Didn’t Even Want To Be In This Conference…

Continued from Friday’s post.

What I read here in this chapter corresponded to what I had read in the family history book. The Depression of the 1930s hit Saskatchewan harder than Manitoba. Out of desperation and poverty, some families were returning to Manitoba, to remote locations where it was quite difficult to make any sort of living. There land could be bought for just a dollar. The price was right. People were on the move.

And this was how my great-grandparents and grandparents came to move (back) to Manitoba in 1937.

They did not move to any of the Mennonite Reserves. Rather, the affordable land was “along the shoreline of ancient Lake Agassiz” and “offered at least a hope of subsistence”.

The book continues: “The movement was not characterized by careful planning and orderly settlement patterns, but rather by a confusion rooted in desperation.”

“There were few support structures in place such as might had been expected in the more closed Mennonite colonies. Here they had to rely on their own resourcefulness and the help they could get from their ‘Englaender’ neighbours.”

The above statements coincide very well with what my mom has told me, when I press her for information about her family. She will say that they hadn’t lived with other Mennonites, not really. They had many English neighbours.

I learned something fascinating from this book, that I had no idea about before — my great-grandfather had been a General Conference pastor in Saskatchewan. And, he had wanted to remain GC in Manitoba too… but it was not to be.

The Mennonites in the Mayfeld, Manitoba area were of various denominations, and as they found each other, they began to have church services together, and my great-grandfather was often the minister to this group of assorted Mennonites. So, the church in Mayfeld was independent. The book quotes Peter Buhler here, who had said: “It was a real free-for-all that first year!”

Apparently my great-grandfather invited other General Conference ministers to speak at the church in Mayfeld. But there had been Rudnerweider members in the area attending that church too, and they invited Rudnerweider ministers.

The book also says: “Neufeld, who was gifted in music, even started a choir which sang for the first time at the Thanksgiving Service in 1939.”

I had no idea my great-grandfather had been musical!

The book also says: “It is interesting to note that services were generally conducted in the Low German language … the language they knew best — the language of the heart.”

This changed when World War II came along. If young men wanted to be Conscientious Objectors, they had to be a member of a Peace Church. But the church in Mayfeld wasn’t affiliated with any other churches. They were going to have pick a conference to join!

“David Neufeld would have preferred that the group join the General Conference … since he was a minister in that conference. But it appears the majority favoured the Rudnerweider. … an organizational meeting was held in the Gillespie School in August of 1940. When Neufeld saw that the Rudnerweider connection was inevitable, he too agreed to join. … At the same time, David Neufeld was received as a Rudnerweider minister.”

Apparently the congregation met in the Gillespie school, but when they wanted their own building, they moved a building onto my great-grandparents’ yard (which was across from the school).

Henry Neufeld looks familiar. Sure enough, he’s my grandpa’s brother!

From the book, I gather that the Mayfeld church was a bit of a wild card in the EMMC conference, it was far removed, unique, and maybe a little disconnected because of the distance from the other churches which seemed to be heavily concentrated in the West Reserve.

I haven’t finished reading the book yet, but I have finished reading the Mayfeld section… and I get the feeling this will be all that I will read of my family in this book. I appreciate these brief glimpses of the past.

This’ll be helpful when I finally go to Mayfeld and Edrans to chase down a bit more family history. (SOON!)