Leis, Vernon (1933-1994)
Vernon Roy Leis: pastor; born 23 November 1933 on a farm near Petersburg, Ontario to John S. and Catherine (Wagler) Leis. He was the oldest son and third child in a family of three daughters and two sons. On 2 July 1955 he married Arvilla Anne Schultz ( 7 August 1931- ). They had four sons and one daughter. Leis died 26 February 1994 in a traffic accident near Baden, Ontario.
In the 1950s a pioneering group of young men from the Ontario Amish Mennonite Conference sought seminary-level theological training to prepare for pastoral service. Leis was one of this number—he studied at Eastern Mennonite College (B.A.), and Goshen Biblical Seminary (B.D), graduating from the latter in 1961. In 1983 he completed a D.Min. at the University of St. Michael 's College, Toronto School of Theology.
Leis entered his first pastorate in the small Blenheim Mennonite Church (1961-1966). He later served large congregations at Elmira (1966-1980), Stirling Avenue (1980-1988) and East Zorra (1988-1994). He was ordained for pastoral ministry on 26 August 1962 .
Vernon Leis soon became involved in conference leadership. He was appointed as the Mennonite Conference of Ontario's youth sponsor almost immediately, and led the conference's Bible quiz team to the Mennonite Church championship. He also taught at Ontario Mennonite Bible School & Institute (1961-1965), and edited the monthly Ontario Mennonite Evangel, a predecessor to the Mennonite Reporter. His later service included terms on the conference's Mission Board, Personnel and Executive committees, and he served as its moderator 1978-1980.
Always ecumenical in outlook, Leis served the wider Mennonite community, and became a strong voice for cooperation and the conference integration movement in Ontario. He was the last moderator of the Inter-Mennonite Conference (Ontario), and the first moderator of the Mennonite Conference of Eastern Canada (MCEC). He chaired the board of the Mennonite Reporter in 1978, and had terms on the Mennonite World Conference presidium and the board of Mennonite Central Committee Canada. His ecumenicity also extended to the local community; he always encouraged active inter-church ministerials, and frequently participated as a pacifist in community Remembrance Day services. He also instituted an interpretive program (tours, dinner, film, discussion about Mennonites) at the Elmira Mennonite church for the many tourists who visited the Waterloo Region to see Old Order Mennonites. Up to 5000 persons a year participated in this program.
Leis was a strong leader who did not avoid confrontation when he believed it necessary. A firm believer in the Anabaptist vision as articulated by Harold Bender, Vernon Leis had little use for theological fundamentalism. On occasion this led to conflict with members within his congregations which led to persons withdrawing to form or join new congregations. His passionate personality could also make him a challenging colleague. Once characterized as the "most aggressive pacifist we've ever met," he resigned from the MCC Canada board in the early 1980s because he believed too few women were at the board table. Nonetheless he also inspired and nurtured numerous young leaders through the assistant pastor program at the Elmira church that was initiated because of the expanding tourism program.
Vernon Leis was a progressive voice for active Mennonite engagement in the communities in which they lived. His premature death in 1994 silenced a voice that always challenged his church to a "muscular Christianity."
Bechtel, Ken. Three Score Years: Elmira Mennonite Church 1924-1984. Elmira , ON : The Church, 1984.
Reimer, Margaret Loewen. "Ontario Conference Leader Dies in Highway Accident." Mennonite Reporter ( 7 March 1994 ): 3.
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