Winter Bible Schools (Ontario Amish Mennonite Conference)
Winter Bible schools operated in a number of Ontario Amish congregations from the 1930s to the 1960s. In 1932 the Ontario Amish Mennonite Conference appointed a Bible School Board which continued functioning until about 1965. Conference leaders like Jacob R. Bender were concerned for the spiritual welfare of the conference's young people. The first Winter Bible School was conducted at the East Zorra Mennonite Church in 1932. Other congregations which initiated Winter Bible Schools were Steinmann, Maple View, and Poole. The early schools were normally four weeks in length.
The most ambitious Bible school venture was conducted in the town of Wellesley from 1947 to 1954. The Maple View congregation's anniversary booklet reports that Elkanah G. Kennel owned the site, which was known as Kennel's Hall. This location had better facilities than the church buildings and was located in town -- an advantage when wintertime rural roads made for difficult travel.
The Wellesley school operated for a six-week term. The courses covered the whole Bible in a six-year curriculum. Participants received a certificate when they completed the entire course of study. In addition to Bible study, the curriculum included courses in Bible doctrine, missions, church history, Biblical introduction, music and the Sunday school lesson. Each class was 45 minutes in length. Local pastors taught the courses, though persons from the United States or from the Mennonite Conference of Ontario were also invited to teach.
During these years the majority of the predominantly rural Amish Mennonite young people did not attend high school. Thus this school provided them with a viable social outlet. Attendance varied from 55 to 85 students during the daytime sessions. Adults also attended evening courses, swelling the attendance to 250 persons. Records indicate that in 1949 the tuition was 75 cents for a five-day week; in 1953 tuition was $1.00 per week. Room and board charges were extra for those who stayed in town during the week.
Area Mennonite churches invited faculty and students to provide special music and preaching for Sunday evening services. The writer also remembers traveling to New York state to provide a weekend program of music at Mennonite churches connected to the conference.
Many teachers contributed to the success of the Winter Bible Schools. Teachers from within the Ontario Amish Mennonite Conference included Jacob R. Bender, Orland Gingerich, Henry Yantzi, Ephraim Gingerich, Sam Schultz, Elmer Schwartzentruber and Millis Leis. Teachers from other conferences included Moses H. Roth (Baden, Ontario, Canada), Curtis Cressman (New Hamburg, Ontario, Canada), John F. Garber (Alma, Ontario, Canada), Earl Maust (Pigeon, Michigan, USA) and Andrew Gingerich (Mansville, New York, USA).
By the early 1960s attendance dropped because young persons began attending high school. The writer transferred to the Ontario Mennonite Bible School in 1952 to graduate from the twelve-week school at First Mennonite Church in Kitchener. This pattern became fairly common into the 1960s so that the school reduced sessions to two weeks in length and met at the Maple View Church.
The Conference's Christian Nurture Council was reorganized to improve coordination of conference-wide educational activities. In 1964 the work of the Winter Bible School Board was integrated into the Council's task. The conference-sponsored Winter Bible schools ended a year or two later. This brought to an end a significant ministry in the conference churches. Times were changing and the educational needs of the young people were met in other ways.
It is important to acknowledge the significant role played by early leaders such as Jacob R. Bender, who had the vision to initiate a significant ministry in the congregations.
Gingerich, Orland. The Amish of Canada. Waterloo, ON : Conrad Press, 1972.
Kennel, Lillian. History of the Wilmot Amish Mennonite Congregation : Steinman and St. Agatha Mennonite Churches, 1824-1984. Baden, ON : Steinman Mennonite Church, 1984.
Laurence, Hugh and Lorraine Roth. Daniel S. Iutzi, Jacob R. Bender : Servants of God and the Church. Waterloo, ON : Historical Committee of the Western Ontario Mennonite Conference, 1984.
Lichti, Fred. A History of the East Zorra (Amish) Mennonite Church, 1837-1977. Tavistock, ON : East Zorra Mennonite Church, 1977.
Maple View Mennonite Church, 1859-1984. Wellesley, ON : The Church, 1984.
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MLA style: Lebold, Ralph. "Winter Bible Schools (Ontario Amish Mennonite Conference)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. September 2001. Web. 20 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/W574.html.
APA style: Lebold, Ralph. (September 2001). Winter Bible Schools (Ontario Amish Mennonite Conference). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 20 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/W574.html.