The local newspaper editor called it a soap opera. The local Member of Parliament tried to make the spokespersons for the historic peace churches lone fringe persons in a celebration of the War of 1812, speaking only for themselves and not for the members of the several Mennonite, Brethren in Christ and Friends (Quaker) churches in Stouffville, Ontario.
But in the end—a year and half later—a Peace Festival and the installation of a peace plaque made the event on September 22 much more than the theatre surrounding it. It marks a significant happening in the life of several congregations comprising Mennonite Church Canada. Against strong political forces and a divided town council, the historic peace churches persistently, but patiently and gently prevailed. These kinds of historic episodes usually don’t end this way.
Much of the credit goes to Arnold Neufeldt-Fast, professor of theology at Tyndale University College and Seminary, Toronto, and a member of Community Mennonite Church in Stouffville, who steadfastly held that the town did not have military roots, but instead was settled by a war resistor, Abraham Stouffer, and 55 like-minded families.
It is a remarkable story, too, of solidarity. Although Neufeldt-Fast was the leader, he was joined in his tireless efforts by his colleagues Steve Authier, pastor of Heise Hill Brethren in Christ Church and Evelyn Schmitz-Hertzber and Philip Smith of the Friends/Quakers. Andrew Reesor-McDowell, former moderator of MC Canada and a local Mennonite, wrote a letter, dated May 9, 2012, to Governor-General David Johnston, asking him to “personally review the text of the speech that will be made on your behalf and on behalf of the horse guards (part of the War of 1812 Parade).
“We trust you will have an eye for historical accuracy and also for the appropriate tone for a community whose roots are in the historic peace churches,” he wrote, after getting approval from MC Canada to send the letter and offering “to supply you with any information on our town’s history or our church communities.”
The peaceful protest paid off. The peace plaque is a permanent fixture in the centre of town and the Peace Festival is scheduled to become an annual event—celebrating peace, not war. Even the local MP has since met with Neufeldt-Fast and his planning committee to include the peace narrative in his upcoming “Community Report.”
Neufeldt-Fast, in typical Mennonite understatement, engages in no particular triumph, but humbly said at the plaque installation, that he and his colleagues were simply “following a biblical command—Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek (boldly) turn to him the other also (Matt.5:39).
It is a simple truth, stated for all of us in this particular faith. This is who we are; this is what we do. This is how we do it.
But it is not really so simple. Behind this triumph is 500 years of a steadfast belief in peace, a core Anabaptist value. We practice it in myriad ways. We do it when feeding the hungry of the world through Mennonite Central Committee, preparing school kits and blankets, building sand dams in Kenya. We do it through small financial loans to women in Pakistan to start businesses to support their families through Mennonite Economic Development Associates.
We do it through Christian Peacemaker Teams going into the centre of conflict in war-torn countries. We do it through Project Ploughshares by working with churches, governments and civil society, in Canada and abroad, to advance policies and actions to prevent war and armed violence and build peace.
This work is never done. The triumph in Stouffville is but a piece of the whole cloth.
Hostetler named Web Editor
Virginia A. (Ginny) Hostetler of Kitchener, Ont., has been named Web Editor for the Canadian Mennonite, a new part-time position. She fills a variety of roles: writer, editor, wife, mother, daughter, and active member of Stirling Avenue Mennonite Church, Kitchener. Ginny grew up in a Mennonite family in Brazil, where her parents were missionaries. She and her husband Michael and their two children lived for nine years in Nazareth, Israel, where they supported local Christian witness and were engaged in an interpretive centre that focused on Jesus’ life, context and teachings.