Different Cultures


Chinese and Vietnamese Mennonite children, 1998 (17 Kb): photo by Neil Funk-Unrau
Chinese and Vietnamese Mennonite children Singing in Edmonton (1998):   Canadian Mennonite photo

One hundred years ago most Mennonite church services in Canada were held in German, with some in English. Since then Mennonites in Canada have become more diverse, with people from many different languages, cultures, and backgrounds joining and making significant contributions to the church.

In addition to English and German, Canadian Mennonite congregations regularly worship in Laotian, Chinese (Mandarin, Cantonese), Vietnamese, Cambodian, Hmong, Spanish, French, Hindi, Punjabi, and Japanese. Some congregations which use different languages for worship share church buildings, other churches incorporate different language and cultural groups into the same services, while still others have their own buildings entirely. 

Unique Perspectives

Long-time Worker with Native Peoples, Menno Wiebe enters Retirement, 1997 (28 Kb):  photo by Aiden Schlichting Enns
Charlie Nelson, Menno Wiebe, and Marge Nelson during the Retirement Celebration for Menno Wiebe (1997):  Canadian Mennonite photo

Mennonites from non-European cultural and language backgrounds have had a significant impact on the Mennonite church in Canada. It would be next to impossible to identify all of their contributions and perspectives, but here are a few examples: 

  • Mennonites from different cultural backgrounds have challenged the church to have a greater focus on the beliefs and practices of Anabaptism, and to place less emphasis on Russian and Swiss culture and ethnicity.
  • Many of these groups have brought a renewed conviction for sharing the "Good News" with others. This emphasis on "evangelism" has been less prominent among more traditional Mennonite churches of European ancestry.
  • Some non-European Mennonites have shown an interest in supporting or spearheading mission efforts to their specific cultural communities. In some cases church agencies have supported people to return to their country of origin.
  • The growing diversity in the national Mennonite church has also sparked greater interest in international issues and situations affecting people in other countries. As well, it has prompted increased sensitivity and involvement in areas such as refugee concerns and immigration issues.

New Challenges

Having a more diverse national church also brings its share of challenges. These range from logistical concerns (such as providing for translation at conference gatherings and other meetings) to possible differences in approach and/or cultural norms.

Seniors at a Chinese Mennonite Church in Vancouver, BC, 1995 (15 Kb)
Seniors at a Chinese Mennonite Church in Vancouver (1995):  Canadian Mennonite photo

Challenging church tradition is nothing new for Anabaptists. In fact, this was a major issue involved at the outset of their movement in the 16th century. From the beginning, Anabaptists struggled against what they saw as an "assumed" and almost hereditary Christianity. They wanted their faith to be a more conscious choice which would have a direct impact on the way people lived their lives.

This challenge also applies to the Mennonite churches in Canada today. The involvement, incorporation, and contributions of people from non-European backgrounds have provoked the church to look beyond its own culture and traditions. Styles of worship in congregations, the songs that are sung and the instruments played, the way people read the Bible, the topics and issues discussed, even the food eaten and the language spoken have become important and valued parts of Mennonite church tradition. It is not easy to question tradition, or to accept change. So what's next?

Again, Mennonite churches do not believe, teach, or practice all of the same things. The pace of change differs from group to group and congregation to congregation. But one thing is certain, the broadening of who is involved in the "Mennonite Story" has and will continue to have a great effect on the Mennonite church in Canada.

Created 1998 by Derek Suderman