Here is a brief outline of how our church came to be here on King Street in St. Jacobs.
The beginnings of St. Jacobs Mennonite Church (SJMC) begins over 160 years ago, two miles northwest of the village where much of the land was being cleared for the first time by pioneering families. On 29 October 1844, just over 1-¼ acres of land was bought from one John Brubacher for five shillings. The land bought was to be used for a church, school and cemetery. A log schoolhouse was built immediately which doubled as a meetinghouse until a frame meetinghouse was built in the early 1850s. Ludwig Koch was ordained the minister in 1845 and served as minister of this new church known as the ‘Conestoga congregation’ (not to be confused with the village of Conestogo), but because of its close proximity to the nearby Conestoga River which runs through this hamlet unofficially known today as Three Bridges at the intersection of Hawkesville and Three Bridges Roads.
In 1889 there was a split among the Mennonite churches in the area. One group became known as the ‘Conference group’ while the other, the more conservative, the ‘Old Order group’. At the Conestoga congregation, the Old Orders outnumbered the Conference group and thus continued to meet in the frame building while the ‘Conference group’ met in homes. However, in the years that followed, many families who had joined the Old Order movement returned to the Conference group, creating pressure on the Old Order group to return the building. In 1892, the Old Order group agreed and decided to build their own, new meetinghouse one-half mile to the south, which also became known as the Conestoga Meetinghouse. It still stands and operates today on Three Bridges Road as a place of worship for the area Old Order Mennonites.
In 1915 the original Conestoga congregation (Conference group) built a new red brick building in the village of St. Jacobs on land donated by Samuel Good with subsequent building projects in 1936, 1949, 1977 and 1990. (At this point it may also be helpful to note that the 1977 building project included the 1800 reversal of our present-day sanctuary and main entrance.) The original meetinghouse was torn down but the site remains the current cemetery for our congregation. This adjacent property is home to The Waterloo Region District School Board’s Three Bridges Public School, which educates many of the area’s conservative Mennonite students (but not the Old Order Mennonite children—they have their own schools).
In the 1910s the language of worship changed from German to English. In 1935 a Community Summer Bible School was held. This has continued to the present, now known as Vacation Bible School and is a joint effort of the village’s three churches, Mennonite, Evangelical Lutheran and United.
Here are two key links that explain the history of St. Jacobs Mennonite Church.
The first site is the Mennonite Historical Society's Online Encyclopedia. It covers the history of St. Jacobs Mennonite Church right from the beginning up to the late 1990's.
Primary source material for St. Jacobs Mennonite Church is available at the Ontario Mennonite Archives, located in the Conrad Grebel University College library, Waterloo ON. A listing of the holdings available can be found on the Conrad Grebel University College website.