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Mennonite Church Saskatchewan

The Mennonite Church Saskatchewan (MCS), also known as the General Conference, is one of many Mennonite groups. The MCS had its start in the Saskatchewan Valley north of Saskatoon when Gerhard Ens arrived with his family from the Ukraine in 1891, settling in Rosthern. As an agent of Clifford Sifton, federal Minister of the Interior, and later an elected member of the first Saskatchewan legislature, Ens promoted Mennonite settlement. The first Mennonite church building in the North-West Territories was constructed of logs in the Eigenheim community west of Rosthern in 1896, under the leadership of Peter Regier. In 1902 Regier met with other Saskatchewan Mennonite ministers and leaders from Manitoba to seek co-operation in matters of common concern. That meeting is seen as the beginning of the Conference of Mennonites in Central Canada, forerunner of the Conference of Mennonites in Canada. A provincial organization of this Conference was formed in Saskatchewan.

Annual meetings of the ministers and deacons were replaced in 1959 by a delegate conference which drew more lay members into the work of the Church. The new body was named the Conference of Mennonites of Saskatchewan (CoMoS); in 2001 the name was changed to Mennonite Church Saskatchewan. Accompanying this organizational change were many others: worship services switched from German to English; the Aeltester system, where one bishop was in charge of many of congregations, was replaced by a system in which each congregation functioned separately under the auspices of the provincial Conference; the membership became more urban, with one-quarter of the forty congregations and one-third of the adult membership being urban by 2000; and unpaid, often untrained, lay leaders were replaced by trained, salaried ministers.

The MCS has promoted and coordinated many projects: starting and maintaining new congregations, including helping to build churches; promoting mission and relief work, with congregational women’s organizations producing many bundles and kits distributed abroad through Mennonite Central Committee; setting up private schools, Bible Schools, Sunday Schools, Summer Bible Schools, and Children’s Camps; and organizing chaplaincy ministries in hospitals and jails.

A unique project of MCS began with the initiative of the Youth Organization, formed in 1940. When the federal government closed the Dominion Experimental Farm in Rosthern in 1940, the Youth Organization bought the Farm, which included 640 acres of treed landscape with buildings, for $20,000. The renamed Mennonite Youth Farm was the venue for a number of institutions including an invalid home, a children’s home, a handicapped children’s home, and two homes for the mentally challenged. The products of the farm and livestock operations provided the institutions with food, and profits from the sale of milk in Rosthern were shared with various mission agencies. Though these institutions no longer exist, the campus still contains a modern 68-bed nursing home as well as seniors housing.

Verner Friesen

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