If you have visited the St. Jacobs area, chances are you encountered a horse & buggy clip-clopping along a rural road or through the village of St. Jacobs; its occupants wearing bonnets, straw hats, and simple conservative clothing. It may have been a surprising sight and perhaps you wondered why anyone would choose that way of life in our fast-paced world?
That’s where The Mennonite Story comes in. For 40 years, this not-for-profit interpretive centre has invited visitors to journey through engaging multimedia presentations, interactive displays, and short video or film presentations which respectfully share valuable insights into the history, faith, and culture of Mennonites, including the Old Order “horse & buggy” people, many of whom live locally and excel at farming and related businesses, food production, quilting, and furniture craft.
But visitors will also leave with an understanding of the Mennonites’ Anabaptist beginnings in 16th century Europe when they were hunted down as heretics - often tortured or killed - after breaking away from state churches during the political and religious upheavals of the Reformation.
You’ll follow their quest to resettle in "new-found lands" -- in Pennsylvania and later in Canada and other places where freedom of worship was tolerated -- driven by their ongoing determination to live peaceably, and to remain faithful to their understanding of New Testament Christian teachings centered on pacifism, believer baptism, and supporting one another in community.
You’ll discover that today, there are diverse congregations of Mennonites all around the world. Though outwardly a Mennonite may either blend with contemporary society or have chosen to remain noticeably separate from it, they still adhere to many similar underlying beliefs.
The Mennonite Story Interpretive Centre has a backstory too.
Flashback to the early 1970s: St. Jacobs was a sleepy village at risk of becoming redundant as a newly constructed super highway bypassed it entirely, whisking traffic easily to nearby urban centres where commerce was booming.
Even so, the rural Old Order “meetinghouse” churches lined with horse & buggies on Sunday mornings increasingly drew the attention of photographers, visitors, and tour companies. Without much organized opportunity for deeper understanding of what these places of worship represented, and often without proper respect shown, the need for some kind of intervention was soon evident.
Around that time, Mennonite pastors and thinkers approached Milo and Laura Shantz --already known for having incubated and grown many successful business ventures -- about developing a place where visitors could gain accurate insights about the Old Order, perhaps while enjoying a great meal based on the many delectable foods attributed to the Mennonite “Pennsylvania Dutch” heritage (think farmers sausage, preserves, and Dutch apple pie)!
And with that, The Stone Crock Restaurant was conceived, opening its doors in 1975 to overwhelming reception. The original intent was that wait staff would be trained in fielding questions about Mennonites while pouring coffee or serving “family-style” platters of delicious foods to guests, however it soon became apparent that would be impossible.
So, intensive planning was soon underway to fund and create an interpretive centre dedicated entirely to 'Telling the Mennonite Story'. And the rest, as they say is history!
Be sure to visit The Mennonite Story next time you are in the Village of St. Jacobs. It’s open every day and you’re sure to receive a warm welcome and leave with a greater understanding of the people you may meet along the way.
Since its launch in 1979
The Mennonite Story has welcomed over
1 million visitors
from over 90 countries
and its audio tour is available in 8 languages!
2019 is extra special because this year
The Mennonite Story is grateful for the many admission donations received throughout its 40-year history. It is also indebted to the Shantz’s businesses and their charitable foundation for the generous funding and ongoing commitment to the interpretive centre over the years.
In addition, The Mennonite Story has been supported by a welcoming, dedicated, and knowledgeable roster of volunteers and volunteer managers over the year including its current manager, Del Gingrich, who will retire this year after an incredible 21 years of service.
To everyone, for every contribution, The Mennonite Story says "Thank you!"
Saturday September 28, 2019
8 - 11 a.m.
at Waterloo North Mennonite Church
with guest speaker
Storyteller, former tour guide, and one of the visionaries who helped shape the project
Tickets $30 Click here to purchase
or call The Mennonite Story 519-664-3518
"The Mission of The Mennonite Story is to creatively and respectfully share our history, culture and faith.
The Vision of The Mennonite Story is to foster understanding, conversation and reflection
from a faith perspective utilizing multi-dimensional media".