Reflections on Mennonite History by Harold Reesor
My church and coincidentally my family, are celebrating two centuries in the Markham- Stouffville area. Families moved to the roadless forest of huge trees. They had hand tools and farm animals and one Bible. In Pennsylvania the settlement and the church had prospered over eighty years. So why the move to the Markham wilderness?
In most of Europe, Mennonites had been subjected to severe persecution. For two hundred years, because of their theology, the church leaders and members of their congregations were targeted for banishment, arrest, imprisonment or execution. Many migrated to Pennsylvania in the 18th century because the Quaker governor, William Penn, granted them granted religious freedom.
The Revolutionary War of 1776 and the new republican government caused anxiety among the Mennonites. Because they wondered whether they would enjoy the same religious freedom under this new government, quite a number loaded their Conestoga wagons and took off through the mountains and across the rivers to Upper Canada, where the British Government was still in control.
In 1801, the Reesor family in Pennsylvania sent their young son Peter to Upper Canada to evaluate the lay of the land. The story has been passed down orally that on his way home, as he was ready to leave Little York (Toronto) he met a military officer who offered him 600 acres in Whitchurch Township for his horse and saddle. Peter agreed, but kept the bridle because he claimed it was not part of the deal. He walked back to Pennsylvania carrying the bridle.
Many other families from Pennsylvania came to this area. One family, the Stouffers, settled at the northeastern part of Markham. The community that soon formed on their land took their name: Stouffville.
The Markham Mennonite community has never been under siege by a military force. They have been blessed and prosperous years. We have lost our fears and have become integrated into the rest of society.
As a child in the 1940's, I remember a frequent prayer by Abram Smith, “We pray for our rulers and all those in authority. Grant them wisdom to lead, so that thy people may lead a quiet and a peaceable life in all godliness and honesty”. Abe didn’t vote. Today most Mennonites vote but we often forget to pray for our rulers.
Today in York Region, the challenge to Mennonites is not material impoverishment or military interference. Rather, the challenge is to know the difference between our needs and our wants and to hear the voice of God in our busy world.
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