Sharing By Joanna Reesor-McDowell

Hagerman Mennonite Church and Markham Chinese Mennonite Church: The Story of a Partnership

This September marks the 20th anniversary of Markham Chinese Mennonite Church’s ministry in Markham. We celebrate and give thanks for the Christian witness that your congregation has had in our community. It is also a time to be grateful for the relationship between our two congregations. Our partnership has been warm, respectful, fruitful and mutually beneficial. It is good to reflect back on the story of how our partnership developed. Hagerman Mennonite Church (HMC) was established more than seventy years ago when the community was a small hamlet North of Toronto surrounded by small farms and market gardens. Over a 20 year period, beginning in the late 1970’s, the community experienced massive change. HMC became part of an urban community bordering the City of Toronto with many immigrants, particularly from Asia. The congregation felt somewhat unsure of how to respond to all the changes knowing that the language and cultural barriers made it difficult to reach out to our new neighbours. Yet we were gradually shifting our mind set to allow new ideas and new identities to emerge. There was a sense that to resist change would be the death of our church. Out of that fertile ground two new congregations were about to emerge.  In 1990, Pastor Winfred Soong and others from the Toronto Chinese Mennonite Church approached HMC and asked about using some of our facilities as a basis to do outreach to the new immigrants that were coming in large numbers from Hong Kong. The members of the HMC congregation voted unanimously to share our space with TCMC.

By 1993, the Markham Chinese Mennonite Church (MCMC) was established as an emerging congregation with about 30 people participating in Sunday afternoon services. Demographic shifts were affecting HMC in other ways during the same period. Property values were rising along with massive new development and higher density living. This had the effect of encouraging young couples or retirees to buy homes to the North of the city. Many purchased homes in the Stouffville area. By 1995, there were a significant number of HMC members that had a vision to start a new church in that community. The congregation held a series of meetings to discern future directions. After a challenging but healthy process of listening to each other, it was clear that there were two distinct but equally valid visions: one to start a new Mennonite congregation in Stouffville; the other to have a renewed congregation at Hagerman that adapts to a multi-cultural and urban environment. Both groups agreed to bless the other’s vision.

Community Mennonite Church of Stouffville was established as an emerging congregation in 1996, with 30 adults and 25 children. A similar number of adults, but fewer children remained at HMC. Pastor Gordon Alton agreed to work with each group part-time during a transition period that lasted for four years. The establishment of a new church in Stouffville had the result of strengthening the partnership between Hagerman Mennonite Church and Markham Chinese Mennonite Church. There were now two congregations of a similar size sharing space. MCMC began worshipping on Sunday mornings, making it possible for the children’s Sunday school to be done jointly with HMC. Joint worship services followed by potluck lunches were held several times each year as a way of building relationships. Vacation Bible School was also done together for a number of years.

This partnership was expressed in economic terms when MCMC purchased the parsonage – the house and lot that was adjacent to the church – from HMC. Although each congregation has ownership of a particular part of the property, the space is freely shared by both groups for their programs. The members of Hagerman Mennonite Church agreed that the funds from this sale would go to help Community Mennonite Church become established in Stouffville. There were now three healthy congregations functioning (involving approx. 200 people) – each with a distinct identity yet with an interconnected history.

The relationships between HMC and MCMC have continued to develop. As children from HMC grow into their teenage years, many wish to worship in English. They have been welcomed to our services and have blessed us with their presence. Change has continued as God led a group of Tamil speaking Christians to our door. The Markham Christian Worship Centre is an emerging congregation within the Mennonite Conference of Eastern Canada that meets on Sunday afternoons. We look to the future together, as we plan for the best way to use our property in support of our three congregations. Looking back, we know that we could not have mapped out our future ourselves. The only explanation is that God’s guiding hand has helped each group to adapt and support each other through a challenging period of change. The pieces of the puzzle have fit together beautifully, in ways we could not have imagined.

Joanna Reesor-McDowell