Young Toronto Mennonites connecting in faith

Posted on February 3, 2011 by

by Paige Ellis, Erin James-Abra, Emily Loewen

Meet Elise – she began attending Toronto United Mennonite Church (TUMC) and its young adult group as a way to make new friends in the city.

Historically, churches figured prominently in Canadian communities. In addition to being places of worship, they acted like an extended family, offering networks of support to their members.

However, the influence of the church is decreasing:

  • Between 1985 and 2005, there was a 30 per cent decline in weekly religious service attendance for Canadians over 15.
  • 37 per cent of Canadians over 65 attended a weekly religious service in 2005.
  • The same was true for only 16 percent of 15 to 24-year-olds .

Given these numbers, some might consider Elise’s participation at church unusual.

But according to lead pastor Marilyn Zehr, TUMC seems insulated from the trend. “There is quite a vibrant energy in the congregation right now,” she said.

Elise is one of a growing number of young people attending TUMC.

Youth pastors organize and lead youth groups for members under the age of 18. Though there is no formal structure for young adults, members over 18 have come together on their own accord. They meet every Sunday before the worship service and for social activities during the week.

This group is a place for young people like Elise to find a community that shares similar values and convictions.

Young people are only one part of an overall membership increase at TUMC, though the congregation doesn’t keep records. One reason for the growth in numbers could be the church’s commitment to contemporary culture. A message on the TUMC website articulates the community’s commitment to pluralism: “We welcome people of all races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, faith backgrounds, physical capacities and gifts,” it reads.

Mennonites share many of the same core beliefs as Catholics and Protestants. But setting them apart from many denominations is their belief in voluntary baptism and their commitment to pacifism.

Historically Mennonites have been white, rural and middle-class, but congregations are changing to reflect Canada’s increasingly multicultural landscape. Mennonite churches in Canada now worship in more than 15 different languages.

Posted in: Voices