Parishioners past and present gathered to reflect on a quarter century of memories Feb. 5 as they celebrated the 25th anniversary of Zion Mennonite Church in Elmira. “It was a real celebration of being able to fulfill a dream,” said Marilyn Brubacher, one of the original members of the congregation that began back in January 1987. “When we started the new congregation it was with the intent that we’d have an alternative to some of the traditional churches.” Known by many as simply The Junction, the church has flourished despite its humble roots.
Zion Mennonite Fellowship began meeting at Elmira Branch 469 of the Royal Canadian Legion, and enjoyed the warm hospitality for almost 10 years. Yet the congregation wanted more – the space at the Legion worked well for Sunday worship, but limited their vision of outreach and service the other six days of the week.
So a delegation went to council and proposed making used of a property downtown, formerly Shopeasy. The council of the day, led by mayor David Leis, granted a five-year lease at 47 Arthur St. S., signed April 1, 1996, and work began almost immediately on the renovations.
On June 16, 1996 the church held its first official service in the building, and hasn’t looked back in the nearly 16 years since. Beyond its Sunday service, the church also offers a youth group on Friday nights, a coffee and games night drop-in known as “Java Junction” on Thursday, as well as an evening to praise God through music one Saturday night per month. The church also opens its doors during the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival, moonlight madness sale, and the Elmira street dance.
At the service last Sunday, Dale Bauman – a member of the steering committee that helped establish the church – encouraged the congregation to continue to take risks like they did 25 years ago.
“That can fade over time,” said pastor Dawne Driedger, who along with her husband Ken, has been giving Sunday service at Zion Mennonite since 2005.
“Things get a little more comfortable and you might not feel like you need to take risks anymore, (but) I’d like to take the lead into some risky change.”
As attendance numbers at churches continue to dwindle – such as at the recently-closed Chalmers Presbyterian church in Winterbourne – the Driedgers believe that the church cannot be afraid of taking risks in order to continue to serve the people of Elmira, just as the original members of the congregation took a risk starting their own church.
“Times are changing and when we change it feels like a risk. Sometimes it is more of a risk than it feels like, and sometimes it feels like more of a risk than it really is,” said Ken. The church sees about 60 parishioners on an average Sunday, but that number more than doubled for the 25th anniversary last week as former members made the trip back to Elmira to relive some old memories and enjoy a potluck meal.
And what of the next 25 years? The Driedgers don’t see themselves staying at Zion for that long, but know it will be in good hands when they do decide to move on.
“It will be exciting to see what the next 25 years brings for this congregation,” said Dawne. “There is so much potential here, people are so willing to serve this community and we really have a heart for Elmira.
“I think we can work with Elmira to make this a better place for everybody.”