The Danforth is an old, albeit busy street lined with shops and restaurants. It’s rich with culture and little gems of history that to the naked eye might not even be noticeable. On Danforth Avenue just east of Woodbine subway station is a small white building sandwiched between the legendary “John’s Hobby Shop” and a used car dealership. It’s the home of the Danforth Mennonite Church.
With a congregation of fewer than 100 members, this small place of worship has survived all of the changes along Danforth Avenue that have made Toronto’s Greektown the community it is today. After 100 years of service, the Danforth Mennonite Church is commemorating its centennial on April 17, 2011 –a big celebration for a little congregation.
Established in 1911, the Danforth Mennonite Church began when a group of Mennonites from Kitchener moved to Toronto. They established a “Faith, Hope and Charity Mission” in a small church on Danforth Avenue, that at the time was in the middle of a field.
“This is where a lot of poor people were living,” says Tim Reimer, pastor at the Danforth Mennonite Church for the past eleven years. “There were churches and a lot of children, but there were no programs for children. They wanted to minister to poor people and children and they found both of them here.”
Today, the church has been renovated and expanded, just as the busy street of Danforth Avenue has expanded. Over the last century, many local businesses in the community have come and gone, as have the members of the Danforth Mennonite Church. “The church still has a large number of the same people it had when I was old enough to remember them,” says Rowan DeHaal, a member of the congregation since his birth. “People come and go, and might show up years later, but it’s like you’ve never missed the beat.”
Giving Back to the Community
For the Danforth Mennonite Church, a passion for helping the community has fuelled much of their success in the neighbourhood. As a proclamation of their faith, Mennonites participate in a Voluntary Service Mission, where young volunteers dedicate their time to helping different organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity.
In 1983 the Danforth Mennonite Church partnered with The United Mennonite Church (TUMC) to establish the St. Clair O’Connor Community –a village for retired seniors. Mennonite volunteers from both churches sponsor the community and provide services for the senior residents.
“Mennonites feel very obligated to help anyone that is in need,” says Tim, referring to the Mennonites’ passivist mentality. “We have to respond to them and help them –wherever they are.”
The church has also benefited from their convenient location, since they are so close to the Woodbine subway station. They rent the basement out to a lot of different groups, like the Danforth East Community Association (DECA). “We want to be engaged with the people in our community, not exclusive or distant from them,” says Tim.
Commemorating a Century
As the church prepares to celebrate its 100th birthday, engaging with their community is exactly how they plan to commemorate the date.
“We have been celebrating it for five years,” says Tim. “Someone had the idea of planting 100 trees this year and next year. We planted in different places. Some did it in conjunction with the City of Toronto; some people planted trees up north at an organic farm.”
Tim also plans to unite the Mennonite churches in the Greater Toronto Area. “We wanted to get a sense of our history and our connectedness to the churches in our area,” he says, “so another thing we did was cycle 100 kilometers. We cycled a century. Next year we will invite different churches to join in.”
Visit the Danforth Mennonite Church’s website for more information on their centennial celebration: http://danforthmennonitechurch.ca/