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preston

Preston Mennonite Church has a long and rich history.

The Preston, Ontario, area (now part of the city of Cambridge) was the oldest Mennonite community in the Waterloo Region, tracing its origin to the first Caucasian settlers to arrive in this part of Ontario. In 1800 four family groups emigrated here from Pennsylvania and included an ordained deacon, Jacob Bechtel. Joseph Bechtel arrived in 1802 and was ordained as the first minister in 1804. This group of Anabaptists met in homes or barns until 1814 when they built a union or free house meeting house. Religious groups other than the Church of England were not allowed to build places of worship in Upper Canada until 1828 or later, so before this time community meeting houses were available to everyone. Because of disagreements in the early 1820's, the Anabaptists were locked out of this building by another church group using the same facility. In 1824 the Bechtel group relocated and built a new union meeting house. It was known as the Bechtel Group Appointment because of the surnames of its leadership. In 1842 this group became formally organized as Hagey Mennonite Church when a red brick meeting house was built just up the road beside the already established cemetery. By 1848 this congregation became known as Hageys, since two of its spiritual leaders were Jacob and Joseph Hagey.

In 1840 the first Mennonite Sunday School in North America was organized at this church, but it closed after a few years due to conservative opposition. In 1891 a permanent Sunday School was organized and classes were taught in German and English. The first English sermon was preached in 1890 and German was not used after the 1890's.

The Hagey church building was extensively renovated in 1896, and again after a fire in 1950. In 1954, after a second disastrous fire, a new church was built at the present location and it was renamed Preston Mennonite Church and was a member of the Mennonite Conference of Ontario. The congregation transitioned to the Mennonite Conference of Eastern Canada in 1988, and in 1995 it also became part of the Conference of Mennonites in Canada.

The Preston congregation has been active in local outreach for many years. In 1943 its members were instrumental in opening Braeside Home, a senior's residence, which was described as the first of its kind in Canada and the fourth in North America. This institution relocated next door to Preston Mennonite Church in 1956 and was renamed Fairview Mennonite Home. Residents are able to attend functions at Preston Church or listen to worship service over a public address system. Many of the church members have been employed there, and many of the church's seniors reside there. In 1974 a nursery school was begun in Preston Church basement, primarily to serve the high density area know as Langs Farm Village located just east of the church property. It continued until 1995. In 2010 the church's mission involvement continues in Langs, and many church members volunteer in this part of the community.

The Preston congregation has experienced four name changes and four site changes. In 2000 it celebrated 200 years as a faithful Mennonite presence in this community.

 

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