Photo Friday: Remembering the Stayner Brethren in Christ Church

Delegates congregate outside the Stayer Brethren in Christ Church (formerly Sixth Line Church) during the 1920 General Conference. Courtesy of the Brethren in Christ Historical Library and Archives.

Last weekend, as part of my work with the Brethren in Christ Church, I was privileged to attend the annual meeting of the Canadian Conference. Held at the historic Stayner Brethren in Christ Church, the gathering brought together delegates from across Ontario and Saskatchewan for a time of discussion, fellowship, and corporate discernment.

The Stayner congregation was home to a number of celebrated Brethren in Christ church leaders, including E.J. Swalm, the former bishop remembered often for his peace witness during the first and second World Wars.

Writing in his memoirs, Swalm recalls the significance of the church in his life:

With gratitude I recall growing up in the spiritual and social atmosphere of our home congregation, now known as the Stayner Church. Here I was converted. In this church I was received into membership. Here I received my first communion. In this sanctuary I was ordained to the ministry and later to the office of bishop. Here I gave pastoral leadership for nearly thirty years.

He also describes a particularly memorable occurrence at the church, during the process of electing another pastor to help lead the congregation:

[In 1907,] they held an election for a minister to again strengthen the staff. This was one of the most unusual occasions in the records of the Canadian Church. The voting resulted in a tie for three men. They were Ernest Ditson, Isaac Swalm [E.J.’s father], and Abram Doner.

The following method was used to break the tie. The bishop wrote each each name on a separate piece of paper, and after prayer dropped them to the floor. Only Abram Doner’s paper landed with the name turned down. He was thereby eliminated. Another paper was produced with Ernest Ditson’s name written on one side and Isaac Swalm’s written on the other. Prayer was offered, the paper dropped and Ernest Ditson’s name faced upwards. He was declared elected.

Swalm’s father was soon thereafter also elected to the pastorate, as would be E.J. himself in the early 1920s.

For more on Swalm, his ministry, and the Stayner church, see My Beloved Brethren: Personal Memoirs and Recollections of the Canadian Brethren in Christ Church (Nappanee, Ind.: Evangel Press, 1969). The above passages come from pages 1-2 and 89 of that text, respectively.

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About Devin Manzullo-Thomas

Father to Lucas. Husband to Katie. Prof and administrator at Messiah College. PhD student at Temple University. Member of Grantham BIC.
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5 Responses to Photo Friday: Remembering the Stayner Brethren in Christ Church

  1. Beth Mark says:

    I enjoyed this piece on the Stayner Church. E.J. Swalm was my grandfather and I attended many services in the old church building, which is across the road from the current one. Grandpa was an amazing man and a gifted story teller. When my sister & I were at Messiah College 40 years ago, we were very proud when Grandpa was invited to give a series of talks on his peace position & story.
    Several of our friends were pacifists & spent time talking with him.

    I wrote an article about E.J’s father, Isaac, in the Dec. 09 issue of BIC History & Life. Isaac became BIC as an adult as a result of attending a revival at the Stayner (then Sixth Line) church. My article, based on Isaac’s love letters, describes his inability to marry a Presbyterian woman, whom he dearly loved, because of his newly-adopted Brethren in Christ beliefs.

  2. Jean Swalm says:

    I count it a privilege to be a daughter of E. J. Swalm. Outside of the last few weeks he spent in the hospital, I took care of him. I attended the Conf. as well but even though my sister, Lela Hostetler, told me you would be there, I missed seeing you. Sorry about that. Thank you for the kind remarks about my father.

  3. Delmer B. Martin says:

    Awesome Photo! I recently purchased a copy of E. J. Swalms book “My Beloved Brethren” for my personal library and in the foreward Bishop Swalm’s photo is autographed on the bottom by E.J. Swalm, Dun?troon?, Ont. in blue fountain pen. There is a date written beside the signature in a “Yorkley Long” penmanship that states July 3, 1969. I have been working on my “Old Order” Mennonite heritage and Church histories since the early 80’s and a few years ago I felt compelled to tie in Tunker and Dunkard history as well because it is readily apparent from my research that both in Niagara area and in Waterloo County (where I am from) my “old order” Mennonites and the Tunkers worshiped in the same meetinghouses (in some cases actually co-owned them) with joint trustees and from 1800 to about 1840 at a minimum both groups enjoyed and appreciated considerate pulpit exchange. What I find so awesome about the Tunkers is how wholeheartedly they prioritized the great commission many many years ago!!! May God Bless and Protect you, brothers and sisters!

    • Beth Mark says:

      Delmer–this is very interesting! E.J. Swalm was my grandfather & I typed the manuscript for his book that you mention. I also knew Yorkley Long (father of a close friend of mine).

      • Delmer B. Martin says:

        To Beth;

        ah yes what a small world we appreciate…some of my grandparents Old Order Mennonites were well acquainted with your Grandpa and were on peace committees together etc.

        I realize that your grandpa preached at Bertie and Stevensville BUT I bet your Grandpa sometimes also preached at the Riverside meetinghouse aka Miller Meetinghouse in Niagara. It stood at the corner of Sherk Road and Niagara Bld. right beside the Niagara River not too far from Niagara Falls. This old meetinghouse (see link attached for very old pic.) was used by Old Order Mennonites and the Brethren In Christ and low and behold i just found info recently confirming that the Quakers also worshiped at this meetinghouse…ironically later on (maybe c1860’s or 1870’s) Elias Sherk who owned the adjoining farm had something to do with a UB meetinghouse that was erected kitty corner right across from the Old Riverside Meetinghouse. (unfortunately there is nothing left at this corner anymore of anything)

        https://archives.mhsc.ca/early-meetinghouse-used-by-mennonites

        Do you guys have any photos of of the old Brethren In Christ meetinghouses you could email me?
        delmerbmartin@yahoo.com

        Psalms 16:6 The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.

        Best Regards;
        delmer

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