Our History

1930's: The First Seeds are Planted

Our church community began in the 1930’s, during the depression, when young Mennonite women started to come to Calgary to find employment as domestic workers in some of the homes of wealthier Calgarians.  At the time, they began to gather at the home of Peter B. Epps, a carpenter who had settled in Calgary in 1931.  If a minister came through the city on Sunday, he would on occasion conduct a worship service for the girls who met at the Epp home. 

1940's: Support and Leadership

Gradually, more families from Mennonite communities began to settle in the area in and around Calgary and gather together to worship.  It became apparent that a private home was no longer adequate for the group that was gathering there, nor was the haphazard arrangement of their worship services.  In response, the Mission Boards of the Canadian and Alberta Conferences stepped in to support the growing community.  They arranged for the rental of a small hall between Eighth and Ninth avenues in downtown Calgary, and Rev. J. J. Sawatzky from the Bergthal Mennonite community in Carstairs was commissioned to travel in to the city each Sunday to conduct worship services.  The hall was quickly outgrown and so in 1946, the old Scarboro United Church on Seventeenth Avenue was purchased by the Conferences and we began to call our gathering, "Scarboro Mennonite Church."

1950's: Growing Numbers

Between 1948 and 1952 the population of our congregation grew from increased urbanization and from a stream of European Mennonite refugees welcomed into Canada after World War II.  Many of these first immigrants were young women and widows who eventually sought work in domestic services in Calgary.  When Rev. Sawatzky and his wife Maria were encouraged by the Conferences to move to Calgary permanently, they decided to help these newcomers by building a "Maedchenheim" (a home for girls) as part of their personal residence.  The Scarboro building where we were gathering quickly became too small, so we purchased a corner lot on Richmond Road and began the construction of a new building.  Through the fifty's, the Sunday School developed and grew, large choirs filled the front of the sanctuary every Sunday, and various groups were active.  And when we moved into our new building in 1957, we changed our name to "First Mennonite Church."

1960's: German or English?

As the 1950's led to the 1960's, we faced times of internal conflict primarily over the language used in worship and Sunday School.  Our older, original members were interested in making a transition to English whereas our members who were post-World War II immigrants wanted to retain the German.  When we opted to maintain the German language for worship, many of our members who preferred English decided to join Foothills Mennonite Church in the early 1960's.  But the questions about language use were not quickly resolved.  In 1969, we ended up adding an additional English-speaking service to follow the German-speaking one on Sunday mornings.


Meanwhile, in the mid-1960's, Jacob Wiebe became our first hired pastor, while we still had a large contingent of lay pastors from the congregation that were included in the ministerial team.  One of those lay pastors, Peter Heidebrecht, was later ordained as "Ältester"  ("elder" or "bishop"), a role that eventually ceased to function with changes in Mennonite Church polity over the years.