As written by Pauline Cober
How did we reach this time and place at Rosebank Church in 2014? We enjoy a rich heritage of faith and courage and perseverance. As land opportunities became
available in Upper Canada in the late 1700s, the Tunkers, known later as the Brethren In Christ, settled in the fertile land and forests of the Doon/Freeport area of Waterloo County. In 1789, Samuel Betzner came with others from the River Brethren (Tunkers in Canada) in Pennsylvania to scout out Crown Land for their families. From 1800 to 1830 they came with their Mennonite and German Baptist neighbours to till the soil and start businesses. Early family names included Reichard, Witmer, Groh, Shoerk, Strome, Betzner, Otterbein, Sararus, Cober, Holm, Boehm, Baer, Bettschen, Bricker, Cassel, Cressman, Gingerich, Hallman, Bechtel, Huntsberger, Shupe and others whose names have not been recorded.
This early migration was a group which relied on each other for survival and as they worked the land and built businesses, they did not forget to tend to their spiritual needs. God had guided and protected them. “For the Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks and water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills, a land wherein thou shalt not lack anything in it. When thou hast eaten and art full then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God for the good land which He has given thee.” Deuteronomy 8:7-10. The various denominations met together for worship in their homes and barns, schools and meeting houses. In the census records, the Anabaptist denominations of Tunker, Mennonite, Quaker, German Baptist and Moravian are often interchanged.
The community of believers, the Tunkers, met together in the early 1800s and were formally identified as a group in 1825 and as the Waterloo District in 1833 under Bishop George Shupe. By the 1860s, the Waterloo District was the largest in Ontario with congregations at Fordwich, Puslinch and Rosebank. The parishoners in the Rosebank area still worshipped in their homes and barns and later services were alternated with the Puslinch (Cross Roads) congregation at Hespeler as Puslinch had built a meeting house in 1874.
As the Huron Road was being constructed by the Christian Reichard family from 1825 to 1828, they were granted 800 acres of Crown land along the road as payment for building 16 miles of this “corduroy” log road. The Reichard land on which the church stands was owned later by Isaac Witmer who donated an half acre of land at the end of his laneway to the Tunkers for their meeting house. Discussions had taken place as early as 1835 with the minister, Wendell Hallman, for building a church on his land but it failed to materialize.
Eventually, with the donation of the land by Issac Witmer, a yellow brick meeting house was constructed on the present site and dedicated in 1902. The construction was a community effort with Deacon John Becker, a carpenter, overseeing the work. Aaron Hunsberger was the minister at the time with Rev. Fred Elliot of Markham and Bishop Benjamin Shupe assisting during the dedication service.
During the late 1890s and early 1900s, the Rosebank congregation began to lose members as the Mennonite, the Mennonite Brethren In Christ (Evangelical Missionary) and the United Brethren in Christ offered Sunday School classes for their children and youth. Sunday School classes followed by worship services on a Sunday afternoon began at Rosebank in 1913 and the congregation flourished until the increasing mobility of families saw the congregation dwindle to only eight members in the 1920’s.
What to do? The church almost closed but the Cober and Cassel families remained and in the 1930s with the addition of the Sallans family and later the Albrechts and Siders in the 1940s, the congregation once again began to increase.
Throughout all of the joys and sorrows of congregational life, the people remained involved with the larger church conference as well as the community. That tradition continues today and we are grateful to God for His faithfulness to His people.
As the congregation developed, they continued to be involved in outreach. Members not only supported relief work and missions around the world but helped to establish Camp Kahquah, to re-open the Puslinch (Cross Road) congregation in 1955, develop the Westheights (Kitchener) congregation in 1978, and the Pathway (Kitchener) congregation in 1999. Plans are in the process for a satellite church in Kitchener this September. These believers continue to spread the message of the Good News in their communities.
In 2014, we do not know what the future holds for us but as God’s people we surrender ourselves to His loving care. Praise the Lord for all His good works!