Striving Toward Self-Sufficiency: A Qualitative Study of Mutual Aid in an Old Order Mennonite Community


*Luann Good Gingrich is an Atkinson Faculty of Liberal and Professional Studies in the School of Social Work, 1017 Kinsmen Building, York University, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M3J 1P3 ( Ernie Lightman is in the Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto, 246 Bloor Street W, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5S 1A1 (


Abstract: Most contemporary groups limit attempts of mutuality to specific instances of need. This paper reports on a qualitative study of the structures and systems of mutual aid in a traditional, closed ethnoreligious Old Order Mennonite community in Ontario. We examine the structural characteristics, systems of mutuality, tensions, and conflicts that face the community. Whether the need be material, medical, relational, emotional, moral, or spiritual, these Old Order Mennonite communities are unusual in their tenacious commitment to collective mutuality and self-sufficiency. Implications for policy and practice are discussed, including the importance of protecting and reinforcing the shock-absorbing qualities of mutual aid groups in the countervailing forces of mobility and individualism, particularly in situations of forced confrontation between conflicting cultures.