For Mark Diller Harder (BA 1989), the year he spent studying at Conrad Grebel University College served as the catalyst for a career intertwining ministry and music. “Music is core to my spirituality,” he encapsulated. As a student, Mark was unsure of the direction his career would take, but immersion into a welcoming church and community centre after his time at Grebel drew him toward ministry. Today, he holds the position of Pastor at St. Jacobs Mennonite Church, in addition to being President and Assistant Director of Menno Singers – a family of choirs located in Kitchener, ON. 

Before his path led him to the University of Waterloo, Mark completed a Bachelor of Theology at Canadian Mennonite Bible College. There, he also took many Church Music courses before finishing his Bachelor of Arts degree in Music at Waterloo and Grebel, while also receiving his Associate of Music in Piano Performance with First Class Honours from the Western Board of Music in the same year. During his year at Grebel, Mark's primary focus was on music, though he enrolled in some theology courses taught by Professor Jim Reimer that were “much appreciated and kept challenging me to expand my theological outlook.” Finishing an intense year of musical study for his AMus practical exam and understanding that his call to ministry would take him on a different path, Mark reflected, “I remember a sadness when that exam was finished, knowing I was playing piano at a very high musical level, and that I would never again play at that level.” 

Mark stands on stage conducting music

It was the two years after his studies, while working with Mennonite Voluntary Service at Welcome Inn Community Centre and Church in Hamilton, Ontario, that Mark found most formative. Despite starting his position with a feeling of uncertainty as to where his career might lead, Mark drew nearer to his faith through the close-knit community. “I was faced with issues of poverty, homelessness, abuse, and family dysfunction. It moved me out of my middle-class assumptions and experience.” Confronted with the realities of such hardship, Mark contemplated, “I had to re-think my theology. I learned to become vulnerable.” As he continued to grow, he realized that “the community saw my deficits and gifts, and fully welcomed and loved me through them all.” After two years of service, Mark "felt the call to pastoral ministry” and began studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS).

Although he knew that he would not pursue music as a career, Mark continued to incorporate it into his life as a “strong avocational passion.” After graduating from AMBS, Mark and his wife Rachel relocated to Kitchener-Waterloo so he could complete a year-long internship at First Mennonite Church and House of Friendship. He then accepted a part-time position as Student and Young Adult Minister at Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (MCEC) while working part-time at House of Friendship, finding “a wonderful balance between these two ministry roles.” Soon Mark began singing with Menno Singers, a role he enjoyed for several years before being asked to help conduct Messiah rehearsals for the Mennonite Mass Choir. He explained, “at some point it was formalized as Assistant Conductor. In that role, I have often led rehearsals and many Menno Singers Hymn Sings, a passion of mine.”  In leading congregational song, Mark brings together music and ministry.  

Mark found his path to ministry to be tremendously fulfilling. “As a pastor, I am honoured by the privilege of being invited into the real lives of people, often in their most difficult and vulnerable moments,” he shared. “One of those places has been in funerals, where you are there with a family through the pain of a death, but then also finding ways to mark and celebrate that life honestly and fully, and to help place that life within the larger story of God.”  

Mark spends his free time outdoors with his wife and three adult children. “Being immersed in nature is also core to my spirituality,” he explained. Through Mennonite Church Eastern Canada, he has led many canoe trips centred on spirituality. He highlighted the rewarding experience of "co-leading two MCEC Intercultural Pastor Canoe trips and bringing folks newer to Canada into the Canadian Shield wilderness for the first time.” He also enjoys writing sermons for his church and he participates in a multitude of sports, including hockey, clergy curling, and slow-pitch. 

Through his children, Mark appreciates enduring ties to the Grebel community, as all three of his children lived at the College during their post-secondary studies. In his pastoral role, Mark considers Grebel to be a considerable asset, as he cherishes his experience at the College. He particularly recalled Grebel’s influence while taking the Pastor’s Theology Seminar each year. Mark “loved the ongoing theological work and various course topics, while getting to know most of the professors and so many other students.” 

Mark observed that his experience at Grebel, while struggling to make decisions about his future, taught him “to be more vulnerable, to share with others, and invite people to walk alongside me in the bigger life decisions and discernment I face.” He has incorporated these sentiments into a career of helping and leading others through faith and music. As for guidance for current students, Mark reflected that “life will not go in all the directions you so carefully imagine or plan.” He advised instead to “be open to the Spirit and follow your passions. Be open to a hurting world and find ways to bring healing and hope in whatever you might do. Find people to share your own vulnerabilities with, knowing you are loved.” 

By Natasha Forth

Mark Diller Harder (BA 1989) is a pastor at St. Jacobs Mennonite Church. In preparation for ministry, Mark studied at Canadian Mennonite Bible College, the University of Waterloo, and Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary. His journey with pastoral ministry has been extensively rewarding, as he found acceptance and kinship in many diverse communities, including Welcome Inn Community Centre and Church, the Men’s Hostel at House of Friendship, Stirling Ave. Mennonite Church, First Mennonite Church, and St Jacobs Mennonite Church. Mark has a deep connection to music, holding an Associate of Music in Piano Performance. He also sings with and is currently President and Assistant Director of Menno Singers. 

Mark's story is part of Grebel's 60 Stories for 60 Years project. Check out our 60 Stories page for more articles in this series. If you would like to nominate a Grebel alumnus to share about their experiences at Grebel, please submit a nomination form.