Mennonite Brethren Church
Author: Nataly Venger
The Mennonite communities in the Russian Empire formed a dynamic social system. The Russian modernization which caused social transformation in congregations led to a shift in their religious views and convinced them to update the rules of congregational life. Along with economic and social modernization, Russian Mennonite colonies underwent a 'reformation' that led to a more thoughtful understanding of justice.
By the middle of the 19th century, about half of the Mennonite families didn't own any land. They were deprived of participating in self-government, but had compulsory duties similar to other landowners. Among the people who did not possess land there were some who were engaged in sectors other than agriculture, and who wanted to have equal rights. Their protests led to new schism in the colonies and to the establishment of the Mennonite Brethren Church in the 1850’s. It united followers of pietism, members of young congregations and entrepreneurs (who represented the biggest part of the new church). The Mennonite Brethren Church first proclaimed its existence in January 1860 in the Molotschna settlement. The new congregation offered a new way of salvation based on criticism towards the former beliefs. Thus, the movement of Brethren Mennonites had a rebellious character.
Influence and Missionary work
The Mennonite Brethren movement soon became popular among so called new-Mennonites who were open to innovations. The first Mennonite Brethren Church conference occurred in 1872. Confession of faith was written in 1873. Their settlements were established in Kuban, Zagradovka and in Mariupol. The church conducted active missionary work and had their periodical: ‘Friedensstimme’.
Friezen’s ‘The Mennonite Brotherhood in Russia’ (1789-1910)
In 1885 Mennonite Brethren celebrated the 25th anniversary of their church, which by then consisted of 7 settlements and 1800 members. In the anniversary year, one of the leaders of the settlement, P.M. Friezen, was assigned to write a history of the Brethren congregations. His book was published in 1911 and presented the history of Mennonite colonies as a whole. By 1917 the Mennonite Brethren movement counted 40 congregations with 7000 members.
United to save identity
History shows us that the Mennonite Brethren Church did not become a separate religious denomination. Growing Russian nationalism forced the Mennonites to unite again. Thus, we can say that Russian nationalism, which revived the ‘idea of persecution’, brought congregations together. The formation of the Mennonite Brethren Church led to the growth of self-awareness and to the beginning of the concept of the Mennonites' mission in this world.