history

How it began in Bavaria

Author: Beate Zipperer
Translator: Anne Zipperer 

During the Reformation many Anabaptist churches already existed in Bavaria. But the authorities disliked them and the Bavarian dukes executed many Baptists between the 16th and the 17th century. These kinds of death sentences were reserved for the Anabaptists too, which compelled many of them to emigrate. They first migrated to Moravia, where the Anabaptists continued to spread their ideas. But their persistance in  obeying the Word of God caused the same kind of persecution in Moravia.

In the late 16th century there were no more Baptist and Anabaptist activities in Bavaria, and only a few scattered Baptists remained.

 

The King and the Mennonite farmers

When in 1800 the Elector Maximilian IV Joseph made a law in which allowed  Protestant people to move to Bavaria, Mennonites returned too. It was mainly the  secularization of Bavaria and the specific help of the Elector that made them come back.

There was lots of land that was fit for agricultural use, and farmers to work it were needed. So the Elector, after 1806 the King of Bavaria, did his utmost to give  it to the   Mennonites, because it was known that they were good farmers with efficient work methods.

 

They could rent the lands of former abbeys for a good price. The king even gave estates to some families. Amish Mennonites, but also Mennonites from the Palatinate were happy to settle on those estates. Individual villages and churches were formed and with that also houses of prayer and schools with different theological outlooks. In these years there was a large wave of Mennonite families immigrating to Bavaria.

The king of Bavaria played a large part in the (re-)settlement of the Bavarian Mennonites in the 19th century.

 

Nonresistance or defense

Authors: Marius Romijn, Pieter Post

Dutch Mennonites can make the individual choice whether to cooperate in state sanctioned violence or not. In Menno Simons' era this was different. Since then the Mennonite attitude towards violence has changed considerably.

Münster or Menno?

Menno was opposed to the Münster Anabaptists, who had taken over the City Council in 1534. When the city of Münster was in danger of being recaptured by the Catholic bishop, some thousands of armed Dutch Anabaptists set off to defend the 'New Jerusalem'. According to the Münsterites, an Era of Revenge had begun in which the believers had to take up the sword. Christ's Kingdom of Peace would be established in the next era.

 

Nonviolent Mennonites sometimes supported the State

To Menno and his followers, the government had a God-given task: 'Protection of the weak, and defense of faith'. They themselves were nonresistant, but governments could use violence as part of this God-give task. In a besieged city, Mennonites would not fight, but could help by extinguishing fires or repairing damage. In 1572 Waterlander Mennonites delivered money to William of Orange for the defense against the Spaniards, and in 1672 different Mennonite denominations invested time and effort into reinforcing the Dutch army.

 

Separation of Church and State

In the end of the 18th century dissident and patriotic Mennonites became actively involved in the Government.  Influenced by the French Revolution they strove for equal rights. Together with the remonstrants and other enlightened theologians, they took part in the first National Parliament which had the separation of Church and State in preparation. Jacob Henrik Floh (1758-1830) was the first Mennonite pastor who took office as a secretary of State. He pleaded for equal rights, in particular for Jews who were treated as outcasts. For 19th century Mennonites the separation of Church and State (1848) was not self-evident. Some Seminary-students participated in a violent revolt which ultimately divided the United Netherlands into Belgium and the Netherlands (1830). At the same time entire congregations emigrated abroad, to escape the military draft (1853).

 

In the 20th century the principle of non-violence became a live issue again through the Mennonite ‘Working Group Against Military Service’ (1925). They later became the Mennonite Peace Group (1946) which supported many young men (mennonite or not) during their process of conscientious objection (CO). Since 1923 the State-Government allowed CO-ers, but in present times the military draft is postponed (1997).

 

Reference: Alle G. Hoekema e.a., Dagboek Cor Inja. Geen cel ketent deze dromen (Hilversum 2001). Picture: S. Groenveld e.a., Wederdopers, menisten, doopsgezinden in Nederland 1530-1980, (Zutphen 1980),174.

The admission of the Austrian Mennonites in August 2013

 Author: Martin Podobri

 During the reformation many Austrians became believers. In some parts of Austria in the 16th century 90 – 95% of the population were protestant or Anabaptist. But from their beginning, the Anabaptists were persecuted and many thousand died as martyrs. As a result there were no Anabaptists in Austria for more than 300 years. A Baptist Church started in Vienna in 1869. This was the beginning of the Anabaptists in Austria in the modern times.

 First Mennonite Conference

The Mennonites started their work in Austria in 1947. Missionaries from the Mennonite Central Committee and from the Mennonite Brethren Mission came to Austria to give aid the population regarding social issues. But after World War II the spiritual need was also huge. So the missionaries preached the gospel and people got saved. In 1953 the first Mennonite Church started in Linz. In the following years churches in Vienna, Wels, Salzburg and Steyr were founded and the Mennonite Conference was born.

 

Religious Status

Until the 1990s 98% of all Austrians were Roman Catholics and the Anabaptists were called a sect. Between 1960 and 1990 many different evangelical churches were founded. Some of them formed a conference, while others started the denomination of the evangelical churches. But all evangelical churches had the same problem: they didn’t get a status as church. Most churches officially existed as a religious association.

 

Five denominations, one Anabaptist Church

In 2011 the boards of the four denominations (Mennonites, Baptists, Pentecostal and Evangelicals) came together to discuss the situation and to think about a way to finally  the status of a church. One of the problems was that a denomination has to have 2 ‰ of the population (which is 16.500 people), and no denomination had that many members.

In this meeting a new idea was born: all four denominations together had more than 16.500 members. And so they worked on a constitution for the ‘Freikirchen in Österreich’ (Free-churches in Austria). In January 2013 they submitted the proposal for admission as a church to the government and in August they got the admission, so that the Baptists, the Pentecostals, the Evangelicals, the Mennonites and the ‘Elaia Christengemeinde’ who joined in 2012, are now seen as an official church in Austria. 

 

This is quite unique, because it means that all Anabaptists are part of the same church!

From monarchists to democrats

Author: Nataly Venger

The Mennonites were invited to the Russian Empire by the Empress Catherine the Great. How did the monarchy change its attitude towards the Mennonites and why did it happen?

 

Privileges

The Mennonite colonization was started by Catherine II. It was one of the methods of colonizing new lands: increasing the population to improve the economy of the empire. In the Manifests written by the Empress, new settlers were promised additional benefits. The active emigration policy for the Mennonites allowed them great economic prospects. ‘The Mennonite Privileges’ were signed by the Empress in 1788. Interestingly, other ethnic groups and the Russian population were not given these benefits.

 

Moral

Paul I (1796–1801), Alexander I (1801–1825) and Nicholas I (1825–1855) also supported the Mennonites. Paul I gifted the Mennonites with a ‘Charter of Privileges’ regarding their moral behavior as an example for other social groups. Alexander I established new colonization rules relying on wealthy immigrants. He ordered to gather all the former laws into “Colonies’ Statues”. The Monarch funded construction of churches in the villages Orloff and Rudnerweide. The settlement Alexandrwohl was named in honor of Alexander who visited Steinbach and Tiege. Nicholas’ II ideology was reflected in the slogan ‘Orthodoxy, autocracy and nationality’. Even though Mennonites were Protestants, they supported the idea of a ‘monarch as father'. They demonstrated their devotion to the monarchy. In 1937 Nicholas II also supported the ‘Privileges’.

 

Change of status

The modernization and unification conducted by Alexander II started a new chapter in the history of settlements. In 1871–1874 Mennonites lost their ‘colonist’ status and were drawn into alternative military service. Nevertheless, reforms did not stop the development of colonies, mostly because Alexander II did not support nationalists. Mennonites kept the idea of ‘economic messianism’ that determined their connection with the monarchy. A new settlement was named in honor of Alexander.

 

From monarchists towards democrats

Alexander III (1881–1894) and Nicholas I (1894–1917) were influenced by nationalistic sentiments. Following the ideology of nationalism, they equated the Russian nation with Orthodoxy and were against Protestants. Nicholas II supported the anti-German legislation of 1914–1918. For a long time the Mennonites supported the monarchy. Yet democratic processes engaged settlers in dialogue with the government. These processes were caused by the revolution of 1905–1907 and by Russian nationalism. It changed the Mennonites' attitude from supporters of the monarchy to supporters of democracy and parliamentarism.

A new beginning after World War II

Author: Johannes Dyck

During the severe persecutions in the Stalin era, Mennonites lost almost all church elders, preachers and church buildings. After the Soviet Union entered World War II in June 1941, all Germans from the European part of the country were forcibly deported to Siberia and Central Asia, not allowed to leave these places. Mennonites were part of that tragedy. In addition, in the beginning of 1942, all remaining capable men were mobilized away from their jobs into the Worker’s Army.

 

Prayergroups during deportation

In the Worker’s Army, under appalling conditions and often near to death, men began to cry to God together, occasionally coming together for hidden prayer meetings with no regard to confession. One of such secret prayer groups was organized in 1942 by Heinrich Voth, former elder of the Mennonite church in Nikolaifeld. And God heard them. So a revival of faith began. Hidden prayer groups came into being in many places. In 1945, many Mennonites that were taken to Germany during the war, were repatriated to the Soviet Union. They also gathered to worship in the places they found themselves. Where possible, Mennonites joined Russian Baptist congregations that were allowed during the war.

 

After Stalin

After the death of dictator Stalin in 1953, a political thaw set in, and in 1956 all Germans were released from their exile. The oppression of religion declined somewhat, and in many villages people that were converted in previous years, were baptized by courageous men. This led to the establishment of small village congregations in former places of exile. Being released from exile, Germans, and among them Mennonites, moved from their places of exile into the south of the country, especially to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, where they established new churches or joined existing Russian Baptist churches which showed much similarity to the Mennonite Brethren churches. This way a new church geography was established.

 

Non-resistance rejected

The thaw, at least in matters of religion, ended in 1958, and a new wave of persecution began. Mennonites were regarded as reactionary anti-governmental sectarians because of their historical non-resistance position. Their congregations were excluded from the list of officially permitted confessions, and had no chance of being legally recognized. This situation changed in 1966, giving the way for legalizing the first Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren congregations.

 

Many Mennonite Brethren and persons with a Mennonite background also joined Baptist churches.

 

Reference: And When They Shall Ask. A Docu-Drama of the Russian Mennonite Experience (1984/2010) dvd. www.mennonitemediasociety.com

 

Relying on donations

Author: Beate Zipperer
Translator: Anne Zipperer 

Mennonite churches are financed through donations. In the Ingolstadt Mennonite congregation every member gives a monthly amount of money which they think is appropriate. In this decision the biblical concept of tithing informs many of them.

In our church a small source of income is the renting out of our rooms. For a small contribution a private person or an institution can rent the rooms for seminars or celebrations.

The maintenance costs for our church house, all reparations, fuel bills, and other expenses for special services, concerts or our yearly children's week are covered by the members' contribution.

 

Offerings

Also, in the weekly offerings during the church service we collect money for the choirs, but also for special purposes and for larger Mennonite organisations,  for example in South Germany: the JUWE (for youth and children’s work) and the VdM (Union of German Mennonite Congregations).

But we also collect money for national organisations in Germany such as:

The AMG (Association of German Mennonite Congregations); DMFK (German Mennonite Peace Committee); DMMK (German Mennonite Mission Committee); CD (Christian Service) and worldwide for MWC (Mennonite World Conference).

 

Because of a responsible way of dealing with the donations and the yearly financial report about its use, we manage to be independent of the state, self-governing, autonomic and to freely service the kingdom of God.

Enthusiastic Entrepreneurs

Author: Nataly Venger

The Mennonites in Russia were not only successful farmers, but also talented  entrepreneurs. The Mennonite colonies in the Ekaterinoslav province  became the main production centers in the empire when it came to developing a machine-building industry. ‘Lepp and Wallmann’ was the most prominent Mennonite machine-building company. The factory was established in 1850 by Peter Lepp – the founder of an entrepreneurial dynasty – and was at the height of its success under the guidance of his grandson – Johann Lepp, who inherited the enterprise in 1879 and ran it till 1919.

 

Lepps-Wallmanns Dynasty

In 1880 Andreas Wallmann, a rich farmer, became the Lepps’ partner. After 1880 the company was called ‘Lepp and Wallmann’. In 1903 it became a joint-stock company. The shareholders were  the 11 representatives of the Lepps-Wallmanns dynasty. They ran three machine-building factories in the Ekaterinoslav province. By 1903, the  value of personal and real estate of the firm was estimated to be 1,15 million rubles. The capital of the company grew to 1,2 million rubles (1903–1913) and 2,4 million rubles (1914–1918).

 

Entrepreneurial Success and Awards

In the beginning the factory produced the simplest farm equipment: mowers, winnowing-machines and reapers. In 1874, it released the first ‘Lepp’s Booker’. In the 1880’s the factory started producing machines that were important for industrialization: steam engines, boilers, oil presses and equipment for sawmills. In 1860–1912 the factory participated in agricultural exhibitions and was awarded with 33 medals and diplomas.

 

Business and WW1

During the First World War, the company was forced to produce weapons. For the (pacifist) Mennonite-entrepreneurs this was the only way to save their property under the conditions of unity-German laws.

 

Importance of the Mennonite-run Factories

Lepps-Wallmanns contributed greatly to the development of the machine-building industry in the Russian Empire. Famous entrepreneurs such as A. Koop and C. Hildebrandt got their first  experience at P. Lepp’s factory. By 1900, the Mennonites from the Ekaterinoslav province had produced more than 58% of the agricultural equipment in that area. In the Taurida province every third machine-building factory belonged to the Mennonites. In 1911, every fifth agricultural machinery factory in Novo-Russia was owned by a Mennonite entrepreneur. These figures can be seen as a reflection of the entrepreneurial success of this ethnic and religious group. The Mennonite factories were always using the latest technologies and competed successfully with foreign companies, providing consumers with cheap but high quality equipment. This way they contributed to the advancement of modernization.

 

Photo: Rudy P. Friesen, Building on the Past: Mennonite Architecture, Landscape and Settlements in Russia/Ukraine (Winnipeg, Canada 2004).

Dutch Mennonites and Politics

Author: Gabe G. Hoekema

These days many Mennonites are involved in humanitarian aid work, and environmental and poverty issues. For a long time however, it was strongly believed that the church only called for  its members to form a community through catechismal teachings. Therefore Mennonites kept their distance from what happened in the (political) world. At the end of the eighteenth century, however, dissenters and patriotic Mennonites got involved with militant voluntary movements. They also became members of the First National Parliament. In the nineteenth century they got assimilated into society, but even in  the twentieth century it was not done to openly debate political ideologies. Even when the Nazis attacked and occupied the Netherlands, the Dutch Mennonites stayed silent. In the Mennonite weekly De Zondagsbode, we find barely any written pieces opposing Nazism. Only a minority of people addressed the worrying phenomenon of a variety of church members and ministers sympathising with Nazism and admiring Hilter for his socio-economic policy.

 

Vietnam and nuclear weapons

After the 1960s politics became more important. In Dutch society the Vietnam War and the threat of nuclear weapons were ardently debated. The central question for Mennonites was how to practice and promote peace and non-violence.

 

Mennonites and the  ‘polder model’

Dutch Mennonites live in a country where consensus plays a big part in the decision-making process. In order to make important decisions and share responsibilities, political movements and churches need counter-movements. The idea behind this 'poldermodel' is to find compromise-based solutions, not to polarise. Nowadays church members focus on what unites them versus what divides them when it comes to political issues. In church decision are made by consensus. Mennonites also have a strong tendency towards ecumenical thinking.

 

Christian Politics

Currently there are several Christian political movements in the Netherlands. Mennonites, however, have never organised themselves into a specific Mennonite political party. Many of them prefer to vote for either a liberal party or a social-democratic program. A minority swings between these parties, and only a few are inspired by more radical, mostly left wing ideas. Themes like climate-change and sustainability of earth and society are also important to the Mennonite voter.

Nevertheless, Mennonites have been active in parliament and some of them were members of government. The most famous Mennonite politicians are C. Lely (1854-1929) whose name is forever linked to the Afsluitdijk, a major causeway which connects the provinces of North-Holland and Friesland. Another Mennonite politician was S. van Houten (1837 – 1930) who initiated a law against child labour. More recent politicians are D. Tommel (1942-) and mayor of Almere, Mrs. A. Jorritsma-Lebbink (1950-).

 

References: C. van Duin, ‘De doperse gemeente – een politiek relevante zaak’, in: Doopsgezinde Bijdragen 2 (Amsterdam 1976), 62-71; E.I.T. Brussee-van der Zee, ‘De Doopsgezinde Broederschap en het nationaalsocialisme, 1933-1940’, in: Doopsgezinde Bijdragen 11 (Amsterdam 1985), pp. 118-130.

Christian Peacemaker Teams Europe (CPT)

Author: Marius van Hoogstraten

Millions of people around the world live in places where armed groups, soldiers or militias are in charge of civilians' everyday lives. Millions of others have had to leave their countries and become refugees. You often hear people say that this is just the way it is. They say the only thing we can do for these people is to send our army. But that often only makes the war worse.

 

New Politics

Christian Peacemaker Teams try to look for other ways. We go to violent places to work for peace with the people that live there. Instead of using weapons, we take pictures and write things down. Soldiers and other armed groups can recognize us by our hats and vests. This makes them less likely to use violence, because they know they're being watched.

We used to think this made us very special, but now we know there are local people working for peace almost everywhere, finding creative ways to resist violence or stop corporations from destroying their land. Through articles and videos, we try to make these local, grass-roots peacemakers known to an international audience. Non-violent resistance can mean many things – for example, forming a human chain  between soldiers and protesters, or just going to school or taking your sheep out, even when the army tries to stop you.

 

Non-violent resistance

In Canada, for example, many indigenous peoples are seeing their land and way of life threatened by large corporations. Here, CPT volunteers accompany indigenous non-violent resistance. For example, when roadblocks are put up to prevent logging companies from getting their trucks into the forest. CPT-ers also teach non-indigenous Canadians about the struggles of indigenous Canadians.

In Europe, we're concerned about the violence faced by refugees. There's almost no way to get to Europe safely, because the borders are highly militarized. This means many refugees try dangerous other ways, and thousands have died on the borders in the past years, particularly in the Mediterranean sea and between Greece and Turkey.

 

The story of Christian Peacemaker Teams started in 1984 at the Mennonite World Conference. The dream was to get thousands of Christians parachuting into conflict zones. We now see it was a little self-important to think that would be of any help. Nowadays, not only Christians work for CPT, and our cooperation with local groups is at the center of our work. We support grass-roots initiatives in Colombia, Palestine, Iraqi Kurdistan and Canada.

 

Mennonites leaving the USSR for Germany

Author: Hermann Heidebrecht

Before 1987, only a few thousands Mennonites from Russia could leave the USSR for Germany. After 1987, most emigration applications were approved by German as well as by Soviet authorities. A mass exodus occurred on a scale which had never been seen before. Several reasons existed for this escape of almost all Mennonites from the former Soviet Union.

The persecution and oppression of faith lasted almost 70 years. Christians were not only put under pressure but were also regarded as backwards.

 

National oppression in the Soviet Union

National oppression of Russian-born Germans who were not differentiated from Hitler’s national socialists of World War II (in USSR called fascists) was also an important reason to leave the country for Mennonites and other Germans. Even though there were German schools in some regions of the Soviet Union, as well as German broadcast and German newspapers, they could not stop the gradual dissolution of the German identity in Russia.

 

Political and economical issues

Most Mennonites, probably, never agreed with the Soviet politics. The pain of confiscations, deportations, arrests, executions, and other sufferings of the last decades was too deep. There was hardly a Mennonite family that did not mourn over victims. The Mennonites did not trust Soviet governments and their leaders anymore. Economic conditions also played a role in emigration matters. People in cities and villages lacked almost everything. Though nobody experienced hunger, bread, butter, milk, sugar and other food often could only be obtained with big difficulties when not produced by people themselves. The same situation applied to clothing, furniture, household appliances and other articles.

 

Immigrant service organisations

The Mennonite emigrant service (Die Mennonitische Umsiedlerbetreuung) was  created by old Mennonite congregations in 1972 and  for many years fulfilled the function of helping the fresh arrivals with making a new start. Through the support of this organization, many locations for settlement in Germany were found, in many places regular church services could start, and new congregations could be organised. After Die Mennonitische Umsiedlerbetreuung finished its work, newly formed Mennonite congregations established their own immigrant service organization: the Aussiedler-Betreuungsdienst which took over all the aforementioned  functions. Since their foundation, both services welcomed and consulted more than 100.000 Mennonites or persons of Mennonite origin in the state border transit camps and entry points of federal states.