reconciliation

Historical overview

Author: Hanspeter Jecker

Some of their contemporaries saw them as devout eccentrics, the state church saw them as dangerous heretics, and the authorities saw them as insurgent rebels. Throughout Europe they faced discrimination and persecution, and were arrested and tortured, disinherited and dispossessed, banished and executed – nowhere for as long as in Switzerland. A minority, though, saw them as people who were serious about being Christians, and valued them as dependable neighbors because they tried to live what they believed. Who were these ’Anabaptists’, who refused to attend official church services, to swear oaths, and to perform military service – and were often willing to pay a high price?

 

The beginnings

The beginnings of the Anabaptist movement can be found during the Reformation in the sixteenth century. In contrast to forced participation in the state church, Anabaptists envisioned an independent congregation based on voluntary membership. In 1525, former associates of Zwingli in Zürich began to baptize adults who professed their faith. In other parts of Europe, similar movements were developing during this period. The movement expanded through Europe quickly, in spite of immediately implemented persecution. But especially in Switzerland, continuous and systematic repression increasingly forced Anabaptism into isolation. This helped to create an environment of growing social isolation and at times theological narrow-mindedness. Conflicts within Anabaptism led to a split and to the birth of the Amish movement in 1693.

 

Persecution

By 1700 intense persecution had nearly eradicated Anabaptism in Switzerland. Only on Bernese territory have churches been able to maintain a continuous existence until the present. Traces of Anabaptist beliefs with Swiss roots follow the paths of emigrants to places such as the Jura, the Alsace, the Palatinate, the Netherlands as well as North America. Outside pressure did not begin to soften until the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. The influence of Pietism and Revivalism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries allowed Mennonite congregations to grow and find new life.

 

Reconciliation

A neighborly togetherness between the state church and independent churches was still not the norm by far. Only gradually did an attitude of opposition give way to steps of reconciliation and mutual appreciation – such as most recently the ‘Täuferjahr 2007’ and the extended Mennonite/Reformed-church dialogue (2006-2009). Today in Switzerland there are 14 Mennonite congregations with a total of 2300 members.

Diversity of Mennonites with Russian background

Author: Hermann Heidebrecht

Of the approximately 2.5 Million Russian-born Germans who immigrated to Germany since the 1970s, about 200.000 have Mennonite roots. Many persons with a Mennonite background when entering Germany declared their confession as Mennonite, but many of them lived in regions of the Soviet Union where no Mennonite congregations existed after World War II. They were not baptized and never belonged to a Mennonite or Mennonite Brethren church (in the Soviet Union, these were the two dominant Mennonite branches). In the past decades, many of those ‘up-rooted’ people found their way back to the faith community. The more than 100 congregations of Russian-born Mennonites have 35.000 to 40.000 members.

 

Brotherhoods and associations

Almost all of the Mennonite churches with approximately 35 gathering places joined into an Association for Spiritual Support of Mennonite Churches (Arbeitsgemeinschaft zur geistlichen Unterstützung der Mennonitengemeinden, AGUM). The Mennonite Brethren churches, however, joined various different associations. A big part of the Mennonite Brethren churches found themselves in associations with Russian-born Evangelical Christian-Baptists: 25 congregations, including branches, in the Brotherhood of Christian Congregations in Germany (Bruderschaft der Christengemeinden in Deutschland, BCD), and 7 Mennonite Brethren churches joined the Union of Anabaptist-minded Churches (Bund Taufgesinnter Gemeinden, BTG). One larger group of Mennonite Brethren churches with 23 gathering places comprises the so called Frankenthal Circle, a non-formal brotherhood. One Mennonite Brethren church joined the Brotherhood of Evangelical Christian Baptists (Bruderschaft der Evangeliums Christen Baptisten), and several congregations did not join any association. A certain amount of Russian-born Mennonites are part of other associations (AMBD, VMBB, WEBB).

 

Statement of Reconciliation

During the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Mennonite Brethren Church in 2010, several Mennonite Brethren congregations that belonged to the Union of Anabaptist-minded churches (BTG), to the Association of Mennonite Brethren churches in Germany (AMBD), and to the Association of Evangelical Free Churches of Mennonite Brethren in Bavaria (VMBB), published a Statement of Reconciliation, in which they asked for forgiveness for inappropriate behavior against other Mennonite churches during their history, and expressed their desire that in the shared future the cooperation should be defined by brotherly love and mutual appreciation. Though the majority of Mennonite Brethren churches did not join this statement, the relations between churches of both kinds has been  brotherly and often even cordial for many years.

The foot washing

Author: Geja Laan
Translator: Machteld Laan 

The ritual of foot washing has never been performed in the Mennonite Congregations that I have served, although I know that in the world wide Mennonite Fellowship it certainly has. Also, I know that for centuries it has been part of the faith- and congregational life of several Mennonites. From discussions I had with various brothers and sisters I understood that foot washing makes people feel uncomfortable.

 

Moving

Still, I very much like to read out John 13: 1-20 on Maundy Thursday, when we celebrate the last supper. This is the story that tells us how Jesus washes the feet of his disciples, while he has the last supper with them. To me, the text has always been inspiring and moving, because, in my opinion, it explains what is important to God and to Jesus: a loving attitude in life, not of ruling, but of serving.

 

Fresh start

When the gospel writer John tells us how Jesus removed his clothes during the meal, Jesus also removed, in my opinion, every possible appearance of status he could have had. Jesus attaches no importance to his own status but only to the things  which really help others. In the story he dresses himself in a linen cloth only and without further ado simply sits down to wash the feet of his disciples, to wash all the dirt literally, and in my opinion also figuratively, off their feet. He gives himself fully to this work: refreshing them so they could make a fresh start. He really wants the best for them.

 

Subservience: a choice

When you are forced to wash someone else's feet, it is a kind of slavery. Too many times especially women have been forced to be a servant and to do things against their will, which is a really hard situation to cope with. But if you choose to be a servant to someone else, it's a form of love, which radiates love, peace and divine beauty. A radiance and beauty no ruler in this world could ever reach.

Ecumenism – For Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation

Author: Fernando Enns
Translator: J. Jakob Fehr 

From the very beginning of the ecumenical movement in the 20th century it was important to Mennonites to develop good relationships with other churches. They were involved in founding the World Council of Churches (WCC), which is now a fellowship of 350 churches with about 550 million members worldwide.

 

War is contrary to God’s will

The establishment of the WCC was a response to the horrors of two world wars. The churches acknowledged their failures, and especially the German churches confessed their guilt. Accordingly, the WCC declared that ‘war is contrary to God’s will’. Since then, the ecumenical movement has campaigned for justice, peace and the integrity of creation. The other churches in the WCC have shown great interest in learning more about the theology of the ‘historical peace churches' and Mennonites have had the opportunity to communicate their position in many ecumenical discussions.

 

The Decade to Overcome Violence

During the 8th General Assembly of the WCC in Zimbabwe (1998) a Mennonite delegate initiated the idea of a ‘Decade to Overcome Violence: Churches for Peace and Reconciliation’, which the assembly embraced enthusiastically. Searching for methods to overcome violence became a central activity of the ecumenical movement, in theological and ethical thinking as well as in practical activities. The Mennonites were now faced with the challenge of clarifying their own position on peace and violence and communicating their theology to other Christian churches.  A Mennonite Peace Centre was established in Berlin, and the comprehensive paper ‘A Declaration on Just Peace’ was written.

 

A Pilgrimage of Just Peace

The Decade to Overcome Violence lead to the next General Assembly of the WCC (South Korea 2013), deciding to establish its new and comprehensive programme for the coming years: ‘A Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace’. Again Mennonites were integrally involved in its realisation. The goal is to examine more deeply the spiritual roots and sources of Christian faith for the formation of a just and peaceful world, to provide Christians with new insights and dimensions for their involvement in the political and social life of their communities. This will hopefully lead to the conviction that the gospel has a transformative power – even in the midst of violence and injustice.

 

Welcome to the church

Authors: Madeleine and Bernard Huck
Translator: Louise Nussbaumer 

I was encouraged by one of my friends to come to a Sunday worship in this Mennonite assembly. I am an African woman, I don't know many people and am living in a difficult family situation. My husband has no stable job and this makes him nervous sometimes. I have five children; the youngest is a very small girl. And my oldest sons are a cause of concern.

 

As a church, we quickly loved this woman and shared her burdens. We gave her a paid job, maintenance of the premises.  Her home life  is hard ; her husband is violent;  Sometimes she escapes her home and spends the night on the church floor. ‘At least, I have peace here’, she said later.

We took care of her youngest daughter when she was away on a trip to see her family.

 

She is a regular at Sunday worship and attends the women’s group. She drinks in the Word of God which acts in her heart and the grace of God transforms her little by little.

Her family life is better now, after the police intervened, and her husband has now calmed down once for all.

 

She has won hearts in the church. When someone is ill, she is worried; she chooses the verses which go straight to the heart of people. She calls up to ask for news.

Our church has nominated her for the post of deacon and she accomplishes her role perfectly.  She says that I am her ‘bosom sister’ and it is indeed what she is to me.

An acquaintance of mine who knows her well enough confided to me that one Sunday, as the Holy Communion was being distributed, this sister approached to give her the bread and the wine. She was deeply moved.  To God alone the Glory !

 

This testimony might suggest that to welcome, to integrate, to support and to induce growth throughout the years requires great art. In fact, it is very simple. You must have a heart full of compassion. Compassion is not pity, but love. Something natural, which runs smoothly, which doesn’t ask questions. But above all, there is the power of God, the  ‘Fixer of the breach’, the One who raises and gathers. The Father who makes sure his children, albeit different from one another, are able to welcome one another, understand one another  and love  one another.