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Mennonites

Mennonites

ETHNONYMS: Anabaptists, Doopgesinden, Mennists, Mennonists, Pennsylvania Dutch, the Plain People, Swiss Brethren, Taufgesinnten, Wiedertaufer


Orientation

Identification. The name "Mennist" or "Mennonite" was first used in the Netherlands during the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation when it was applied to the followers of Menno Simons, a disaffected Roman Catholic priest who was influenced by the left-wing Anabaptist reformers. Excluding the related groups, the Amish and Hutterite, there are today eighteen distinct Mennonite groups in North America: Chortitzer Mennonite Church, Conference of Mennonite in Canada, Evangelical Mennonite Conference, Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference, Old Colony Mennonite Church (Manitoba), Reinlander Mennonite Church, Old Colony (outside Manitoba), Old Order Mennonite, Sommerfelder Mennonite Church, Church of God in Christ Mennonite (Holdeman), Evangelical Mennonite Brethren, Brethren in Christ Church, Mennonite Brethren Churches of North America, Mennonite Church, Evangelical Mennonite Church, General Conference Mennonite Church, Old Order River Brethren, and Old Order Mennonite. Other communities, congregations, and denominations related to the above have been established throughout the world.

Location. The Dutch Mennonite movement originated in Emden, East Friesland, and from there spread to Groningen, Friesland, and other Dutch and adjoining Belgian provinces. In northern Germany, Mennonite communities were founded in Schleswig-Holstein, Westphalia, and the Rhineland. In Switzerland, Anabaptist leaders had organized congregations more than a decade before Simons joined the movement in 1536. Currently, the major concentrations of Mennonite populations are, however, not in those areas where they originated. As early as the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Mennonites often left these European countries to escape severe persecution. The first community of Mennonites (1683, Germantown, Pennsylvania) was established by a Dutch group from Krefeld, Germany. In 1710, the largest colonial settlement was established in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, by Swiss and South German Mennonites. Even earlier migrations in the 1500s and 1600s from the Netherlands and Germany led to the formation of large Mennonite settlements in the Polish-Prussian region of Danzig and the Vistula Delta. During the late 1700s some left Prussia for the Russian Ukraine where they had been invited to organize agricultural settlements. Again in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Mennonites left Prussia, Poland, and Russia to settle in North and South America. After World War I, many from Russia, Canada, and Germany emigrated to Latin America. Presently, Mennonite congregations and communities are found throughout the world: the Soviet Union, China, Western and Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, and North, Central, and South America.

Demography. The world Mennonite population in 1984 was approximately 700,000: North America, 310,000; Africa, 107,300; Asia, 113,600; Australia, 100; Caribbean, Central and South America, 76,300; Europe, 38,700; and Soviet Union, 55,000.

Linguistic Affiliation. Owing to the dispersion of Mennonite communities and their missionary activities, linguistic affiliation is diverse. Some American communities (including Latin America) use Plattdeutsch (Low German) in daily conversation, and High German for religious functions. Often, English is the only language spoken, especially in North America, and others speak French, Swiss, or predominantly High German (Switzerland, France, and West Germany). In Latin America, Mennonites often speak German, Spanish, and English. Elsewhere, various African and Asian languages are spoken.


History and Cultural Relations

Anabaptist historians have in the past tended to view Zurich, Switzerland, as the epicenter from which the movement extended to the Swiss Confederation, the Netherlands, Austria, Bavaria, Wurttemberg, and the Palatinate. Today, it is argued that this view oversimplifies an otherwise socially, politically, and ideologically diverse movement. Mennonite Anabaptism was a product of both the sixteenth-century Protestant reforms and the fundamental changes taking place in politics and economics across Europe. Thus, like other Reformation religions, they were contending not only with the Roman church but also with changing and discontinuous feudal forces. Unlike mainstream reformers, however, they rejected infant baptism and called for a community of believers or "rebaptizers" (thus, anabaptists)those who subscribed to the practice of adult baptism upon the confession of faith. The rejection of infant baptism was more than symbolic; it was a challenge to both church and civil authoritya violation of ecclesiastical and civil law. Baptism signified the voluntary commitment of the adult believer not only to the church but also to the closed community of believers, or Gemeinde. Adult baptism symbolized a contract or covenant with God and communityan agreement to respect the Gemeinde and its binding authority. Unlike the more radical contingents of the Anabaptist movement (especially the Hutterian Brethren), the Mennonites embraced the emerging ideology of private property. The ideological roots of contemporary Mennonites can be traced to the Swiss Brethren (in Switzerland and South Germany) and the North German and Netherlands Mennonites.

Interaction with non-Mennonites varies with the group in question. For example, the Holdeman strictly limit interaction not only with non-Mennonites but with members of other Mennonite groups. The General Conference Mennonite Church or the Mennonite Brethren are less concerned, if at all, with limiting interaction with outsiders. Relations with governments and non-Mennonites have frequently been strained during wartime as most are conscientious objectors. During World War I, they were severely treated by the United States government and their neighbors who often perceived them as German sympathizers. In some cases, they were forbidden the use of the German language, their parochial schools were closed, and their barns or homes painted yellow. Still today, most refuse military service and others refuse to take oaths, vote, or serve in public office.

Settlements

Historically, the Mennonites were settled as peasants on feudal estates, as yeomanry on independent farms, and as artisans and merchants in the towns of feudal Europe. Early in the movement, many were driven from the towns and forced into agricultural areas and pursuits. The city of Danzig, for example, refused some habitation. As Mennonites migrated from the Netherlands and other places around Europe and settled in Prussia, Poland, and Russia, they endeavored to establish village settlements. In Poland, they became distinguished and were known as Hollanderdorfer. But as private property in land increasingly replaced (feudal) usufruct rights, these traditional settlement patterns were disrupted. Yet, with each move, they sought again to reestablish villages, especially in Russia. In North America, a few village settlements were established but were soon threatened, as they had been elsewhere, by private property in land and private Household accumulation. Only in the less developed areas of the world (in particular, Belize) have these village settlement patterns survived into the present day.

In rural North America today, Mennonites are settled in a manner not unlike other farmsas dispersed private family farms. Swiss Mennonites established a settlement pattern known as the Hof. In the Jura Mountains of Switzerland and in southern parts of Germany they were independent yeomanry who sometimes settled compact or cluster villages (Haufendorfer). The Swiss and German Mennonites settling in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Kansas lived on isolated private farmsGermantown, Pennsylvania, was one exception. Among the largest population concentrations today are Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and south-central Kansas. Throughout the twentieth century, increasing numbers of Mennonites in North America have settled in urban areas. Today, less than one-third of Mennonites live on farms, one-third in rural communities (but nonfarm), and one-third in large urban areas.


Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. From their Beginnings, the Mennonites have been known for their agricultural skills. In the Netherlands and Prussia they drained swamps and built and maintained sophisticated canal Systems. The Swiss Mennonites bred exceptionally productive dairy cattle. In the eighteenth century, the Russian state recruited Prussian Mennonites to assist in developing agriculture in the Ukraine. Some became known for their dairy herds, merino sheep raising, and orchards, and the Russian Mennonites were pioneers in the production and marketing of the famous hard winter (turkey red) wheat, which later brought them to the attention of land agents in the United States and Canada. Today, most have become wage laborers, successful entrepreneurs, educators, or professionals, and only a minority earn a living by farming. Yet in Africa and Asia, many are still agrarian producers, and in Belize, the Mennonites provide nearly all the food consumed and Marketed in the country.

Industrial Arts. In Russia, they manufactured farm equipment for local use as well as for marketing. Among those groups discouraging commercial activity there are many who are skilled carpenters and cabinet and furniture makers.

Trade. Throughout their history, the Mennonites have depended on trade. In the Baltic, they were involved in the cereal grain trade. In Russia, they sold wool, wheat, and farm equipment. In North America, many become known not only for grain production but for processing and storage of grain. Although their communities have often been extensively involved in commercial activities, they have also been quite self-sufficient. Some of the more conservative groups such as the Holdeman strongly discourage wage labor or commercial occupations. In some cases, they are forbidden to earn interest or carry insurance.

Division of Labor. In Poland, Prussia, and Russia, the low level of development of technology required a community division of laborfarming or dike construction and maintenance necessitated a degree of cooperation that families alone could not provide. Otherwise, within households, there has been and for some, such as the Holdeman, there remains a strict division of labor between the sexes.

Land Tenure. In feudal societies, Mennonites normally held usufruct rights to land and allocated some for communal and family use. As peasants were emancipated and land was transformed into a commodity throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, communities played increasingly smaller roles in the allocation and management of land. In North America, however, during the last part of the 1880s, some settlements of Russian origin continued to distribute and use land in a manner contrary to the prevailing private farmstead. The Swiss Mennonites had established early in their North American experience a freehold land tenure pattern that emphasized the individual private farmstead.


Kinship, Marriage and Family

Kinship The Mennonites practice bilateral descent and use kin terms typical of bilateral kindreds.

Marriage. Historically, Mennonites were forbidden to marry non-Mennonites and, in some cases, members of other Mennonite groups. Presently, only the more conservative ones proscribe marriage outside the group. Marriage is strictly monogamous, and historically families negotiated the conditions of marriage (again, arrangements varied from group to group). Currently, only among the more conservative Mennonites are such arrangements made. The Umbitter (matchmaker) was usually a role played by the church pastor or elders among the Dutch, Prussian, and Russian Mennonites. Among the Old Colony and Holdeman Mennonites a form of matchmaking continues. Yet, even among the more liberal denominations, informal marriage arrangements and a Concern for selection of partners from within the church continue through church-sponsored events like camps, retreats, and institutions of higher education. Among all these groups the marriage ceremony is taken as seriously as baptism and is a ritual centered in the congregation and performed by church elders or pastors. The Swiss Mennonites, unlike those descended from the Netherlandish wing, have historically conducted the marriage ritual in the home. Although most currently conduct church weddings, they tend to be simpler than typical Protestant ceremonies. Presently, residence is neolocal, and only the more strict of the denominations strongly discourage and sometimes sanction divorce. In former times, it was common for the bride and her family to assemble a dowry. Historically, there have often been cousin marriages.

Domestic Unit. Until recently, small extended families were common and are still typical among some groups. Among contemporary Mennonites the nuclear family tends to predominate. New households are typically created in each generation, usually but not necessarily at marriage, and are ordinarily dissolved at the death of the last spouse.

Inheritance. Inheritance practices vary from group to group and through time. In the past, both rules of primogeniture and partibility are found. Today, however, property devolves bilaterally. In rural areas, it is often the case that property passes to persons who have taken care of the owners in their later years.

Socialization. Generally, children were and continue to be raised according to strict codes of conduct. Among some, dress codes are strictly enforced for all age groups. Still in the twentieth century, many insist on providing their own educational institutions, and some withdraw their children from school beginning in the eighth grade. Among most groups, however, parents encourage their offspring to remain in school and continue with postsecondary education. Throughout North America, there are numerous four-year colleges affiliated with the various denominations.


Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Two social institutions, church and education, have played dominant roles in Mennonite life. This is as true for the present as for the past. But between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries, these institutions were far more influential and had not, as is more recently evident, incorporated mainstream values and ideas. In fact, not until the twentieth century were women, in some denominations and congregations, permitted or encouraged to assume the roles of church elder (Aeltester ) or bishop, minister, or teacher. This effectively removed women from major decision-making bodies and relegated them to ancillary roles within the Community. The church or congregation was the most powerful institutionit sanctioned marriage, negotiated with secular authorities, and established codes of conduct (Ordnung ) governing all aspects of life. Church elders were the ultimate authority, and no secular agency could rule on matters pertaining to community life. This, however, was impossible to maintain, as economic and political changes associated with the transition from feudal to capitalist-dominated governments often undermined church authority and led members to capitulate to local and state authorities. In the present, some conservative Mennonites continue to resist participation in government.

Similarly, Mennonites have always recognized the need to provide their own schooling. In Prussia, Russia, and the United States, they held tenaciously to the right to educate their own; yet state bureaucracies pressured them to concede partial control. As was true for most Anabaptist groups, Mennonites did not believe that children should receive education beyond reading, writing, and arithmetic. Life in agrarian communities was, according to their teaching, potentially jeopardized by knowledge of "worldly" affairs. Although many of the more conservative Mennonite groups retain control of their educational institutions, the majority use the public schools. In fact, at the level of postsecondary education, some have distinguished themselvesthere are several major Mennonite colleges and Bible institutes throughout the world, and their historical archives are among the finest.

Political Organization. Their ideological insistence on the strict separation of church and state meant that members did not participate in political organizations outside of the community. Within the Gemeinde a hierarchical distribution of power was highly suspect, but nevertheless a three-tiered ministry emerged. The highest and most revered was that of elder (Aeltester) who was elected by Gemeinde members and who, among other things, had exclusive authority to ordain new elders. Among the Swiss and German Mennonites the elder position was occupied by a bishop who held the same authority. In addition to elders, there were preachers and ministers (Dienaren ) who were also chosen by the congregation. The former were allowed only to preach, whereas the minister could not only preach but also baptize new members. Deacons were likewise appointed by the congregation to serve the poor and care for widows, elderly, and orphans. Most important, Mennonites strongly believed that Gemeinde authorities should serve; therefore, they were not to be differentiated from other members. For this reason, they were not compensated for their service, and a professional clergy is, for the most part, a recent phenomenon, although some continue to insist upon a lay clergy.

Among Mennonites in Prussia and Russia, the Bruderschaft (brotherhood meetings) were occasionally convened by the elders. In these meetings, the men from the congregation discussed and resolved matters related to congregational life. It was often the case that the Bruderschaft assisted in the resolution of private household matters and conflicts Between households. In particular, the Bruderschaft decided if a member was to be disciplined by temporary banishment or expulsion. Imposed on the Mennonites in Russia, and to a lesser extent in Prussia, was a particular form of village Political organization.

Among the early Pennsylvania Mennonites a conference was started (1711) to provide leadership and continuity Between various Gemeinde. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, other Mennonite communities and congregations began to form umbrella organizations or conferences. The General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches and the General Conference Mennonite Church are among the largest today. In 1920, an inter-Mennonite organization, the Mennonite Central Committee, was formed to serve as a Cooperative agency for a larger Mennonite constituency. This organization is best known for its disaster relief programs.

Social Control. In the past, social control was accomplished through application of the ban and avoidance. If members were not sufficiently repentant, they were banned (excommunicated) or shunned and denied access to the Gemeinde. Still today, some of the more conservative groups strictly apply these mechanisms of social control.

Conflict. Throughout their history there have been Numerous churchwide schisms. The most notable of the Historical schisms have been the sixteenth-century Netherlands Frisian-Flemish; the Amish division from the Swiss Brethren; the Mennonite Brethren schism in Russia; and the Holdeman Mennonite division.


Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. One of the most important points of difference between Anabaptism and the state churches in the sixteenth century was over the proper role of the church. The church was to be a voluntary association of believers who chose to freely but obediently submit to the community (Gemeinde). The church, they argued, must remain separate from the state and secular or worldly affairs. Special emphasis has been given to the ethical teachings in the New Testament and, in particular, the Sermon on the Mount. Christians were to gather in communities, reject the outside world, war, violence, and refuse to take oaths. Life in the community was to be simple and individual differences in wealth and status deemphasized. Mennonites, however, rejected the radical Anabaptist teachings on the "community of goods," a practice among the Hutterites. Instead, they believed that followers should voluntarily limit their private property insofar as it undermined the common aims, faith, and practices of the Gemeinde; individual self-interest was to remain subordinate to the interests of the community. Mennonites interpret the Bible to mean that Christians may possess property, but it must be recognized that all things come from God; he is the one and only proprietor of goodsall that one can do is practice effective stewardship.

Religious Practitioners. Historically no particular consideration or training has been given to religious leaders. In Recent times, however, seminaries have been founded and clergy have received specialized training. The more Conservative groups retain a lay ministry.

Ceremonies. In addition to the ceremonies found in most Protestant religions, the Mennonites give special consideration to the rituals of baptism and footwashing at Communion. The rite of entrance into the community was symbolized by baptism, and footwashing (often the cause of some Controversy) was a way of symbolizing that no one person was better than another.

Arts. Music, among the Mennonites, has often been controversial. Some denominations exclude musical instruments and allow only singing (often without harmony), whereas others lay a strong emphasis on classical church music. Only among the more conservative groups is singing done in the German language.

Medicine. Late in the nineteenth century, some Mennonites adhered to what could be described as Galenic humoral medicine and extensively utilized midwives. Soon, however, most accepted the allopathic medical tradition, and today Mennonites are well known for their hospitals (medical and mental).

Death and Afterlife. Access to heaven was not predetermined. One is assured an afterlife only after having been a disciplined member of the community. Historically, some have given emphasis to the Gemeinde in their mortuary tradition by burying their members in the order of their dyingdeemphasizing family membership.


Bibliography

Dyck, Cornelius J. (1981) An Introduction to Mennonite History. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press.

Kraybill, Paul N., ed. (1984) Mennonite World Handbook. Lombard, Ill.: Mennonite World Conference.

The Mennonite Encyclopedia: A Comprehensive Reference Work on the Anabaptist-Mennonite Movement (1955-59). 4 vols. Hillsboro, Kans.: Mennonite Brethren Publishing House.

Redekop, Calvin (1989). Mennonite Society. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Smith, Henry C. (1981) Story of the Mennonites. Newton, Kans.: Faith and Life Press.

Urry, James (1989). None but Saints: The Transformation of Mennonite Life in Russia, 1789-1889. Winnipeg: Hyperion Press.

JEFFREY L. LONGHOFER

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Mennonites

MENNONITES

MENNONITES. A worldwide religious movement with some 1.2 million adult members in the year 2000, Mennonites are the direct descendants of the Anabaptists (re-baptizers), a radical wing of the Protestant Reformation of the early sixteenth century. Although sharing basic doctrines of the Lutheran and Reformed faiths, Anabaptists held that these Protestants were too closely aligned with coercive governments. Contending for full religious liberty, Anabaptists were the first of what were called the Free Churches. They rejected the ancient practice of infant baptism as nonscriptural, and hence baptized only adults who could freely confess their conversion faith. These converts joined in covenants with fellow believers,


pledging to support each other both spiritually and materially. Because they refused to swear oaths or take up arms, Anabaptists were cruelly persecuted as societal rebels. Emerging first in the Swiss cantons and southern Germany, they were soon widely scattered throughout Europe, where at twentieth century's end they still lived in small numbers.

Anabaptists were first called Mennonites in the Low Countries after Menno Simons, a Catholic priest before his dramatic conversion in 1536 to the cause of these hunted heretics. His persistent pastoral visits and extensive writings served to gather, maintain, and unite the dissenters, who were badly dispersed and distressed by governmental and state church pressure, both Catholic and Protestant. Some Anabaptist bodies, however, long continued to use names other than Mennonite, such as Taufgesinnten or Doopsgezinden (that is, those who are baptism-minded).

Mennonites came early to North America, and are mentioned as being in the colony of New Amsterdam in 1653. The beginnings of mass migration to the New World came in 1683 with the arrival in Philadelphia of some forty persons of Mennonite background. Later waves of migration took place throughout the eighteenth century, with most migrants settling in Pennsylvania before a dispersal southward and westward. In the nineteenth century large numbers of Mennonites came from northern Europe, some by way of Russia. Most Mennonite immigrants located in rural enclaves, where they lived in close-knit clusters to perpetuate their faith. The first Mennonites to migrate to Canada did so shortly after the beginning of the Revolutionary War, seeking relief as conscientious objectors to military pressures. Many Mennonites arrived in Canada after World War I and II after harrowing experiences as refugees.

Although Mennonites in Canada and the United States over the years have separated into a confusing number of small denominations, there are four major groupings: the (Old) Mennonites, largely of Swiss and German extraction; the General Conference Mennonites, largely of Dutch and Russian extraction; the Mennonite Brethren, the result of a schism in Russia in 1860 and heavily influenced by German Pietism; and the Amish, a conservative branch of Swiss and south German Mennonites who separated in 1693. In 2001, the Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church united to form the new Mennonite Church USA, although some congregations departed in protest.

Until the mid-nineteenth century, Mennonites in North America largely spurned higher education and other institutions and agencies, but by the beginning of the twentieth century their life was marked by a surge of institution-building and creation of church programs. Among these institutions are Goshen College of Goshen, Indiana, and Eastern Mennonite University (Harrison-burg, Virginia), both sponsored by the Mennonite Church, and Bethel College of North Newton, Kansas, and Bluff-ton College of Bluffton, Ohio, sponsored by the General Conference Mennonite Church. Mennonites began missionary activity in Africa and Asia at that time and in South America and the Pacific region later on. That explains why in 2000 there were fewer active Mennonites in Europe and North America than in areas outside of those continents. Mennonites and associated groups form about ten thousand congregations in sixty-four nations, using eighty languages.

Mennonites are organized internationally in the Mennonite World Conference, which holds delegate conferences about every five years. Its office is in Strasbourg, France. The world gatherings cannot legislate for member bodies but work to further united witness and service.

A highly respected agency of social amelioration and development is the Mennonite Central Committee (with MCC USA offices in Akron, Pennsylvania, and MCC Canada offices in Winnipeg, Manitoba). The agency was founded in 1920 to coordinate the shipment of relief goods from North America to starving Mennonites in revolution-torn Ukraine. Following World War II, MCC efforts burgeoned until in 2000 it had a combined budget of over $63 million, with 1,511 salaried and volunteer workers in many nations.

Traditionally, Mennonites were known as Plain People, farm families marked by uniformly severe garb and nonconformist ways. Today, most Mennonites are thoroughly integrated into North American society, with many working as teachers, physicians, social workers, and other professionals. Their Anabaptist heritage is most noticeable in their peace stance and vigorous response to human need, as in their Mennonite Disaster Service, which sends volunteer teams to areas of natural catastrophe to clean and rebuild. Once hated heretics, Mennonites have come to be widely known as compassionate and concerned fellow citizens.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bender, Harold S., et al., eds. The Mennonite Encyclopedia. 5 vols. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1955–1990.

Dyck, Cornelius J. An Introduction to Mennonite History: A Popular History of the Anabaptists and the Mennonites. 3d ed. Scott-dale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1993.

Hostetler, John A. Amish Society. 4th ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press 1993.

Kraybill, Donald B., and C. Nelson Hostetter. Anabaptist World USA. Scottdale, Pa: Herald Press, 2001.

Kreider, Robert S., gen. ed. The Mennonite Experience in America.4 vols. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1985–1996.

Donald F.Durnbaugh

See alsoMissions, Foreign ; Pacifism ; Religion and Religious Affiliation ; andvol. 9:Earliest American Protest against Slavery .

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Mennonites

Mennonites (mĕn´nənīts), descendants of the Dutch and Swiss evangelical Anabaptists of the 16th cent.

Beliefs and Membership

While each congregation is at liberty to decide independently on its form of worship and other matters, Mennonites generally agree on certain points—baptism of believers only, the necessity of repentence and conversion for salvation, the refusal to bear arms and to take oaths, the rejection of worldly concerns, simplicity of dress and habits, and disapproval of marrying outside the faith. In celebrating the Lord's Supper, some branches include the rite of foot washing and the kiss of charity.

Differences in discipline and performance of church services have resulted in a division of the church into a number of branches. The Mennonite Church, whose members are sometimes known as Old Mennonites, is the original body in the United States and has the largest membership. The General Conference of the Mennonite Church of North America (1860), the next largest body, may be listed among the more liberal branches. One of the most conservative divisions is the Amish Church, which, under the leadership of Jacob Amman (late 17th cent.), broke away from the main body in Europe. The Amish are noted for their rejection of the world and most modern technology and conveniences, and have historically farmed in a traditional manner or earned a livelihood by practicing such crafts as carpentry and cabinetry. The principal Amish groups in the United States are the Old Order Amish, who do not use churches but worship in homes and conduct their services in German, and the Conservative Amish, who abide by the Dordrecht Confession of Faith but hold services in English as well as German and accept such innovations as the Sunday school. The terms "House Amish" and "Church Amish" have been used to distinguish the branches. The Amish in the United States are predominantly in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, but Amish communities are found in more than half the states. Another conservative body is the Reformed or Herrite branch, established (1812) under the leadership of John Herr. The Church of God in Christ (1859) and the Old Order Mennonites, formed in 1870 under Jacob Wisler, are among the other branches.

Large numbers of Mennonites are found in Canada, and a number of American, Canadian, and European Mennonites have moved to colonies in Mexico and South America. Although attempts at unification have not been particularly successful, the Mennonite Central Committee, formed in 1920 as a response to famine affecting Mennonites in Russia and Ukraine, has enabled the branches to cooperate in many service and relief activities around the world. There are now over 1 million baptized members worldwide. The largest denomination in the United States is the Mennnonite Church USA.

History

The name Mennonite is derived from Menno Simons (c.1496–1561), Dutch reformer and organizer of the early congregations. Menno left the Catholic priesthood in 1536 to help gather together and rehabilitate the Dutch Anabaptists confused by the downfall of the revolutionary Anabaptist theocracy set up at Münster (c.1524–25). He soon became the movement's outstanding leader. The new movement restored the earlier evangelical form of Anabaptism practiced by the pacifistic Swiss Brethren (see Anabaptists).

Persecutions drove many of the Mennonites to Germany, where new congregations were formed. The movement spread also to France, Russia, and the Netherlands, where it became influential. The Dordrecht Confession of Faith, embodying the distinctive features of Mennonite belief, was issued (1632) in Holland. Mennonites in the United States have settled mainly in Pennsylvania and Ohio (especially in the Amish Country centered on Lancaster co., Pa.) and the Middle West. The first permanent Mennonite settlement in America was made (1683) at Germantown, Pa., by a group from Krefeld, Germany. Mennonites from Switzerland, Russia, and other parts of Europe also emigrated in numbers to North America.

Bibliography

See H. S. Bender et al., ed., The Mennonite Encyclopedia, (5 vol., 1955–90); J. C. Wenger, The Mennonite Church in America (1966); C. Redekop, Mennonite Society (1989); J. A. Hostetler, Amish Society (4th ed. 1993); D. B. Kraybill, The Riddle of Amish Culture (2001); C. E. Hurst and D. L. McConnell, An Amish Paradox: Diversity and Change in the World's Largest Amish Community (2010); D. B. Kraybill et al., The Amish (2013).

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Mennonites

Mennonites

ETHNONYMS: Anabaptists, Mennists, Plain People


Mennonites are a German-speaking people distinguished by their life-style and religious beliefs, which derive from the Anabaptist movement of the 1520s and 1530s. There are about 80,000 Mennonites in Latin America, with the largest numbers in South America in Paraguay (15,000), Bolivia (8,000), and Brazil (6,000) and smaller numbers in Uruguay and Argentina. The largest, most visible, and best-described Mennonite community is that located in the Chaco region of Paraguay. The region was first settled by about 2,000 Mennonites fleeing repression in Canada who founded the Menno colony in 1926. In 1930 and 1947 the Fernheim and Neuland colonies were settled by Mennonites fleeing persecution in the Soviet Union. Mennonites also established the town of Filadelfia, which has become a major agricultural center in the Chaco. The Mennonites were drawn to Paraguay by offers of free or inexpensive land, exemption from military service, and religious and other freedoms.

Whereas the semiarid Chaco has proved unproductive for others, Mennonites since the second generation of their arrival have been notably successful agriculturists and dairy farmers. They are now not only self-sufficient but also provide 50 percent of the milk, butter, cheese, and yogurt for the entire nation. The Mennonites have always existed as a separate community within Paraguay and collect their own taxes, maintain their own schools and hospitals, erect German-village-style housing, dress conservatively, and eschew certain worldly pleasures such as dancing. Relations with neighboring Indian groups have been generally friendly, and the Mennonites have routinely employed Indians as wage laborers on their farms. The Mennonites have also resettled Indians on Mennonite land, converted many to Christianity, and provided other services through the Association of Indian-Mennonite Cooperative Services. Since the 1970s, however, the Mennonites have been criticized by some for taking a paternalistic stand toward the Indians and for attracting a large number of landless people to the region, who come in hope of finding work on Mennonite farms. To remedy the situation, the Mennonites have organized an administrative council composed of Mennonites and Indian representatives.

Improved means of communication, such as the paved Trans-Chaco Highway to Ascunción, have also drawn the Mennonites into Paraguayan society and led them to seek political office in order to protect their interests in the region.

See also Mennonites in Volume 1, North America


Bibliography

Hack, Hendrik (1977). Indianer und Mennoniten im Paraguayischen Chaco. Filadelfia: Asociación de los Servicios de Cooperación Indígena-Mennonita.

DAVID LEVINSON

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Mennonites

Mennonites. Christian denomination. It derives from followers of the 16th-cent. radical Reformer Menno Simons (1496–1561), a Dutch Roman Catholic priest who joined the Anabaptists in 1536. Simons's leadership was an inspiration to them. His teaching about believers' baptism, Church discipline, pacificism, and the non-participation of Christians in the magistracy gained wide support in many congregations, amongst whom he exercised an itinerant leadership ministry for twenty-five years. Today there are about 700,000 Mennonites in various parts of the world, mostly in America where their ranks have been occasionally fragmented by division.

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"Mennonites." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Mennonites

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"Mennonites." International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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