Russian Mennonites

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Russian Mennonites


Chortitzer Mennonite Conference

Box 968
Steinbach, MB, Canada R0A 2A0

During the 1870s a number of German Mennonites who had been residents of Russia for several generations settled in southern Manitoba on two tracts of land on either side of the Red River, referred to as the East Reserve and the West Reserve. They were often named for that area of Russia in which they had resided and/ or that area of Germany from which they had originated. Among those who settled on the East Reserve were a group from Chortitza, a German colony in Russia, some of whom founded the village of Chortitz. Bp. Gerhard Wiebe emerged as the leader of this group. Wiebe was known for his desire to live in peace with his neighbors, both Mennonite and non-Mennonite. This was made difficult in part by the restrictions placed by some Mennonite leaders on their members in an attempt to hold their communities together and continue their life as it had been in Russia.

Over the years the Chortitzer Mennonites remained a separate body, founded a separate conference, and adopted a statement of faith. The church believes in the Trinity, the Bible as the infallible authority for faith and life, and the church as the body of Christ– which has the duty of preaching, teaching, and discipling. The church has a particular task of keeping itself pure by discipling members who fall into gross sin. The church celebrates two ordinances, baptism and communion. It recognizes the legitimacy of government but also feels the duty of church members to refrain from mortal strife and contentions in all areas of life (such as war).

The conference is currently led by Bp. Wilhelm Hildebrandt. It is organized congregationally and composed of those churches that accept its constitution and bylaws.

Membership: In 1997 the church reported 2,500 members in 14 congregations served by 23 ministers. There were 70 members in these congregations in the United States.

Educational Facilities: Steinbach Bible College, Steinbach, Manitoba.

Periodicals: CMC Chronicle.


Epp, Frank H. Mennonites in Canada, 1786-1920: The History of a Separate People. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1974. 480 pp.

——. Mennonites in Canada, 1920-1940: A Peoples' Struggle for Survival. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1982.


Conservative Mennonite Church of Ontario

RR 2
Kippen, ON, Canada N0M 2E0

Among the Mennonite population of Canada in the early twentieth century, three tendencies arose. Some Mennonites, most of whom had migrated from Europe, sought means of accommodating the new situation of living in Canada. Others resisted any form of accommodation. Many, however, took a "middle-of-the-road" position, accommodating where necessary, and only in ways that did not threaten the faith. This latter group was generally called the Old Mennonites. In Ontario, the Old Mennonites were of Swiss and southern German origin. During the late 1950s part of the Old Mennonite faction, some of whom were members of the General Conference Mennonite Church, decried the departure of fellow members and leaders from traditional standards of faith and practice. They disapproved of liberal views on biblical inspiration and moral latitude. Bishops Moses H. Roth and Curtis C. Cressman became the spokespersons of the traditionalist position. They and the ministers and congregations which followed them were expelled in 1959, whereupon they formed the Conservative Mennonite Church of Ontario. This development paralleled with the movements in the United States.

In 1962 the Conference adopted a Constitution of Faith and Practice which affirmed the Dordrecht Confession of 1632 and the "Christian Fundamentals," which were adopted by the General Conference in 1921. Much of the attention of the Conference was directed to a definition of the believers' stance in relation to secular society which has been spelled out in a series of prohibitions. Members are prohibited from participation in war (including any type of military service), politics (including voting and jury duty), and membership in worldly organizations (such as secret societies, life insurance societies, etc.). Members refrain from strong drink, tobacco, worldly amusements (such as movies and organized sports), television and radio, jewelry (including wedding bands), and remarriage after divorce. All are called to simple modest dress, which for women includes uncut hair and veiled heads. Churches do not use instrumental music, nor do they allow floral displays at weddings or funerals.

Membership: In 2002 there were 8 congregations with more than 500 members.


Evangelical Mennonite Conference

Box 1268
440 Main St.
Steinbach, MB, Canada R0A 2A0

The Evangelical Mennonite Conference (EMC) considers itself indebted to the Radical Reformation, which in turn is rooted in the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. EMC came about as a result of a renewal movement among a small group of German Mennonites in southern Russia in 1812. Their leader was Klaas Reimer, a Mennonite minister. Reimer believed that the Mennonite church had become lax in discipline and that it condoned such practices as card playing, smoking, and drinking. He also felt that the church had become too closely aligned with the Russian government as evidenced by its contributions to the war against Napoleon. By 1814 the Reimer group had separated entirely from the main body of Mennonites. They became known as the Kleine Gemeinde (small fellowship).

Increased pressure on the group from the Russian government in such matters as educational control and objection to military service forced the church to migrate in 1874 to North America, settling mostly (158 families) in Manitoba Canada, or near Jansen, Nebraska (36 families). The Nebraska group eventually seceded. Evangelical Mennonite Church was chosen as a name in 1952, changing to Conference in 1959. The conference is currently spread over five Canadian provinces and organized into nine religions.

As evangelical, the EMC holds that scripture has final authority in faith and practice, a belief in Christ's finished work, and a humble confidence in forgiveness and wholeness in Christ. As Mennonite, the EMC is committed to following Christ in daily life, to baptism upon confession of faith, to community and social concern, to nonviolence, and to wider mission. As a conference, the EMC seeks to encourage local churches, to work together on matters of mission, and to work well as part of the much wider Christian Church.

The conference's cultural makeup is increasingly diverse, though its Dutch-German roots remain visible. Roughly one-third of its churches have pastors or leaders who reflect other cultural backgrounds. There has been an increasing rural-to-urban shift in both membership and mission attention. The conference functions as a conference of churches, with national boards, a conference council (delegate assembly) that meets twice per year, and a moderator. Women serve on most national boards as council delegates, as missionaries, and within local church activities. While women may be selected locally as ministers, they cannot serve with national recognition or commissioning.

Membership: In 2001 the conference reported 7,000 members, 50 churches, and 149 ministers in Canada. There are daughter churches that have organized as national autonomous conferences in Mexico, Nicaragua, and Paraguay.

Educational Facilities: Steinbach Bible College, Steinbach, Manitoba, Canada.

Periodicals: The Messenger.

Remarks: The members of the Kleine Gemeinde that settled in Nebraska were gradually, over a period of several decades, lost to other Mennonite bodies, primarily the Evangelical Mennonite Brethren Conference. The last congregation, which had moved to Kansas, dissolved in 1944.


The Golden Years, The Mennonite Kleine Gemeinde in Russia (1812-1849). Steinbach, MN: D. F. P. Publications, 1985.


Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference

526 McMillan
Winnipeg, MB, Canada R3C 2G1

The conference was born in 1937 as the result of a revival movement in the Sommerfelder Mennonite Church in Manitoba. Four young ministers became the leaders of a new group that met in the school district of Rudnerweide for their organizational meeting. They called themselves the Rudnerweider Mennonite Church. Rev. W. H. Falk was elected as the first bishop.

The church stressed personal conversion, teaching of children in Sunday School, youth programs, and missions. The first missionary, John Schellenberg, went to Africa under the Africa Inland Mission in 1942.

The revival spread to Saskatchewan where several congregations were established. In 1959, the congregations in Manitoba and Saskatchewan organized as the Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference. Mission work among Mennonites returning from Mexico led to the establishment of four congregations in Ontario during the 1960s. During this decade also, mission work began in Belize and Bolivia and more recently in Texas and Mexico. In 1986, the conference joined the Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission. Numerous workers serve with various independent missionary agencies in several countries.

This conference is characterized by a strong emphasis on evangelism and missions. A full-time evangelist is on staff. A Low-German radio broadcast ministry is based in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. It is active in the Mennonite Central Committee and the Mennonite World Conference.

Membership: In the 1990 there were 27 congregations with a total membership of 3,528. Internationally, including Canada, there were 3,928 members in 36 congregations.

Educational Facilities: Steinbach Bible College, Steinback, Manitoba, Canada.

Aylmer Bible School, Aylmer, Ontario, Canada.


Epp, Frank H. Mennonites in Canada, 1920-1940. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1982.


Fellowship of Evangelical Bible Churches

3339 N. 109th Plaza
Omaha, NE 68164

The Fellowship of Evangelical Bible Churches grew out of a merger in 1889 of two evangelical Mennonite groups that had been founded by Elders Isaac Peters (1826-1911) and Aaron Wall (1834-1905) respectively. Peters had migrated from Russia in 1874, settled in Henderson, Nebraska, and joined the Bethesda Mennonite Church. As an elder he began to voice some of the ideas that had previously led to a break with the church in Russia. He was a vigorous proponent of evangelism and all the means to accomplish that task, including lively preaching, Bible teaching for youth, prayer meetings, and Bible study. He saw a transformed life as a sign of regeneration. With a minority of the Henderson congregation, he withdrew in 1880 and formed the Ebenezer congregation.

Wall had migrated from Russia in 1875 and settled near Mountain Lake, Minnesota. After his election in 1876 as elder of the Bergfelder Church, he stressed the need for regeneration and the new life in Christ to an extent that he and his followers felt compelled to leave the Bergfelder Church. In 1889 he founded an independent congregation. In October of that year, he led in the union of the congregation with that led by Peters and the resulting formation of the United Mennonite Brethren of North America. The name was soon changed to Defenseless Mennonite Brethren of Christ in North America. In 1937, the name was changed to Evangelical Mennonite Brethren Conference. The present name was adopted in 1987.

Born in an evangelical awakening, the fellowship gave early emphasis to church schools and world missions. From early congregations in Nebraska, Minnesota, and South Dakota, the church spread throughout the Midwest and Canada. Missions are currently supported in Europe, Africa, Southeast Asia, Japan, Taiwan, and South America. The church is a member of the National Association of Evangelicals.

Membership: In 2001 the fellowship reported 18 congregations, 1,560 members, and 19 ministers in the United States. Worldwide membership is 3,515. There are 22 congregations in Canada, Argentina, and Paraguay.

Periodicals: Fellowship Focus.


General Conference Mennonite Church

722 Main St.
Newton, KS 67114

History. John H. Oberholtzer was an educated young minister in the Franconia District (located in Pennsylvania) of the Mennonite Church. Oberholtzer being of a progressive nature, encountered trouble soon after entering the ministry by protesting the plain, collarless coat worn by most ministers. He felt that the coat was an arbitrary requirement from outside the Mennonite creed. He next asked for the Conference of the Franconia District to adopt a written constitution so proceedings could be conducted more systematically. The result of Oberholtzer's agitation was a parting of the ways. He withdrew in 1847 from the Franconia District at the same conference which proceeded to expel him. With 16 ministers and several congregations, he led in the organization of a new conference. A major thrust of Oberholtzer's movement was the union of all Mennonite congregations. New practices were initiated, including a more liberal view of the ban, open communication, intermarriage with persons of other denominations and, within a short time, a salaried clergy. Oberholtzer proved a zealous advocate and founded the first Mennonite paper in America, the Religioeser Botschafter(later Das Christliche Volksblat).

Meanwhile, with the influx of thousands of Mennonite immigrants in the mid-1800s, other leaders were emerging and bringing into existence new churches. Daniel Hoch, a minister to several Mennonite churches in Ontario, had joined hands with an Ohio congregation led by Rev. Ephraim Hunsberger to form, in 1855, the Conference Council of the Mennonite Communities of Canada-West and Ohio. In Lee County, Iowa, two congregations found themselves in isolation, banded together, and called for united efforts in evangelism among members who had settled at some distance from the main body in the East. At a meeting in 1860 in Iowa, representatives of some of the above groups met and invited Oberholtzer to attend. He was chosen chairman and the General Conference Mennonite Church was organized. Their vision was the union of all Mennonite congregations in the United States and Canada.

Beliefs. The belief of the General Conference is in accord with many other Mennonite bodies. The "Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective" was adopted by the General Conference Mennonite Church and the Mennonite Church in 1995.

Organization. Polity is congregational. A Commission on Education oversees Faith and Life Press and Mennonite Press, and provides resources to congregations. The Commission on Home Ministries oversees multi-cultural ministries, as well as peace and justice, and voluntary service work. The Commission on Overseas Missions sponsors work in over 20 countries in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Europe. Canadian members have organized as the Conference of Mennonites in Canada. The South American Conference includes churches in Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay.

Membership: Not reported.

Educational Facilities: Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Indiana.

Bethel College, North Newton, Kansas.
Bluffton College, Bluffton, Ohio.

Periodicals: The Mennonite. • Der Bote.


Constitution and Charter of the General Conference Mennonite Church. Newton, KS, 1984.

Kaufman, Edmund G. General Conference Mennonite Pioneers. North Newton, KS: Bethel College, 1973.

Krehbiel, H. P. The History of the General Conference of the Mennonite Church of North America. 2 vols. Newton, KS: The Author, 1889-1938.

——. The History of the General Conference of the Mennonite Church of North America. Vol. 2. Newton, KS: The Author, 1938.

Pannabecker, Samuel Floyd. Open Doors, A History of the General Conference Mennonite Church. Newton, KS: Faith and Life Press, 1975.

Waltner, James H. This We Believe. Newton, KS: Faith and Life Press, 1968.

Yost, Burton G. Finding Faith and Fellowship. Newton, KS: Faith and Life Press, 1963.


Mennonite Brethren Church of North America (Bruedergemeinde)

315 S. Lincoln
PO Box 220
Hillsboro, KS 67063-0220

In the mid-1800s, Pastor Edward Wuest, a fiery evangelical preacher, toured the German colonies in Russia. His message was the free grace of God and the need for a definite religious experience. His influence led a number of Mennonites to become dissatisfied with the formality of their church meeting. They also felt themselves too pure to participate in the communion with others and demanded a separate sacramental service. When the elders refused their request, they began to hold secret sacramental meetings. When they were discovered, opposition was intense and they withdrew, and on January 6, 1860, wrote a statement of protest. After bitter controversy, the government accepted their separate existence and they took the name Mennoniten Bruedergemeinde (Mennonite Brethren). They were one in doctrine with other Mennonites, but did emphasize religious experience. Among the Russian Mennonites they introduced footwashing (with the Lord's Supper) and baptism by immersion (backwards), the latter a unique practice among Mennonites. The Bruedergemeinde members began to arrive with the first immigrants in America. In 1879, Elder Abraham Schellenberg arrived and began to tour the settlements and organize strong congregations. By 1898, the group was supporting a German Department at McPherson College and in 1908, founded Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kansas. A vigorous mission program was established.

As the Brudergemeinde was developing, Jacob Wiebe, a member of the Kleine Gemeinde, now the Evangelical Mennonite Conference, in the Crimea, organized in 1869 the Crimean Brethren, similar in nature to the Bruedergemeinde. The Crimean Brethren came to America in 1874 and settled in Kansas. They were similar to the Mennonite Brethren but had a few differences. They prohibited excessive worldliness, buying of land, and attendance at public amusements. They took Biblical positions against life insurance, voting, and oaths. Marriage with non-members was forbidden. In 1960, the Mennonite Brethren Church absorbed the Krimmer Mennonite Brethren Church (as the Crimean Brethren became known).

The church is a member of the National Association of Evangelicals.

Membership: In 2001, the church had 190 churches, 29,300 members, and 314 pastors.

Educational Facilities: Fresno Pacific University, Fresno, California.

Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno, California.
Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kansas.

Periodicals: The Christian Leader.


Fundamentals of Faith. Hillsboro, KS: Mennonite Brethren Publishing House, 1963.

Lorenz, John H. The Mennonite Brethren Church. Hillsboro, KS: Mennonite Brethren Publishing House, 1950.

Wiebe, Katie Funk. Who Are the Mennonite Brethren? Hillsboro, KS: Kindred Press, 1984.


Old Colony Mennonite Church

℅ John P. Wiebe, Bishop
Box 601
Winkler, MB, Canada R6W 4A8

The Old Colony Mennonite Church continues the traditions of the Reinlaender Mennonites who came into Canada from Russia in 1875 and settled in South Central Manitoba, on an area designated as the Western Reserve, immediately north of the American border. Approximately 3,240 individuals made up the Reinlaender Mennonite Church. It was among this group that a revival movement would start in the 1880s, leading some to form the Mennonite Brethren Church. Through the decades, little by little, the outside world began to encroach upon the Mennonite settlements in the Western Reserve. These encroachments came to a head in the conflict over public school in the years immediately following World War I. In 1921 the group was able to work out an agreement with Mexico that granted them religious freedom, including the right to private schools, and the majority of the group moved out of Canada.

The move to Mexico was made a condition of continued membership in the church, and everyone was required to reregister as a member and indicate the intention to migrate. Of the 4,526 members in Manitoba, 3,340 migrated, and of the 7,182 members in Saskatchewan, 5,180 left for Mexico. Those who remained had no sense of direction, and some members drifted off to other churches. Finally in the early 1930s, efforts were made to reorganize the remnants. A new membership book was created, and in 1930 a bishop, Johann Loeppky, was chosen and ordained for the Saskatchewan group, and he ordained the new bishop for Manitoba, Jacob J. Froese, in 1936. Their numbers grew as members returned from Mexico.

Today the Old Colony Mennonite Church exists in five sections: Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Ontario.

Membership: Not reported.


Epp, Franklin H. Mennonites in Canada, 1920–1940. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1982.

Kraybill, Donald B., and Carl F. Bowman. On the Backroad to Heaven: Old Order Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.

Lichdi, Diether Gotz. Mennonite World Handbook 1990: Mennonites in Global Mission. Carol Stream, IL: Mennonite World Conference, 1990.


Reinland Mennonite Church

PO Box 96
Rosenfeld, MB, Canada R0G 1X0

The Reinland Mennonite Church was founded in 1958 by some 10 ministers and 600 members of the Sommerfelder Mennonite Church in Manitoba who separated and founded an independent body. A short time later 200 of these members and four of the ministers left Canada for Bolivia.

Membership: In 2001, there were five congregations in Manitoba, one in Ontario, 10 ministers, and 2,303 members.


Sommerville Mennonite Church

Current address not obtained for this edition.

During the 1870s a number of German Mennonites who had been residents of Russia for several generations settled in southern Manitoba on two tracts of land on either side of the Red River, referred to as the East Reserve and the West Reserve. One group, which had settled on the Western Reserve, came under the leadership of the independent-minded Bp. Johann Funk, who in 1887 had been ordained by Bp. Gerhard Wiebe, leader of the Chortitzer Mennonites in the Eastern reserve and appointed as his assistant in the West. Funk had one of the more progressive outlooks of all the Mennonite leaders in the area and he welcomed the coming of the railroad and the integration of the community into the larger Canadian society, as opposed to the establishment of isolated Mennonite conclaves. However, Funk met significant opposition and in 1893 four churches in the Western Reserve asked Wiebe to ordain another bishop to lead them. He ordained Abraham Doerksen from the village of Sommerfeld and those groups that came under him quickly became known as Sommerfelder or Sommerville Mennonites as opposed to the Bergthaler Mennonites led by Funk. The Sommerville Mennonites soon emerged as the largest of several related groups, claiming some 80 percent of the Western Reserve following, formerly under Funk, and was twice as large as the Chortitzer Mennonites under Wiebe.

The Sommerville Mennonites continue as a separate group.

Membership: Not reported.


Epp, Frank H. Mennonites in Canada, 1786-1920: The History of a Separate People. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1974. 480 pp.

——. Mennonites in Canada, 1920-1940: A Peoples' Struggle for Survival. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1982.