Introduction – By Ryan Ahlgrim
Mennonites are one of the best kept secrets among Christian churches. In most areas of North America, the average person has either never heard of Mennonites or confuses them with the horse-and-buggy driving Amish. But that may now be changing. Mennonites are growing, becoming urbanized, becoming increasingly multiracial and multicultural. And Mennonites are offering a way of life desperately needed in our society.
In a society glutted with noise and words, Mennonites let their quiet actions speak for them. In a culture consumed with creating stockpiles of all the latest possessions, Mennonites often choose to do without so that everyone can have enough. In a world that believes in success, Mennonites believe in service. In a world that often turns to the ultimate weapon of force to solve problems, Mennonites turn to the ultimate weapon of love. In a culture that practices unrestrained individualism, Mennonites practice mutual aid and mutual accountability. In a society that pursues cheap and easy answers, Mennonites pursue the costly way of Jesus.
Who are these Mennonites? To understand this group of Christians, it is best to begin with their origins in Europe almost five hundred years ago.
A Brief History of the Mennonite Church - By Dagne Assefa and Brian Bither
The Mennonites are the theological descendants of the sixteenth century Anabaptists. The Anabaptist moment began as one of many reform movements in Reformation Europe. It was born in Zurich, Switzerland in 1525 when a group of Christians made the radical decision to baptize one another as adults, thereby denying the validity of their infant baptisms and entering into a voluntary covenant with Christ and with one another. This new community, which was characterized by its radical commitments to nonviolence, sharing of resources, and mutual accountability, was perceived as a threat by both Catholics and Protestants during the Reformation, and its members were severely persecuted. Nevertheless, it inspired a movement that spread rapidly to south and central Germany as well as to the Netherlands. The name “Mennonite” comes from Menno Simmons, an early writer and leader who was instrumental in organizing this movement in the Netherlands.
For many centuries, the Mennonites lived in rural and abandoned areas, where they could live by their principles without the immediate threat of persecution. When William Penn invited people of all religious persuasions to live peacefully in his newfound territory of Pennsylvania, this attracted a number of Mennonites, and many Mennonites migrated in waves to the United States and Canada in the centuries that followed. Mission movements in the last century led to the planting of Mennonite churches in South America, Africa, and Asia. Today there are approximately 1.7 million Mennonites worldwide in 82 countries around the world. They range from conservative Mennonites who continue to practice plain dress to contemporary Mennonites who are indistinguishable in appearance from other citizens in their countries. To learn more about our church and how we are similar and dissimilar from common perceptions about Mennonites, visit our FAQ.
Shalom is part of the Indiana-Michigan Mennonite conference, one of twenty-one conferences in the Mennonite Church USA. The MCUSA is the largest Mennonite denomination in the United States and maintains close ties with its sister denomination, the Mennonite Church Canada. Click here to visit their website.