Gemeenschap voor Doopsgezind Broederschapswerk (Society for Mennonite Brotherhood Work) -- the sponsor of what was formerly called the Gemeentedagbeweging, which came into being to a considerable extent under Quaker influence. In 1903 a Quaker organization for religious and church instruction was established at Woodbrooke, near Birmingham, England, which was attended by many people of Holland. Upon their return to Holland, these Woodbrooke people held conferences at Barchem. On 12 April 1917, T. O. Hylkema, the Mennonite minister of Giethoorn, called a meeting of those present to discuss with him the organization of a conference, which came into being and was later known as the Gemeentedag van Doopsgezinden (Church-Day Conference of Mennonites), for the promotion of faith in the individual and in the brotherhood. On 2 August 1917 the first Gemeentedag of the Mennonites met in the church at Utrecht, followed by annual meetings after that time. (A preliminary step in this movement may be seen in a meeting called at Amsterdam in 1915 by J. Lagas.) Participants came from various congregations. The focal center of the discussions was the questions of nonresistance and baptism.
The gemeentedag movement cannot be said to have had a precise goal. It was the intense desire of the leaders to kindle a fire among the Dutch Mennonites, which would continue to burn. Among the Quakers, who had in the 19th century fallen into a decline, a powerful revival had taken place in 1880. Why could not this spirit communicate itself to the Mennonites of the Netherlands, who were so closely related to the Quakers and who had likewise suffered a decline in the 19th century? Careful ministers at first urged caution toward the movement, which to them seemed without purpose and a reaction against existing views. The leaders of the movement sought to re-establish the ancient Mennonite customs, doctrines, and institutions. The great achievement of the 19th century, the Algemene Doopsgezinde Sociëteit, had been to give the Dutch Mennonites an educated ministry. But in the new movement the watchword was: not only the ministers, but all believers are priests. The sociëteit, the seminary, the liberal theology were to be eliminated. The movement was considered to be in opposition to the established order. At times the leaders had visions of a return to the faith of the fathers on the foundation of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11) in contrast to the liberal views of the 18th and 19th centuries. Derisive allusions were made by their opponents to an analogy between the Neo-Calvinists and the Neo-Mennonites. But the majority of the leaders did not agree with this attitude. T. O. Hylkema, who set the tone from the beginning, was untiring in proclaiming a positive goal, impelled by his faith in the task of the church in the present age. The movement was to be a ferment in renewing the entire brotherhood. The sleeping brotherhood should be aroused and put the talents entrusted to it into the service of Christ for the salvation of the world. Accordingly the Gemeentedagbeweging brought new inspiration to the Dutch Mennonites, but not a new theological direction; while many of its leaders were strongly evangelical, the movement itself was neutral, and offered a place to all and wished to unite all with itself, though the Christocentric idea predominated in the leadership from the first.
A general gemeentedag was held annually, from 1917 to 1919 in Utrecht, later in Lunteren in cabins on the heath. The number of participants was usually about 100. In addition, there were regional gemeentedag meetings in North Holland, Friesland, etc., attended sometimes by 300 persons. In connection with these meetings there was also a Youth Day (the first day in May 1922) at Lunteren and later also in the provinces. Youth organizations were formed in various cities, more than 40 of which were united in the Mennonite Youth Secretariat. Mennonites between the ages of 18 and 36 could join. Camps for boys and girls were held in the summer, for the first time in 1920 in Oud-Reemst on the Veluwe for boys. Anyone interested in the aims of the gemeentedag movement could join as a "co-worker." It held its meetings in conjunction with the gemeentedag conferences, the first in 1921. The group discussed practical work in the service of the Gospel and organized itself into various interest groups to promote missions, Bible study, nonresistance, abstinence, etc. There were about 1,000 of these "co-workers."
At Pentecost 1925 the gemeentedag organization opened the Doopsgezind Broederschapshuis (Mennonite Brotherhood House) in Elspeet. Several barracks were built, offering lodgings for 50 guests as well as dining-rooms and kitchens. During the first summer about 500 vacation guests came to the camp for short periods. In 1926 the "Clubhouse" was built with social rooms and sleeping quarters for 50 quests. Several conferences were also held here during the summer. A building for meetings was also planned, as well as additional dormitories sufficient so that 150 persons could be lodged at a single time. -- CN
The broederschapshuis at Elspeet grew in a short time to be indeed an ideal and frequently visited center of Mennonite life. After the main building and five barrack-dormitories were erected, a simple but artistic chapel of wood was added to complete the whole.
The first broederschapshuis was used as a conference center. A Brotherhood Week (Broederschapshuisweek) and a General Work Conference (Algemeene Arbeidssamenkomst) were held each year. Elspeet offered a hospitable place not only for these two central conferences, but also for the social-religious work in behalf of those who were affected by mass unemployment in the years of economic depression (called crisiswerk).
Between the conference periods the broederschapshuis was set aside for vacation use (called vacantieverblijf). Many families spent their vacation at Elspeet, especially during the summer months. During these periods a minister and his wife were always present to provide the leadership. Many vacationers looked back with deep gratitude to the time they spent at Elspeet. The spiritual isolation in which a person frequently lived in modern times was broken through at Elspeet, and persons present found themselves accepted in a great spiritual fellowship.
Before long there came the founding of a second broederschapshuis. The financial risk of the Elspeet broederschapshuis was borne by the association named Broederschapshuis Committee-Elspeet (Broederschapshuis Commissie-Elspeet). When a second broederschapshuis was started, the Gemeentedagbeweging took upon itself the risk for building and development. This new project took place in the dunes region of North Holland slightly south of Schoorl. This broederschapshuis also developed rapidly despite the unfavorable times. Between the years 1928 and 1940 the third and the fourth broederschapshuis were erected in the neighborhood of Steenwijk (named "Fredeshiem") and at Bilthoven, respectively.
Through the efforts of the Gemeentedagbeweging, the spiritual life of the Mennonite brotherhood between World Wars I and II was enriched and deepened. Of great significance, moreover, was the fact that the Mennonite Youth Union (Doopsgezinde Jongerenbond, D.J.B.) was founded. This took place in 1926, although already before this date youth conferences had been held in connection with the gemeentedag. In 1928 the youth organization became independent.
Of the subcommittees and work groups, the most important were as follows:
- The General Camp Committee (De Algemene Kamp Commissie, A.K.C.), which organized a large number of summer camps for catechumens (among other places, at Elspeet and Giethoorn).
- The Committee for Bible Study (De Commissie voor Bijbel Studie).
- The Work Group against Military Service (De Arbeidsgroep tegen de Krijgsdienst).
The responsibility for the work of the Elspeet Association was vested in the yearly meeting, called the General Work Conference (Algemene Arbeidssamenkomst), while leadership in the customary work was carried on by the General Gemeentedag Committee (Algemene Gemeentedag Commissie) in which members of all the committees, work groups, and regional organizations sat. In this group there was also an executive committee which transacted current matters. In this manner the coordination of so variegated a work was preserved.
During the war years, 1940-1945, the Elspeet program underwent radical changes. In the first place, it was compelled to change its form of organization in order to evade a prohibition made by the occupying National-Socialist government. Consequently, the Elspeet Association underwent a metamorphosis and in the summer of 1940 became a committee of the Algemene Doopsgezinde Sociëteit. The new name was A.D.S. Commissie voor Broederschapswerk. It turned out that in practice the same service was continued by the same persons. However, in the last years of this period a paralysis of the work could not be prevented and it came to a partial standstill. There were various causes for this situation. Already in the first months of the war, the broederschapshuis at Schoorl was requisitioned for military purposes. Here building after building was demolished, so that in May 1945 only the main building remained, also in a dilapidated condition.
Somewhat similar circumstances transpired at Elspeet, the oldest and largest broederschapshuis, although on a somewhat less devastating scale. The buildings and grounds were subjected to great destruction; one of the dormitories, at the time of the allied occupation in the summer of 1945, was entirely destroyed by fire.
Besides this damage in a material sense the dark period of World War II produced little gain in a spiritual sense although internally the relations of the brotherhood were improved. By means of the co-operation of the Algemene Doopsgezinde Sociëteit (A.D.S.) , an appreciation for the Elspeet work grew to an extent not existing during the first period. However, after the termination of World War II, the Elspeet Association resumed its work independently, and the relationship to the A.D.S. remained only one of personnel. During and after World War II, W. I. Fleischer was chairman. The first year (beginning January 1947) was devoted to a restoration of contact with members, of which many had changed addresses during the war as a result of evacuation and other reasons. Also, a number of emergency repairs were performed on the buildings at Elspeet, so that at least small groups of people could again be accommodated. A reorganization of the Association was prepared.
A new name and a new form of organization were sought. The new name decided upon was Fellowship for Mennonite Church Work (Gemeenschap voor Doopsgezind Broederschapswerk, G.D.B.). The G.D.B. set itself to the aim of "building on the foundation laid in Christ Jesus, to strengthen the personal religious life and the church life of the Mennonites in the Netherlands, and to engage in services of love." The G.D.B. now recognized three kinds of members: (a) individual members, (b) congregations, (c) other associations or organizations in a federal relationship whereby such groups retain their autonomy.
The Elspeet work prospered again. The prewar level was again reached and passed. The principal branches of service in the 1950s are summarized below:
- The Committee for Bible Study (De Commis sie voor Bijbelstudie) published a guide for the study of the Gospel of Luke, and in addition was responsible for the regular Bible column in the Algemeen Doopsgezind Weekblad.
- The Mennonite Peace Group (De Doopsgezinde Vredesgroep) after World War II attained a greater prosperity than that of the Work Group against Military Service before World War II. The Peace Group developed from a committee to an independent organization with its own membership, executive committee, and conference program.
- The General Camp Committee (De Algemene Kamp Commissie) extended its work, so that each summer in the 1950s there were a total of 15 camps organized for catechumens with a total of approximately 500 participants.
- To help persons affected by current crises, the Committee for Fellowship Weeks (Commissie voor Gemeenschapsweken) provided yearly four retreats where fatigued women were given an opportunity to renew their bodily and especially spiritual strength.
- The Committee for Student Conferences (De Commissie voor Studenten Conferenties) sponsored an annual conference for theological students and for ministers.
- The Committee for Conferences for Church Board Members (De Commissie voor Kerkeraadsledenconjerenties) organized yearly a conference for church board members, which is usually very well attended. Among other things, attention is given to the spiritual background necessary for the work of such members.
- The Committee for the Study of Faith (De Commissie voor Geloofsbezinning) devoted its monthly meetings to a study of actual theological problems, while at the same time considering what was distinctively Mennonite.
- The Committee for Catechism (De Commissie voor Catechetiek) gave attention to the possibilities of arriving at more similarity in methods of catechizing, and occupied itself, among other things, with the compilation of a book on faith for catechumens.
In addition to the conferences and meetings which were started before 1940, and which continued, other gatherings were organized after the war. In the 1950s the following conferences appeared: Brotherhood Conference (Broederschapsweek), General Work Meeting (Arbeidssamenkomst), Family Conferences (Gezinsweken), Ministers' Conference (Predikantenweek), Conference for Scholars (Gestudeerdenconferentie), Retreat Conferences (Retraitesamenkomsten). Besides this there are special conferences for committees and organizations federally united with the Association.
The group-members federally united with the Elspeet Association in the 1950s were: (a) "Foundation for Meeting Special Needs Within and Without the Mennonite Brotherhood" (Stichting voor Bijzondere Noden in de Doopsgezinde Broederschap en daarbuiten), (b) "The Mennonite Society for Propagation of the Gospel" (Doopsgezinde Vereniging voor Evangelieverbreiding, or Zendings Vereniging), (c) "The Mennonite Youth Union" (De Doopsgezinde Jongerenbond, D.J.B.), (d) "The Frisian Mennonite Youth Union" (De Friese Doopsgezinde Jongerenbond, F.D.J.B.).
The Fellowship for Mennonite Church Work had a 1953 total of 1,200 individual members, and in addition congregations which joined the organization. The organ of the movement was called Brieven and appeared four or five times in a year. The executive committee of the Gemeenschap was composed in of D. Richards, chairman; Miss M. Kuitse, secretary; and G. H. Blaauw, Jr., treasurer.
After the restoration of war damages, the broederschapshuis at Elspeet was able to accommodate some 200 guests, while the broederschapshuis at Schoorl was able to provide sleeping accommodations for about 100 persons.
To sum up, we can thankfully state that manifold blessings have gone out to the congregations and the brotherhood from the Gemeentedagbeweging, both in the past and the mid-20th century. This movement had an influence of renewing, strengthening, and a furthering of fellowship in the development of Mennonite life in the Netherlands during the first half of the 20th century. -- RdeZ.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. II, 59.
Nijdam, C. "Remembrance: The First Ten Years of the Gemeentedag Movement in Holland." Mennonite Quarterly Review 2 (1928): 54-65.
Onze eerste tien jaren. Wolvega, 1927
|R. de Zeeuw|
Cite This Article
Nijdam, C. and R. de Zeeuw. "Gemeenschap voor Doopsgezind Broederschapswerk." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 30 Jul 2015. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Gemeenschap_voor_Doopsgezind_Broederschapswerk&oldid=91877.
Nijdam, C. and R. de Zeeuw. (1953). Gemeenschap voor Doopsgezind Broederschapswerk. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 30 July 2015, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Gemeenschap_voor_Doopsgezind_Broederschapswerk&oldid=91877.
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