Gemeindeblatt der Mennoniten was a biweekly periodical, the organ of the Gemeindeverband of Baden, Württemberg, and Bavaria. The paper owed its origin to the awakening that took place in the congregations of Baden in the middle of the 19th century. In the 1860s several leading ministers became aware of the necessity and benefit of such a publication for the South German congregations. In particular Christian Schmutz of Rappenau was zealous in promoting the project. At that time the only German Mennonite periodical was the Mennonitische Blätter, which had been published since 1854. The records of the meeting of the elders on 14 October 1869, state briefly, "Brother Ulrich Hege of Reihen proposes that a church periodical be published for our congregations. This meeting gives its consent to the proposal and commissions him to be the editor."
Beginning in 1870 the Gemeindeblatt was published monthly first as a four-page, and later as an eight-page paper. In 1896 the masthead read, "Published—with the co-operation of several preachers and with the consent of the Aeltestenrat—by Ulrich Hege in Reihen." In the earlier years this statement was correct, for a series of important articles was contributed by Christian Schmutz of Rappenau, who was a leader in the awakening in the congregations of Baden. His articles on church discipline, mixed marriages, and communion were thus to become effective in wider Mennonite circles. The frankness with which all questions of church life were openly discussed is striking. This frankness is also to be noted in the 1880s when the matter of union with the Vereinigung der Mennoniten im Deutschen Reich was debated; the Gemeindeverband did not join the Vereinigung. Elder Ulrich Hege (1812-1896) was distinguished by his interest in Mennonite history, combined with a strong publicistic interest. He published excerpts from Menno's works on baptism, communion, etc. Also writings of Hans Denck (Von der wahren Liebe und Ordnung Gottes) and of Hubmaier were published. In the 1880s when the works of Ludwig Keller were stimulating research in Mennonite history, each of his books as it appeared, was discussed in the Gemeindeblatt. Also the personal connections of Schmutz occasioned many an article. Frequently there was material from the Martyrs' Mirror or one of the martyr hymns. The Gemeindeblatt sponsored a movement toward Mennonite union, viz., the Conference of the South German Mennonites, to which all the South German congregations now belong. Connections with West Prussia were given special attention. There was also correspondence with Mennonites of other countries (America, France, Switzerland, and Russia). From the beginning there were reports from the missions on Sumatra and Java.
The lifework of the first editor of the Gemeindeblatt can best be stated in the words of the number celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of its founding: "Precisely the first volumes of the Gemeindeblatt prove that the paper was not the hobby of a few people, but met a real need in spite of much opposition. From North and South Germany, from Switzerland, and from Russia come voices asking to be heard. Sometimes the ideas expressed were in diametric opposition to each other, and for the editor it must have been by no means an easy matter to arbitrate and prevent the expressions from leading to divisive strife, but especially in those questions that dealt with fundamentals to lead to mutual understanding. A decisive attitude was taken against both the influence of rationalism and a petrified formalism. The earnest striving and longing for a spiritual revival in the Mennonite brotherhood stood in die foreground; likewise the effort to bring back to the consciousness of our church members the teaching and faith of our forefathers."
What seemed to Ulrich Hege to be his chief task he expressed in the motto on the masthead of the first issue in 1871: "That ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Corinthians 1:10). The paper strove in the first place to promote and preserve the spiritual life in the congregations on the foundation which has Jesus Christ as its cornerstone. Its next task was to contribute "to a union and unification, pleasing to God, of our greatly scattered congregations, not only with respect to space, but also with respect to the inner mind, the various views, and organization. Although they are united in the confession of the principal doctrines, because of a few deviating views they are in part so distant to one another and take such a cold attitude to each other, showing little brotherly love."
At an advanced age, after serving as editor for 26 years, Ulrich Hege passed the office on to his son, traveling evangelist Jakob Hege of Reihen (1848-1911). From now on, historical articles retired to the background. The devotional aspect became dominant. Otherwise the form of the periodical remained the same (news from all the congregations of Germany and from foreign countries). The cooperation of fellow ministers decreased. It is apparent that the time of the first love was past for the paper. The publisher must rely more upon himself. "For my brother the assumption of the editorship in addition to his work as traveling evangelist denoted a great burden, especially since there was at times a dearth of colaborers" (GM 1919, 2).
Beginning in 1901 the Gemeindeblatt, in agreement with the general wish, became a biweekly four-page paper, and in this form it continued to serve the Mennonite brotherhood to 1973 when it was superseded by Gemeinde unterwegs. It was intended to serve as a Sunday paper for members living widely scattered and to create a closer bond in general by its more frequent appearance (GM, 1900). That the paper continued to satisfy an inner need is shown by the fact that the number of subscribers rose to 1,200.
Jakob Hege published the paper until his death in 1911. In the first decade of the 20th century there was a lively debate among the South German congregations on the subject of the Conference of the South German Mennonites. Because of the active connections of the publisher with the Mennonite preachers in the Palatinate, the contributions of articles from the congregations on the left of the Rhine were especially numerous.
In 1911 the editorship was given to the youngest son of the founder of the Gemeindeblatt, Philipp Hege (1857-1923) of Stuttgart, the third and last member of this family to serve in that office. The years before the war reflect the high points of the conference work of South Germany, when E. Händiges as traveling evangelist rallied the Mennonites of South Germany, in particular those of Bavaria. The paper was able to appear throughout World War I.
Worthy of note are the regularly appearing articles, "Concerning the War," later called "Rundschau," which afforded an excellent survey of the contemporary situation and testified to the healthy, long-range vision of the writer. The paper gave information concerning the situation of congregations in the homeland and in foreign lands, reports on the suffering of the Russian brethren after the Revolution, and the rising relief work known as Mennonitische Flüchtlingshilfe, and later the Deutsche Mennonitenhilfe. The devotional character of the paper retired to the background, while historical matters of the past and present came to the fore. It is significant that already under the previous editor the congregational affairs were no longer publicly discussed. The periodical has taken on the character of a Sunday religious journal.
Philipp Hege was taken from the churches by death in March 1923. He was followed in office by Gysbert van der Smissen of Heilbronn (1859-1923). By December of the same year the paper was again orphaned by the unexpected sudden death of the editor. In 1924 the council of elders of Baden assigned the task to Walter Fellmann of Mönchzell, and in 1925, when Fellmann joined the faculty of the missionary seminary of Wernigerode, the council appointed Christian Schnebele, the leader of the Mennonite Bibelheim Thomashof near Durlach, who was still the editor in 1956. The place of publication was transferred from Sinsheim a. Elsenz to Karlsruhe, Baden, in 1926, where it has since been printed by the Mennonite printer Heinrich Schneider.
Due to the war situation the Gemeindeblatt was suspended from 1941 (last number 1 January 1941) to 1948 (first number 1 April 1948).
As the organ of the Verband of Baden-Württemberg-Bavaria, the paper was read in most of the Mennonite families of these areas. It was also read in the Palatinate and in Bavaria, and was to some extent read in North Germany, especially in West Prussia, when these congregations were still in existence.
Gemeindeblatt der Mennoniten (1873): 3; (1919): 2.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. II, 57 ff.
|Harold S. Bender|
Cite This Article
Fellmann, Walter and Harold S. Bender. "Gemeindeblatt der Mennoniten (Periodical)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 4 Aug 2015. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Gemeindeblatt_der_Mennoniten_(Periodical)&oldid=119267.
Fellmann, Walter and Harold S. Bender. (1956). Gemeindeblatt der Mennoniten (Periodical). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 4 August 2015, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Gemeindeblatt_der_Mennoniten_(Periodical)&oldid=119267.
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