The Vereinigung der Mennoniten-Gemeinden im Deutschen Reich (after 1934: der Deutschen Mennonitengemeinden) was founded in Berlin in 1886 by 18 German Mennonite congregations (12 of North Germany and 6 of the Palatinate), a prior attempt at Friedelsheim in 1874 having failed. After 1934 all German Mennonite congregations but those of the Badisch-Württembergisch-Bayrischer Gemeindeverband belonged to the Vereinigung; i.e., in 1958 about five sixths of the ca. 12,000 Mennonites in Germany. The original statutes of 1886 were revised in 1902, 1914, and 1934. In Hamburg in 1897 and 1902 the Vereinigung was incorporated; in 1922, also in Hamburg, it secured the status of a public corporation. An executive committee, a board of directors, and the assembly of representatives of the participating congregations were entrusted with the management. Presidents have been Hinrich van der Smissen of Hamburg 1886-1896 and 1902-1927; Ernst Weydmann of Krefeld 1896-1902; Hans Müller of Krefeld 1927-1932; Emil Händiges of Elbing and later Monsheim 1932-1953; Otto Schowalter of Hamburg 1952-1958; Abraham Braun of Nierstein/ Rhein after 1958.
The regular triennial assemblies met in Berlin in 1887, 1890, and 1893; Hamburg 1896; Berlin 1899; Hamburg 1902; Berlin 1905; Danzig 1908; Krefeld 1911; Hamburg 1914, 1917, 1920, and 1926 (also an extraordinary assembly in 1927); Berlin 1929, 1932, and 1937; Marienburg 1942; Thomashof 1947; Branch Weilerhof 1949; Hamburg 1952; Munich 1955; and Frankfurt/Main 1958.
The liberal city congregations of North Germany had started the Vereinigung and wanted it to follow the model of the Dutch Algemene Doopsgezinde Sociëteit (ADS), but the German Mennonites of 1886 lived under other conditions than the Dutch who had founded the ADS. 75 years earlier. The founding German congregations were divided into two types: those under a rationalistic and those under a pietistic influence. So the plan of a Berlin theological professorship failed at the very beginning. The only accomplishment in this field was scholarships for Mennonite students of theology, of which a few were given. But whereas all Dutch Mennonite students had the same teachers and so more or less the same attitudes, since they all attended the Amsterdam Mennonite Seminary, the German students developed more or less as many attitudes as they had teachers. Even in 1934, when the situation in the Third Reich made unity especially desirable, and in 1951, when the flight to the West resulted in a new situation for North Germany, the differences could not be overcome.
World War I and the subsequent inflation, as well as World War II and the subsequent currency reform, twice ruined the finances of the Vereinigung. The Vereinigung had started to gather an endowment fund. In 1908 alone Bernhard Brons Jr. at Emden and his son-in-law Dr. Jan van Delden at Gronau gave M 10,000 each for the Predigerfonds. The assets at the end of 1913, the last year of peace, had reached M 336,173; ten years later only one fourth remained: RM 72,977. And when at the end of 1938, the last year of peace, after some 15 years RM 92,315 had been reached, 10 years later not even one twelfth remained: DM 6,764.
Notwithstanding these handicaps the Vereinigung could do rather valuable work. By means of a "Predigerfonds" it raised the salaries of ministers in urgent cases. By means of a "Prediger-Ruhegehaltskasse" and a "Prediger-Witwenkasse" it supplied small pensions for the ministers and their widows. A publications committee provided periodicals for ministers and procured subsidies for printing the Mennonitische Blätter, the Mennonitisches Lexikon, and several books, the latter by a prize competition which produced the Kurze Geschichte der Mennoniten by Christine Hege, published in 1909. The Vereinigung backed the Comeniusgesellschaft and the Mennonitischer Geschichtsverein. It was connected with the World Alliance for International Friendship through the Churches after 1930, and was a member of the World Council of Churches after 1948. Delegates were sent to ecumenical meetings, as far as means permitted. The Vereinigung was a co-founder of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft der christlichen Kirchen in Deutschland in 1948.
A relief agency, the Hilfswerk der Vereinigung der Deutschen Mennoniten-gemeinden (HVDM), was started in 1946 for the British and the French Zones while the Christenpflicht of the Gemeindeverband was responsible for the American Zone.
The Vereinigung often had to discuss the question of the oath with the authorities. The questions of war and peace, of military service, and conscientious objectors also often led to conversations and negotiations (see Germany). -- Ernst Crous
Four different traditions were united in the Vereinigung: old north-German city congregations; old Palatinate rural congregations; Mennonites who came from East and West Prussia and from the Soviet Union after 1945 as refugees, who in part formed new congregations; and resettlers (Umsiedler) from the Soviet Union in the 1970s and late 1980s. The integration of these resettlers into the Mennonite conferences and services was not successful; only the congregation of resettlers of Wolfsburg joined the Vereinigung. The relationship of the Vereinigung to the Arbeitsgemeinschaft deutscher Mennonitengemeinden in which resettler congregations participated, had not been clarified by 1986.
Since about 1978 the Vereinigung and the Verband deutscher Mennonitengemeinden (Federation of German Mennonite Churches) have, for various reasons, drawn closer. A task force was established for mutual endeavors. By 1987 considerable movement had taken place, and the 100th anniversary of the Vereinigung took place without great fuss for just this reason. The main underlying and unanswered question within the Vereinigung was: How can German Mennonites really become a spiritual unity with the huge span in theological and social positions they hold? Not of little concern, the differences in the education of ministers still creates "centrifugal" tendencies in the Vereinigung.
An aid towards better integration within the Vereinigung, since 1966, were the annual Mitgliederversammlungen (members' assemblies) which promoted a consciousness of identity and unity. Outwardly the Vereinigung represented its congregations to other churches and to government offices, and it was often erroneously seen as a representative of all German Mennonites. Inwardly the Vereinigung without a full-time chairperson or secretary, was more weak than strong in giving stimulus and leadership, and more often than not its congregations each chose their own way. Finances played a lesser role in the work of the Vereinigung than they did before World War II; the Vereinigung had changed from a more business-oriented to a more theologically-oriented body. Subjects of discussion were: peace witness, ecumenical participation (attendance at the World Council of Churches assemblies in 1968, 1975, 1983; response to the 1982 "Lima Document" on baptism, eucharist, and ministry), and youth work, in particular the encouragement of the theology students. A seminar for pastors (together with the Verband was held annually. A further main point of emphasis was the social welfare work which moved from welfare for our own German people in the time after 1945 to a commitment for the needy outside Europe and North America. Contact with the Mennonites in the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (German Democratic Republic) and in the Soviet Union was also a concern of the Vereinigung. -- Peter J. Foth
Reports and proceedings of the Vereinigung, written and printed.
Braun, Abraham. "70 Jahre Vereinigung."Der Mennonit 11 (1958): 99-101.
Crous, Ernst. "70 Jahre Berliner Mennonitengemeinde." Der Mennonit 11 (1958): 102 f.
Kraybill, Paul N., ed. Mennonite World Handbook. Lombard, IL: Mennonite World Conference, 1978: 295-299.
Lichdi, Diether Götz. Über Zurich und Witmarsum nach Addis Abeba: Die Mennoniten in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Maxdorf, 1983.
Mannhart, H. G. Jahrbuch (1888): 107-133.
Mennonite World Handbook Supplement. Strasbourg, France, and Lombard, IL: Mennonite World Conference, 1984: 117.
Mennonitisches Jahrbuch (especially 1986).
|Peter J. Foth|
Cite This Article
Crous, Ernst and Peter J. Foth. "Vereinigung der deutschen Mennonitengemeinden (Union of German Mennonite Congregations)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 13 Feb 2016. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Vereinigung_der_deutschen_Mennonitengemeinden_(Union_of_German_Mennonite_Congregations)&oldid=103458.
Crous, Ernst and Peter J. Foth. (1989). Vereinigung der deutschen Mennonitengemeinden (Union of German Mennonite Congregations). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 13 February 2016, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Vereinigung_der_deutschen_Mennonitengemeinden_(Union_of_German_Mennonite_Congregations)&oldid=103458.
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