Kleintal Mennonite Church (Moutier, Switzerland)

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Kleintal is the name of a Mennonite church in the Bernese Jura, Switzerland, sometimes called Moron. The congregation embraces the Mennonites scattered over the county of Moutier with small overlappings into bordering districts. The region is sometimes called the Münstertal, and the French name Moutier refers to the same political and geographical district as Münster.

The name Kleintal is used to designate the following areas: the source and upper reaches of the Sorne (Bellelay, Châtelat, Monible, Sornetan) and the little valleys of the Fontaines (Souboz, les Ecorcheresses) and the Chaliere (Perrefitte). This general valley region is surrounded in the north by the mountain chain of Béroie-Droit Mont-Perceux-Montagne de Moutier, and in the south by the elevation of Monbautier-Moron. This is the Kleintal district with its numerous scattered Mennonite farm homes. But in the territory of the congregation are also included the "Grosstal" and the Münstertal. The Mennonites gave to the upper end of the Birstal the name "Grosstal" or Dachsfeldertal (Vallée des Tavannes), in which the most important towns are Tavannes, Reconvilier, Malleray, Bévilard, Sorvilier, and Court. In the side valley of the Trame are located Le Fuet, Saicourt, and Saules, with Champoz near the Moron elevation. The side valley of Chaluet near Court was earlier a great place of refuge for the Anabaptists and the seat of the extinct congregation of Tscheiwo.

The rocky mountain slopes of the region are covered with firs, and in the meadowlands on the summits are numerous separate farms. The soil is not fertile, and yields sparsely what industrious farmers can eke from it. The Moron chain reaches a height of 4,460 feet. On the plateau-like west foot of the chain stands the hamlet of Moron (elevation. 3,400 feet) with its school and chapel. Whereas in former times Chaluet (Tscheiwo) and Montagne de Moutier (Münsterberg) were the focal points of the Swiss Brethren in this community, Moron has now become the center.

The Moutier region, belonging to the prince-bishopric of Basel, was allied with Bern in 1486. Under Bern's protection the French-speaking population accepted the Reformation, and Bern controlled it in matters of religion and marriage. Thus the Moutier Valley had a Catholic spiritual prince, and a Protestant ally.

The Bernese government and the prince-bishop persecuted the Swiss Brethren on similar principles. But political considerations led the bishops to a more tolerant and lenient treatment, in spite of Bern's protests. The Swiss Brethren gradually earned the favor of the bishops and their officials by their quiet industry and competence. Even though the populace demanded the expulsion of the Swiss Brethren on economic grounds, orders of conscription were laxly enforced.

The territory of the Kleintal church was probably the first region of the Jura to be settled by persecuted Swiss Brethren. In April 1535 the prince-bishop of Basel notified the council of Solothurn (which was allied to Bern) that Anabaptists were moving into the mountains. An agreement was reached which permitted each canton to pursue Anabaptists into the other's territory. In 1538 a meeting was held between Bern and the bishop of Basel "for the extermination of this unchristian, damned sect." In March 1538 a disputation was held in Bern, at which the local Anabaptists were represented by Hans Heinrich Schneider of Moutier. In 1540 Bern sent orders to the bishop and the Moutier authorities, "that the Anabaptists be punished and stopped." There must have been a large number here. In 1596 the prince-bishop demanded of the provost and chapter of Moutier, that they clean out "the filth of the sect of Anabaptism highly damned in the Holy Roman Empire, in the Seehof." In 1622 Solothurn urged the persecution of certain Anabaptists, naming them. In 1693 the prince-bishop issued an edict of proscription. Though in the canton of Bern "looking through the fingers" was severely punishable, the prince-bishops officials were very lax in carrying out the edict. In 1720 a report on church conditions stated that there were many Swiss Brethren in the region.

In 1729 the landowners raised objections to the numerous orders of expulsion, saying that the native renters did not know how to utilize milk, and that the Swiss Brethren work brought much more money into the country. In 1731 the towns of Roche, Perrefitte, and Montagne de Moutier presented a petition for the banishment of the Anabaptists from the Moutier Valley, because they were in possession of many of the estates, while the natives were unemployed and roofless. A letter from Solothurn supported the petition, saying that the Swiss Brethren met on the "Brächbiel, by the old hut, Monteau, Schiltsberg." In 1732 these towns renewed their petition. Thus it is very unlikely that the orders of 1730 were painstakingly carried out.

In 1732 the prince-bishop demanded of Georg Moschard, "Bannerherr" of Moutier, a report on the Swiss Brethren. The report says, "They bring money into the land, they work land which without them yields no income; they live extremely modestly, visit no inns, give no occasion for complaint, pay twice as much rent as the natives could, and the landowners cannot be deprived of the right to choose their own workers."

In 1733 Swiss Brethren affairs took a dubious turn. On 15 January all the communities collectively demanded expulsion. 20 January brought a presentation in their favor from Court. In the Chaluet Valley in the district of Court, the Anabaptists of the 17th century had "as faithful and submissive subjects of the bishop peacefully made the hitherto unfilled land usable." (Geographisches Lexikon der Schweiz I, 440.) On 26 January came the petition for expulsion from Moutier Grandval, and on 27 January one from the 19 communities in the Prevote of Moutier Grandval. On the same day the prince-bishop issued an edict of banishment, giving owners three months and renters a year to leave. The commune of Court demanded a longer period of grace. The mayor of Moutier and the magistrate of Delemont were to give their opinion; these were very favorable to the Swiss Brethren. At this time Peter Ramseier (born 1706) was chosen preacher of the Kleintal church in 1730, and elder in 1732. In 1734 the Court community declared its opposition to exile and praised the 20 Swiss Brethren families living there.

The economic struggle continued. New complaints against the Swiss Brethren brought the reply from the prince in 1767, that no objective charges could be raised against these people, and that the interests of sound politics required an increase in the population of the state.

Thus they remained in the canton, even through the period of French domination. The story is still told on the Mennonite (leased) farm of Beroie, that when the French troops marched through in December 1797, they took possession of the monastery of Courtine de Bellelay and the 30 monks had to flee. The famous monastery school, which had been honored in 1784 by a visit of Prince Henry of Prussia and the duchess of Bourbon, was dissolved, the monastery sold, most of the land to Frenchmen, and new lands put up for lease. Nearly all of these lands were occupied by Swiss Brethren. Besides the Emmental cheese of their homeland they also manufactured the specialty of the monastery farm, the Bellelay cheese called Tête de moine.

From that time on this region became more and more prominent in the life of the Mennonites of modern Moutier. By emigration to America, Tscheiwo and Münsterberg lost in strength and in importance. A register of Mennonite families in 1832 in the Moutier district lists 126 households. Among them there were fifteen families named Moser, nine Lehmann, nine Bichsel, seven Burkhalter, seven Nussbaum, six Amstutz, six Baumgartner, six Boegli, six Neuenschwander, six Liechti, four Gerber, four Sprunger, four Kläy, three Augsburger, three Geiger, three Studer, three Oberli, three Steiner, three Wälti, and three Widmer.

In 1815 the entire region fell to the canton of Bern. The Bernese government did not molest the Mennonites of Kleintal (nor in the Jura in general), for which they sent the government a letter of thanks signed by Ulrich Röthlisberger, Jakob Engel, and Michael Gerber. In the 19th century the military question caused some unrest among the Swiss Mennonites. Until then they had been exempt from military service. The new federal constitution, however, brought universal conscription. In 1850 several brethren presented a petition for exemption, signed for Moutier by Peter Studer (Malleray), David Nussbaumer (La Côte, Souboz), and Peter Sommer (Vion near Tavannes, belonging to Sonnenberg). The famine years, 1819 and 1833, and the military question in 1850 and 1874 caused many families to emigrate to America. Their names disappear from the church records. After these emigrations the congregation of Kleintal numbered only 112 baptized members and 97 children in 1887. (Mannhardt, ]ahrbuch, 1888, 39.)

The Kleintal region was also the home of the nature doctor, Hans Moser in Champoz. "His house was constantly filled with patients seeking help, from dawn to dawn" (Ferd, Abrégé). "At that time the Mennonites were easily recognized by their gray clothing with hooks and the beard" (Ellenberger, 53). In the second half of the 19th century the religious life of the community had a peaceful course. Faithful ministers tried to prevent religious lethargy or deadness. A census of 1874 counted 390 Mennonites, including children, in the Moutier Valley.

Toward the end of the 19th century, three men became prominent in the church: Christian Gerber (see Gerber), died 3 October 1928, in Emmenholz (see Zionspilger, 1928, No. 43; Schweizer Bauer, 1928, No. 120), Gottlieb Loosli, a teacher in Moron, and Jakob Amstutz, born 25 April 1866, in Montbautier, and ordained elder on 9 September 1917.

In 1881 Christian Gerber leased a farm in Bellelay. With his vigorous and fiery temperament he at once set about securing a church building for the Kleintal congregation. With some financial aid from the German Mennonites the Kleintal church built a chapel in Moron in 1893. In 1899 Christian Gerber moved to Emmenholz and founded there a subsidiary of the Kleintal church. The church work was looked after by the quiet and retiring elder Peter Bogli, with Gottlieb Loosli and Jakob Amstutz as preachers. On 28 July 1908, the house of Amstutz in Les Cerniers was struck by lightning and burned to the ground, destroying all the manuscript church records.

This period was a very active one. A revival went through the church, bringing much blessing, awaking spirits. But perfectionism and fanaticism also sought entry, for a time completely destroying inner peace. From 1908 to 1913 members' meeting were not held. Through the conciliatory efforts of Gottlieb Loosli and the election of new elders and preachers on 6 September 1917, the difficulties were cleared away, and the church grew.

In 1934 the elders in service were Jakob Amstutz, Le Fuet; and Hans Geiser, Combe de Peux; the preachers were Samuel Geiser, Châtelat; Abraham Gerber, Emmenholz; and Eugen Burkhalter, La Côte (Souboz). In addition to the Moron chapel, which had a school in the ground floor, the church built a school-chapel at Perceux and at Montbautier. At the state (public) school in Moron Walter Loosli was the teacher; at the state school in Montbautier, Alfred Amstutz, and at the private school in Perceux, Katharina Sprunger. All three schools had nine grades. The enrollment at Moron was usually 30, at Montbautier and Perceux 25. The schools had a good reputation, and used the German language. Moron, Montbautier, and Perceux had Sunday schools and choruses. Two additional places had Sunday schools. Evangelistic meetings were held annually in Moron and Perceux, usually three or four days in January.

In 1934 the membership was 281 baptized members, and over 150 children, with about 65 families. In 1954 it had declined to about 250 baptized members. A section held its meetings at Reconvilier near Tavannes, another section held services in Biel. Both these groups were under the leadership of Elder Samuel Geiser, for many years elder at Moron and secretary of the Swiss Conference.

In 1954 the elders at the Moron center were Samuel Amstutz, Jacob Hirschi, Abraham Gerber, and Theo Loosli, with Eugen Burkhalter as preacher and Walter Loosli as deacon. Loosli was still teacher of the Moron school.


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Author(s) A. J. Amstutz-Tschirren
Harold S. Bender
Date Published 1953

Cite This Article

MLA style

Amstutz-Tschirren, A. J. and Harold S. Bender. "Kleintal Mennonite Church (Moutier, Switzerland)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 23 Jun 2021. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Kleintal_Mennonite_Church_(Moutier,_Switzerland)&oldid=144248.

APA style

Amstutz-Tschirren, A. J. and Harold S. Bender. (1953). Kleintal Mennonite Church (Moutier, Switzerland). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 23 June 2021, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Kleintal_Mennonite_Church_(Moutier,_Switzerland)&oldid=144248.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 201-203. All rights reserved.

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