Krimmer Mennonite Brethren

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Krimmer Mennonite Brethren Church (KMB) had its origin in the village of Annafeld near Simferopol, Crimea, Russia, on 21 September 1869, as a group of 19 persons, with Jakob A. Wiebe (1836-1921) as the actual founder. A group of Mennonite families from the Molotschna (Wiebe himself was from Ohrloff) about 1860 had bought a Muslim village in the Crimea, which they named Annafeld. Through a spontaneous religious revival most of the families in the village began to seek a more earnest Christian life and experienced conversion, Wiebe among them. Since Wiebe had become acquainted with a leader of the Kleine Gemeinde during a period of work as a hired hand in the Molotschna, he invited the Kleine Gemeinde elder, Johann Friesen, to visit the Annafeld group and organize them as a Kleine Gemeinde congregation, which the latter did in 1867. Wiebe was ordained as preacher, and soon thereafter as elder. Elder Peter Barg, who had transferred to the Kleine Gemeinde as preacher, was also accepted by the new group as their preacher. Friesen had refused to accede to the request of the Annafeld group for rebaptism, but the group remained dissatisfied on this point and finally proceeded to have one of their members (Kornelius Enns was chosen) rebaptize Elder Wiebe, who in turn on 21 September 1869, rebaptized 18 others. This is considered by the KMB group as their founding date. Trine immersion forward in a flowing stream was adopted as the mode. The group chose the name "Brüdergemeinde" but was soon called "Krimmer Mennoniten Brüdergemeinde" to distinguish it from the Mennoniten Brüdergemeinde (Mennonite Brethren Church) founded in the Molotschna in 1860, with which it had no connection. (Krim is the German name for Crimea.) The act of rebaptism constituted in effect a withdrawal of the Wiebe group from the Kleine Gemeinde, with which it had had fellowship for only a few years, although it was not a true schism from the historic Kleine Gemeinde group, since the entire Annafeld group continued under Wiebe's leadership. However, much of the ultraconservative spirit of the Kleine Gemeinde was transmitted into the Krimmer Mennonite Brethren group, in combination with the new KMB emphasis on conversion, assurance, and experience. There was little further connection between the Krimmer Mennonite Brethren and the Kleine Gemeinde, but in the United States a Kleine Gemeinde preacher, Abraham Klaassen, who had been ordained in 1869 in Russia, joined the KMB group in Kansas about 1879.

The new church grew slowly, and when they left for America in 1874 numbered only about 40 baptized members. All of the group emigrated except three families, a total of 20 families, the vanguard (the Krimmer Mennonite Brethren group were the first to receive passports) of the great emigration of Mennonites from Russia 1874-80 to the prairie states of the United States and to Manitoba. Their leaders on arrival were Elder Wiebe and Preacher Johann Harder (1836-1930), earlier from the Ohrloff Mennonite congregation at Blumstein in the Molotschna settlement, who had been elected minister in 1871 before the departure from Russia.

The Krimmer Mennonite Brethren group arrived in New York on 15 July 1874, and after some delay incurred in searching for land, during which the group as a whole remained at Elkhart, Indiana, they arrived at this new home, 14 miles northwest of Peabody, Marion County, Kansas on 16 August. Accustomed to village type settlement in Russia, the entire group settled as one village called Gnadenau, destined to become the most perfect of the few communal villages organized by the Mennonites in Kansas, although even it lasted only two or three years. The village never had a post office, and when in 1879 a branch of the Santa Fe railroad went through the north edge of the settlement, and Hillsboro was built on the line two miles north of the village, Gnadenau lost its future. The Gnadenau KMB group was very strict in various ways and this together with its variant practice of immersion (forward) prevented two Mennonite Brethren (MB) families which settled in the community in 1875 from joining it and led to the foundation of the Ebenfeld Mennonite Brethren congregation. The first Gnadenau church building, erected in 1874 of adobe walls with thatched roof, did not stand the weather; so a frame building was erected in 1877. On 15 February 1877, the congregation was incorporated as the "Gnadenau Mennonite Church." On 30 March 1899, the name was changed in the charter to "Crimean Mennonite Brethren Church," but popularly the name remained "Krimmer MB" In 1895 a new building was erected 2 1/2 miles south of Hillsboro.

Elder Jacob A. Wiebe served until his resignation in 1900, then was succeeded as elder by his brother Henry (1900-10), and he in turn by John J. Friesen (1910-37). The group suffered a heavy loss in membership when Elder Wiebe resigned. On 12 July 1917, the "Krimmer Mennonite Brethren Church of North America" was incorporated at Hillsboro.

Four additional Krimmer Mennonite Brethren congregations were established in Kansas: Springfield at Lehigh (1902), Zoar at Inman, Lyons in Rice County, and one in Butler County. The last two did not survive long. Additional congregations were established as follows: South Dakota (Bridgewater 1886, Yale 1902, Doland 1919, Onida 1920, Huron 1947); Saskatchewan (Waldheim 1899, Langham 1901); California (Dinuba 1911). The following further congregations did not survive: Oklahoma (Bethel near Hooker 1907-1919, and Bethel near Weatherford 1897-1937); Kansas (Emmanuel near Garden City 1918-36); North Dakota (Emmanuel near Chasely 1921-1932). A small congregation was established at Jansen (near Fairbury, Nebraska, USA) in 1880, largely out of converts from the Kleine Gemeinde, which continued until 1930. In the same year 1880 John Holdeman attempted to win the KMB group at Gnadenau to his views, but failed. In that year or 1879 Abr. Klassen, a Kleine Gemeinde preacher from Jansen, joined the KMB group.

The Krimmer Mennonite Brethren Conference counted its first regular session to have been held in 1880, although records were not kept before 1882. It met annually thereafter.

On 15 September 1890, the KMB Conference was granted a charter for the "Industrial School and Hygenic Home for Friendless Persons," an orphans' home which was built just north of the original Gnadenau village site in 1894. It was operated for about 20 years, then was converted into the Salem Home for the Aged and Helpless. In 1918 the Krimmer Mennonite Brethren group joined with the Mennonite Brethren group to establish the Salem Hospital in Hillsboro.

In 1886 the KMB Conference opened mission work among the colored people at Elk Park, North Carolina, the first Mennonite African American work. The conference never had a foreign mission board but supported foreign missionaries at work under other boards. Its Foreign Missions Committee represented the mission interests of the conference. In 1940 the KMB Conference officially joined in the support of Tabor College (Mennonite Brethren Church) by appointing a member on the Tabor board.

Always deeply religious in nature and emphasizing a deep inner experience, regeneration, assurance of salvation, and holy living, the Krimmer Mennonite Brethren group stood for an intensely serious and strict manner of life. The group was very conservative and very slow to make changes in outward forms in dress and in general habits and customs, insisting upon maintaining the customs brought along from Russia and resisting Americanization and worldliness. Clothing was made of good materials but no lace or ornamentation was allowed. For many years the women were not allowed to wear hats to church but wore kerchiefs, shawls, or bonnets on their heads, and always wore white aprons to church. Children were dressed like their parents. The wearing of neckties and detachable collars by the men was banned. Since about 1900, however, the KMB have adopted the common dress of the American community.

In worship the simple older practices were long observed. Musical instruments and choirs were introduced only about 1940. Part singing was long forbidden. Other prohibitions included life insurance, voting at elections other than school elections, taking photographs, and serving on juries. Shunning of excommunicated was practiced. All these practices were dropped, although a certain heritage of strictness, earnestness, and warmth continued to characterize the religious spirit of the group.

In recent years negotiations have been carried on looking toward a merger with the Mennonite Brethren group on the basis of an overture of 1951 from the MB group. These plans were initially dropped at the 1954 conference, but the original Gnadenau congregation withdrew from the KMB Conference in that year and merged with the nearby Lehigh Mennonite Brethren congregation.

A merger was completed with the Mennonite Brethren in 1960.

Before the Gnadenau withdrawal the 1954 conference statistical report revealed the following membership figures: Kansas, 3 congregations, Gnadenau (1874) 120, Springfield at Lehigh (1902) 90, Zoar (1879) 349; California, 1 congregation, Zion at Dinuba (1911) 262; South Dakota, 5 congregations, Bethel at Yale (1902) 315, Salem at Bridgewater (1886) 222, Emmanuel at Onida (1920) 92, Ebenezer at Doland 105, Bethesda at Huron (1947) 52; Saskatchewan, 2 congregations, Salem at Waldheim (1899) ca. 100, Emmanuel at Langham (1901) 52. The reported membership in the eleven congregations was 1,791. In addition there were nine mission points, not including the work among the African Americans in North Carolina.

D. M. Hofer and J. W. Tschetter were joint founders of the KMB City Mission at 2182 Lincoln Ave., Chicago, and also joint publishers of the periodical Der Wahrheitsfreund, which served as the conference organ 1915-47. The Christian Witness (1941-1960) was the conference organ until merger with the Mennonite Brethren. The Salem congregation in Saskatchewan joined the Evangelical Mennonite Brethren (Fellowship of Evangelical Bible Churches) after the merger, rather than the Mennonite Brethren.

Among the outstanding leaders of the KMB group in the first third of the 20th century were David E. Harder (1872-1930), son of the noted preacher Johann Harder, who has also served on the faculties of three Mennonite colleges: Tabor, Bethel, and Freeman; P. A. Wiebe, D. M. Hofer, and J. W. Tschetter. H. C. Bartel founded and led for many years the first Mennonite mission in China (1901-1949), which was largely staffed and supported by the KMB Church, though never officially conducted by the board.


Bericht über die zwei Beratungen, die am 21. Oct. und 11. Nov. 1895 stattfanden. Hillsboro, KS, 1895.

Friesen, Peter M. The Mennonite Brotherhood in Russia (1789-1910), trans. J.B. Toews, et al. Fresno, CA : Board of Christian Literature, 1980.

Die Geistreiche Lieder-Auswahl für Familien und öffentliche Erbauungen mit Sorgfalt gesammelt von der Krimmer Mennoniten Brüdergemeinde. Erste Auflage. Elkhart, IN, Mennonite Publishing Co., 1884.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. II, 574 f.

Konferenzbeschlüsse der Krimmer Mennoniten Brüdergemeinde von Nord-Amerika, zwischen den Jahren 1882 bis 1940. Inman, KS.

Konstitution der Krimmer Mennoniten Brüdergemeinde von Nord-Amerika nebst Freibrief. N.p., 1927.

Pantle, Albert. "Settlement of the Krimmer Mennonite Brethren at Gnadenau, Marion County." Kansas Historical Quarterly 13 (1945): 259-85.

Der Wahrheitsfreund contains scattered historical articles (1944, Nos. 13 and 15; 1946, Nos. 9-14 and 18-21; No. 22.

Waters, L. L. Steel Trails to Santa Fe. Lawrence, KA, 1950, contains (229-31) an account by Elder Jakob Wiebe of the early years of the Gnadenau village written in Wiebe's old age for A. E. Case of the Santa Fe Railway and deposited in manuscript in the possession of the company.

Wiebe, J. A. Das Entstehen der Krimmer Mennoniten Brüder Gemeinde in Sud-Russland im Jahre 1869. Elkhart, IN, 1905, 7 pp.

Wiebe, P. A. Kurze Biographie des Bruders Jakob A. Wiebe, Seine Jugend, Seine Bekehrung, und wie die Krimmer Mennoniten Brüdergemeinde gegründet wurde. Hillsboro, KS, 1924, 27 pp.

Yearbook of the Krimmer Mennonite Brethren Church of North America.

Additional Information

Denominational Membership

Year Churches Members
1925 24 1,450
1929 26 1,675
1935 16 1,680
1937 18 1,985
1940 12 1,558
1947 9 1,408
1950 9 1,593
1955 10 1,600
1959 21 1,578

Source: ARDA: The Association of Religion Data Archives. "Krimmer Mennonite Brethren Church." 20 June 2013.

Author(s) Harold S Bender
Date Published 1957

Cite This Article

MLA style

Bender, Harold S. "Krimmer Mennonite Brethren." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 19 Nov 2018.

APA style

Bender, Harold S. (1957). Krimmer Mennonite Brethren. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 19 November 2018, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 242-245. All rights reserved.

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