Mennonite Brethren Church

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This article was written in the mid-1950s and will be updated in the future. Please refer to links in the updated table at the end of this article for more current information on Mennonite Brethren in a number of national conferences.


The Mennonite Brethren (MB) Church, which constitutes an integral part of the general body of Mennonites, had its beginning among the Mennonite settlements of southern Russia in 1860. Here it established itself in its doctrinal position, experienced its early growth and spread, and made some definite contribution toward Mennonite life and history. In the migration of Mennonites from Russia to North America 1874-80, there were also members of the Mennonite Brethren Church and so the church was in part transplanted to America. Here it has experienced its largest expansion and growth, and made its chief contribution toward the sum total of Mennonite life and activity. As a fruit of its foreign mission effort the Mennonite Brethren Church has become established in India, China, Republic of the Congo, Africa, where through the converts that have been won, indigenous MB churches have sprung up. Through Mennonite immigrations from Europe into Paraguay and Brazil since 1930 the MB Church has also been transplanted to this continent, and through foreign mission effort converts from among the Indian tribes in Paraguay and from the nationals in Colombia have been won, resulting in the beginning of indigenous churches in these two countries. A fair historical presentation of the MB Church therefore calls for a treatment of the Mennonite Brethren Church in Russia; the Mennonite Brethren Church in North America; and the Mennonite Brethren Church in other countries.

The Mennonite Brethren Church in Russia

The Religious Awakening Which Led to the Beginning of the Mennonite Brethren Church

A settlement of Mennonites, mostly of Dutch origin, migrated from Prussia into South Russia in 1788, and settled at Chortitza, province of Ekaterinoslav. In 1803 a still larger group migrated and established the Molotschna settlement, in the province of Taurida, further south. These colonists struggled with poverty, epidemics, and other hardships during their pioneer years, but ultimately succeeded in making their settlements some of the most prosperous in the Tsar's domain. They enjoyed a limited amount of self-government, exemption from military service, and freedom of religion. As there was a lack of ministers and of strong religious leaders from the beginning, the spiritual life in these settlements was low during the first half century. In culture and education there was retrogression, and the schools prior to 1850 were of an inferior quality.

Beginning with 1845 a religious awakening spread over the settlements. For this there were several contributing factors. In 1835 a new group of settlers had come from Brenkenhoffswalde, Prussia, and founded the village of Gnadenfeld, Molotschna. They had formerly come in touch with the Moravian Brethren and had received inspiration and stimulus from them. This group exerted some influence on their surroundings and were later the center of new religious life. Another factor in the spiritual awakening had its origin in a settlement of Lutheran Pietists, who had located at Neu-Hoffnung, south of the Molotschna settlement. This church called Edward Wüst from Germany to come and be their pastor, and he served them from 1845 until his death in 1859. Wüst was a powerful personality and a very effective speaker, a man of deep emotions and of strong religious convictions. His message was definitely evangelical, stressing repentance, conversion, and a life consistent with the Christian faith.

Wüst's work had a remarkable influence on his own congregation as well as on the neighboring Mennonites, whom he occasionally also served as guest speaker. Many of them attended the annual mission festivals which Wüst instituted, and some also his regular church services. The result was that Wüst gained an entrance into the Mennonite settlements. In various places groups began to meet for prayer and for the study of the Bible. Those participating in such gatherings called themselves "Brethren." This revived religious life was not generally understood in the settlement and was at times suppressed rather than nurtured. Among those taking an opposing attitude were ministers and even church elders. Some unsound manifestations accompanied the movement in its early stages and this may partly account for the antagonistic position many took. The movement itself was, however, the most remarkable religious awakening and the most influential revival of spiritual life in the history of the Mennonites in Russia.

The Beginning of the Mennonite Brethren Church

As the groups of Brethren increased and became more united, they raised objections to certain practices and inconsistencies of conduct on the part of members of the church and insisted on church discipline. Since this was not carried out as they believed that it should be done, they requested that communion service be administered to them separately. This the church elders declined to do. Thereupon a group of the Brethren met in December 1859 and held a communion service among themselves. This event soon became known and caused a great turmoil in the church. Some of the Brethren were called before the church and were asked to apologize and to promise that they would refrain from this in the future. They, however, did not concede to this, but rather justified their action and claimed Scriptural ground for the step they had taken. Thereupon six members of the Gnadenfeld church were asked to withdraw from the congregation.

Heinrich Hübert, 1810-1895

On 6 January 1860, a number of the Brethren met in the village of Elisabeththal, Molotschna, and took steps to form a separate church. They drew up a written statement addressed to the elders of the church, in which they declared themselves an independent church and stated their reasons for taking this step. They also stated their intention to remain within the Mennonite brotherhood of the settlement. This document was signed by 18 men. This event is regarded as the beginning of the Mennonite Brethren Church, and the 18 men as constituting the first congregation. Abraham Cornelsen, Johann Claassen, and Heinrich Hübert appear to have been the leading men. Upon receiving this document the elders of the church met and forbade this organization and ordered that no separate religious meetings should be held by the Brethren. They also referred this matter to the local Mennonite council of the settlement. This council forbade the holding of any religious meetings of a private or secret nature.

Several years of acute trials for the Brethren and of strained relationships between them and the existing Mennonite Church followed. The young Mennonite Brethren Church, however, grew and was able to continue. Through the prolonged efforts of Johann Claassen, in which he applied to the higher government officials in St. Petersburg, the MB Church at last received recognition and legal status in the Mennonite settlements. Meanwhile groups of Brethren in the older Chortitza settlement had likewise organized themselves into a church and joined in fellowship with those in the Molotschna settlement. These Brethren in Chortitza for some time met with persecution and passed through a period of severe testings.

In its position the early Mennonite Brethren Church strongly stressed repentance from sin, conversion as a personal experience of faith in Christ, a life of prayer, and a conduct consistent with the teachings of the Bible. In general the MB Church continued to adhere to the teachings of Menno Simons, renouncing military service, abstaining from taking oath, and adhering to a simple way of life. The immersion form of baptism upon a personal confession of faith in Jesus Christ was early instituted and required for church membership. Church discipline for improper conduct of members was practiced. The ministry was elected from among the membership. On 30 May 1860, the Mennonite Brethren Church assembled and elected Heinrich Hübert as elder and Jacob Becker as minister.

Growth and Activity of the Church

David Duerksen, 1850-1910

In spite of difficulties within and opposition from without, the Mennonite Brethren Church continued to grow and to spread. The years 1865-72 marked a period of peace, of prosperity, and of rapid growth. The Molotschna congregation, with its center at Rückenau, was fortunate in securing a number of able and devout leaders. Among these were Jacob Jantz, Christian Schmidt, Johann Fast, and Abraham Schellenberg, and a little later David Dürksen and David Schellenberg. The Chortitza congregation, centered in the large village of Einlage, increased even more rapidly, and for a number of years was the largest MB congregation. Its early elders and leading men were Abraham Unger and Aaron Lepp. In 1873 Elder Heinrich Hübert moved to the new Kuban settlement, east of the Black Sea, where land had been procured for a settlement of the Mennonite Brethren. Here also a congregation developed. The MB Church also spread to the new settlements of Friedensfeld and Tiege-Zagradovka, to the settlements east of the Don River and at Mariupol, and still further east to the Volga River.

The several MB churches convened for their first general conference (Bundeskonferenz) 14-16 May 1872. The congregations from Chortitza, Molotschna, and Kuban participated. At this time the total communicant membership numbered 600. Since then a conference was held annually, until the revolution following World War I brought about conditions which made its continuation impossible. The conference was the means by which the Mennonite Brethren Church remained united as one body, by which it maintained and expressed its position, and by which it directed and promoted its common activities.

A confession of faith was drawn up in 1873, adopted by the conference and printed in 1876. This Confession of Faith was thoroughly revised in 1900 and then adopted by the conference as well as by the separate churches. It was published at Halbstadt in 1902. Later the Mennonite Brethren Church in North America adopted this Confession of Faith as its statement of belief and conduct and in 1917 had it translated into English and published.

The emigration to America in 1874-80 drew considerably from the membership of the Mennonite Brethren Church, including some of its leading ministers. After this period the church again increased, and in 1885, when it celebrated its 25th anniversary, the MB Church in Russia had a total membership of 1,800, and 7 congregations with meetinghouse and 10 other places of worship. The ministry consisted of 4 elders and 35 other ministers.

A period of industrial and economic expansion and growth among the Mennonites of Russia marked the three decades following 1885, which was accompanied by a rapid advance in education and in cultural life, Village schools were greatly improved. Higher institutions of learning, known as "Zentralschulen," were established at various centers. The Mennonite Brethren Church did not establish its own schools or other institutions, but cooperated in this with the existing Mennonite body, thus contributing its share and reaping of the benefits.

The Mennonite Brethren Church zealously undertook home mission work from the very beginning and continued this as long as possible. With the organization of the church into a conference, the conference directed and promoted this work. A number of effective evangelists and itinerating ministers (Reiseprediger) have done very useful work for the church. In 1890 the MB Church began a foreign mission among the Telugus of the Hyderabad State, South India, by sending the Abraham Friesens to this field as their first missionaries. In its foreign mission effort the MB Church cooperated with the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society and affiliated itself with this body. A total of 18 Mennonite Brethren missionaries were sent from Russia to this field. The three mission stations, Nalgonda, Sooriapet, and Jangaon, were built by them, and the work in this responsive field proved to be very successful. The records, closing the year 1910, show a total of 3,000 baptized church members in the indigenous church. When World War I broke out in 1914 and the Mennonite Brethren Church in Russia found it impossible to continue the mission, the American Baptist Mission took it over completely and has continued since.

In publication efforts the Mennonite Brethren Church found its expression in the periodical Friedensstimme, which was published by Abraham Kroeker 1903-20, and which can be regarded as the official organ of the church.

When the Mennonite Brethren Church celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1910, it had spread still further east to include congregations in Orenburg, Russian Turkestan, and Omsk, Siberia; it had advanced southward, where congregations had begun in the Crimean peninsula; it had extended to the west, where congregations had been established in Poland. The total membership at this time was 6,000. With the coming of World War I and the revolution with its period of chaos and the famine that followed, calamities and untold sufferings became the fate of the Mennonite Brethren as well as of other Mennonites in Russia. The change to an atheistic and communistic government made it difficult for evangelical churches to maintain themselves. From 1923 to 1929 many of the Mennonite Brethren migrated to Canada; others later found a new home in South America. We can hardly speak of a functioning MB Church in Russia since 1929.

The Mennonite Brethren Church in North America

The Settlement of the Mennonite Brethren in North America

When the government of Russia instituted universal military service in 1870, the Mennonites, who had thus far enjoyed complete exemption from such service, were in danger of losing their privileges. The government had decreed that Mennonite settlers should be under obligation to render such service beginning with 1880. Though this order was later modified so that Mennonite young men could substitute work in the forestry department instead, many decided to emigrate to North America. In 1874 this emigration to the New World set in, and in the decade which followed many Mennonites left Russia to establish their home in the United States, settling mainly in Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, and North and South Dakota. No Mennonite Brethren members settled in Canada at this time. They were not able to form closed settlements in America, as they had done in Russia, but they were fortunate in procuring vast stretches of fertile farm land in the Middle West, where they established themselves in large settlements. Through industry and thrift they managed to found their homes and at the same time took care of their spiritual needs. Worship services were at first held in homes and in schoolhouses, and as soon as possible they erected church buildings.

Among these immigrants were about 200 Mennonite Brethren families, though most of these were not in the first groups which came. Several families settled in Harvey and Reno counties, Kansas in 1874, and others came into this community later. This group established the Ebenezer congregation, east of Buhler, the first MB congregation in America. A large congregation, the Ebenfeld MB Church, began in Marion County, Kansas, in 1875. Similar congregations had their beginning in Kansas at this time in Goessel and Lehigh, and a little later in Hillsboro and Marion. The one at Marion joined the German Baptists in 1895.

A congregation known as the Henderson Mennonite Brethren Church began in York and Hamilton counties, Nebraska in 1876. This grew rapidly and was for some time one of the largest MB churches in America. Several smaller congregations began in Nebraska, one in Boone County, which continued only a few years, and one at Jansen, which has discontinued. Of the Mennonite Brethren coming from the Volga settlement in Russia, congregations were established at Eldorado, Sutton, Hastings, and Culbertson, Nebraska.

Among the Mennonites settling in Cottonwood County, Minnesota, 1875-76, were several members of the Mennonite Brethren Church. These began their own services and started a congregation. Through baptism of new converts and the coming of later immigrants a church of more than 100 members grew up in a few years. This church was for many years one of the largest in the MB constituency. It was long centered in the rural community at Bingham Lake, but ultimately developed into the two congregations, Mountain Lake and Carson.

A Mennonite Brethren congregation began in Turner County, South Dakota in 1876, which is today known as the Dolton or Silver Lake MB Church. Several other groups of MB members settled in other parts of South Dakota and began services, but these did not materialize into permanent congregations.

The Establishment of the Mennonite Brethren Church

In the establishment of the Mennonite Brethren Church the local congregation fulfilled a very important spiritual function. As a rule the members came from homes marked by simplicity, piety, and religious fervor, where daily worship in the family was kept up. Church services were therefore usually also well attended. The Sunday morning church service in early years consisted of hearty congregational singing, a short prayer service led by a lay brother, and two sermons by ministers. The Sunday school, which was instituted almost immediately, was for many years conducted on Sunday afternoon. Christian young people's societies began in the larger congregations in 1898. These societies proved to be of immense value in occupying the young people and keeping them attached to the church. Church choirs began at the same time, and worship in song occupied an important place in services. The use of musical instruments in church began some time later.

The Mennonite Brethren Church held to the plurality of ministers until the 1950s. In early years the presiding minister of a larger congregation held the position of elder (now discontinued) and was assisted by other ministers and by deacons. Ministers as well as deacons were elected from the ranks of the congregation by ballot and after they had proved themselves worthy of their office, were ordained. The ministry was not professional in the sense that it was trained in an institution or employed by the church for full-time service with a stipulated salary. These men usually made their living by farming, and only where need arose did the church give them some support. Their ministry, however, gave evidence of deep consecration to God, and their messages showed that they had attained a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures through constant study. They manifested a grave concern for the spiritual welfare of the individual members, and pastoral house to house visitation was much practiced by this type of ministry. In the 1950s many of the larger congregations, however, selected and employed a full-time minister with a stipulated salary.

The Mennonite Brethren Church in America apparently lacked strong leadership in the five years prior to 1879. In the following years, a number of outstanding men either came with later immigrating groups or emerged from the existing congregations. Among those who have had a leading part in establishing the church and who left their impress on it were Abraham Schellenberg, Cornelius P. Wedel, Johann Foth, and David Dyck in Kansas, Johann J. Regier in Nebraska, Heinrich Voth in Minnesota, and Heinrich Adrian in South Dakota. These men stood out as the leadership of the church and of its activities for many years.

On 8-20 October 1879, representative delegates from Mennonite Brethren churches in Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, and South Dakota met at Henderson, Nebraska and organized the General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches. The purpose for organizing was to build up the churches in their spiritual life, to give united expression to the position the church holds on various points, and to work unitedly in the various church activities. Such a general conference was held annually 1879-1909, and after then triennially. These conferences were a very important factor in the upbuilding of the MB Church and in the furtherance of its various activities.

The Growth and Spread of the Mennonite Brethren Church

To show the growth and spread of the MB Church during its 75 years of history in North America, the time may conveniently be divided into three periods of equal length. In 1874-1899 the church had not only established itself in the localities already mentioned but it also spread into new areas. Through effective home mission work on the part of the conference, a congregation materialized near Winkler, Manitoba in 1888. This was the first one in Canada and it grew into one of the largest in the conference. Through new settlements of Mennonite Brethren coming from the United States, several small congregations began in the region west of Rosthern, Saskatchewan about 1895. In this area the churches of Dalmeny, Hepburn, Bruderfeld, Waldheim, Laird, Neu-Hoffnung, Aberdeen, and Borden developed. There were at this time also the beginnings of churches in North Dakota (McClusky, Munich, Harvey, and Sawyer), Colorado (Joes and Denver), Texas (Premont, Los Ebanos, and missions Grulla and Chihuahua), and Oregon (Dallas and Salem). The most noted expansion was, however, in Oklahoma, where the government opened vast tracts of land for homesteads, and many young farmers from MB churches in Kansas and Nebraska settled on these lands. Churches sprang up at Corn, Gotebo, Okeene, Süd-Hoffnungsfeld near Isabella, Nord-Hoffnungsfeld near Fairview, North Enid, and Medford.

Statistics for this period are meager. The earliest ones published appeared in Zionsbote for 1888 (No. 2) and are quoted by Peter M. Friesen (in Brüderschaft). These give the following figures: churches and places of worship 18, total church membership 1,266, elders 7, ordained ministers and deacons 29, unordained ministers and deacons 23. Toward the close of the 19th century the membership of the Mennonite Brethren Church in North America was probably a little over 2,000,

During the period 1899-1924 the church continued to increase steadily in numbers and to spread into further new areas. A Mennonite settlement in Southern Saskatchewan, centered at Herbert, led to the formation of a cluster of congregations, among which the larger ones were Herbert, Main Centre, Bethania, Green Farm, Elim, and Woodrow. Through new settlements in Montana, Manitoba congregations began at Lustre, Volt, Larslan, and Chinook. In Michigan two small congregations began, which later discontinued. Churches also began at Paxton, Nebraska, at Hooker and Boyd in western Oklahoma, and at Collinsville and Inola in eastern Oklahoma. Several further congregations also began in California, among which the principal ones are Reedley, Orland, Lodi, Shafter, Rosedale, Bakersfield, Los Angeles, and Escondido. The total membership of the MB Church in 1924 stood at 8,422.

The period 1924-49 shows a very rapid growth of the Mennonite Brethren Church in Canada. This increase was mainly due to the immigration of many Mennonites from Russia, 1923-30. Among them a fair percentage were Mennonite Brethren. These either joined existing MB congregations or formed new ones where they settled. In the 1950s the Mennonite Brethren Church was well represented with congregations in the provinces of Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia, and in each of these provinces they were organized into provincial conferences. Through this influx from Russia the church not only gained in numbers, but also received some strong leaders, able ministers, and well-qualified teachers, who contributed much toward the spiritual welfare and the educational advance of the church. Leading congregations at this time in Canada were in Winnipeg, Kitchener, Vineland, Coaldale, Abbotsford and Sardis.

In the United States the Mennonite Brethren Church shows a steady growth during this time, but not a noted spread into further new territory. Here its constituency was composed of three district conferences: the Central District Conference comprising the congregations in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Montana; the Southern District Conference comprising those of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Colorado; and the Pacific District Conference comprising those of California, Oregon, and Washington.

The total membership of the Mennonite Brethren Church, according to the statistics compiled by A. A. Schroeter, as of 1 January 1948, was 19,169. Of these, 9,500 represented 59 local churches in the United States, and 9,579 the 83 congregations in Canada. In 1954 the the total was 24,136, with 11,930 in the United States in 65 congregations, and 12,206 in Canada in 81 congregations.

The Doctrinal Position and Organization of the Mennonite Brethren Church

The Mennonite Brethren Church has from the beginning held to the verbal and plenary inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, and it expects its members to conform to teachings of Scripture in faith and in conduct. The Confession of Faith as adopted in 1902 is intended to give a brief summarized statement of faith as understood to be the teaching of the Scriptures. In the 1950s the Mennonite Brethren Church held to the teachings and practices generally held by Mennonites. Participation in military service was forbidden. Conversion, in which the individual repents from sin and in faith accepts Jesus Christ as his personal Saviour, was regarded as essential for salvation and for membership in the church. The immersion form of baptism was required and no other form permitted. The Holy Communion service was observed and the washing of saints' feet was practiced. In the congregations of the United States an almost complete change came from the use of the German language in worship services to that of the English, while in Canada German was mostly held to.

The General Mennonite Brethren Conference remained the channel through which the church as a whole maintained its organization, defined its position on doctrine and practice, and conducted its activities. In 1900 the Conference drew up a charter in order to incorporate itself under the state law of Kansas. In 1908 it framed a constitution to regulate its activities. This constitution was thoroughly revised in 1936 and was enlarged to cover the newer department of conference activities. According to the provisions in this constitution, the spiritual welfare of the church was supervised by the Committee of Reference and Counsel; its property and funds was taken care of by the Board of Trustees; the various phases of activity, such as foreign missions, city missions, publication, education, relief, Sunday school, and youth interests, were directed by the respective boards elected by the conference for this purpose. The General MB Conference has been meeting once every three years since 1909, when it elects its officers and boards and provides for the continuation of its work. The three district conferences in the United States and the Canadian conference convene annually and they confine themselves mainly to their home mission program, to care for the churches in their respective areas, and to matters of local interest. In addition there are provincial conferences in Canada which meet annually.

The Activities of the Mennonite Brethren Church

The MB Church has from its very beginning had a warm heart for missions and has to the present regarded these as its most important form of activity. The constituency has usually been liberal in its contributions for this purpose, many young people have consecrated themselves for this service.

Home missions, until 1909 conducted by the General MB Conference and since then by the district conferences, have been basic in the activity of the church. This work consisted in arranging and holding prolonged evangelistic meetings in the congregations and in neglected communities. Such meetings often resulted in revivals and conversions and largely account for the rapid increase of the church. Extension work among Russians in North Dakota, Saskatchewan, and later also in other parts of Canada, resulted in the formation of several Russian MB congregations. Work among Mexicans in Oklahoma and in Texas has resulted in conversions among these people and in the beginning of congregations.

A city mission under the direction of the General Mennonite Brethren Conference has been conducted at Minneapolis, Minneapolis since 1910. In 1948 the City Mission Board also began a mission among the Jews in Winnipeg, Manitoba. A number of city missions are carried on by the several district conferences.

The Mennonite Brethren Church in North America has from its early years felt a special urge to do foreign mission work. In 1884 it began to send financial support to missions with which it was acquainted and continued this for 14 years. A Foreign Missions Committee was appointed by the Conference in 1889 which was instructed to find a mission field among the North American Indians and to look for suitable workers. This plan was carried out in 1894 when a mission to the Comanche Indian tribe in southern Oklahoma was begun. A mission to the Telugus of the Hyderabad State in Southern India was established in 1899 and the Conference has since taken over mission fields in Southern China, Western China, Republic of the Congo, Africa, and in Paraguay, Brazil, and Colombia, South America. In all by 1955, 137 missionaries had been sent forth and supported by the MB Conference. Besides these many have gone out and worked in other missions. The Foreign Missions financial statement for the fiscal year ending 1 October 1948, shows the total receipts to be $256,602.22; the disbursements for the same period are $255,952.91.

The MB Church began its publication activities in 1884, when the conference elected a committee of three to arrange for the editing and printing of a church paper. This resulted in the founding of the Zionsbote in 1885 with J. F. Harms as editor. At first this periodical appeared quarterly, since 1886 monthly, and since 1899 weekly. It was the MB church organ until 1964, and was printed mainly in the German language. John F. Harms began an MB Publishing House at Medford, Oklahoma in 1898. The press was moved to McPherson, Kansas, in 1907 where the church established a publishing house under the management of Abraham L. Schellenberg, who also became editor of the Zionsbote at that time. In 1912 the conference transferred its publishing interests to Hillsboro, Kansas, where it erected a publishing house in 1913. P. H. Berg served as business manager 1929-48. The Christian Leader was published in English as a monthly paper 1936-48 and since then twice a month. In Canada the Mennonitische Rundschau served as an unofficial church organ for Canada. The Konferenz-Jugendblatt (1945) served as the official youth organ for Canada. The Mennonite Observer (1955-1961) was succeeded by the Mennonite Brethren Herald as the Canadian English paper.

The Mennonite Brethren Church early realized the need of establishing its own school to provide Biblical instruction as well as general education for her young people. This sentiment was expressed at the conference in 1883. In 1884 J. F. Harms began a private school at Canada, Kansas, which provided elementary instruction in German, English, and Bible. A school association (Schulverein) took over this school in 1886 and continued it at Lehigh, Kansas, two years longer. A similar school was begun at Buhler, Kansas, a little later with J. F. Duerksen as teacher. The MB Conference undertook its first project in education at McPherson in 1899, when by arrangement with the faculty and board of trustees of McPherson College it began a German Department School in the college building. This school was under the direction of J. F. Duerksen and continued until 1904. From the students of these early schools came a number of outstanding leaders, evangelists, ministers, missionaries, educators, and other workers of the MB Church, such as M. M. Just, J. H. Pankratz, D. F. Bergthold, F. J. Wiens, H. W. Lohrenz, Henry S. Voth, and others.

In the winter of 1907-1908 a school association was organized among members of the Mennonite Brethren Church and members of the Krimmer Mennonite Brethren Church. This association established Tabor College at Hillsboro as a Christian college to meet the educational needs of the two churches. The school began its first term of instruction in the fall of 1908 with H. W. Lohrenz, P. C. Hiebert, and P. P. Rempel as teaching staff. These were soon joined by D. E. Harder and H. F. Toews. Tabor College continued under the direction of the association until 1933, when it was taken over by the Mennonite Brethren General Conference, which has since operated the institution through its Board of Education. The college has provided training for many useful workers of the church.

Though the educational interests of the Mennonite Brethren Church have largely centered in Tabor College since 1908, other institutions have likewise contributed toward the education and training of many of her young people. Among those in the United States are Corn Bible School and Academy, Corn, Oklahoma.; Immanuel Bible School and Academy, Reedley, California; Pacific Bible Institute (later Pacific College), Fresno, California. In Canada Mennonite Brethren churches established Bible schools at Herbert, Saskatchewan (Herbert Bible School), Winkler, Manitoba (Winkler Bible Institute), Hepburn, Saskatchewan (Bethany Bible Institute, now Bethany College), and Coaldale, Alberta (Coaldale Bible School). In 1948 there were nine Bible schools and five church high schools serving the constituency of the Canadian MB Church. In 1944 the Canadian MB Conference established Mennonite Brethren Bible College, Winnipeg, Manitoba for training ministers, evangelists, Bible school teachers, and missionaries. In 1955 the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary was established by the Board of Education at Fresno, California as the official seminary of the church. Meanwhile the Pacific Bible Institute, founded in 1943 as a two-year institute, had grown into a college, Fresno Pacific College (now Fresno Pacific University).

The Mennonite Brethren Church has carried out an extensive program of relief work for many years, under the direction of its Board of Relief and General Welfare. In its foreign relief effort and in rehabilitation this Board is affiliated with the Mennonite Central Committee, and P. C. Hiebert served as chairman 1920-57.

During World War II many young men of the MB Church were drafted for service. Of these a large number agreed to do only Civilian Public Service. The MB Church, in collaboration with other Mennonite bodies, participated in caring for their spiritual nurture and meeting their needs in camp.

The Mennonite Brethren Church in Other Lands


The Mennonite Brethren Church has been transplanted to India through foreign mission effort. The Mennonite Brethren Church in Russia sent its first missionary, Abraham Friesen, to India in 1890 and a mission was begun among the Telugus in the southeastern part of the Hyderabad State. Since this work was affiliated with the American Baptist Telugu Mission, the resultant indigenous church was Baptist and with the discontinuance of the MB Mission from Russia, when World War I broke out in 1914, the whole work was taken over by the Baptist Mission.

The American MB Church sent its first missionary, N. N. Hiebert, to India in 1899 and a mission was begun among the Telugus in the southern part of the Hyderabad State, west of the field worked by the Brethren from Russia. In this field, which has from time to time been enlarged so that it covered an area of 10,000 square miles having a population of 1,500,000, the work greatly prospered. The conference had by the 1950s sent 46 missionaries to this field and had eight main mission stations, where it operated the work. Evangelism was strongly emphasized in the mission and occupied the major part of the missionaries' time and effort. An indigenous church has sprung up, known as the "Andhra Mennonite Brethren Church," which in the 1950s totaled over 12,000 communicant members. This church holds to the doctrinal principles of the American MB Church and is similar in organization and church polity. The membership of the whole constituency was composed of 57 local churches. In each of the eight station-fields these churches were organized into a "field association." All the churches of the whole mission area were organized into a convention, which corresponded to the MB Conference in the homeland. This convention bore the name "Andhra Mennonite Brethren Convention," and held its meetings annually.


The Mennonite Brethren Church entered China through its missionaries. Several members of the MB Church labored as missionaries in the Mennonite Mission in Shantung and Honan province, China. This mission was of an inter-Mennonite constituency and the resultant indigenous church was consequently also of a similar type. In 1911 F. J. Wiens opened an MB mission among the Hakkas at Shanghang, Fukien Province, South China. As this work continued to prosper, the MB Conference took over the mission in 1919 and sent additional missionaries to this field. Though the work could be carried on only with much interruption, due to revolution in the land on account of which all the missionaries had to leave the field in 1929, a promising indigenous church came into existence, which at one time numbered over 500 members. In 1949 one missionary family still worked in this field and there was still an indigenous church which showed signs of growth. In 1945 the MB Conference took steps to establish a mission in the provinces Kansu and Shensi, West China. Missionaries were sent to this area and work was begun. An indigenous MB Church from Chinese converts was established. All missionaries were forced out of China by the Communist government by 1952.

Belgian Congo (Republic of the Congo), Africa

In 1924 A. A. Janzen began a mission among the tribes in the southwestern part of the Belgian Congo, locating the station at Kafumba, Kwango District. Henry G. Bartsch began a mission at Bololo, Dengese Province, about 400 miles northeast of Kafumba, in 1933. Both of these missions began independently of the Mennonite Brethren Conference. In 1943 the General MB Conference took over the responsibility of the two missions in Africa and sent additional missionaries to the field. The station at Bololo was shifted to Diongo Sanga, a more suitable location, and in 1949 this field was given over to a neighboring mission. In the Kwango District the work expanded and three mission stations were established. Besides aggressive evangelism, schools were conducted, hospital work was carried on, and the printing of Christian literature in the vernacular was done. An indigenous church from the African converts was organized, which numbered over 2,000 communicant members in the 1950s.

Paraguay, South America

Displaced Russian Mennonites immigrated to Paraguay by way of Germany, Poland, and China in 1930-32 and founded the colonies Fernheim and Friesland in the Chaco of Paraguay. Among these were members of the Mennonite Brethren Church who organized themselves as congregations and established places of worship at six centers. These have a total church membership of over 800. With the further immigration beginning 1947 the colonies Volendam. and Neuland were established. Among these were likewise some Mennonite Brethren, who organized themselves into congregations. These numbered about 500 members in the 1950s.

In 1935 the Mennonites of Paraguay organized among themselves a Mission Society and began a mission to the Lengua tribe of Indians, who lived in their vicinity. Since the colonists struggled with poverty in their pioneer days, they appealed to Mennonites in other lands for the support of this mission. Contributions for this purpose soon came from the Mennonite Brethren Church in North America, and in 1937 mission workers from there arrived and joined in the work. The North American MB Conference was approached and asked to take over the responsibility and supervision of the mission. This was done in 1946, and following that missionaries came partly from North America and partly from Paraguay. The financial support came mainly through the Board of Foreign Missions of the North American MB Church. Some of the Lengua Indians professed faith in Christ and were baptized. An indigenous church was in its beginning stages.

Brazil, South America

In 1930-32 displaced Mennonites from Russia made two settlements in southern Brazil, one near Curitiba, Paraná State, and the other in the Krauel, St. Catharina State. Among these were members of the Mennonite Brethren Church, who united themselves into local churches. These numbered 450 members in 1948. The MB churches in Brazil united into a conference in 1948. The same year this conference was admitted into the General MB Conference of North America as a district conference. In 1945 the North American MB Church took steps to begin a mission in Curitiba, Brazil, and accepted and sent there the first missionaries. This mission materialized into an orphanage and school and was in part supported by the churches in Brazil. The Krauel Colony dissolved 1949-52, and a new colony was established at Bage, Rio Grande du Sul, almost entirely of MB members.

Colombia, South America

The North American Mennonite Brethren Church began a mission in the northern part of Colombia in 1945. The field touched the Atlantic in the North and the Pacific in the southwest. Its western part was largely an elevated tableland, while the eastern part, known as the Chaco, was a vast low land plain. The mission established three stations and work was being done partly among the regular Colombian nationals, partly among the blacks of the Chaco, and in the 1950s work also began among the Indian tribes.


Esau, H. T., Mrs. First Sixty Years of Mennonite Brethren Missions. Hillsboro, KS: Mennonite Brethren Publishing House, 1954.

Friesen, Peter M. Die Alt-Evangelische Mennonitische Brüderschaft in Russland (1789-1910) im Rahmen der mennonitischen Gesamtgeschichte. Halbstadt: Verlagsgesellschaft "Raduga", 1911.

Glaubensbekenntnis der Vereinigten Taufgesinnten Mennonitischen Brüdergemeinde in Russland. Halbstadt, 1902.

Harms, J. F. Geschichte der Mennoniten Brüdergemeinde 1860-1924. Hillsboro, KS: Mennonite Brethren Publishing House, [1924].

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. III, 102-106.

Lohrenz, J. H. The Mennonite Brethren Church. Hillsboro, KS: Board of Foreign Missions, The Conference of the Mennonite Brethren Church of North America, 1950. Available in full electronic text at:

Peters, G. W. The Growth of Foreign Missions in the Mennonite Brethren Church. Hillsboro, KS: Board of Foreign Missions, The Conference of the Mennonite Brethren Church of North America, 1952.

Unruh, A. H. Die Geschichte der Mennoniten-Brüdergemeinde 1860-1954. Hillsboro, KS: The General Conference of the Mennonite Brethren Church of North America, 1954.

Wiens, H. J. The Mennonite Brethren Churches of North America: an Illustrated Survey. Hillsboro, KS: Mennonite Brethren Publishing House, 1954. Available in full electronic text at:

Yearbook of the General Conference of the Mennonite Brethren Churches.

Further Reading

Dueck, Abe J., ed. The Mennonite Brethren Church Around the World: Celebrating 150 Years. Kitchener, ON: Pandora Press, 2010.

Friesen, Peter M. The Mennonite Brotherhood in Russia (1789-1910), trans. J. B. Toews and others. Fresno, CA: Board of Christian Literature, General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, 1978, rev. ed. 1980. Available in full electronic text at:

Giesbrecht, Herbert. The Mennonite Brethren Church: a Bibliographic Guide. Winnipeg, MB: Kindred Press, 1983.

Janzen, A. E., Herbert Giesbrecht, comp. We Recommend ... Recommendations and Resolutions of the General Conference of the Mennonite Brethren Churches. Fresno, CA: Board of Christian Literature, General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, 1978.

Kyle, Richard G. From Sect to Denomination: Church Types and Their Implications for Mennonite Brethren History. Hillsboro, KS: Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies, 1985.

Mennonite World Handbook (1978): 337-43; (1984): 140.

Penner, Peter. No Longer at Arm's Length: a History of Mennonite Brethren Home Missions in Canada. Winnipeg, MB: Kindred Press, 1986. Available in full electronic text at:

Plett, C. F. The Story of the Krimmer Mennonite Church. Winnipeg, MB: Kindred Press, 1985.

Regier, P. Kurzgefasste Geschichte der Mennoniten Brüder-Gemeinde. Berne, 1901.

Toews, J. B. The Mennonite Brethren Church in Zaire. Fresno, CA.: Board of Christian Literature, General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, 1978. Available in full electronic text at:

Toews, J. B. A Pilgrimage of Faith: The Mennonite Brethren Church, 1860-1990. Winnipeg, MB: Kindred Press, 1993. Available in full electronic text at:

Toews, J. J. The Mennonite Brethren Mission in Latin America. Winnipeg, MB: Board of Christian Literature, General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, 1975. Available in full electronic text at:

Toews, John A. A History of the Mennonite Brethren Church. Fresno, CA : Mennonite Brethren Board of Literature and Education, General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, 1975. Available in full electronic text at:

Toews, John B. Perilous Journey: the Mennonite Brethren in Russia, 1860-1910. Winnipeg, MB: Kindred Press, 1988. Available in full electronic text at:

Toews, John B., ed. The story of the Early Mennonite Brethren (1860-1869): Reflections of a Lutheran Churchman. Winnipeg, MB: Kindred Productions, 2002.

Toews, Paul, ed. Bridging Troubled Waters: Mennonite Brethren at Mid-Century, Essays and Autobiographies. Winnipeg, MB: Kindred Press, 1995. Available in full electronic text at:

Wiebe, Katie Funk. Who are the Mennonite Brethren? Winnipeg and Hillsboro: Kindred Press, 1984.

Additional Information

Mennonite Brethren Conferences and Groups Worldwide in 2010

Country Denomination or Group Congregations Membership*
Angola Igreja Evangélica dos Irmãos Mennonitas em Angola (Evangelical Church of the Mennonite Brethren of Angola) 80 6,850
Congo Communauté des Eglises de Frères Mennonites au Congo (Community of the Churches of the Mennonite Brethren of Congo) 582 95,208
South Africa Durban Mennonite Brethren Church 1 93
India Conference of the Mennonite Brethren Church in India 964 200,000
Japan Nihon Menonaito Burezaren Kyodan (Japan Mennonite Brethren Conference) 29 1,829
Thailand Thailand Mennonite Brethren Foundation 9 600
Austria Mennonitische Freikirche Österreich (Mennonite Free Church of Austria) 6 416
Germany Arbeitsgemeinschaft Mennonitischer Brüdergemeinden in Deutschland (AMBD) (Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches in Germany) 15 1,631
Germany Bruderschaft der Christengemeinde in Deutschland ** 80 20,000
Germany Bund Taufgesinnter Gemeinden (Conference of Anabaptist Churches) 27 6,468
Germany Mennonitenbrüdergemeinden (Independent Mennonite Brethren congregations) 19 4,520
Germany Vereinigung der Menoniten Brüdergemein von Bavaria (Mennonite Brethren Conference of Bavaria) 5 316
Portugal Associação dos Irmãos Menonitas de Portugal (Association of the Mennonite Brethren of Portugal) 5 180
Russia Omsk Bruderschaft 54 1,350
Spain Asociación de Menonitas y Hermanos en Cristo en España (Association of Mennonite Brethren Churches in Spain) 8 308
Ukraine Асоціація Християнських Меннонітських церков України (Association of Christian Mennonite Churches in Ukraine)
Latin America
Brazil Convencao Brasileira das Igrejas Evangelicas Irmaos Menonitas (Brazilian Convention of Evangelical Mennonite Brethren Churches) 45 6,000
Colombia Iglesias Hermanos Menonitas de Colombia (Mennonite Brethren Churches of Columbia) 44 1,600
Mexico Iglesia Cristiana de Paz en Mexico 9 650
Panama Iglesia Evangelica Unida-Hermanos Menonitas (United Evangelical Church of Mennonite Brethren in Panama) 13 750
Paraguay Convencion Evangelica de Iglesias Paraguayas Hermanos Menonitas (Evangelical Convention of Paraguayan Mennonite Brethren Churches -Spanish Conference) 53 3,300
Paraguay Vereinigung der Mennoniten Brüder Gemeinden Paraguays (Paraguayan Mennonite Brethren Conference - German) 7 1,826
Peru Conferencia Peruana Hermanos Menonitas (Mennonite Brethren Evangelical Church of Peru) 13 469
Uruguay Consejo de las Congregaciones de los Hemanos Menonitas en Uruguay (Council of the Mennonite Brethren Churches of Uruguay) 7 209
North America
Canada Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches 247 37,508
USA United States Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches 189 34,500
Total 2,511 426,581
  • Most of the data for this table is taken from The Mennonite Brethren Church Around the World: Celebrating 150 Years, edited by Abe J. Dueck and published in 2010.
    • This group of congregations is broadly defined as Mennonite Brethren.

Sources for Table

Dueck, Abe J., ed. The Mennonite Brethren Church Around the World: Celebrating 150 Years. Kitchener, ON: Pandora Press; Winnipeg, MB: Kindred Productions, 2010.

International Community of Mennonite Brethren. "Member Conferences." Web. January 2010.

Mennonite World Conference. "World Directory: Africa." Web. 18 July 2010. 2009/Africa Summary.doc.

Mennonite World Conference. "World Directory: Asia & Pacific." Web. 18 July 2010. 2009/Asia & Pacific Summary.doc 2009/Asia & Pacific Summary.doc.

Mennonite World Conference. "World Directory: Europe." Web. 13 June 2010. 2009/Europe Summary.doc 2009/Europe Summary.doc.

Mennonite World Conference. "World Directory: Latin America & the Caribbean." Web. 18 July 2010. 2009/Latin America & the Caribbean Summary.doc 2009/Latin America & the Caribbean Summary.doc.

Mennonite World Conference. "World Directory: North America." Web. 18 July 2010. America Summary.doc 2009/North America Summary.doc.

Nsulunka, Baudouin. "Mennonite Brethren Church in South Africa." Personal e-mail (15 January 2010).

Sanchez, Ricky. "Mennonite Brethren in Thailand." Personal e-mail (9, 11 January 2010).

Toews, Paul. "Centenary Anniversary of the Omsk Bruderschaft." Mennonite Historian (September 2007): 1-2, 4.

Wiens, John. "Mennonite Brethren Church in Ukraine." Personal e-mail (24 January 2010).

Other Articles

See also: General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, a conference that until its dissolution in 2002 included Mennonite Brethren in Canada and the United States of America.

Conference Websites:

Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Mennonitischen Brüdergemeinden in Deutschland

Asociación de Menonitas y Hermanos en Cristo en España

Associação dos Irmãos Menonitas de Portugal

Bund Taufgesinnter Gemeinden

Canadian Conference of the Mennonite Brethren Church

Convención Evangelica de Iglesias Paraguayas Hermanos Menonitas

Iglesias Christianas Hermanos Menonitas de Colombia

Japan Mennonite Brethren Conference

Mennonitische Freikirche Österreich

U.S. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches

International Community of Mennonite Brethren (ICOMB)

Author(s) John H Lohrenz
Date Published April 2011

Cite This Article

MLA style

Lohrenz, John H. "Mennonite Brethren Church." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. April 2011. Web. 30 Jun 2022.

APA style

Lohrenz, John H. (April 2011). Mennonite Brethren Church. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 30 June 2022, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 595-602. All rights reserved.

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