Prayer Meetings

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1958 Article

Prayer Meetings, gatherings of Christians for prayer and mutual admonition and edification, were held in the mid-20th century in many Mennonite congregations in North America weekly, usually on a midweek evening, either in the meetinghouse or in a member's home. The term cottage meeting or cottage prayer meeting was sometimes used in the latter case. Leadership of the meeting might be in the hands of a layman or in the hands of the pastor. In the latter case the pastor might conduct a Bible study or give a devotional address. A common practice was for a number of those present to offer testimonies or admonitions, possibly based upon a portion of Scripture assigned in advance as the basis of the evening session.

The prayer meeting was borrowed from other Protestant groups, especially of the Pietistic type, and its introduction into American Mennonite circles earlier frequently caused trouble and even schism. The Evangelical Mennonites of the Gehman group arose as a schism in the Oberholtzer (General Conference Mennonite) group in Eastern Pennsylvania in 1858 when 24 members of the Upper Milford congregation were expelled because they refused to accept the conference decision forbidding such meetings. The attempt to introduce prayer meetings into the Mennonite Church (MC) in the period of 1870-1890 caused serious trouble in Indiana and elsewhere and contributed to the schisms of the Old Order (Wisler) Mennonites and the Mennonite Brethren in Christ (Daniel Brenneman group) in Elkhart County in 1871 and 1875, as well as of the Solomon Eby group in Waterloo County, Ontario, about the same time.

The counterpart of prayer meetings in Europe, called Gebetsstunde or Bibelstunde, were and still are important aspects of Pietism and the Gemeinschaft movement. Through the influence of such movements they were introduced into some Mennonite areas in France, Switzerland, and South Germany, although they were seldom regular features of the church life, because of the scattered rural membership. Such meetings were more readily held in the village type of settlement in Russia, where they were a prominent feature of the Mennonite Brethren movement. Mennonite educational institutions in North America in the 1950s commonly had student or faculty prayer meetings on a regular weekly (or even daily in some cases) basis.  -- HSB

1990 Update

Corporate prayer was practiced by the early church (Acts 1:12-14; 2:42; 12:12). The Swiss Brethren movement was born in a prayer meeting in Zürich, on 21 January 1525, at which time those present "bowed their knees to the most High God in heaven, and called upon Him to enable them to do His divine will and to manifest His mercy to them." Anabaptists and Mennonites have always believed in prayer and practiced it. The Mennonite Brethren, who organized in Russia in 1860, following the preaching of Edward Wüst, a German Pietist, established Bible study groups and prayer cells.

It is ironic that there have been times when prayer meetings were discouraged and even forbidden by Mennonites. In 1872 the Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference (MC) took a position against scheduled prayer meetings because they threatened the peace, unity, and prosperity of the church. The same issue arose in the Ontario conference in the shadow of the division that resulted in the Mennonite Brethren in Christ denomination. As late as 1911 the Franconia Mennonite Conference (MC) took action stating that regular prayer meetings were not approved: This regulation was apparently adopted to check the tendency toward worldliness. The "worldly" Protestant churches had meetings. The Mennonites continued to practice prayer in their worship services even though there were controversies regarding audible and silent prayers, the use of prayer books, and posture in prayer.

The early 20th century saw prayer meetings become firmly accepted and established in the churches. The meetings were often attended, however, by a minority of the membership. The gatherings were usually designed for adults and were held in church buildings or private homes on a weekday evening. Features of the meetings were Bible study, sharing of concerns, and prayer.

In the 1980s there was a trend toward making the midweek meeting a family night with separate classes for age groups. The meetings were more instructional with a minimum of prayer. In other congregations the single midweek meeting has been replaced by small groups which meet in various homes, on different nights of the week, and which follow something of the regular prayer meeting pattern. In some cases religious study guides and books other than the Bible are used. Many small congregations still maintain the traditional midweek meeting with a separate meeting for children. Some congregations and church institutions issue prayer lists to be used by congregations, families and individuals. Public school programs, television, and increased community activities have militated against the midweek prayer meeting and a number of congregations have abandoned it altogether.

Corporate prayer has sometimes moved out of the meeting house to the market place, courthouse lawns, or munition plants. Prayer vigils and protests have been conducted to protest nuclear bombs and the arms race.

Author(s) Harold S. Bender
Russel R. Krabill
Date Published 1989

Cite This Article

MLA style

Bender, Harold S. and Russel R. Krabill. "Prayer Meetings." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 23 Feb 2024.

APA style

Bender, Harold S. and Russel R. Krabill. (1989). Prayer Meetings. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 23 February 2024, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, p. 212; v. 5, pp. 718-719. All rights reserved.

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