Sleeping Preacher Churches

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Sleeping Preacher Churches, a term sometimes applied to those Amish Mennonite churches which had their origins about 1907 in the teachings and influence of John D. Kauffman, the Amish bishop who preached full sermons while apparently in a trance. In 1957 six congregations with a total membership of 540 had this background, although several of these churches have deviated considerably from the practices of their first congregations. Sermons in those churches most loyal to the original pattern make frequent mention of Kauffman's teachings, referring to his statements as the preaching of the Spirit, so that one hears the statement, "The Spirit taught us . . . ." His biographer, Pius Hostetler, explains that they think of his discourses as "Spirit preaching," that is, actually the words of the Holy Spirit. What Kauffman taught in his periods of trance is therefore regarded as an authoritative interpretation of the Bible and as completely binding upon his followers. Thus Kauffman's teaching that men below 30 years of age should not be ordained to preach would be regarded as authoritative in those churches adhering most strictly to their early standards.

Originally these congregations had only German services, and no Sunday schools, prayer meetings, evangelistic meetings, nor youth and women's organizations. Their first congregation, Mt. Hermon near Shelbyville, Illinois, now has English services and little is said about "Spirit preaching," which is also true of the Linn Township congregation. The third congregation in Illinois, Fairfield, which broke away from the Mt. Hermon church in 1933 and was established in Henry County in 1938, is perhaps the most conservative of all, using German in its services and emphasizing Kauffman's "Spirit preaching." It has no fellowship with the Linn Township church but recently has had with the Mt. Hermon congregation. The Harrisburg, Oregon, congregation no longer considers itself a Sleeping Preacher church, although some of its members are related to those in the Illinois congregations and there is social fellowship between them. With its English services, Sunday school, prayer meetings, sewing circle, young people's meeting, Bible school, and missionary outreach, it is following the pattern of the Conservative Mennonite Conference, although not affiliated with this body. A split in this congregation led to the establishment of a more conservative group, the Pleasant Valley Church at Yoncalla, Oregon. This congregation in turn was divided when its most conservative faction moved to Allendale, South Carolina, establishing the unorganized congregation of Pilgrims, which is attempting to establish a "Spirit preaching" church similar to the Fairfield congregation.

Author(s) Melvin Gingerich
Date Published 1959

Cite This Article

MLA style

Gingerich, Melvin. "Sleeping Preacher Churches." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 10 May 2021.

APA style

Gingerich, Melvin. (1959). Sleeping Preacher Churches. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 10 May 2021, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 543-544. All rights reserved.

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