History: Remembering some anniversaries

Jan 1, 2018 by

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As 2017 passes into the annals of history, let’s remember some of the year’s more important and interesting Anabaptist anniversaries.

475 years ago (1542) — Authorities in Leeuwarden, capital of the Dutch province of Friesland, offered a reward of 100 guilders for Menno Simons. Menno was never imprisoned nor did he die an early death, unlike many of the early Anabaptist leaders who were executed or succumbed to disease. He died in 1561 at the age of 65.

400 years ago (1617) — Cornelis Anslo was ordained to the ministry in Amsterdam. He was both a reputable minister and a wealthy merchant. Among his friends was the artist Rembrandt, a relationships that indicates the high-class associations of some Dutch Mennonites. Rembrandt painted several portraits of Anslo, the most well- known of which is “The Mennonite Preacher C.C. Anslo and a Widow.”

325 years ago (1692) — Church members in the German city of Emden proved that silly schisms are not limited to North Americans. A preacher in one of Emden’s two Mennonite congregations gave an audible prayer before his sermon, rather than a more customary silent prayer. Those who disapproved withdrew and started holding their own worship services. The division lasted 40 years before the two sides reconciled.

275 years ago (1742) — The first American edition of the Ausbund, the oldest hymnbook still in use, was published at Germantown, Pa. It was also the first Mennonite book printed in America for Mennonite use. The Ausbund has been reprinted many times for plain groups.

175 years ago (1842) — Pioneer missionary Heinrich Dirks was born in the Molotschna colony in Ukraine. He and his wife, Aganetha, went to the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) with the Dutch Mennonite mission agency in 1869. They were the first Mennonite foreign missionaries who were not Dutch. (The General Conference Mennonite Church sent the first American foreign mission workers in 1870.)

Daniel Kauffman at his typewriter, Scottdale, Pa., circa 1913. — Mennonite Church USA Archives

Daniel Kauffman at his typewriter, Scottdale, Pa., circa 1913. — Mennonite Church USA Archives

125 years ago (1892) — Conservative champion Daniel Kauffman was ordained in Missouri, starting four decades in ministry that made him one of the most prominent and influential leaders in the Mennonite Church. He edited the MC periodical Gospel Herald for 35 years, was denominational moderator four times, wrote widely read books and reportedly was a member of 22 boards and committees at one time.

100 years ago (1917) — Eastern Mennonite School, now Eastern Mennonite University, was founded in Harrisonburg, Va. Virginia Mennonites were spurred to start the school largely as an alternative to Goshen (Ind.) College, which was considered too liberal. The new school would become a leading center of fundamentalism in the Mennonite Church.

100 years ago (1917) — William T. Snyder was born in Pennsylvania. He succeeded the esteemed Orie O. Miller to become Mennonite Central Committee’s longest-serving CEO. Under Snyder’s leadership, MCC transformed from a largely makeshift relief and refugee settlement organization into a well-respected, globe-spanning development agency at work in more than 50 countries (see “The Leader Who Built a Global MCC,” MWR, Dec. 4).

75 years ago (1942) — As World War II expanded and intensified, Mennonites were increasingly caught in the turmoil. In January, German brothers-in-law Hermann Schmitt and Otto Stauffer, missionaries to Java with the Dutch Mennonite mission agency, were killed when their ship was torpedoed in the Indian Ocean. On June 21, the Dutch Mennonite periodical De Zondagsbode was published for the last time before being shut down by the Nazis.

75 years ago (1942) — Activist Lupe de Leon was born in Mathis, Texas. He was co-executive secretary of the Mennonite Church’s Minority Ministries Council in the early 1970s and was one of the often-overlooked Mennonites of color who pushed the church to better apply its tenets of peace and love to issues of racial justice during the 1960s and ’70s. De Leon and his cohorts had little success, however, and he eventually left the church.

50 years ago (1967) — Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary professor C.J. Dyck’s Introduction to Mennonite History was published. It quickly became the standard historical survey of the faith, starting with Anabaptism’s 16th-century roots and going through its 20th-century developments, including its growth from a largely ethnic-based sect to a multicultural international church.

50 years ago (1967) — With hostilities escalating in Vietnam, the General Conference Mennonite Church’s Council of Boards took three radical steps to apply its pacifist principles. First, it called for sending medical supplies to North Vietnam to aid victims of the fighting. Second, the council expressed support for war-tax resistance. Finally, it urged congregations to provide emotional and financial support to young men who refused to register for the draft.

10 years ago (2007)Die Mennonitische Rundschau was discontinued after 127 years. It was the oldest Mennonite periodical continuously published under one name. Mennonite publisher John F. Funk started the German-language periodical in 1880 to serve Mennonites who had immigrated from Ukraine to the U.S. and Canada starting in the mid-1870s. Die Mennonitische Rundschau changed hands several times during its lifespan and finally ceased publication due to declining circulation.

Rich Preheim is a writer and historian from Elkhart, Ind.


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