Anabaptist Iceland

Island lacks Mennonites but has much in common with them

Sep 24, 2018 by

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Despite being well-suited for Anabaptists, Iceland is devoid of them. Perhaps the most literate country in the world just hasn’t heard about our brand of faith yet. Maybe Arctic Circle agriculture’s brief growing seasons, harsh volcanic landscapes and near-endless winter nights above the 64th parallel were simply too much for a faith so tied to working the land.

Though Iceland’s roots are steeped in Viking lore, many believe the Norwegians who arrived in the ninth century may have been fleeing conflict or seeking new land to farm — a strong parallel to Mennonite migration themes. This was followed by Ottoman pirate attacks in 1627 and century upon century of living under Danish rule, which would be fertile ground for embracing the tales of oppressed Mennonite martyrs on the European continent. Icelandic identity is wrapped up with vocal choir participation, tailor-made for Mennonites’ affinity for hymn singing.

Iceland gained true sovereignty only after the Second World War, when it became defined by its fierce neutrality during the Cold War. What Mennonite wouldn’t like to live in a neutral nation? Reykjavik was deemed suitable for Bobby Fischer’s famous chess match against the Soviet Union’s best in 1972, and it should have been found similarly suitable for Anabaptism to burst forth like the mighty Geysir, for whom all others are named.

But for perhaps the strongest case for Mennonites to flow over the island like a slow and steady wave of lava, one must look below the capital’s streets.

Icelanders have learned how to harness an abundance of geothermal energy. It’s not just buildings that are warmed by water boiling just below ground. Snow plows aren’t needed in much of Reykjavik because a complex network of pipes within the streets and sidewalks melts ice over an area totaling more than 12 acres. What could be more Anabaptist than understanding that quiet and relatively unobtrusive actions can speak louder than words?

Those pipes are not there by accident. While some hot springs bubble up to the surface naturally and even shoot dramatically skyward at a handful of geysers, most of the warmth the nation enjoys comes by way of boreholes and pipes installed through hard work. The government, Reykjavik University and the University of Iceland invest significant resources into study and research of geothermal development.

Similarly, the pipes that warm Anabaptist faith formation did not appear overnight. Yes, rare Christians have erupted spontaneously out of secular tectonic fissures, but they more typically develop by way of Sunday school boreholes and Mennonite college pipelines.

Like the rest of Scandinavia, Iceland embraced the Reformation but didn’t take the next step to Anabaptism. The streets are clear, and the way is ready.


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