From ‘Tauferkammer’ to Burkina Faso

Dec 3, 2018 by

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In 1743, 275 years ago, the Swiss city of Bern dissolved its Commission for Anabaptist Affairs, or Tauferkammer. It had been established in 1659 to oversee the elimination of the local Anabaptist population. But more than 80 years later, an environment of religious tolerance had begun settling in, prompting the commission’s termination.

Fast-forward to 1993 — 25 years ago — and the Mennonite Church installed Donella Clemens as the first woman to serve as the denomination’s moderator. She become the second woman to lead a North American Mennonite group, after Florence Driedger, who was president of the General Conference Mennonite Church from 1987 to 1992.

In between the Tauferkammer and Clemens are a host of Anabaptist/Mennonite anniversaries in 2018. As the year slips away, these are a few of them to be remembered:

150 years ago (1868)
The Christian Educational Institute of the Mennonite Denomination opened in Wadsworth, Ohio. Commonly known as the Wadsworth Institute, it was operated by the General Conference Mennonite Church and was the first Mennonite higher education initiative in the United States. It closed its doors in 1878.

125 years ago (1893)
Bethel College, the oldest U.S. Mennonite college, held its first classes on Sept. 20 with an enrollment of 98 students. The cornerstone for the first campus building was laid in 1888 about a mile north of Newton, Kan., but a lack of finances hampered construction for several years.

100 years ago (1918)
Anne Allebach, the first American woman ordained by a Mennonite denomination, died April 27 of a heart attack at the age of 43. A native of Green Lane, Pa., she was baptized at Eden Mennonite Church, Schwenksville. While serving as a school principal in East Orange, N.J., Allebach took classes at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. She also ministered among the city’s poor, organized religion programs and taught in an Episcopal Sunday school. Allebach was ordained in 1911 at First Mennonite Church, a General Conference Mennonite Church congregation in Philadelphia. She never held a Mennonite pastorate but periodically preached in Mennonite churches, often drawing large crowds. In 1916, she began pastoring at a Reformed congregation on Long  Island, N.Y.

Also that year, the main building at 10-year-old Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kan., was destroyed by fire on April 30. Arson was immediately suspected, as Mennonite pacifism during World War I had resulted in a number of acts of violence against them nationally. The cause of the blaze was never determined. By the next day, $10,000 had been raised toward the construction  of new facilities.

75 years ago (1943)
Residents of Molotschna, the largest Russian Mennonite col­ony, began to evacuate on Sept. 11 as the German army withdrew. Like countless others, the Mennonites suffered from Soviet persecution prior to World War II. When the Germans attacked Russia in 1941, the Soviets ordered all males over age 16 eastward. So the Germanic Mennonites welcomed the German invaders when they arrived in the fall of 1941 and were able to resume some semblance of normal life. In 1943, when the German army was forced to pull back, the Molotschna Mennonites followed them west. Weeks later, Chortitza, the oldest and second-largest settlement, did likewise.

Mennonites on the trek from Ukraine to Germany, 1943. — Mennonite Library and Archives, Bethel College

Mennonites on the trek from Ukraine to Germany, 1943. — Mennonite Library and Archives, Bethel College

75 years ago (1943)
Goshen (Ind.) College professor Harold S. Bender presented his influential “The Anabaptist Vision” at the annual meeting of the American Society of Church History in New York City. The address, which Bender made as the society’s president, was published the next year and would become an important articulation of Mennonite identity in the second half of the 20th century.

50 years ago (1968)
As racial strife increased in the United States, the Mennonite Church held a series of conferences in the 1950s and ’60s. That led to the 1968 creation of the Urban Racial Council to better integrate people of color into the denomination. The council initially focused on African-American issues, but by 1970 it had restructured and renamed itself the Minority Ministries Council to better address the concerns of Latino Mennonites. The organization disbanded in 1973.

25 years ago (1993)
Eglise Evangelique Mennonite du Burkina Faso (Evangelical Mennonite Church of Burkina Faso) was recognized by the Burkina Faso government. Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission sent the first Mennonite mission workers to the country in 1978, and the first congregation was formed two years later.
Also that year, Goshen College received a record $28 million bequest from alumni Harold and Wilma Good. Most of the contribution came in the form of stock in the J.M. Smucker Co., the Orr­ville, Ohio-based producer of jelly, jam and other food products. It was founded in 1897 by Wil­ma’s parents, Jerome Monroe and Ellen Smucker.

Rich Preheim is a writer and historian from Elkhart, Ind. He is working on a history of Woodlawn Amish Mennonite Church.


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