Mennonites - Orientation

Identification. The name "Mennist" or "Mennonite" was first used in the Netherlands during the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation when it was applied to the followers of Menno Simons, a disaffected Roman Catholic priest who was influenced by the left-wing Anabaptist reformers. Excluding the related groups, the Amish and Hutterite, there are today eighteen distinct Mennonite groups in North America: Chortitzer Mennonite Church, Conference of Mennonite in Canada, Evangelical Mennonite Conference, Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference, Old Colony Mennonite Church (Manitoba), Reinlander Mennonite Church, Old Colony (outside Manitoba), Old Order Mennonite, Sommerfelder Mennonite Church, Church of God in Christ Mennonite (Holdeman), Evangelical Mennonite Brethren, Brethren in Christ Church, Mennonite Brethren Churches of North America, Mennonite Church, Evangelical Mennonite Church, General Conference Mennonite Church, Old Order River Brethren, and Old Order Mennonite. Other communities, congregations, and denominations related to the above have been established throughout the world.

Location. The Dutch Mennonite movement originated in Emden, East Friesland, and from there spread to Groningen, Friesland, and other Dutch and adjoining Belgian provinces. In northern Germany, Mennonite communities were founded in Schleswig-Holstein, Westphalia, and the Rhineland. In Switzerland, Anabaptist leaders had organized congregations more than a decade before Simons joined the movement in 1536. Currently, the major concentrations of Mennonite populations are, however, not in those areas where they originated. As early as the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Mennonites often left these European countries to escape severe persecution. The first community of Mennonites (1683, Germantown, Pennsylvania) was established by a Dutch group from Krefeld, Germany. In 1710, the largest colonial settlement was established in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, by Swiss and South German Mennonites. Even earlier migrations in the 1500s and 1600s from the Netherlands and Germany led to the formation of large Mennonite settlements in the Polish-Prussian region of Danzig and the Vistula Delta. During the late 1700s some left Prussia for the Russian Ukraine where they had been invited to organize agricultural settlements. Again in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Mennonites left Prussia, Poland, and Russia to settle in North and South America. After World War I, many from Russia, Canada, and Germany emigrated to Latin America. Presently, Mennonite congregations and communities are found throughout the world: the Soviet Union, China, Western and Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, and North, Central, and South America.

Demography. The world Mennonite population in 1984 was approximately 700,000: North America, 310,000; Africa, 107,300; Asia, 113,600; Australia, 100; Caribbean, Central and South America, 76,300; Europe, 38,700; and Soviet Union, 55,000.

Linguistic Affiliation. Owing to the dispersion of Mennonite communities and their missionary activities, linguistic affiliation is diverse. Some American communities (including Latin America) use Plattdeutsch (Low German) in daily conversation, and High German for religious functions. Often, English is the only language spoken, especially in North America, and others speak French, Swiss, or predominantly High German (Switzerland, France, and West Germany). In Latin America, Mennonites often speak German, Spanish, and English. Elsewhere, various African and Asian languages are spoken.

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