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Related to Mennonites: Amish, Hutterites


(mĕn`nənīts), descendants of the Dutch and Swiss evangelical Anabaptists of the 16th cent.

Beliefs and Membership

While each congregation is at liberty to decide independently on its form of worship and other matters, Mennonites generally agree on certain points—baptism of believers only, the necessity of repentence and conversion for salvation, the refusal to bear arms and to take oaths, the rejection of worldly concerns, simplicity of dress and habits, and disapproval of marrying outside the faith. In celebrating the Lord's Supper, some branches include the rite of foot washing and the kiss of charity.

Differences in discipline and performance of church services have resulted in a division of the church into a number of branches. The Mennonite Church, whose members are sometimes known as Old Mennonites, is the original body in the United States and has the largest membership. The General Conference of the Mennonite Church of North America (1860), the next largest body, may be listed among the more liberal branches. One of the most conservative divisions is the Amish Church, which, under the leadership of Jacob Amman (late 17th cent.), broke away from the main body in Europe. The Amish are noted for their rejection of the world and most modern technology and conveniences, and have historically farmed in a traditional manner or earned a livelihood by practicing such crafts as carpentry and cabinetry. The principal Amish groups in the United States are the Old Order Amish, who do not use churches but worship in homes and conduct their services in German, and the Conservative Amish, who abide by the Dordrecht Confession of Faith but hold services in English as well as German and accept such innovations as the Sunday school. The terms "House Amish" and "Church Amish" have been used to distinguish the branches. The Amish in the United States are predominantly in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, but Amish communities are found in more than half the states. Another conservative body is the Reformed or Herrite branch, established (1812) under the leadership of John Herr. The Church of God in Christ (1859) and the Old Order Mennonites, formed in 1870 under Jacob Wisler, are among the other branches.

Large numbers of Mennonites are found in Canada, and a number of American, Canadian, and European Mennonites have moved to colonies in Mexico and South America. Although attempts at unification have not been particularly successful, the Mennonite Central Committee, formed in 1920 as a response to famine affecting Mennonites in Russia and Ukraine, has enabled the branches to cooperate in many service and relief activities around the world. There are now over 1 million baptized members worldwide. The largest denomination in the United States is the Mennnonite Church USA.


The name Mennonite is derived from Menno SimonsMenno Simons
, 1496?–1561, Dutch religious reformer. The name of the Mennonites was derived from his name, although he was not the actual founder of the sect. In 1524 he became a Roman Catholic priest but in 1536 he left the church when he announced that he no longer
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 (c.1496–1561), Dutch reformer and organizer of the early congregations. Menno left the Catholic priesthood in 1536 to help gather together and rehabilitate the Dutch Anabaptists confused by the downfall of the revolutionary Anabaptist theocracy set up at MünsterMünster
, city (1994 pop. 267,367), North Rhine–Westphalia, W Germany, a port and industrial center on the Dortmund-Ems Canal. Its manufactures include heavy machinery and textiles. The city is also a trade center for the Westphalian cattle market.
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 (c.1524–25). He soon became the movement's outstanding leader. The new movement restored the earlier evangelical form of Anabaptism practiced by the pacifistic Swiss Brethren (see AnabaptistsAnabaptists
[Gr.,=rebaptizers], name applied, originally in scorn, to certain Protestant sects holding that infant baptism is not authorized in Scripture and that baptism should be administered to believers only.
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Persecutions drove many of the Mennonites to Germany, where new congregations were formed. The movement spread also to France, Russia, and the Netherlands, where it became influential. The Dordrecht Confession of Faith, embodying the distinctive features of Mennonite belief, was issued (1632) in Holland. Mennonites in the United States have settled mainly in Pennsylvania and Ohio (especially in the Amish Country centered on Lancaster co., Pa.) and the Middle West. The first permanent Mennonite settlement in America was made (1683) at Germantown, Pa., by a group from Krefeld, Germany. Mennonites from Switzerland, Russia, and other parts of Europe also emigrated in numbers to North America.


See H. S. Bender et al., ed., The Mennonite Encyclopedia, (5 vol., 1955–90); J. C. Wenger, The Mennonite Church in America (1966); C. Redekop, Mennonite Society (1989); J. A. Hostetler, Amish Society (4th ed. 1993); D. B. Kraybill, The Riddle of Amish Culture (2001); C. E. Hurst and D. L. McConnell, An Amish Paradox: Diversity and Change in the World's Largest Amish Community (2010); D. B. Kraybill et al., The Amish (2013).

Enlarge picture
A girl jumps onto first base as Mennonite children play baseball at recess outside their one-room schoolhouse in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. AP/Wide World Photos.


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Mennonites are the direct descendants of the Anabaptist movement (see Anabaptists) of the sixteenth century. Followers of the Swiss teacher Menno Simons (c. 1496-c. 1561),

from whom they got their name, they became an important religious force in the Netherlands and Germany, moved to the United States during colonial times, and eventually formed important communities in the prairie provinces of central and western Canada.

Like all denominations, they have suffered divisions over the years, the Amish being their most well known spiritual descendants.

Mennonites are considered to be conservative (see Evangelical) in theology. They practice the ritual of foot-washing, for instance, following the example and command of Jesus at the Last Supper (John 13). They require women to wear a head-covering during worship, following the advice of the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 11:5). They forbid the taking of oaths, as in a court of law. Also forbidden is the holding of public office. They insist on plainness of dress and practice congregational polity. Each church is autonomous and calls its own minister.

One of the most important aspects of the Mennonite church is its peace witness. Along with Quakers and the Church of the Brethren, Mennonites are known for being pacifists. They forbid military service to their members, substituting civilian relief services overseen by the Mennonite Central Committee during times of war.

On any given Sunday, over one million Mennonites worldwide continue a 450-year-old worship tradition dating back to the time of the Protestant Reformation.



a Protestant sect that arose in Holland in the late 1530’s and early 1540’s as a result of the degeneration of revolutionary Anabaptism into a pacifist sect after the defeat of the Peasant War of 1524—26 and the Miinster Commune of 1534-35.

The name of the sect is linked with Menno Simons (died 1561), a Catholic clergyman who was converted to Anabaptism in 1531 and later reorganized remnants of the Anabaptist sect into a new congregation which was later called the congregation of Mennonites. The doctrines of the Mennonites are defined in the Declaration of the Chief Articles of Our General Christian Faith (1632). The Mennonites consider the most essential features of the Christian to be humility, rejection of violence (even if perpetrated for the common good), and moral self-perfection. They await the “second coming”and the “millennial reign”of Christ. They baptize only adults.

Mennonite communities are exclusive, and individuality is suppressed within them. Shunning modern civilization, the Mennonites adhere to a distinctly old-fashioned form of dress, hair-style, and way of life. From Holland the Mennonites migrated to many countries, including Russia, to which they came in the late 18th century as a result of the recruitment of colonists by Catherine II for settlement in the frontier lands; their numbers in the USSR are insignificant. The greatest number of adherents live in the USA, Canada, the Netherlands, and the Federal Republic of Germany. The total number of Mennonites does not exceed 300,000. The Mennonite World Conference, centered in Canada, has existed since 1930.


Klibanov, A. I. Mennonity. Moscow-Leningrad, 1931.
Krest’ianinov, V. F. Mennonity. Moscow, 1967.
Smith, C. G. The Story of the Mennonites, 3rd ed. Newton, 1950.
The Mennonite Encyclopedia, vols. 1-4. Hillsboro, 1955-59.
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