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Pilgrimage, Place, and People: A History of the Locations of Mennonite World Conference Assemblies, 1925–20031

  • Nancy R. Heisey (a1)

Extract

In June 1924, Christian Neff, president of the Conference of South German Mennonites, sent an invitation to “all of the major Mennonite bodies around the world,” to participate in a world conference that would commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first Anabaptist rebaptisms. The meeting was to be held in Basel and Zurich, Switzerland. Whether or not the one hundred or so attendees at the June 1925 conference thought of themselves as pilgrims, the combination of the date and the locations defined this gathering in a way that at least subconsciously reflected the idea of pilgrimage. As both early and contemporary Christians have been fascinated with and have desired to visit places associated with biblical characters, and especially with Jesus, descendants of the sixteenth-century Anabaptists who planned the 1925 gathering were clearly reflecting on the importance of place to their faith. If they had not, they could have held the meeting solely in Basel, which met their need for a centrally located and easily accessible city to European Mennonites. Instead, they added Zurich, the place of the first Anabaptist rebaptisms in January 1525 and one of the earliest sites of Anabaptist martyrdom, to their meeting schedule.

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2. Dyck, Cornelius J., “The Mennonite world Conference: A Brief Introduction,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 41 (07 1967): 280.

3. See Lillburne, Geoffrey R., A Sense of Place: A Christian Theology of the Land (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1989). Lillburne makes a call for “local” Christian theology, that is, tied to particular places of work and worship, 86.

4. Dyck, , “Mennonite World Conference,” 281.

5. Ross, Ellen, “Diversities of Divine Presence: Women's Geography in the Christian Tradition,” in Sacred Places and Profane Spaces: Essays in the Geographics of Judaism, Christianity, and islam, ed. Jamie, Scott and Paul, Simpson-Housley (New York: Greenwood, 1991), 98101.

6. Smith, Jonathan Z., To Take Place: Toward Theory in Ritual (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 102; Vidal, Jaime R., “Pilgrimage in the Christian Tradition,” in Pilgrimage, Virgil Elizondo and Sean Freyne (London: SCM, 1996), 42. For the Anabaptist perspective on the Lord's Supper, see “Grebel to Müntzer, Zurich, September 5, 1524,” #63, in The Sources of Swiss Anabaptism, ed. Leland, Harder (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald, 1985), 284–92, and 679, n. 36; see also Limberis, Vasiliki, “Symbol and Sanctification: An Orthodox Critique of Zwingli,” Greek Orthodox Theological Review 26 (spring/summer 1981): 97112, on Zwingli's radical philosophical division between symbol and reality.

7. The Brethren in Christ denomination began in a pietist revival in eighteenth-century Pennsylvania. Founding members included people of Mennonite background, and in the twentieth century Brethren in Christ have affiliated themselves with inter-Mennonite organizations such as Mennonite World Conference. See Wittlinger, Carlton O., Quest for Piety and Obedience: The Story of the Brethren in Christ (Nappanee, Ind.: Evangel, 1978).

8. The Mennonite was the official periodical for the General Conference Mennonite Church, a binational (U.S. and Canada) denomination until 1998, when it became the periodical of the newly formed Mennonite Church USA.

9. Throughout this paper, the terms “North” and “northern” will be used of Mennonites from Europe and North America, particularly representing a strong economic situation. “South/global South/southern” will be used to describes those places, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, characterized in many locations by economic scarcity.

10. Turner, Victor and Turner, Edith, Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture: Anthropological Perspectives (New York: Columbia University Press, 1978), xv. The Turners recognize the complexity of doing this anthropological study from within their Catholic identity and suggest their cross-cultural work in African cultures, rather than any engagement with Protestant impulses, as providing necessary “objectivity.” For the Turners' dependence on Mircea Eliade, see Fade, John and Sallnow, Michael J., “Introduction,” in Contesting the Sacred: The Anthropology of Christian Pilgrimage, ed. Eade, and Sallnow, (London: Routledge, 1991), 6; Sheldrake, Philip, Spaces for the Sacred: Place, Memory, and Identity (Baltimorel, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001), 5.

11. Turner, and Turner, , Image and Pilgrimage, 32.

12. Ibid., 240.

13. Paul Post, “The Modern Pilgrim: A Christian Ritual Between Tradition and Post- Modernity,” in Elizondo, and Freyne, , Pilgrimage, 6.

14. Eade, and Sallnow, , Contesting the Sacred, 34.

15. Ibid., 15.

16. Ibid., 24–35.

17. Bowman, Glenn, “Chistian Ideology and the Image of a Holy Land: The Place of Jerusalem Pilgrimage in the Various Christianities,” in Eade and Sallnow, Contesting the Sacred, 98121; Vàsquez, Manuel A. and Marquardt, Marie Friedmann, Globalizing the Sacred: Religion Across the Americas (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2003), 67, 8385.

18. Gill, Sam, “Territory,” in Critical Terms for Religious Studies, ed. Taylor, Mark C. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 309. For additional observations on the complexities of reading religious places in contemporary situations, see McAlister, Elizabeth, “Globalization and the Religious Production of Space,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (hereafter JSSR) 44:3 (09 2005): 249–55; and Neitz, Mary Jo, “Reflections on Religion and Place: Rural Churches and American Religion,” JSSR 44:3 (09 2005): 243–47.

19. Leyerle, Blake, “Landscape as Cartography in Early Christian Pilgrimage Narratives,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 64 (spring 1996): 119–43.

20. Frankfurter, David, “Introduction,” Pilgrimage and Holy Space in Late Antique Egypt (Leiden: Brill, 1998), 348.

21. Dietz, Maribel, Wandering Monks, Virgins, and Pilgrims: Ascetic Travel in the Mediterranean World, AD. 300–800 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005).

22. Frank, Georgia, The Memory of the Eyes: Pilgrims to Living Saints in Christian Late Antiquity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000). Brown, Peter, “The Rise and Function of the Holy Man in Late Antiquity,” Journal of Roman Studies 61 (1971): 80101; “The Saint as Exemplar in Late Antiquity,” in Saints and Virtues, ed. Hawley, John Stratton (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), 314.

23. Frank, , Memory, 12, 45, 78, 39.

24. Ibid., 29–30.

25. Ibid., 50, 52 (see note 60: History of the Monks of Egypt (hereafter HM) 23.1), 57 (see notes 80, 83: HM 17.1–3, 4.3, 9.9). See also Waddell, Helen, trans., Beasts and Saints (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1995).

26. Frank, , Memory, 12, 16, 108 (see note 19: Jerome, Letter 46.13), 132–33, 162 (see note 98: HM 8.19), 179–80.

27. Frank, Memory, 7 (see note 18: Cassian, Conferences 17.5), 5455 (see note 71: HM epil 2), 163 (see note 104: HM 26), 168. See also Frank's earlier discussion of how the holy persons functioned as monuments linking past and present, 74–75.

28. Brown, Peter, “Arbiters of the Holy: The Christian Holy Man in Late Antiquity,” in Authority and the Sacred: Aspects of the Christianization of the Roman World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 5859, 6062, 6465, 69.

29. Ibid., 62.

30. Sheldrake, , Spaces, 3738, 4045; Frank, , Memory, 88; Gregory, of Nyssa, , Commentary on the Song of Songs 12.

31. Dyck, , “Mennonite World Conference,” 281.

32. Neff, Christian, “Basel,” in The Mennonite Encylopedia (hereafter ME), vol. 1–4, ed. Bender, Harold S., Smith, C. Henry, Cornelius, Krahn, Melvin, Gingerich (Scottdale, Pa.: Mennonite Publishing House 19551959), 1:241–46; Jecker, Hanspeter, “Basel, Switzerland,” in The Mennonite Encyclopedia, ed. Dyck, Cornelius J. and Martin, Dennis D. (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald, 1990), 5:59.

33. Koch, Roy S., “Zurich, City and Canton in Northern Switzerland, the Birthplace of the Anabaptist Movement,” ME, 4:1042–47.

34. Penner, Horst, “West Prussia,” ME, 4:920–26; Foth, Peter J., ME, 5:927–28.

35. Kuiper, Fr., “Amsterdam,” ME, 1:101–8; van der Zijpp, N., “Witmarsum,” ME, 4:967. Mennonites in the Netherlands in 2006 are actively developing a plan and raising funds to build a conference and retreat center in Witmarsum.

36. R.M.S, “Newton,” ME, 3:867.

37. Stoneback, George S., “Wichita,” ME, 4:940; Bender, Harold S., “Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont.,” ME, 3:186; Janzen, David, “Winnipeg,” ME, 4:961–62.

38. Glück, Theo, “Karlsruhe, Germany,” ME, 5:481.

39. Klassen, William, “Strasbourg,” ME, 4:639–42; Bender, Harold S., “Strasbourg Conferences,” ME, 4:642–44.

40. Klassen, Peter, “Curitiba, Brazil,” ME, 1:747; Kasdorf, Hans, “Curitiba, Brazil,” ME, 5:214.

41. Malagar, P. J., “Calcutta, India,” ME, 5:117.

42. Martin, Dorothy M., “Bulawayo, Zimbabwe,” ME, 5:106–7.

43. Miller, Orie O. and Bender, H. S., “A Brief Account of the Third Mennonite World Conference Held at Amsterdam, Flspeet and Witmarsuin, Netherlands, June 29–July 3, 1936,” Mennonite Quarterly Review (hereafter MQR) 11 (01 1937): 2, 7.

44. Oyer, John S., “The Strasbourg Conferences of the Anabaptists, 1554–1607,” MQR 58 (07 1984): 228; Nelson, Stephen F. and Rott, Jean, “Strasbourg: The Anabaptist City in the Sixteenth Century,” MQR 58 (07 1984): 230–40.

45. Cornelius Krahn, 1948 Goshen/Newton Mennonite World Conference assembly souvenir, File Box IX A–B, “Miscellaneous Organizations—Mennonite World Conference—Programs,” Menno Simons Historical Library of Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Va. All following items from Menno Simons Historical Library (hereafter MSHL) are located in File Box IX A–B.

46. Krahn, 1948 souvenir, MSHL.

47. 1952 provisional program Basel/Zurich MWC assembly, MSHL.

48. 1952 report of Basel/Zurich MWC assembly, MSHL.

49. 1952 provisional program, MSHL.

50. 1957 invitation to sixth MWC assembly, Karisrube, Germany, MSHL.

51. It is interesting that neither in materials for the 1936 gathering nor for those in 1967 was mention made of sixteenth-century Anabaptist sites in Amsterdam itself, although the Martyrs Mirror offers more than one description of public martyrdom of Anabaptists in that city. See van Braght, Thieleman J., ed., The Bloody Theater or Martyrs Mirror, 5th ed. (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald, 1950). Amsterdam martyr accounts include Dirk Pieters Smuel and Jacob den Geldersman, 475–76; six brothers and two sisters, 483; Reyer Dircks, 502; Felistis Jans, 539.

52. 1972 Menno Travel Service promotional flier, MSHL.

53. 1978 MWC program book, MSHL.

54. 1984 MWC registration materials, MSHL.

55. 1984 MWC program and information booklet, MSHL.

56. 1990 MWC program book, MSHL.

57. 1990 information handbook and tour guide, MSHL.

58. Stackley, Muriel Thiessen, “MWC: Who Needs It?,” The Mennonite (hereafter TM) (07 10, 1990), 312.

59. 1997 MWC registration form, MSHL.

60. Toews, David, “The Danzig Mennonite Relief World Conference,” TM (10 30, 1930), 34.

61. Editorial, TM (July 28, 1936), 1.

62. Fast, H. A., “Newton Session of the World Conference,” and Fretz, J. Winfield, “Goshen Session of the World Conference,” TM (08 17, 1948), 13, 6, 8, 9, 10.

63. Dyck, Cornelius J. and Robert, Kreider, ed., “Mennonite World Conference in Review—A Photographic Essay, Mennonite Life 33 (June 1978): 423.

64. Slagel, Vesta, “Impressions of World Conference, TM (09 2, 1952), 551.

65. Dyck, Walter H., “A Lord's Day at St. Chrischona, TM (09 16, 1952), 582.

66. Hartzler, R. L., “An Evaluation of the World Conference,” TM (09 9, 1952), 563.

67. Enz, Jacob J., “Mennonite World Conference: More Impressions,” TM (09 17, 1957), 584–85.

68. “Report of the Sixth World Conference,” TM (September 3, 1957), 550.

69. MrsHabegger, Marden C., “Are We Lacking?,” TM (09 10, 1957), 567.

70. “12,000 Mennonites Meet,” TM (August 14, 1962), 520.

71. “One Great Big Circus,” TM (August 21, 1962), 530.

72. “It Happened in Kitchener,” TM (August 21, 1962), 532–38.

73. Epp, Frark, “Delegates from 29 Nations Meet in Brazil,” TM (August 22, 1972), 489–91; Wichita MWC assembly registration information, TM (August 22, 1978), 482; “Variety, History Mark MWC at Strasbourg,” TM (August 28, 1984), 418–19; Sidebar, , TM (February 25, 1997), 3.

74. Epp, Frank, TM (August 22, 1972), 489–91; Wiebe, Bernie, “A Small Step for Mennonites,” TM (August 28, 1984), 432; Cover photograph, TM (February 25, 1997).

75. Reimer, Vic, “Mini-reflections on a World Conference,” TM (September 5, 1978), 512.

76. “Variety, History,” TM (August 28, 1984), 418–49; Photograph of photographers, TM (August 28, 1990), 363.

77. Baecher, Claude, “A Prayer for Assembly 12 in Winnipeg: May We Share in the ‘Fellowship of Christ's Sufferings,’TM (07 10, 1990), 311.

78. Shelly, Maynard, “Photography,” and “Television,” ME, 5:702–3, 877.

79. Photographs, TM (September 2003), 12, 22, 23; TM (February 25, 1997), 8; TM (August 14, 1990), 344; TM (August 28, 1990), 366.

80. “Mennonites Discover Each Other and the World,” TM (August 15, 1967), 495–98.

81. Waltner, Erland, “Location of Ninth Mennonite World Conference,” TM (09 15, 1970), 557.

82. Shelly, Maynard, “World Conference Site Being Questioned,” TM (09 15, 1970), 556.

83. “Brazil Is Still World Conference Site,” TM (February 16, 1971), 101.

84. Wiens, Rudolf P., Letter to the editor, TM (February 16, 1971), 107.

85. “No Politics Lid Put on Brazil Conference,” TM (February 23, 1971), 132.

86. Kiassen, William, Letter to the editor, TM (March 30, 1971), 205.

87. Moyer, S. T., Letter to the editor, TM (April 13, 1971), 254.

88. Dyck, C. J., “Curitiba as Discipline for Listeners,” TM (April 27, 1971), 283; Rein, Marvin, “MWC's Nonpolitical Stance,” TM (January 25, 1972), 53.

89. Dück, Klaus, “South American Reply to Dutch on Curitiba,” TM (11 17, 1970), 700; Dyck, , Curitiba, 283; Toews, J. A., “Jesus Christ Reconciles,” TM (11 9, 1971), 666.

90. 1972 MWC program book, MSRL.

91. 1972 MWC conference message, MSHL.

92. Epp, Frank, “Delegates from 29 Nations Meet in Brazil,” TM (08 22, 1972), 489–91.

93. Lapp, John A., “Mennonites Discuss Peace at Curitiba,” TM (08 22, 1972), 509.

94. “Latin America Day,” TM (February 25, 1997), 9.

95. Balzer, Susan, “From Mennoland to Minuteman,” TM (08 28, 1990), 377.

96. Hernandez, Armando, Interview, TM (November 2, 1971), 653.

97. “Walking with Zimbabweans,” TM (September 3, 2002), 2021.

98. Derksen, Karina, Letter to the editor, TM (April 1, 2003), 45.

99. “MWC Executive Committee Reaffirms Zimbabwe as 2003 Assembly Site Despite Country's Turmoil,” TM (October 2, 2001), 11.

100. “Walking with Zimbabweans,” TM (September 3, 2002), 2021.

101. Thomas, Everett J., “Globalization Hits Home,” TM (10 1, 2002), 32.

102. Sims, David, and Nesbitt, Fred, Letters to the editor, TM (March 4, 2003), 4; Franks, Douglas, Letter to the editor, TM (April 1, 2003), 45.

103. Blough, Neal, Letter to the editor, TM (April 1, 2003), 45.

104. Dirks, Ray, Letter to the editor, TM (September 17, 2002), 5.

105. Photograph, TM (September 2, 2003), 20.

106. “2003 Global Mennonite Membership,” TM (August 5, 2003), 2021.

107. “Variety, History Mark MWC at Strasbourg,” TM (August 28, 1984), 418–19.

108. Stackley, , “MWC: Who Needs It?,” TM (July 10, 1990), 312.

109. Schrag, Paul, “Together in Heaven,” TM (February 25, 1997), 3.

110. Sunday summary, TM (February 25, 1997), 10.

111. Martens, Doreen, “The Feeding of the 7000,” TM (09 2, 2003), 9.

112. “Solidarity in Zimbabwe,” TM (September 2, 2003), 1.

113. “30,000 Gather for Closing Worship at Assembly 12,” TM (August 14, 1990), 344.

114. Hershey, Hiram and Mary, Oyer, Letters to the editor, TM (October 7, 2003), 4.

115. Waltner, Erland, “Mennonite World Conference: More Impressions,” TM (09 17, 1957), 585.

116. “Council OKs Discernment of Core Convictions,” TM (September 2, 2003), 11.

117. “Together in Heaven,” TM (February 25, 1997), 3; “A Taste of Heaven,” TM (September 2, 2003), 23.

118. Hertzler, Daniel, “Global Issues,” TM (08 28, 1990), 368.

119. Reimer, Carla, “Reflections: … ‘How Fragile we Are,’TM (02 25, 1997), 13.

120. Schrag, Paul, “Learn to Receive as Well as Give,” TM (02 25, 1997), 24.

121. Schrag, Paul, Peachey, J. Lorne, “MWC Council Approves Sharing Fund Distribution,” TM (02 25, 1997), 20.

122. Final MWC Shared Convictions at http:/mwc-cmm.org/MWC/Councils/ 2006SharedConvictionsENG.pdf. Accessed May 18, 2006; study drafts in TM (September 2, 2003), 11; and TM (April 4, 2006), 19.

123. For literature on Mennonite history in Paraguay, see the following: Krause, Annemarie E., Mennonite Settlement in the Paraguayan Chaco (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1952); Fretz, J. Winfield, Immigrant Group Settlements in Paraguay: A Study in the Sociology of Colonization (North Newton, Kans.: Bethel College, 1962); Kroeker, Peter J., Lenguas and Mennonites: A Study of Cultural Change in the Paraguayan Chaco (master's thesis, Wichita State University, 1970); Redekop, Calvin W., Strangers Become Neighbors: Mennonite and Indigenous Relations in the Paraguayan Chaco (Scottdale, Pa: Herald, 1980); Stoesz, Edgar, Garden in the Wilderness: Mennonite Communities in the Paraguayan Chaco, 1927–1997 (Winnipeg, Man.: CMBC, 1999); Epp, Marlene, Women Without Men: Mennonite Refugees of the Second World War (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000); Roth, John D., “Called to One Peace: Christian Faith and Political Witness in a Divided Culture,” Mennonite Life 60 (07 2005): http://www.bethelks.edu/mennonitelife/200Sjune. Accessed May 17, 2006. The last article includes a section describing the relationship of Mennonites in Paraguay to Paraguayan President Nicanor Duarte Frutos, elected in 2003.

1 The MWC assemblies considered here are: (1) Basel/Zurich, Switzerland, 1925; (2) Danzig, West Prussia, 1930; (3) Amsterdam/Witmarsum/Elspeet, Netherlands, 1936; (4) Goshen, Indiana/Newton, Kansas, 1948; (5) Basel/Zurich, Switzerland, 1952; (6) Karlsruhe, Germany, 1957; (7) Kitchener, Ontario, 1962; (8) Amsterdam, Holland, 1967; (9) Curitiba, Brazil, 1972; (10) Wichita, Kansas, 1978; (11) Strasbourg, France, 1984; (12) Winnipeg, Manitoba, 1990; (13) Calcutta, India, 1997; (14) Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, 2003.

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