Mennonite History

When they originated in Zurich, Switzerland in 1525 as the radical wing of the Protestant Reformation, Mennonites were known as Anabaptists—”re-baptizers”—because of their emphasis on baptizing believing adults.

Today “Anabaptist” describes a family of faith that includes Amish, Brethren in Christ, Church of the Brethren, Hutterites, and Mennonites. Aspects of Anabaptist thinking and practice now appear in many Christian traditions, with some Anabaptist-interested folks calling themselves “Anabaptish.”

Mennonites got their particular name from Menno Simons, an early Dutch leader. Basic tenets of Mennonite faith include nonviolence, voluntary church membership, practicing believers’ baptism, and living Christ’s call to love one’s enemy. Many early Anabaptists were executed for living these beliefs.

The Amish, followers of the Swiss leader Jakob Ammann, split from the Mennonites in 1693 over issues of church discipline. Subsequently, Amish and Mennonites followed different migrations to America.

In America, and Pennsylvania especially, both groups were part of a larger 18th and 19th century Pennsylvania German milieu that also included German Baptists, Lutherans, and Reformed Church members.

The Lancaster, Pennsylvania area is home to a wide variety of Mennonite and Amish groups today, all holding the same basic faith values but expressing them in different ways. This includes culturally conservative groups with carefully shared understandings related to clothing styles, technology use, and “separation from the world” to those who participate fully in broader society and whose communitarian witness takes other forms. Mennonites continue to significantly shape Lancaster County’s culture and life.

Mennonite World Conference provides one snapshot of Mennonites and related Anabaptist groups in a global scale. Mennonite World Conference membership in 2018 included one international association and 107 Mennonite and Brethren in Christ national churches from 58 countries, with around 1.47 million baptized believers in close to 10,000 congregations. About 81% of baptized believers in member churches are African, Asian, or Latin American, and 19% are located in Europe and North America.

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