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Spring 2013 · Vol. 42 No. 1 · pp. 4–16 

Dynamics of the Early Mennonite Brethren Church in North America

John B. Toews

Mennonite Brethren arriving in North America during the mid-1870s belonged to a renewal movement that officially separated from the Mennonite Church in Russia in 1860. Initially it appears to have been a quietistic spiritual journey in the 1850s which gradually moved towards a confrontation with the established church. In their secession document the dissenters stressed the need for a pure church where personal faith experience expressed itself in a clearly delineated lifestyle. Unfortunately revival brought fragmentation. Enthusiasts, who wished to continue to celebrate the initial joy of conversion, advocated a type of religious exhibitionism that involved shouting, jumping, and dancing and earned the early Mennonite Brethren (hereafter, MBs) the derogatory designation Hüpfer (leapers or jumpers). 1 By 1865 sobriety returned with the so-called “June Reforms” that marked a collective repentance of earlier excesses. The secession document of 1860 decried the shortcomings of the established church and, perhaps inadvertently, brought with it the obligation to define acceptable parameters for the “pure church.”

There were always those who felt acceptable Christian lifestyles needed strict boundaries . . . In such situations toleration might become a threatened concept. {5}

The decade following 1865 saw a remarkable degree of stability in the new movement. Locally, ministers and elders were elected, a conference structure was organized, and a confession of faith (1876) drawn up. The success of the numerically small and scattered early MBs was in part based upon two concepts: the idea of the house church and the practice of the itinerant ministry. The house gatherings were a characteristic feature of early MB piety and were conducted throughout the constituency. Here was an informal lay religiosity that stressed personal experience, dialogue, and an expansion of faith understanding at the everyday level. In a sense the ebb and flow of life generated a theology rooted in life experience rather than formal doctrines. Concern, empathy, and even gender inclusion occurred easily in such a setting. The first MB conference, held in 1872, elected five itinerant ministers (Reiseprediger), who were to contact all MBs scattered across the vast Russian Empire. In subsequent years carefully planned itineraries ensured at least annual contacts with even the smallest house group. As new Mennonite settlements were established throughout Russia in the 1870s and 1880s, the dispersion did not threaten the sense of togetherness.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of dedicated itinerants, MBs retained a strong sense of belonging to a larger whole and invariably developed a distinct identity. Late nineteenth-century congregational reports from both Russia and North America reflect an amazing uniformity of belief and practice. 2 Various articles published in the Zionsbote provide some insight into the dynamic of the house church. Itinerant ministers who sent an account of their activities to the periodical speak of holding an Abendstunde (evening service) or an Erbauungsstunde (devotional or edificatory service). The terms denote a Bible study in a home, attended by several families, or a larger service in the local school or even church. Singing, prayer, the sharing of conversion stories, and preaching by the itinerant minister usually comprised the agenda. 3

Among some 18,000 Russian Mennonites immigrating to North America during the 1870s and 1880s were members of the Mennonite Church, the Kleine Gemeinde, the Mennonite Brethren, and the Krimmer Mennonite Brethren. Originating from settlements scattered over the vast Russian Empire, the migrants brought with them variations in folk customs, Low German and German dialects, worship styles, and even theological convictions. In the new land they not only faced the challenges of climate and unfamiliar agricultural lands, but also found themselves engulfed by an English-speaking North American culture that ultimately absorbed its immigrants into a national identity. For many, relocation was economically draining and diminished already meager resources. Amid all this, at least for Christian believers, was the task of constructing a new community in a new world. Russian Mennonites arriving on the central plains of America {6} originated from widely separated regions in Russia and often brought with them varied theological notions and differing liturgical practices. The new frontier did not allow the self-enclosed settlements they had known in the old country. Invariably the search for suitable farm land scattered the migrants. Many of the initial settlements consisted of relatively small groups, and even these were often separated by many miles. It was still largely an era of horse transport. Attempts to organize congregational life were not only hampered by geographic isolation but by the diverse backgrounds of the immigrants, many of whom clung to treasured religious values of the past. Differences as to the mode and meaning of baptism, or whether immersion should be administered forwards or backwards, became significant issues. Congregations had to cope with inexperienced leaders or sometimes the caprice of self-assured dictatorial ones. Invariably the new congregations—whether in Turner County, Dakota, Marion County, Kansas, or Boone County, Nebraska—found it difficult to establish religious peace.

This study is based on the nineteenth-century minutes of the Mennonite Brethren Conference of North America as well as the minutes of several early congregations seeking to establish themselves in a new land. Both conference and congregational records are written in a terse style and often do not include details of ongoing debates, but rather list the actual resolutions passed. Congregationally the often infrequent gatherings were called a Brüderberatung (literally, a brotherly consultation). 4 Amid the multiple problems encountered by congregations and the conference, two dominant concerns emerged: the first focused on establishing a functional organizational structure; the second sought to define a paradigm for an acceptable Christian lifestyle.


Shortly after his arrival in the United States late in 1879, Abraham Schellenberg, ordained as an elder in Russia, became a central figure among new MB congregations in Kansas. 5 Not long after, he penned a note indicating that a group of believers had decided to form a Versammlung (a gathering or congregation) that “would follow the path of the baptized church in Russia and accept its faith, confession, and organization.” 6 What had been in Russia would continue to be. By 1896 there were at least seven elders in the larger Mennonite Brethren congregations. They were probably regarded as less authoritative than their counterparts in the Mennonite Church. After all, the very term “brethren” implied egalitarianism.

As mentioned earlier, frequent contact was essential to sustain a sense of unity and belonging. Invariably North American settlement sites were widely separated from one another, though railway accessibility was a key {7} consideration for the Mennonite immigrant. In this setting the Russian strategy of sending Reiseprediger (itinerant ministers) on a Missionsreise (a mission trip) proved invaluable. It therefore came as no surprise when the 1879 Conference meeting in Nebraska unanimously voted to send “brother [Abraham] Schellenberg from Kansas as a Reiseprediger to Kansas, Nebraska, Dakota, and Minnesota.” 7

In practice the MB immigrant church in North America appears to have been somewhat uncomfortable with the office of elder. Prominent elders like Abraham Schellenberg, Heinrich Voth, and Johann J. Regier were always designated as “brother” at the Conference and local congregational levels. There seem to have been difficulties in defining the elder’s role and his jurisdictional power. At the 1887 conference held in Nebraska, delegates speculated as to what terms like bishops, elders, shepherds, and ministers (Lehrer) meant. The assembly was concerned with distinguishing tasks assigned to evangelists from those relegated to elders. Sparsely worded minutes betray significant disagreement among the delegates. Seeking to minimize the differences, the Conference passed a generic resolution stipulating “that the Conference is not so much concerned with names and offices but that each person use his God-given talents and remain in a brotherly relationship.” 8 The debate intensified at the 1888 conference. Eventually further discussion was suspended by the chairperson because a unified resolution seemed impossible. 9 The recording secretary may have wished to camouflage the tensions when he noted that the debates had “lightened some hearts” (wurden die Herzen mehr gelöst). 10

At the early conferences, itinerants, whether ministers or elders, were viewed as both evangelists and soul-care providers. By the late 1880s delegates advocated a distinction between the two ministries. During the 1889 Minnesota Conference some delegates argued that the elder provided soul-care for the saints in specific localities while evangelists served the entire MB constituency. A committee was elected to resolve the problem. It proposed two full-time evangelists be salaried at Conference expense while local churches were to determine the level of elder support. 11 Discussions continued until delegates meeting at the 1891 conference in South Dakota voted unanimously that soul-care was the responsibility of the local church and by implication the task of the elder. 12

Why were role definitions that in the past had always been clearly understood suddenly up for review? Why distinguish between soul-care and evangelism when both ministries focused mainly on fellow MBs? Behind the sometimes pious language used in Conference debates was the issue of money. Delegates were keenly aware that resources were in short supply and that Conference funds must be carefully guarded. Evangelists belonged to everyone while elders usually belonged to larger congregations {8} that were better-off financially. While elders circulated they did so for only a short time each year. Why should the Conference pay for what was essentially a local appointment? Evangelism on the other hand was not limited by geography. Such thinking translated into budget allocations. Evangelism was given more than twice the funds made available for soul-care. 13 Everyone apparently understood that soul-care meant elder support. Yet throughout the last two decades of the nineteenth century, ministers and elders circulated as Reiseprediger providing both soul-care and evangelism. Aside from budget considerations the highly democratic structure of MB congregations may have made tolerating an authority figure difficult.

Armenkasse (Fund for the Poor)

Another organizational question raised at the 1879 convention related to the position of Armenpfleger (steward to the poor), whose activities were undergirded by the Armenkasse. The office mainly functioned at the congregational level and usually found application within the life of the local church. Monies for the Armenkasse were raised through congregational offerings or came from wealthier individuals who donated or lent them to the fund. 14 Individuals requiring short-term financing could borrow needed funds, but in most cases these resources were distributed as outright gifts to deserving individuals. Persons requiring medical help were given assistance, 15 others were supplied with food and clothing, while help was given to those in special need. 16 For example the Minnesota congregation built a house near the church for a woman whose husband had deserted her and her children. In another instance it provided funds for deserving widows and the caregivers of a bed-ridden sister. 17 By the economic standards of that day, the budget of the Armenkasse was substantial, and the yearly reporting of its disbursements reflected its high priority in congregational life. The term Armenpfleger was used interchangeably with that of deacon, and no attempt to distinguish one from the other is made in the minutes.

Role of Women

Available sources make it difficult to determine to what degree women were excluded from congregational life. Local church meetings were consistently recorded as a Brüderberatung (brotherly consultation), and since the minutes record formal resolutions rather than ongoing discussions it is difficult to know whether women were part of the process. Delegates discussed the issue at the 1879 conference and affirmed that sisters could participate “as instructed by the [Holy] Spirit.” Lest such persons take excessive liberties, it was decreed that they must keep silent during the Brüderberatungen and not aspire to a teaching role. In a more generous {9} mood, delegates agreed that local congregations were free to determine whether women could vote in ministerial or elder elections. 18


During the two decades prior to 1900, both Conference and congregations devoted considerable energies aimed at establishing acceptable lifestyle standards for members of the MB Church. Good Christians did not use tobacco nor did they consume alcoholic beverages “except for medicinal purposes.” 19 When the Conference was faced with the prohibition issue in 1890 it stated, somewhat tentatively, that it was not against it but advised that MBs should not get caught up in its politics. 20 Possibly mindful of their Anabaptist and Russian Mennonite heritage, the 1879 Conference decreed that no guns should be kept in the home, 21 a stance also affirmed by the Minnesota congregation in November, 1879. 22 In 1880 the same congregation banned revolvers. 23 The Kansas Brüderberatung specifically forbade hunting in 1882. 24 Deliberating the issue in 1894, the Corn congregation in Oklahoma felt that “guns should be put aside as much as possible and that persons should not walk about with them.” 25

During their sojourn in Russia the new immigrants’ contact with the state was largely determined by the parameters outlined in the Privilegium of 1800. It allowed for self-enclosed, self-governing communities not in direct contact with the state. It was in fact the intrusion of a government demanding universal state service that had caused many Mennonites to leave their Russian homeland. In America it seemed the state was everywhere, especially at the local level. In Russia the village structure acted as a buffer against the outside world. In America this was largely lacking. There was an instinctive reluctance to embrace the new reality. Some demarcation lines were essential. Mennonite Brethren were not to celebrate the Fourth of July. 26 The Minnesota congregation solved the problem by instituting a missionfest and missions auction on the national holiday, a tradition followed until the turn of the century. 27

There was also concern about the use of the courts and especially the swearing of oaths. 28 Could a church member join a political party? The 1888 convention was cautious in its answer: “While we wish to have a good government we should not sully our conscience.” 29 Yet the Conference did not wish to draft a formal resolution on the issue. A few years later one question addressed to the assembly wondered whether “a brother could be a justice of the peace, a constable, or a notary?” 30 The gathering found the first two occupations unacceptable. Could a minister engage in business? He should earn his livelihood as simply as possible “in order not to harm himself and others.” 31 It may be debated whether the concern with life insurance was a question of avoiding the “world” or exhibiting a lack {10} of trust in God. In any event the 1897 Conference unanimously decreed that “whoever belonged to the Mennonite Brethren could not take out life insurance.” 32

If late nineteenth-century records are an indication, both congregations and the Conference generally agreed on what were worldly pursuits. When the question of circus and theater attendance was raised at the 1887 annual gathering, “it was decided that members of our fellowship stay away from such places.” 33 Saloons too were to be avoided. When this question surfaced at an 1894 congregational meeting in Corn, Oklahoma, the response was decisive—“children of God do not belong there.” 34 After a Kansas church member joined an association known as the Farmers’ Alliance, the congregation became concerned about memberships in “secret societies” and requested he withdraw. He promised to do so. 35

Generally the congregation minutes cited suggest a rigorous enforcement of community standards. Violations of established norms invited some form of church discipline, and a persistent lack of repentance meant excommunication. Thanks to the terse style of the minutes or a soft-hearted recording secretary, grave transgressions are usually not specified and only described in general terms. Persons “fell into sin” or refused to reconcile. 36 In 1881 the Kansas congregation decided to shun (zu meiden) two members: the one had ignored the regulations of the church while the other was living a disorderly life. In 1883 “a sister left us because of marriage” while a brother was to present himself to the church to answer certain accusations. Similarly, three members were barred from spiritual fellowship because of their (bad) behavior. Others were excommunicated for becoming worldly-minded, for quarrelling, fighting, a disorderly lifestyle, 37 or for an “errant faith journey.” 38 A sister was expelled because of her “intractable obstinacy.” 39 The Kansas congregation frequently used the expression “he was denied spiritual fellowship” (ihm geistlich Gemeinschaft zu entsagen) for excommunication. 40 When two quarrelling members in Minnesota refused to reconcile, the congregation decided to withdraw from them (sich ihnen zu entziehen) if they did not come to terms. 41

Yet amid this apparent spirit of harshness a generosity prevailed. The erring sisters or brothers were invited to come before the church to explain their actions and request forgiveness. The minutes usually note that a person spricht sich aus (gives an account of him/herself). 42 There was a considerable element of mercy in the process. If forgiveness was requested following confession, the congregation extended the hand of fellowship (die Hand der Gemeinschaft gereicht). 43 In the Minnesota congregation a sister who “was no longer regarded as a sister” was encouraged with the words “if she decides to follow a better pathway we will walk hand in hand with her.” 44 {11}

Often church discipline dealt with everyday lifestyle issues. Few shortcomings, real or perceived, escaped notice in the tightly knit MB communities. Private quarrels soon came to the attention of the Gemeinde. More often than not, several brothers were appointed to arbitrate such disputes. There were various violations of accepted standards of Christian behavior. Some brothers lived disorderly lives or served liquor to threshing crews. 45 One brother was drunk at his auction sale, 46 others were simply not in good standing with the church for reasons not specified. 47 One brother faced discipline for making crude remarks (grobe Ausdrücke) at a congregational meeting. 48 There were additional concerns: some were not attending church; 49 there were unsuccessful business ventures; 50 and rumors that private loans were not being repaid. 51 On the whole, personal arbitration successfully dealt with obvious failings or motivated individuals toward betterment. Apparently the process was no respecter of persons. A minister who spoke unkind words against a sister was deposed from his position, yet had the audacity to ask if he could still preach in spite of his demotion. 52

In the Kansas minutes there is some concern with determining unsere Herzenstellungen zu einander (our deep-felt attitudes or relationships towards one another). 53 There was the need for brotherly reconciliation (brüderliche Aussöhnung). 54 A single notation occurring in both the Kansas and Minnesota minutes is difficult to interpret. Should a brother be greeted with a kiss? 55 In a second incident, two brothers (possibly excommunicated) were not to be greeted with a kiss. 56 How is the modern reader to interpret such minute entries? The brother kiss, widely practiced among Russian MBs, was in part based upon scriptural injunctions (1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Thess. 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14), and in part also continued a Russian national custom. It was often a standard form of greeting in the everyday world but took on greater spiritual significance when practiced after communion. Withholding the kiss was a sign of broken fellowship, perhaps a subtle form of shunning. 57

A concern at both the congregational and Conference level related to the marriage of believers to unbelievers. When the 1880 Conference met in Minnesota, a case was cited in which “a brother took a wife who did not belong to the Gemeinde.” Several other similar instances were mentioned. After “lengthy serious discussion” it was unanimously decided that believing baptized members must marry within the church. 58 In the Kansas congregation the question surfaced in 1883 when a young lady “left us because of marriage.” 59 Some years later another sister was excommunicated for marrying an unbeliever. When she apologized for her action seventeen months after her expulsion she was accepted back into the church. 60 In 1888 the Minnesota Gemeinde would not officiate if an outside marriage {12} (von aussen her) was involved. 61 Conventions meeting in both 1899 and 1900 still prohibited marriages between believers and unbelievers. 62


It can be argued that the 1860 MB secession was primarily an ethical protest against some of the unacceptable lifestyles tolerated by the established church. Such discontent, publicly proclaimed, brought with it an obligation to define what constituted the “pure church.” There were necessary parameters that needed to be established and agreed upon. Most of the accepted restrictions were necessary in the setting of the 1860s and 1870s. Somewhat inadvertently the Gemeinde became the ongoing arbitrator in defining the “pure church” over generations. Yet the Gemeinde also embodied folk customs and ethnicity that shaped its Christian culture. For the migrants of the 1870s and 1880s, elements of their Russian Mennonite Brethren identity both Christian and cultural crossed the ocean with them.

The late nineteenth-century MB records consulted for this study reflect a deep concern for what it meant to be the pure church. Confronted by a foreign culture and surrounded by an assimilating nation, leaders and congregations faced the daunting task of defining acceptable life patterns within a culture they did not fully understand. During the first decades of their sojourn in the new land, they believed themselves separate from the dominant culture, wanting to be God’s people and pursuing the ideal of a pure church. Achieving such aspirations amid a congregational democracy offering differing opinions on what it meant to be God’s people proved difficult. There were always those who felt acceptable Christian lifestyles needed strict boundaries and circumscribed behavior. In such situations toleration might become a threatened concept.

Yet viewed collectively, the North American MB congregations had a commonsensical approach to building the church. There was zeal for fostering the inner life of the church through preaching and teaching. If Zionsbote reports are any indication, itinerant ministers crisscrossed the constituency repeatedly, and that without the convenience of modern transportation. On the whole there was a spirit of moderation when it came to defining ethical standards and exercising church discipline. Concerns with quarrelling, drunkenness, nicotine addiction, and congregational disunity were not unreasonable, and neither was the concern with firearms amidst a gun-conscious frontier culture. Perhaps they needed at least two decades to construct a “comfort zone” in what for them was an alien linguistic and cultural setting. Like any new immigrants, they had to unfasten the “time lock” that Russian Mennonite culture had imposed on them. They did so with surprising speed. Two decades after settlement individual congregations {13} and the Conference had already focused on foreign and home missions as well as the necessity of Christian higher education for their offspring.


  1. See The Story of the Early Mennonite Brethren (1860–1869). Reflections of a Lutheran Churchman (Winnipeg, MB: Kindred, 2002).
  2. Many of these reports can be found in the Zionsbote, which commenced publication in 1885 as the official organ of the Mennonite Brethren Conference of North America. It not only served as a bridge between MB immigrants in America but allowed for contact with their co-religionists in Russia. Its first editor, John F. Harms, welcomed reports from men and women in both constituencies. Communications from congregations, descriptions of itinerant ministries, conversion narratives, accounts of faith experiences—all were published without discernable editorial interference or curtailment. The grassroots authenticity of this accumulated literature today provides one of the best sources for persons researching MB faith priorities and spirituality in the late nineteenth century. The material has not been pre-digested by an editor or professionally packaged by a journalist. The reader can participate in the sequence of a tragic illness and death, the ritual of the resulting funeral, and even learn of family interconnections. Reports on crop conditions, weather variance, coupled with news of Sunday School conventions and teacher conferences, provide a holistic portrait of MB faith and life.
  3. See for example F. J. Jantzen, “Petersburg [Nebraska],” Zionsbote, 28 January 1891; Franz Dueck, “Buhler, Kansas,” Zionsbote, 17 April 1891; Abraham D. Ewert, “Bingham Lake, Minnesota,” Zionsbote, 3 January 1891; “Parker, Dakota,” Zionsbote, 24 August 1894.
  4. An early report by Kansas MB ministers Peter Wall and Abraham Schellenberg notes that in addition to the MBs, there were the Krimmer Mennonite Brethren as well as three groupings within the Mennonite Church. The account describes the founding of an MB congregation in “Reno, Harvey and McPherson counties.” Initially known as the Ebenezer Church it was renamed the Buhler Mennonite Brethren Church when it relocated to that town in 1921. These minutes were generously made available by the Center for MB Studies in Fresno, California. The Center likewise provided the minutes of a Minnesota congregation identified in the minutes as existing “north and south of the railway” and led by Elder Heinrich Voth. Members of the congregation first met in February, 1877. Formal minutes began to be kept on October 3, 1879. Leaders of both Kansas and Minnesota were prominent in Conference activities. I felt the two minutes best illustrated the early “dynamics” of the MB immigrant church. In a supplemental fashion the minutes of the Corn, Oklahoma, church (1894–1900) were also utilized. This study assumed, perhaps erroneously, that other surviving {14} minutes would reflect similar concerns given the dominant influence exercised by the North American MB Conference. References will be cited in abbreviated form, i.e. Kansas Minutes, Minnesota Minutes.
  5. See “Abraham Schellenberg,” Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies Newsletter (Hillsboro, Kansas), no. 11 (Spring 2001): 1–3.
  6. Kansas Minutes, 1805. The notation specified that “baptized” meant it occurred im Flusse (in the river).
  7. Protokoll der Konferenz der M.B. Gemeinde von N. Amerika, abgehalten in der Gemeinde York und Hamilton Co., Nebraska am 18.,19. Oktober, 1879. The first four Conference minutes were fortunately transcribed from the originals by John F. Harms in 1924 (copy available at the Center for MB Studies, Fresno, California). These and the published minutes will be cited hereafter as Conference Minutes. One reference in the 1879 minutes suggests an earlier Conference (1878?) was held (ibid., 2). One day prior to the 1879 gathering, delegates met for a fellowship meal, the so-called Liebesmahl. It was attended by some 367 persons “not counting the many children.” Guests, delegates and local church members were all invited. When the Minnesota church prepared to host the Conference in 1885, it purchased 770 pounds of flour, 27 pounds of coffee 40 pounds of sugar and 120 pounds of butter. Potatoes salt and 4 gallons of vinegar were also required. Apparently mutton was on the menu since congregational members donated 15 sheep. Three brothers were appointed as kitchen supervisors (Aufseher über die Küche), two for supervising the tables, nine brothers as servers (Aufträger) and “sisters to do the cooking” (Minnesota Minutes, 1 October 1885). Corn, Oklahoma, Church Minutes suggest that individual congregations also celebrated the Liebesmahl. In this instance the “sisters were to do the baking” and their names were listed (May 1894).
  8. Conference Minutes, 1887, 56.
  9. Conference Minutes, 1888, 61–63.
  10. Ibid., 71–72.
  11. Conference Minutes, 1889, 71–72; 80–83; 89–91.
  12. Conference Minutes, 1891, 122.
  13. The 1890 Conference budget raised $1,181.00 for evangelism and $352.22 for elder salaries (soul-care) (Conference Minutes, 1890, 98). The 1891 Conference allocated $1,060.34 for evangelism, $382.94 for soul-care (Conference Minutes, 1891, 114–15).
  14. Kansas Minutes, 28 September 1883.
  15. Ibid., 27 December 1886; 22 May 1888; 18 February 1892; 27 December 1893.
  16. Ibid., 31 December 1885; 22 May 1888; 25 October 1889; 27 December 1890.
  17. Minnesota Minutes, 2 March 1897; 29 November 1898; 28 November 1900.
  18. Conference Minutes, 1879, items 13, 14. {15}
  19. Minnesota Minutes, 5 February 1880. See also the Conference Minutes, 1899, 217. The Kansas congregation specifically dealt with two of its members who were selling tobacco in their store. After some admonition the two agreed to halt the sale of this product (Kansas Minutes, 28 November 1886; 4 January 1888).
  20. Conference Minutes, 1890; item 13.
  21. Conference Minutes, 1879, item 22.
  22. Minnesota Minutes, 13 November 1879.
  23. Ibid., 5 February 1880. At the 1893 General Conference it was noted that the resolutions passed in 1890 were being ignored by some members. The Conference decreed “that in our families no guns will be tolerated,” 156.
  24. Kansas Minutes, 22 November, 1882.
  25. Corn, Oklahoma, Minutes, 10 September, 1894.
  26. Conference, 1885, item 16.
  27. See the Minnesota Minutes for 18 June 1889; 24 June 1892; 23 June 1893; 27 June 1894; 25 June 1895; 17 June 1896; 22 June 1897; 24 June 1898; 28 June 1899; 5 June 1900.
  28. Conference, 1885, item 17; Minnesota Minutes, 13 October 1880.
  29. Conference Minutes, 1888, item 11.
  30. Conference Minutes, 1893, 156. The Minnesota congregation addressed the question in 1891 and concluded that “no brother can serve in a worldly occupation.” The same congregation also unanimously opposed the use of the courts, observing that members should seek help from the church (Gemeinde) (Minnesota Minutes, 3 February 1891).
  31. Conference Minutes, 1893, 156.
  32. Conference Minutes, 1897, 197–198. Not long after the conference, the Minnesota congregation affirmed the resolution (Minnesota Minutes, 17 November 1897).
  33. Conference Minutes, 1887, item 16. “Sind Tanz und Theaterbesuche einem Christen erlaubt?” Zionsbote, 20 August 1890.
  34. Corn, Oklahoma, Minutes, 10 September 1894. Also Conference Minutes, 1899, 217.
  35. Kansas Minutes, 14 June 1889; 18 September 1889; 20 February 1890. It was possibly in response to this concern with secret societies that the Zionsbote published a brief article, “Die Farmer-Alliancen” (24 September 1890), explaining that these organizations wanted to obtain government protection against crop failure as well as inaugurate laws in various states to protect farmers from bankruptcy.
  36. Minnesota Minutes, 27 December 1895; 28 May 1888.
  37. Kansas Minutes, 13 January 1881; 10 December 1881; 17 February 1883; 6 December 1883; 27 December 1885; 28 November 1886.
  38. Ibid., 25 November 1886.
  39. Ibid., 3 April 1888.
  40. Ibid., 6 December 1883; 8 April 1885; 3 April 1888; 20 February 1890.
  41. Minnesota Minutes, 28 May 1888.
  42. Kansas Minutes, 4 January 1888; 22 May 1888; 27 December 1888; 14 June 1889; 20 February 1890; 2 August 1890. {16}
  43. Ibid., 19 October 1887; 4 January 1888; 22 January 1888.
  44. Minnesota Minutes, 28 June 1899.
  45. Kansas Minutes, 12 September 1891; Minnesota Minutes, 10 November 1897.
  46. Minnesota Minutes, 6 November 1896.
  47. Ibid., 23 October 1893.
  48. Ibid., 31 October 1894. The brother in question was banned from attending communion, foot washing, and church meetings. Many months later it was recorded (ibid., 25 June 1895) that he had “left the congregation forever” (sich für immer der Gemeinde entsagt).
  49. Ibid., 25 June 1895; 6 November 1896.
  50. Kansas Minutes, 21 September 1891; 12 September 1891.
  51. Ibid., 14 May 1896.
  52. Kansas Minutes, 23 January 1893.
  53. Ibid., 20 November 1888; 14 June 1889.
  54. Ibid., 23 April 1889.
  55. Ibid.
  56. Minnesota Minutes, 3 March 1883.
  57. The Hahnsau and Popovka MB Church in the Am Trakt Mennonite Settlement in Russia was accepted into the MB Conference in 1874. Led by their elder, Peter Eckert, this group migrated to Marion County, Kansas, in 1875. They regarded music as sinful and banned it entirely. On the other hand they practiced the rather infamous “sister kiss,” a not so laudatory remnant of early MB beginnings. Eckert was present at the first North American MB Conference held in 1879 and, as agenda item three, raised the question of the “sister kiss” as something the Conference could not agree upon. Elder Johann J. Regier replied that “we do not teach” it. He wisely suggested that delegates ignore “differences regarding the kiss” and that “we patiently support each other.” All twenty-two delegates agreed (Conference Minutes, 1879).
  58. Conference Minutes, 1889, item 9, 89.
  59. Kansas Minutes, 6 December 1883.
  60. Ibid., 18 September 1889; 25 October 1889; 20 February 1890.
  61. Minnesota Minutes, 5 May 1888.
  62. Conference Minutes, 1899, 217; Conference Minutes, 1900, 233. In 1893 the Kansas congregation needed to find a minister to marry another minister’s son who was not a church member (Kansas Minutes, 27 December 1893). See also “Über Heiraten ausser der Gemeinde,” Zionsbote, 10 August 1898.
Trained in European medieval history, John B. Toews taught in that field at the University of Calgary for twenty-seven years. In 1989 he moved to Vancouver to teach Early Church History and Anabaptist Studies at Regent College. He has written extensively about the Russian Mennonites, especially as they relate to the Mennonite Brethren story. In retirement he continues his research and writing in his chosen field of interest.

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