Archive for the 'history' Category


on the Anabaptist History Tour

I’ve been meaning to write up a summary of my travels in Europe for the benefit of those of you who have been stuck in other parts of the world… It’s already been a week, so lest I put it off any further, I shall now commence. (If the construction of that sentence is any indication this may be a little rocky…)

Strasbourg cathedral Petite France street in Strasbourg Strasbourg astronomical clock clockworks in the Museum of Decorative Arts, Strasbourg arch at the Palais Rohan, Strasbourg cat in window, Strasbourg European and French flags above Haut-K?nigsberg view from Haut-K?nigsberg part of the Isenheim altarpiece, Mus?e Unterlinden, Colmar

1. Strasbourg, Alsace, and environs – I already wrote some about Strasbourg. We had a fair amount of free time and explored the quays, the narrow streets, the museums of the Palais Rohan and the cathedral with its intricate astronomical clock. [Window into the weirdness that is David’s brain: my pun center (yes, that’s a part of the brain) just perked up and tried to do something with “gastronomical clock”…count yourselves fortunate that I have some self control.] As far as the class went, we reviewed the medieval context of the Reformation and pondered the significance, good and bad, of having a church that is no longer unified. We also visited the headquarters of Mennonite World Conference and learned about the current state of the global Mennonite church and the recent effort to identify the shared convictions of that body. Leaving Strasbourg, we drove south along the Vosges Mountains to Colmar, stopping on the way to explore the restored castle Haut-K?nigsberg on purely touristic impulses. In Colmar we made a stop just long enough to try tarte flamb? and see the Isenheim altarpiece. Then on to Switzerland…

view from the Bienenberg, Liestal tree above Liestal John D. Roth lectures near the T?uferh?hle, B?retswil, Switzerland silhouettes in the T?uferh?hle the Gro?m?nster, Zurich plaque on the Limmat honoring Felix Manz, Zurich treasures in the Zurich city library ("Zurich hat vielen Seiten, und die meisten sind in der Staatbibliothek!") GC physics majors at the house of Albert Einstein, Bern clock tower, Bernscenic overlook, Bern fortress at Trachselwald T?ufer Versteck (Anabaptist hiding place), Fankhaus, Switzerland hike to Pratteln, Switzerland 18000-piece puzzle, Pratteln king of the stump

2. Liestal, Zurich, Bern, and environs – We stayed at the Bienenberg, an Anabaptist seminary and retreat center situated beautifully in the hills above Liestal. We made a day trip to Zurich to see where Anabaptism first emerged–stops included the Gro?m?nster church where Ulrich Zwingli preached and the Limmat River where Felix Manz, one of the first Anabaptist martyrs, was drowned (a plaque acknowledging this was finally put in place by the Swiss government just a few years ago). We also stopped at the T?uferh?hle, a cave where the Anabaptists met for worship in secret. Our second day trip was to places where Anabaptists were held by the authorities–in Bern and at Trachselwald–and to the “T?ufer Versteck,” a barn-turned-historical museum which contains a secret chamber where Anabaptists could hide. (In Bern the three physics majors were also pleased to see the house where Einstein developed his theory of relativity.) In both Zurich and Bern we also stopped at libraries to see rare and treasured source material. On our free day, several of us wandered across the ridge to the neighboring village of Pratteln, where we found a toy store and were diverted looking at German games for quite some time. Throughout our time in Switzerland, we lamented ruefully that our ancestors were forced to flee such a scenic part of the world, and marveled at the strength of their convictions. We found bits of their theology that still seem relevant (baptism of believers, nonviolence) and ones that we have more questions about in our context (strict separation from the world).

clouds, Alsace at a Mennonite cemetery in Alsace Mennonite church in Ingersheim, France one of the original farms at Weierhof, Germany above the Weierhof dusk above the Weierhof Mennonite church in Monsheim, Germany Joel Miller plays soccer at the Wormser Dom Jewish cemetery, Worms gargoyle at the Katherinenkirche, Oppenheim Katherinenkirche, Oppenheim ready to explore the underground labyrinth, Oppenheim How many Mennonites can you fit in the Mennonitische Forschungsstelle? (Weierhof)

3. the Palatinate, southern Germany – After quick stops at Mennonite congregations in (B???) and Ingersheim, France, we entered Germany and the Palatinate. We stayed with host families in the Weierhof, a little village that has been mostly Mennonite since they arrived as farmers fleeing persecution in Switzerland, and reflected on their efforts at church renewal in the new, persecution-less context. We visited a Mennonite congregation at Monsheim and toured the cathedral and Jewish cemetery in Worms, the Katherinenkirche and underground labyrinth in Oppenheim. We also had a little time to do (harried) research at the Mennonitische Forschungsstelle at the Weierhof. Then we enjoyed our bus ride along the ride toward our next stop, as John D. Roth recounted the story of Richard Wagner’s Nibelungen and our irrepressible Dutch bus driver Jan Quaak told stories of previous Amish and Mennonite tour groups (“Then there was Harvey Miller. Yah, he got lost on the mountain…”).

wind turbine blade en route the three cages in the spire of St. Lambert's church, M?nster, Germany bikes in M?nster

4. M?nster, Germany – M?nster is the city where in 1535 one group of Anabaptists led by Jan Matthijs and Jan van Leiden gained power, took over the city, instituted shocking reforms including community of goods and polygamy, and forcefully held the city against siege for 16 months. Needless to say Mennonites have tried to downplay our historical links to this event, but because this is what many Europeans know as Anabaptism it is worth a visit. We went on a walking tour of the city, including the St. Lambert’s church whose spire still houses the 3 cages used to hang the leaders of the M?nster Anabaptists. At our hotel, one older resident complained about our hymn-singing; she explained that she thought we “must be part of some sect.” We decided this was not the time nor place to reveal our identity as Anabaptists!

hackysack, Pingjum, Holland farmland just outside of Witmarsum, Holland monument to Menno Simons, Witmarsum, Holland And they say Europeans don't know about American football... Afsluitdijk, Holland windmills at Zaanse Schans, Holland Singelkerk, Amsterdam flower market, Amsterdam canal in Amsterdam Van Gogh museum, Amsterdam hidden church in Haarlem Teylers Museum, Haarlem

5. Friesland, Amsterdam, and Haarlem – We made quick stops in Pingjum, where Menno Simons was a priest, and at the monument to him in Witmarsum. Then we drove across the Afsluitdijk to Amsterdam, stopping at the very touristy Zaanse Schans to see windmills and buy spicy mustard. In Amsterdam we visited the Singelkerk, home to a seminary and a much more fancy sanctuary than any we had yet seen. This church has recently found new life in outreach through bible studies to young professionals with no previous religious background. We also traveled to Haarlem, where we toured another very fancy hidden church as well as the Teylers Museum whose collection was started by a wealthy Dutch Mennonite. We pondered what it takes to remain a faithful church in the midst of wealth, certainly a relevant question for North American Mennonites today as well. We had a free day in Amsterdam and explored the Van Gogh museum as well as enjoying various ethnic restaurants.

worshipping with the youth at the Evangelische Freikirche Augustdorf, Germany the youth group in Augustdorf waves goodbye

6. Bielefeld and Augustdorf, Germany – After the fall of communism, Germany opened its doors to a flood of culturally German emigrants from the former Soviet Union. Among them were a large number with Mennonite roots. These have become known as the Aussiedler or Umsiedler and in recent years they have been reintegrating into German society. We visited a museum telling this story in Bielefeld and spent the night with the youth group from the Evangelische Freikirche Augustdorf. We had a great time eating, sharing cultures, and worshipping with these youth. At the same time it was evident that this church has stronger ties to the evangelical church than to its Anabaptist roots, and we wondered how long any of that identity will remain.

eel traps in the Netherlands listening to Mitch Hedburg -- times 4 biking across the dunes near Schoorl, the Netherlands good people the North Sea sea monster? no, just Travis biking in the countryside near Schoorl me in need of a haircut and a shave dune near Schoorl final devotions time

7. Schoorl – We finished up our time at the Doopsgezind Broederschapshuis in Schoorl, the Netherlands. Schoorl is only a few kilometers from the sea, so we rented bikes on our free day and had a great time exploring the dunes, beach, and countryside. On the final day we presented our projects (mine was on mutual aid) and prepared to say goodbyes.

Overall the class was excellent. Of course a big part of that was having such a wonderful group of engaged classmates who genuinely care about the past, present, and future of the church. But I’d recommend doing a tour of this sort to anyone who identifies with the Anabaptist tradition and wants to reflect on their connections to it more deeply. Visiting these sites makes the history more tangible, and also you get to see parts of Europe (the rural and the religious) that you might otherwise miss.