Algemene Doopsgezinde Societeit
In the course of the 17th and 18th centuries in the Netherlands various regional Sociëteits or conferences had been organized. These were groupings of Mennonite congregations organized usually for some practical purpose. In 1811 the Algemene Doopsgezinde Sociëteit (ADS; General Mennonite Association) was organized. The direct occasion for its founding was as follows: Since 1735 the Lamist congregation at Amsterdam had a seminary for the training of preachers, and this seminary remained when the various congregations in Amsterdam gradually united. But because of the financial decrees of Napoleon in 1810 the income of the Amsterdam Mennonite Church was no longer adequate to bear the expenses alone. Prof. Gerrit Hesselink set up a plan for the organization of a general association for the purpose of supporting the seminary, and after some discussion with neighboring congregations (Haarlem, Zaandam-Nieuwe Huis, and Zaandam-Oostzijde) in the course of which a misunderstanding which had arisen between Amsterdam and Haarlem was speedily cleared away, invitations were sent to 132 congregations in the Netherlands to take part in the association. Scarcely fifty of them joined the Sociëteit. Several congregations repudiated the plan; many said that in principle they were in harmony with the plan, but were not in a condition to take part because of financial weakness.
On 17 May 1811 the Sociëteit regulations were drawn up at a meeting in Haarlem. On 21 and 22 August 1811, the delegates of the 50 congregations met as an executive gathering.
The goal of the Sociëteit was twofold: first it served "to promote preaching service" by supporting the seminary, so that "the preaching of God's Word be done by competent and worthy preachers." The second objective was to guarantee a suitable salary for young men who had completed the course at the seminary, by granting a subsidy to congregations who were unable to raise the necessary funds.
The directorate at first consisted of twenty men, chosen by those member congregations who contributed to the treasury of the ADS. Not until 1950 was the system ended that gave more votes to one congregation than to another according to the amount contributed. After 1950 representation was in proportion to the membership of the congregation. In the course of time all Dutch Mennonite congregations became members of the ADS, the last joining in 1870. Some congregations in northwest Germany also belonged to it.
In the first century of its existence the work of the Sociëteit was mostly of a financial nature, but through the organization of 1923, planned by Pieter Feenstra Jr., the chairperson at that time, this changed. The new constitution of 1 January 1924 called for a concentration of effort, with the task of the ADS becoming more inclusive. If the Sociëteit's objective in 1811 was the promotion of the service of preaching and matters connected with it, that of 1923 read: "the promotion of the religious, moral, and directly connected with these, the material needs of the Mennonites, first of all the preaching service among them and also its representation outside of the brotherhood." This outside representation included the understanding that the ADS in the name of the Dutch Mennonites could (and did) discuss with the Mennonites of other countries, with the government, and with other denominations what happened during World War II.
The ADS had from the beginning a number of committees appointed by the directors. First to be named was the College of Curators, which supervised the seminary. Later came the Committee for the Proponenten (ministerial candidates), the Committee for Spiritual Interests, and the Committee for the Archives of the Congregations. After the 1923 reorganization all the work done in the Dutch Mennonite community was now included in the work of the ADS: a committee for supervision of the Zondagsbode, a Mennonite weekly (later the Algemeen Doopsgezind Weekblad); a committee to look after the scattered Mennonites (diaspora), which sent out visiting preachers and looked up Mennonites who lived in places where there was no Mennonite congregation, and which stimulated the formation of new congregations. An efficient Verhuisdenbureau kept the addresses of all the members who moved out of a congregation. Of great importance was the committee for Geestelijke belangen (spiritual interests), a committee which included representatives of all kinds of movements among the Dutch Mennonites, and which served in an advisory capacity to the Executive Committee. A subcommittee of this group was the committee for Liturgic, which published a Kanselboek (ministers' manual) in 1948.
During the German occupation of the Netherlands (1940-45) the ADS became to a still greater degree the center of the church community. It maintained contact with other churches in the Inter-Kerkelijk Overleg (IKO). From the IKO messages were issued to the congregations, protesting against the persecution of the Jews, slave labor, deportation to Germany, and other measures of the occupation. When all independent associations in church community were prohibited by German regulations (Elspeetse Vereniging, Zendingsraad, Jongerenbond), the ADS temporarily took over.
In financial areas a great improvement came in the formation of a Pensioenstichting, through which appropriate pensions could be given to aged or sick ministers and to their widows. Previously there were seven Mennonite pension organizations. After the war the salaries of ministers were raised, and congregations paid contributions to the ADS in proportion to their membership.
With other churches the ADS has cooperated in ecumenical union, including broadcasting of religious services and the religious instruction of children in the grades of the public schools. In 1949 a two-year correspondence course began, called the kadercursus (basic course), with eight instructors in various fields (including Old and New Testament and Mennonite history), which had as its objective the awakening of a definite Mennonite life by means of imparting information.
After 1946 the ADS published a weekly organ which is sent to all the Dutch Mennonites, the Algemeen Doopsgezind Weekblad. A publication committee looks after the publication of booklets on Mennonite history and doctrine. Through the ADS a new hymnal was produced in 1944 to reduce to the multiplicity of hymnals in use.
During the 1960s and later, Dutch Mennonite leaders became aware of a growing desire for change in the function of this central agency. This led to a meeting of the directors of the ADS and congregational representatives at Elspeet in April 1970 to reflect on the functioning of the ADS and on congregational renewal. A list of recommendations was drawn up, beginning with a concern that greater unity and fraternal relationships should transcend local congregational autonomy. Beyond this, it was felt that the several agencies e.g., the mission board, (Doopsgezinde Zendingsraad), youth office (Doopsgezinde Jeugdcentrale), fellowship committee (Gemeenschap voor Doopsgezind Broederschapswerk), and the relief and service committee (Stichting voor Bijzondere Noden), should have a place in the administrative structure of the ADS.
These recommendations led to the appointment of a structures review committee following intense review of issues in all congregations across the land. During a period of several years, a new structure for the ADS was recommended; it was adopted on 3 June 1975. In this agreement, the primary purpose of the ADS was stated as being the strengthening of congregational life and faith, with particular concern for the evangelism and proclamation of the word. The ADS was commissioned to increase support of congregational activities, while the congregations committed themselves to increased spiritual and material fellowship and support. The structure for achieving these objectives consists in the brotherhood meeting (conference), in which all congregations are equally represented, and in two agencies to implement decisions: the brotherhood council (Broederschapsraad), organized regionally with local agency participation, and the general board (Dagelijks Bestuur committee).
While the congregations were more actively related to the ADS after 1975, the freedom of the ADS to take new initiatives remained too limited. At the same time, the tendency to return to earlier patterns of congregational autonomy became apparent. Nevertheless, the discussion about renewal continued, particularly as congregations and the ADS became aware of the decline in total membership. This led in 1976 to the establishing of the BOLT (Broederschap op langere termijn) commission, which was to concern itself with the study and analysis of longer range trends within the brotherhood. Based upon a sociological study, this group made a recommendation in 1979 for the strengthening of leadership training and a broadening of the mandate of the seminary. In view of the urgent need for more pastors and leaders, the seminary received the assignment to provide an alternative two-year course in Anabaptist theology and congregational leadership for persons who, for one reason or another, could not pursue the full university-seminary curriculum. Two faculty members were added to the seminary in 1981 to make this program, known as the "Second Way," possible.
In keeping with the earlier study, the ADS mandate was also increased considerably and, since 1986, the ADS is better prepared organizationally to support congregational and other activities. At the same time, the declining membership has led to financial concerns. Fortunately, the merging of the ADS ministers pension fund with the larger national fund in 1986, together with additional federal funds received on the basis of longstanding obligations, resolved the earlier financial concerns.
Ecumenical cooperation with other denominations remains a significant task for the ADS. One visible sign of this cooperation was the publication of a new joint hymnal in 1973. Most Protestant congregations in The Netherlands now use this hymnal.
Since the reorganization of the ADS the chairpersons have been: 1924-1929, A. Binnerts Szn., Haarlem; 1929-1934, P. B. Westerdijk, Amsterdam; 1934-1939, A. H. van Drooge, Deventer; 1939-1945, F. H. Pasma, Grouw; 1945-1946, C. Nijdam, Zeist; 1946-1951, W. F. Golterman, Amsterdam; 1951-1959, H. Craandijk, Amsterdam; 1959-1963, S. M. A. Daalder; 1963-1970, J. J. J. van Sluijs; 1970-1971, S. C. Dierdorp; 1971-1979, C. F. Brüsewitz; 1979-1983, J. A. van Ingen Schenau-Elsen (the first woman in this office); 1983-1994, S. A. Vis; 1994-2001, P.A. Beun; 2001-, A.S. de Jong.
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Algemene Doopsgezinde Societeit web site: http://www.doopsgezind.nl/
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 52-53; v. 5, p. 14. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: van der Zijpp, Nanne and C. F. Brüsewitz. "Algemene Doopsgezinde Societeit." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1990. Web. 24 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/A443.html.
APA style: van der Zijpp, Nanne and C. F. Brüsewitz. (1990). Algemene Doopsgezinde Societeit. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 24 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/A443.html.