Balk (Friesland, Netherlands)
Balk, a village in the southwest of the Dutch province of Friesland, the seat of the civil community of Gaasterland (Gaasterlân-Sleat) and also of a Mennonite church, whose members lived in several neighboring villages. The history of this congregation falls into two periods with 1854 as the dividing line. There was probably a church here in the very early time. Leenaert Bouwens baptized 41 persons here; 32 between 1551 and 1554, 9 between 1557 and 1561. The membership probably never reached 100. Some serious events, now no longer known, caused the membership to decline: by 1720 it was still 70, but by 1763 it was only 10. Then it began a slow increase, maintaining itself at 30 or 35 in the last three years before 1854. It was the last congregation to join the Conference of Friesland (1855).
In 1625 the congregation took over a small church, which served until 1863. The congregation belonged to the Old Frisians, specifically, to the Pieter Jeltjes division, and was one of the last congregations to discard its old Mennonite traditions. It was later also known as an Old Flemish congregation. Until 1854 it had no trained minister, but a lay preacher chosen from its own membership. Anyone chosen for a church office had to accept it. The entire church life was correspondingly simple. The elder who preached stood before a plain lectern. The listeners sat on unpainted, backless benches. Silent prayer was adhered to, but feetwashing was abandoned as a general practice. But when a preacher from the outside was received in a home, feetwashing and the kiss of peace were observed. The ban was still observed—in 1806 for marrying a non-Mennonite woman—and with it avoidance. At baptism and communion the utensils used were of coarse crockery.
The same simplicity was found in the homes of the members; only the most essential furniture was there, but the bookcase never was missing, which leads to the conclusion that the members were inclined to independent judgment. Clothing was simple; gold and silver were not worn. Of all the traditions that of the clothing was longest preserved. In 1915 an old sister was still living, who had discarded the costume in 1872. (A picture and description of her clothing are found in Doopsgezinde Bijdragen 1902.) Tobacco and alcoholic beverages were not used nor offered to others.
To be received into the church, it was not necessary to attend special instruction, but one had to master the School der Deugd by Tieleman van Braght and the Onderwijzinge des Christelijken Geloofs by Boudewijns. The former was used for the younger persons, the latter for the older. Both these books were reprinted by the "fine Mennonites" in 1824 and 1825. Blaupot ten Cate reported that in 1839 the Onderwijzinge of Engel A. van Dooregeest was also used in religious instruction. They used the old Biestkens Bible and also a Luther translation. Until 1848 their hymnal was the Kleyn Hoorns Liedtboeck of 1644 (reprinted 1814). The members voted on the admission of new members.
Military service caused the congregation much difficulty. Several requests were made of the government for exemption, but were not granted. Members helped each other to pay for a substitute; if necessary the church treasury was drawn upon.
Until 1844 the congregation was completely independent. When the Algemene Doopsgezinde Sociëteit was founded, this church asked to be excused from all inquiries and letters concerning the training of ministers, for they had in their own midst enough brethren to serve them with God’s Word. For a time they maintained contact with Giethoorn, but longest and closest with Aalsmeer. The preachers of Aalsmeer usually came once a year; that Sunday was a festive day, and on it two sermons were preached. There are still a few letters left from the correspondence with Giethoorn and Aalsmeer, which, together with some old treasurer’s accounts, make up all the writings handed down from that period. (This old church, its customs and usages, were discussed in several volumes of the Doopsgezinde Bijdragen, but especially in the issue of 1892. See also Blaupot t. C., Friesland, esp. supplement XVIII.)
The situation was radically changed in 1854. Part of the congregation emigrated to America (about eight miles (13 km) southwest of Goshen, Indiana) on account of military service. From 19 May 1853, to 26 April 1854 a total of 52 persons emigrated, including 19 members and 2 preachers, R. J. Smits and R. J. Symensma. The elderly Haitje Hantjes Visser was left as the only minister with 14 members. Because he was too old to serve alone, most of these members saw that a change would have to be made. Against the wishes of some, it was decided to call a trained minister. The call was accepted by D. S. Gorter of Warns and Stavoren. On 23 April 1854 the last lay preacher, H. H. Visser, preached his farewell sermon on Romans 4:25. Pastor Gorter preached his inaugural sermon on 7 May 1854 on 1 Corinthians 8:1, "Knowledge puffern up, but charity edifieth." He remained until his death, 27 August 1876.
Evidently some had been waiting for the new order of things, for no fewer than 31 persons from the outside applied for admission and on 31 March 1855, 17 persons were baptized, increasing the membership from 14 to 62. On 1 February 1863 the last sermon was preached in the old church and the present church building was dedicated. The congregation had the following ministers through 1953: S. Gorter, 1854-1876; J. J. Honig, 1877-1902; R. van der Veen, 1902-1912; H. C. Barthel, 1912-16; S. J. van der Meulen, 1916-1922; B. P. de Vries, 1923-1933; W. I. Fleischer, 1933-1942; C. F. Brüsewitz, 1943-1946; H. J. de Wilde after 1946. All members could vote, and women could hold church office. Services were held every Sunday. The congregation was a member of Ring Bolsward. The membership was 81 in 1898; 100 in 1927; 108 in 1950. In 1953 the congregation had a Sunday school for children (ages 6-12), a youth’s organization and a women’s organization. After 1920 Woudsend had joined the Balk congregation for preaching services.
Cate, Steven Blaupot ten. Geschiedenis der Doopsgezinden in Friesland. Leeuwarden: W. Eekhoff, 1839.
Brüsewitz, Carl F. "De Doopsgezinden van Balk." Stemmen 5 (1956): No. 4, 81-95.
Brüsewitz, Carl F. "The Mennonites of Balk, Friesland.” Mennonite Quarterly Review 30 (1956): 19-31.
Doopsgezinde Bijdragen (1861): 130 f.; (1887): 86-112; (1892): 46-88; (1902): 26-29.
Gorter, D. S. Godsdienstige lectuur voor Doopsgezinden (1854): 263-298.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 114.
Yoder, Marie. "The Balk Dutch Settlement near Goshen, Indiana, 1853-1889." Mennonite Quarterly Review 30 (1956): 32-43.
Address: Raadhuisstraat 26, Balk
Denominational affiliation: Algemene Doopsgezinde Societeit
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 215-216. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Barthel, H. C. "Balk (Friesland, Netherlands)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 21 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/B3576.html.
APA style: Barthel, H. C. (1953). Balk (Friesland, Netherlands). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 21 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/B3576.html.