Emmental Mennonite Church (Kanton Bern, Switzerland)
Emmental Mennonite Church in the Swiss canton of Bern is the oldest of the Mennonite churches existing in Switzerland, and probably the oldest anywhere. It originated in 1530. Its history is a story of suffering without equal (see Bern and Emmental). Only after 320 years did the severely tried congregation, which remained steadfast, receive full liberty of conscience. This occurred through the Bernese cantonal constitution of 1846 and the Swiss federal constitution of 1848. Now its religious life could develop undisturbed. Meetings were held in the various homes; for example, in Bädertschen, in Zollbrück, in Frittenbach, in Stock, in Raingut, in Hälenschwane, in Bowil, in Kurzenberg, and other places. Outstanding men of God, like Ulrich Steiner (1806-1877, commonly called "Steiner Ulli," preacher 1825, elder 1835) and Ulrich Habegger in Bädertschen, Ulrich Kipfer in Raingut, Johann Gerber in Stock (1838-1918, commonly called "Stockhannes," preacher 1875, elder soon after), Christian Wüthrich in Lihnen, and others, led the congregation.
In 1882 a monthly periodical called the Zionspilger was founded by Samuel Bähler and others, which has continued to be published by the Emmental congregation, for a number of years jointly with the Free Church.
By about 1800 the consequences of the old Ammann-Reist schism had entirely disappeared. But soon after, a new schism arose in the Emmental congregation. Samuel Fröhlich, a member of the Reformed Church who had been compelled to break off his theological studies at the University of Zürich because of his revivalistic principles and his aversion to infant baptism, and Georg Steiger, an adherent of Fröhlich’s, introduced some pietistic and revivalistic ideas among the members of the Emmental Mennonite Church about 1832; finally many of the members, including the preachers Christen Baumgartner and Christen Gerber, were rebaptized by Steiger, left the Mennonite church, and with a number of Fröhlichianer who had been members of the Reformed Church in 1835 founded the “Neutäufer” (see Apostolic Christian Church). The ministerial body (Dienerkonferenz) of the Mennonites, who were now sometimes known as "Alttäufer," excommunicated Baumgartner and Gerber, who had withdrawn from the congregation. The Emmental church was greatly weakened by the loss of so many members, but soon recovered.
On 21 October 1888 a meetinghouse built in Kehr near Langnau with a residence for the pastor, financed by a building association, was dedicated (Mennonitische Blätter, 1888, 132). In 1898 it was decided to build another meetinghouse at Aebnit near Bowil. Also in Bomatt near Zollbrück the congregation has its own church with an apartment. Meetings are also held in Rüederswil, Rüttimatt near Aeschau, Gartegg, Hälenschwand, Gohl, Fahrn near Lauperswil. On 3 April 1898 the congregation elected a "board of nine members for the conduct of congregational affairs. Elders and ministers of the church have the right to vote and to take part in the council." The board was chosen because "new fields of work kept opening, greatly increasing the work of the ministers; in order to relieve this burden somewhat and to distribute the work through the entire congregation, and in order to rouse and preserve the interest of individual members in welfare of the whole congregation. For this reason the separate districts of the congregation are to be given the highest possible consideration in the choice of members of the board." This was done. The first board was composed of Peter Kipfer in Raingut, Ulrich Salzmann in Langnau, Friedrich Stettler in Langnau, Hans Luginbühl in Aebnit near Bowil, Ulrich Steiner in Rüttimatt near Aeschau, Hans Lutki in Brügglen, Hans Mosemann in Hälenschwand, Ulrich Wittwer in Rüederswil, and Ernst Spengler in Langnau. On 24 December 1899 the new statutes of the "Altevangelische Taufgesinnten-Gemeinde Emmental, located in Langnau," were accepted; thereby the congregation acquired corporation rights. As organs of the church they named (1) the members’ meeting; (2) the board of directors; (3) elders, preachers, and deacons. At a members’ meeting on 7 January 1903 women were given the right to vote. The chief occupation was farming in the mid-20th century; but other occupations were also represented.
For religious life the congregational statutes gave the following directive: "Furtherance of the religious and moral life of the members. Exercise, conduct, and promotion of the worship services of the old-evangelical confession, the acquisition of suitable buildings; support and care of the poor and sick within and without the congregation, support and promotion of charitable work in home and foreign missions." Religious life was very active, church attendance and Christian unity were gratifying. Variety was given the religious services through annual celebrations, missionary meetings, song services, and services held in the woods. Since 1898 communion was observed on the second Sunday of every month. Discipline was exercised from exhortation to exclusion from the church. Members were received upon request through the believers’ baptism. If it was requested, immersion might be used. The idea of admitting believers who had shown their affection for the church without believers’ baptism is often presented and opposed.
Instruction of youth lasted two years; here the catechism of the Badischer Verband was used. Sunday schools received full attention and were conducted with non-Mennonites. The number of children in the Sunday schools was over 600. Boys’ clubs, girls’ clubs, and song clubs were very active. Love feasts (Agapen) and teas were held.
Bible courses (formerly always conducted by Jakob Hege, the traveling evangelist of the Mennonites of Baden) and "evangelization weeks" were conducted regularly in the various places. The latter were usually led by brethren from the outside (from the Jura churches, from Chrischona, from the Evangelical Association or the Free Church).
In the care of the sick the church took the lead in the Langnau community. Much was done for the poor, for home missions, and particularly for the China Alliance Mission.
Religious life was in the charge of the elders, ministers, and deacons. These offices were considered important, responsible positions. Usually the ministers preached trial sermons before they were ordained. Preachers and deacons were chosen from the laity; elders from the ranks of preachers and deacons. In 1900 three ministers were chosen by lot; since then they were chosen by the vote, usually by ballot, of the congregation. The elders from 1920 were John Kipfer, Fritz Gerber, and Fritz Mosimann. The membership in 1922 was 286.
In addition to the services held in the three meetinghouses (weekly at Kehr near Langnau, monthly at Aebnit near Bowil and at Bomatt near Zollbrück), monthly meetings were held (in 1955) at the following places: Fahrn (Rüderswil), Moosbad (Emmenmatt), Hauetershaus in der Gohl, Erlenbach (Signau), Gartegg (Langnau), Häleschwand near Schüpbach (Signau), Margelhof near Hellbühl (Luzern). The meetinghouse at Kehr was much enlarged in 1947. Hans Rüfenacht, the pastor in 1955, graduate of St. Chrischona, was called to be preacher at Kehr in 1943 and ordained elder in 1944, also serving as editor of the weekly Zionspilger, published by the congregation, as successor to Elder Johann Kipfer. In 1955 the congregation had about 350-400 baptized members.
In 1947 the Emmental congregation officially joined the State Church of the Canton of Bern, without surrendering either its membership in the Swiss Mennonite Conference or its congregational autonomy. Although this connection made little or no change in the life of the congregation except to free it from taxes, it was deeply opposed by the rest of the Swiss Mennonite congregations, who feared its impact.
In 1937 the Emmental congregation adopted as its confession of faith a doctrinal statement prepared by its elder, Johann Kipfer, Glaubensbekenntnis der Altevangelisch Taufgesinnten-Gemeinde im Emmental. Kipfer sought to have the other Swiss Mennonite congregations adopt the confession but they refused when he declined to revise the articles which appeared to tolerate infant baptism.
Geiser, Samuel. Die Taufgesinnten-Gemeinden: eine Kurzgefasste Darstellung der wichtigsten Ereignisse des Täufertums. Karlsruhe: H. Schneider, 1931.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: I, 583 f.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 210-212. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Amstutz-Tschirren, A. J. and Samuel Geiser. "Emmental Mennonite Church (Kanton Bern, Switzerland)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 18 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/emmental_mennonite_church_canton_bern_switzerland.
APA style: Amstutz-Tschirren, A. J. and Samuel Geiser. (1956). Emmental Mennonite Church (Kanton Bern, Switzerland). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 18 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/emmental_mennonite_church_canton_bern_switzerland.