Konferenz süddeutscher Mennonitengemeinden
At the meeting of the Palatine and Hessian Conference at Eppstein, 27 May 1886, at the suggestion of J. J. Krehbiel, the initial step was taken to hold a joint conference with the Badischer Verband brethren. The idea fell on fertile soil. At the first experimental meeting on 17 February 1887 at Ludwigshafen, attendance was meager. Jakob Ellenberger II of Friedelsheim, and J. Hege of Reihen, gave the introductory addresses on the "Blessing of Unity." With S. Blickensdörfer of Sembach as moderator, the matter of publication and of entry into the Union (Vereinigung) of the Mennonite Churches in Germany was briefly discussed, but no action taken. On 16 November of the same year a second meeting took place at Ludwigshafen, at which the latter question was thoroughly discussed. Although no conclusion was reached, the conference itself was now on a solid footing with the name, "Conference of the Baden and Palatine Mennonites" (Konferenz badisch-pfalzischer Mennoniten).
On 14 November 1888 about 60 brethren attended the third conference held at Ludwigshafen, at which the plan was made to discuss the fundamentals and principles of the brotherhood in successive meetings with a fraternal exchange of opinion. The first of these topics was church discipline. Three addresses were heard on the subject. In principle there was unity, but in the method of application opinions differed.
It was therefore fortunate that the topic chosen for the next session was "Past and Present," which, discussed by Christian Hege of Breitenau, established a neutral ground. Gradually the character of the conference developed. A Biblical devotional address opened the meeting. Then the topics under consideration were discussed. At first they dealt with fundamental Mennonite doctrines: the oath, on 17 November 1891, by Philipp Kieferndorf (published in expanded form in 1893); baptism at three conferences, 1893-1895, by Christian Hege of Breitenau and Christian Neff of Weierhof; nonresistance in 1901 and communion in 1902, both by Neff. On 11 November 1890 it was decided upon a suggestion made by J. Ellenberger II of Friedelsheim to publish a yearbook, which has appeared regularly since 1892 (except 1942-50) called Christlicher Gemeindekalender, since 1951 called Mennonitischer Gemeinde-Kalender. A Kalenderkommission, a committee of six, was appointed to assist the editor, three from each of the two groups (Palatinate and Baden), later with additional members from outside the conference.
In 1906 (28 November) the publication of a new hymnal was discussed and assigned to a committee consisting of six members from each of the two groups. The hymnal was published in 1910. It met universal approval and came into use in all the churches of South Germany. In 1950 a new and slightly revised edition was published. In the 1950s it was the only Mennonite hymnal available in Germany. It was being increasingly adopted and used outside the conference (Neuwied 1952, Hamburg-Altona 1953, refugee congregations 1952-1953).
After an address by Jakob Latscha of Frankfurt on the instruction of youth (23 November 1899), the care of the soldiers (Soldatenfürsorge) was taken into the program of work and a committee was appointed which, headed by Christian Hege of Frankfurt, rendered a great service, especially during World War I. When universal military service was abolished after the war, the work of the Soldiers' Committee was ended. It was replaced by the Youth Committee (Jugendkommission: see Youth Work), which was composed of 11 members (originally 9) in the early 1950s. From 1920 to 1939 the Y.C. published Mennonitische Jugendwarte and after 1948 Junge Gemeinde.
On 26 November 1902, Christian Neff proposed giving the conference a firmer form and a broader basis by naming it the Conference of the South German Mennonites (Konferenz der Süddeutschen Mennoniten). An invitation was sent to all the South German churches to join by the payment of a small annual fee. Eight churches at first refused, but later joined. From 1903 to 1920 annual reports were published as booklets containing the addresses and committee reports; thereafter the minutes appeared in the two German Mennonite papers. The report for 1911 listed the members-1,203 names—alphabetically. Also the publication of pamphlets was considered, of which three were published: Was sind Mennoniten?; Mennoniten keine Wiedertäufer; and Mennoniten keine Baptisten und Methodisten. In 1925 the conference published a book, Gedenkschrift zum 4oo-jährigen Jubiläum, and the pamphlet, Seid Eurer Väter Wert, and in 1948 Botschaft and Nachfolge.
On 28 November 1911, it was decided to incorporate. A committee of 24 members was appointed to work out a constitution, adopted on 19 February 1912.
In 1911 an attempt was made to appoint a visiting minister (Reiseprediger), but failed. But on 29 May 1912, E. Händiges was appointed as first visiting minister and was ordained to the ministry at the conference at Ludwigshafen on 20 November 1912. Later Christian Guth was called to this office. A branch conference was called into being in Bavaria and held its first session on 8 March 1914, at Regensburg.
In 1914 religious services were also begun in Darmstadt under the sponsorship of the conference, which from 1932 to 1936 were held alternately at Frankfurt and Darmstadt, then alone in Frankfurt until an independent congregation was organized there in 1948.
The outbreak of World War I created unusually great tasks for the conference. The first obligation, besides the work of the Soldiers' Committee (to send letters and packages to the soldiers in service), was to provide for the needs of members in regions damaged by the war, in Alsace-Lorraine, East Prussia, and Galicia. A call for relief gifts was issued and brought a generous response. E. Händiges and G. van der Smissen were sent to visit the severely suffering brethren in Alsace-Lorraine. Asecond visit, planned for Christian Neff and E. Händiges, was not permitted by the authorities.
On the other hand, the authorities were very accommodating on the visit of E. Händiges made on 16 September and 15 October 1915, to the Russian Mennonite men held as prisoners of war at Bütow (Westphalia). On this trip Händiges also visited the churches in West Prussia. He visited Bütow again on 10 and 11 January 1917.
Since Händiges took over the pastorate at Ibersheim in 1918, his place was taken by Abraham Warkentin (30 July 1920), who was ordained on 21 November 1920 at Ludwigshafen. One of the main tasks falling upon him was the care of Russian Mennonite refugees, whom he sought out in the various camps, gave pastoral care, and supported with donations. This work developed into the "Mennonite Refugee Succor" (Mennonitische Flüchtlingsfürsorge), which was organized on the occasion of one of the conferences at Ludwigshafen (1920) and soon, under the new name Deutsche Mennonitenhilfe (DMH), did a great work in the Lechfeld camp. At the close of the war, when the blockade created an acute shortage of food in Germany, many parcels of food and gifts of money were sent from America, which were distributed in the German cities through the DMH.
After the collapse of Germany there was rebuilding to do. At the conference which met at Heilbronn (for the first time) on 28 November 1919, because the Palatinate was occupied territory and insurmountable difficulties prevented a meeting at Ludwigshafen, a program was set up for the future. Christian Guth (d. 1952) served as itinerant pastor (Reiseprediger) of the conference 1923-1948.
Many efforts were made by the conference to obtain a much closer contact with the brotherhood in West Prussia as well as in other countries of Europe and abroad. After years of mutual visits and exchange of letters the conference had the courage to make an appeal for a world-wide conference of the brotherhood to be called in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the founding of the Mennonite Church (1925). This became the first Mennonite World Conference.
A painful loss resulted from the compulsory withdrawal of the brethren from Alsace-Lorraine. Before the war (1912) the conference committee had been enlarged by the addition of two delegates from Alsace-Lorraine.
Besides its interest in home missions the conference also has helped to support the Dutch Mennonite missions in Java and Sumatra. Visits of missionaries at the conference sessions roused and sustained this interest; some of these missionaries were Hübert (1908 and 1909), Wiebe (1905 and 1906), Johannes Fast (1911); others living in Germany were P. Löwen of Würzburg, and Johannes Klaassen of Heilbronn. The first missionary trained and sent out by the Mennonites of South Germany was Hermann Schmitt of Deutschhof. On 24 October 1926 he and his wife Helene Klaassen were ordained as missionaries near Bergzabern. At the end of 1934 Otto Stauffer of Obersülzen (Palatinate) and his wife Martha Klaassen were sent out. Both men lost their lives in the torpedoing of a British vessel evacuating them as internees from Java to India in 1942. In 1951 Liesel Hege of Ibersheim was sent to Java as a missionary nurse.
The great and chief leader of the conference was undoubtedly Christian Neff. He led it from small beginnings into much broader and more active areas, in which he himself was the most energetic worker in all good things. From 1903 to his death in 1946 he was the chairman of the conference, successfully reconciling differences and building confidence. In 1953 the conference was led by an executive committee of nine, with Abraham Braun of Ibersheim as chairman. -- Neff, PS
The "Konferenz," since November 1967 known as the Konferenz Süddeutscher Mennonitengemeinden, celebrated its centenary in 1986. It was still the place where the 36 Mennonite congregations, all located in the southern part of Germany, could meet in conferences, by exchanging their preachers and by visiting each other, particularly at the meeting taking place in September every year.
The Konferenz has developed since 1951, especially in the field of youth work. Other programs have been taken up by the recently established Arbeitsgemeinschaft deutscher Mennonitengemeinden der Bundesrepublik und West Berlin which was responsible for the Deutsches Mennonitisches Evangelisationskomitee, the Mennonitisches Jahrbuch (yearbooks), and the Mennonitisches Gesangbuch (hymnbook). The Konferenz accepted new activities in the field of group-oriented work for adults and women and in cooperation with the Deutsches Mennonitisches Friedenskomitee it arranges for employment for volunteers in peace work. The Konferenz supports the European Mennonite Bible School at Bienenberg in Switzerland.
Christian Neff and Abraham Braun were presidents of the Konferenz until 1965, followed by Heinrich Funck of Unterbiegelhof (1965-66), Adolf Schnebele of Karlsruhe (1968-1977, 1980-81), and Hans-Werner Janzen of Weierhof (1977-80). After 1981 the Konferenz was chaired by Klaus Hübert of Ingolstadt.
In 1990 the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Mennonitischer Gemeinden in Deutschland (AMG) was founded. It included three regional conferences with 52 congregations: Vereinigung der Deutschen Mennonitengemeinden (VDM) in the North, der Arbeitsgemeinschaft Südwestdeutscher Mennonitengemeinden (ASM) in the Southwest and the Verband deutscher Mennoniten-Gemeinden (VdM) in the South. In 2005 the chair of the AMG was Werner Funck.-- ASchn
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: v. II, 528-530.
Mennonitisches Jahrbuch (1951-).
Neff, Christian. "50 Jahre Konferenz der Süddeutschen Mennoniten." Mennonitischer Gemeinde-Kalendar. 1940: 74-82.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 675-677; vol. 5, p. 497. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Neff, Christian, Paul Schowalter and Adolf Schnebele. "Konferenz süddeutscher Mennonitengemeinden." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1987. Web. 18 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/K6528.html.
APA style: Neff, Christian, Paul Schowalter and Adolf Schnebele. (1987). Konferenz süddeutscher Mennonitengemeinden. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 18 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/K6528.html.