Conferences in Russia
The Mennonites who emigrated to Russia from Prussia (1788-1840) took with them their church institutions and customs. Though fully preserving the autonomy of the individual congregation, the leaders of the churches occasionally met for consultation and discussion. These meetings were called the "Council of the Elders" or Aeltestenkonvent, and later "Church Convention" or Kirchenkonvent. Klaus writes on this subject: "A meeting of the church elders of the Molotschna Mennonites decided on 7 April 1851, by majority vote, in the future to call itself a Kirchenkonvent with the provision that all controversy arising in the district concerning church matters and regulations should be presented to it for final consideration and decision."
Corresponding to the two settlements, Molotschna and Chortitza, there were organized a Chortitzaer Mennonitischer Kirchenkonvent, and a Molotschnaer Mennonitischer Kirchenkonvent. For a long time apparently only the elders voted, while preachers and deacons were advisory members of the conferences. Thus we find that the petitions presented to the civil authorities in the 1850s and 1860s were signed only by the elders.
The conference had no binding authority over the congregations, but rather its resolutions were considered suggestions to the congregations, and became authoritative only after adoption by the brotherhood of the local congregation; they could of course also be rejected by the brotherhood.
The increase of the Mennonite population in Russia, which led to the establishment of daughter colonies, created a need for a more closely knit relationship, and so the Mennonite Church congregations in 1883 formed a Federal Conference (Bundeskonferenz, see Allgemeine Bundeskonferenz der Mennonitengemeinden in Russland).
This conference met annually, and consisted of the elders and preachers of the congregations. At each session a moderator (usually an elder), an assistant moderator, and several secretaries were elected. It was the duty of the moderator to attend to business affairs of the conference, report to the conference the resolutions of the congregations, represent the churches to the civil authorities, prepare the agenda for the next conference, issue the call, and open it.
The Mennonite Brethren (q.v., Mennoniten-Brüdergemeinde) congregations of the Molotschna, Chortitza, and Kuban, which were organized in the 1860s, united in 1872 to form a federated congregation (Mennoniten-Brüder-Bundesgemeinde). This conference also met annually, and was composed of delegates from the individual congregations. The autonomy of the congregation was preserved here too. The organization was similar to that of the Bundeskonferenz. Both conferences considered it their primary task to elevate and promote Christian living in the churches.
On 26-28 October 1910 the General Mennonite Federal Conference (Allgemeine Mennonitische Bundeskonferenz) included for the first time also the Mennoniten-Brüder-Bundesgemeinde, and the Molotschnaer Evangelische Mennoniten Brüderschaft, the last-named in union with the Altonauer Evangelische Mennonitengemeinde at Zagradovka. The General Conference thus now represented all the Mennonites of Russia. It met every three years, and was attended by delegates of the component conferences or congregations. The chief objective of the Conference was to protect the privileges once granted to the Mennonites, to preserve religious liberty and the autonomy of the churches, and to promote and establish the churches spiritually.
In 1909 the church conventions of the Molotschna and Chortitza in joint session at Schönwiese had appointed a "Committee on Faith" (Glaubenskommission), consisting of three members, to take care of church relations with the state. This committee was reappointed in 1910, and was later called the "Committee for Church Matters" (Kommission für kirchliche Angelegenheiten) and a lawyer was added to it as an advisory member.
The General Federal Conference met for the last time at Moscow in 1926.
See also Conference
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 v. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: II, 533.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 678-679. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Braun, Abraham. "Conferences in Russia." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 18 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/conferences_in_russia.
APA style: Braun, Abraham. (1953). Conferences in Russia. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 18 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/conferences_in_russia.