Reiseprediger (English, itinerant preacher), an office established in the second half of the 19th century by the Mennonites of South Germany, Switzerland, France, and Russia, and still maintained in the mid-20th century in the southeast German Verband and in France. Its purpose was essentially to furnish pastoral ministry to individual families, often widely scattered, and to supplement the work of the local preachers with a special preaching ministry for various special occasions. Although the Reiseprediger has usually been appointed by a conference, with a salary guaranteed by the conference treasury, part of the support has often been provided by direct contributions from the families served and by offerings at the special meetings. At times the Reiseprediger was conceived of as an evangelist and Bible teacher available for service both within and outside the conference appointing him. Elder Christian Schmutz of Rappenau, a leader in the Verband, advocated this concept as early as 1866 (Mennonitische Blätter, 1866:11) and urged the establishment of a training school for such Reiseprediger and evangelists.
The Verband was the first Mennonite conference to inaugurate the Reiseprediger system, partly because it had the largest number of scattered families and partly because it wanted to supplement the work of its exclusively rural and untrained ministry. Since 1871 the Verband has had continuously one or two Reiseprediger. The list is as follows: Christian Herrmann 1871-74(?), Michael Landes 1873-1875, Jakob Hege of Reihen 1876-1911, Johannes Hirschler (1853-1931) 1883-1886, G. van der Smissen (1859-1923) 1886-1923, Michael Fellmann ?-1936, Daniel Pohl (d. ca. 1943) 1935(?)-1940, Ulrich Hege (b. 1892) 1945- , Adolf Schnebele 1956- ,Christian Schnebele, first appointed by the South German Conference, served the Verband 1922-58. The South German Conference had the following Reiseprediger: Emil Handiges (b. 1871) 1912-1918, Christian Schnebele 1918-1920, Abraham Warkentin (1885-1947) 1918-1920, and Christian Guth (1879-1952) 1923-52. All but Herrmann Handiges, Ulrich Hege, Warkentin, and Adolf Schnebele were products of St. Chrischona and carried the Chrischona emphasis in doctrine and piety with them. In Switzerland the Mennonites never had their own Reiseprediger, but Reiseprediger from Germany (e.g., Jakob Hege) and from non-Mennonite circles have served them. The Alsatian Conference appointed Henri Volkmar in 1913; he was succeeded in 1921 by Fritz Goldschmidt, who served until World War II. About 1950 Willi Peterschmitt was appointed. The French-speaking Mennonites have had Pierre Sommer and later Andre Goll, and for a time Pierre Widmer.
The North German and West Prussian Mennonites never adopted the Reiseprediger practice, although it was vigorously advocated by outstanding leaders. The Vereinigung included a provision for Reisepredigt service in its 1934 constitution but without practical result. One Reiseprediger served in the West Prussian area 1901-1929, viz., Nikolai Wiebe of Lichtenau (Molotschna settlement in Russia), who had served as a missionary in Sumatra 1889-1901.
Dutch Mennonites have since 1897 had special provision for visiting ministers to serve scattered members. In 1958 ten such "bezoekleerar" were on duty making annual pastoral visits to all diaspora members (see Verstrooiing).
In Russia the first "Reiselehrer" of the Mennonite Brethren Church was Benjamin Bekker, ordained in 1861. The character of the Reiseprediger and their work in the Mennonite Brethren Church was described about 1872 in a number of their diaries. Their reports were sewed together in a single volume and were sent from congregation to congregation on a specified route. Some of the evangelists were Jakob Dirksen, Jakob Jantz, Jakob Reimer (1817-1891), Christian Schmidt (1833-1905), Abraham Unger (1820-80), and Abraham Wall.
"Systematic Reisepredigt in the Mennonite congregations as far as we know arose first in the private Reiseprediger committee, which was formed for the purpose of sending Bernhard Harder (1832-84) to Halbstadt about 1880 and was organized through the initiative of Heinrich Lettkemann of Halbstadt and then carried on for a long time by Heinrich Janz. Then the matter of the Reisepredigt was taken up by the General Conference (Bundeskonferenz). The appointed Reiseprediger were Bernhard Harder, Jakob Quiring (educated at the Weierhof, and the Evangelical Seminary at Basel), who later went to America, Gerhard Harder, Elder Jakob Gerbrandt, and missionary Johann Kroker.... In addition elders and preachers frequently traveled as delegates of the church conference of this or that group and of the General Conference. Much information concerning the Reisepredigt in the Mennonite Church is found in the Mennonitisches Jahrbuch published at Berdyansk in 1909."
In America the Reiseprediger concept found formal expression only among the General Conference Mennonites and the Mennonite Brethren. Daniel Hoch (1805-1878) was the first to be appointed by the General Conference in 1861, the Conference at its organization in 1860 having expressly stated as one of its objectives the provision of a Reisepredigt ministry. He was followed by Christian Krehbiel. In 1868 the Conference appointed three Reiseprediger, L. O. Schimmel for the East, Ephraim Hunsberger for the Central area, and Christian Krehbiel for the new West. The Kansas Conference (first session 1877), later called the Western District, made provision for preaching visits and later appointed Reiseprediger. In 1880 a Reisepredigt Committee was created. Christian Krehbiel was appointed Reiseprediger 1881-83, followed by David Goerz 1883-84. In 1884 the Reisepredigt was made a full-time assignment, with J. B. Baer appointed, followed in 1890 by N. F. Toews. Wilhelm Ewert served 1885-86. In Canada Benjamin Ewert served as Reiseprediger 1921-38. The above list is by no means complete.
The Canadian Mennonite Brethren have never had an official Reiseprediger, although individual ministers have been called by provincial conferences for special service of this sort, visiting the congregations in the district area. In the United States the Committee on Evangelism of the U.S. Area Conference (beginning in 1957) appoints a Reiseprediger. In 1958 he was Waldo Wiebe.
In the Mennonite Church, although there were never any official Reiseprediger, numerous ministers of their own volition traveled widely in the 19th century visiting scattered families and small congregations. The Evangelizing Fund and Evangelizing Committee established in 1882 as forerunners of the later Mission Board were essentially provision for a sort of modest Reiseprediger service.
Friesen, Peter M. Die Alt-Evangelische Mennonitische Brüderschaft in Russland (1789-1910) im Rahmen der mennonitischen Gesamtgeschichte. Halbstadt: Verlagsgesellschaft "Raduga", 1911: 385, 397, 430 ff., 762 f.; II: 45, 137.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: v. III, 456-460.
Mannhardt, H. G. Jahrbuch der altevangelischen Taufgesinnten oder Mennoniten. 1888: 96.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 280-281, 1147. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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APA style: Bender, Harold S. (1959). Reiseprediger. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 25 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/reiseprediger.