Kirchliche Mennoniten

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1957 Article

Kirchen-Gemeinden, Kirchliche Mennoniten, Kirchliche are terms used occasionally among Mennonites from Russia. The origin of the term Kirchen-Gemeinden can be traced back to the early history of the Mennonites in Russia when there were two Gemeinden (communities) in existence in each settlement. The civil and the ecclesiastical communities were integral parts of solid Mennonite settlements. In order to distinguish between the civil community or Gemeinde and the ecclesiastical body or Gemeinde, the distinction between Gemeinde as a civil organization and the Kirchen-Gemeinde came into usage. One can find this distinction in early records and writings pertaining to the Mennonites of Russia.

A different meaning and connotation was given to this term by members of the Mennonite Brethren Church after 1860, when they began to refer to the members of the Mennonite Church of Russia as Kirchliche and their congregations as Kirchen-Gemeinden. The above-mentioned term was taken over and given new meaning. Among those using the term it implied that those to whom this name was given were meeting for worship in a "church building" (Kirche), while the Mennonite Brethren met originally in private homes and later in a Versammlungshaus (meetinghouse), which was not spoken of as a church. Among those using the term, it may have—it still does—implied many other things in which the new Mennonite Brethren movement differed from the traditional Mennonite Church. This distinction can be compared with the terms in use among Pennsylvania-German Mennonites when they spoke of "old" Mennonites and "new" Mennonites.

Although the term Kirchen-Gemeinden or Kirchliche became obsolete among the Mennonites of the United States who use the English language, in the 1950s it was still being used among the Mennonite Brethren in Canada and South America and occasionally also by other Mennonite groups. Not only was there no justification for the use of this name in the Americas, but there was also none in Russia, with the possible exception of the time when a confusion between the ecclesiastical body and the civil organization in Mennonite communities could take place. Kirchliche Mennoniten are simply "Mennonites" and the Kirchen Gemeinden are just Mennonite churches or congregations and should be referred to in these terms. No confusion is possible with other Mennonite groups of Russian background since they all added a distinguishing name to their traditional name "Mennonite" (Mennonite Brethren, Evangelical Mennonite Brethren, etc.). -- Cornelius Krahn

1990 Article

Kirchliche Mennoniten, a term that once referred to all Russian Mennonites, except for the small group of breakaway Brethren, in 1987 referred to Mennonites in the Soviet Union. In English this name is sometimes translated as "Mennonites" or "Mennonite Church" in contradistinction to "Mennonite Brethren," in Latin America and elsewhere, or even as "Church Mennonites." The latter is an uncommon and theologically awkward construction, but is the best translation of "Tserkovnyi mennonity," the official designation for them in the Soviet Union. Still another designation in some Soviet atheistic literature is "Old" Mennonites in contrast to the "New" Mennonites, i.e., the Mennonite Brethren movement that began in the 1860s.

Now representing a fusion of former Flemish and Frisian elements and no longer showing distinctions between Mennonites from various of the Russian Mennonite colonies--since virtually all Kirchliche Mennonites lived in new regions far from the old colonies—the distinctive features of the Kirchliche can be attributed to memories of the common experience in colony life. Noticeable is the stronger role for the elder (as bishop) when compared to the Mennonite Brethren practice in the Soviet Union, and also more concern for a common pattern of worship. Along with other free churches, they shared a common experience of religious persecution, spiritual revival after World War II, and sustained restrictions on access to religious literature or education. As a result, their theological emphases have become identical to those of other Soviet evangelicals; although they remain separate for cultural reasons and because of a different mode of baptism.

Practicing baptism of adult believers by pouring, the Kirchliche continue to be discriminated against by immersionist Mennonite Brethren and Baptists. This includes denying them communion rights, even though the leadership of the All-Union Council of Evangelical Christians  Baptists (AUCECB) issued a directive to its member churches in 1964 urging fraternal relations. Several Kirchliche congregations registered with this government-approved council decided in the 1970s and 1980s to perform baptism by immersion so that their young people would be recognized by neighboring Baptist and Mennonite Brethren congregations, thus avoiding complications in case of intermarriage.

An effort to form a union of Kirchliche congregations in 1957 was blocked by the authorities, who imprisoned the leaders. After the mid-1980s, elders and ministers of congregations in Kirgizia (now Kyrgyzstan) and Kazakhstan met informally each month to share concerns. The first Kirchliche Mennonite congregation to be registered was Novosibirsk (1967). Others were gradually moving through stages of unofficial acknowledgement of their existence, to registration as a filial group of a Baptist church, to full registration as an individual local Mennonite "society." Leaders submitted to the government a constitution, based on the confession of faith used in the Russian Mennonite colonies, but minus the nonresistance clause which would have resulted in outright and immediate rejection of their application. They have borne the brunt of the stigma from the Mennonite Self-Defense league (Selbstschutz), which operated during the Russian Revolution and Civil War.

Of the approximately 12,000 to 15,000 Kirchliche Mennonites in the Soviet Union in 1988, about 2,800 can be accounted for in the following registered congregations:

In Kirgizia Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR): Tokmak, Elder Johann D. Schellenberg, 230 members; Krasnaia Rechka, Peter K. Braun, minister, 100 members; Romanovka, Abram P. Abrams, minister, 90 members; Stantsia Ivanovka, not registered, Dietrich Penner minister, 20 members.

In Kazakh SSR: Alma Ata, leadership in flux, 145 members; Dzhambul, Elder Viktor Schmidt, 135 members; Politotdel, Elder Peter Klassen, 60 members; Karaganda, Elder Julius Siebert, 375 members; Martuk, Elder Jakob Peters, 143 members. Elsewhere in Central Asia: Dushanbe, Tadzhikistan, 20 persons led by Peters; Kumsangir, Tadzhikistan, Elder Franz Pauls, 80 members; Dzhetisai, Uzbekistan, Dietrich Neufeld minister, 40 members.

In Western Siberia: Novosibirsk, Elder Bernhard Sawadsky (deceased May 1988), Jakob Wiebe minister, 180 members; Neudachino, Novosibirskaia Oblast, Gerhard Neufeld minister, 100 members; Grishovka, Altai, Abram Isaak, minister, 30 members; Nikolaifeld (5 villages near Omsk), Abram Adrian minister, 200 members; Protassovo, Altai, Heinrich Dyck, minister, 50 members; Tomsk, Derksen, minister, 30 members.

In Orenburg region: Chortitza No. 1, Andrei J. Rempel, minister, 100 members; Petrovka No. 2, Ivan A. Balmann, minister, 104 members; Kantserovka No. 3, Jakov J. Dik, minister, 23 members; Zhdanovka Nos. 5 and 8, Peter P. Bartel, minister, 120 members; Nikolaevka No. 6, B. B. Rempel, minister, 60 members; Feodorovka No. 7, Andrei (Heinrich) J. Wiebe, minister, 50 members; Dolinovka No. 9, recognized for meeting, 20 members; Kitchkas No. 12, Elder Dietrich Ivanovich Thiessen, 96 members; Pretoria No. 14, 35 persons meeting; Sol' Iletsk, Ivan A. Friesen, minister, 51 members; Stepanovka (Perevolozhski r-on), Ivan I. Martens, minister, 96 members.

Since immigration to Germany was resumed in February 1987 (Umsiedler), there was a marked attrition of leaders and stalwart members that put the ongoing viability of the Kirchliche Mennonites in doubt. Changes under the new Perestroika policy of the late 1980s seem too uncertain for this ethnic and religious minority, and the pull of family members in Germany was strong.

People of Kirchliche origin established churches in Brazil and Paraguay following emigration in 1929 and after World War II. These Kirchliche conferences developed close ties to the General Conference Mennonites of North America, in which other Kirchliche Mennonites had become a major force, especially in Canada. Umsiedler from Kirchliche backgrounds have usually joined existing Mennonite churches in Germany, but at least 3 formed congregations independently. All churches with significant Umsiedler contingents formed the Arbeitsgemeinschaft zur geistliche Betreuung der Urnsiedler Mennoniten (AGUM) in 1978, and had almost become a distinct conference by 1988. -- Walter W. Sawatsky


Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. II, 500.

Kraybill, Paul N., ed. Mennonite World Handbook. Lombard, IL: Mennonite World Conference, 1978: 310.

Mennonite World Handbook Supplement. Strasbourg, France, and Lombard, IL: Mennonite World Conference, 1984: 126.

Author(s) Cornelius Krahn
Walter W. Sawatsky
Date Published 1987

Cite This Article

MLA style

Krahn, Cornelius and Walter W. Sawatsky. "Kirchliche Mennoniten." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1987. Web. 21 Apr 2019.

APA style

Krahn, Cornelius and Walter W. Sawatsky. (1987). Kirchliche Mennoniten. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 21 April 2019, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 179-180; vol. 5, pp. 492-493. All rights reserved.

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