Gifts from the land of Menno
By numbers alone, Dutch Mennonites occupy a small space in the global church. Their 9,000 members account for 14 percent of European Mennonites, who in turn make up 4 percent of the world’s 1.67 million Anabaptists.
What does a small fraction of a tiny minority have to offer global Anabaptism? A rich history, certainly. The Dutch gave us Menno Simons and the Martyrs Mirror. But the Netherlands’ prominence faded, first as the church in North America outpaced Europe in numbers and influence, and then as the global South eclipsed the North. Yet the Dutch continue to set an example of faithful witness in Europe’s post-Christendom culture.
Because Dutch Mennonites celebrated their national conference’s bicentennial this year, Mennonite World Conference sent a delegation to the Netherlands in September to join the festivities and express gratitude for Dutch contributions to the global church, past and present.
Based on a report from the MWC delegation, four positive examples set by Mennonites in the Netherlands stand out.
Their church is a model of unity. In its 200-year history, the Algemene Doopsgezinde Sociëtat, the Dutch Mennonite Conference, has never split — a record all too rare in splintered Mennonite history.
They are inclusive. Members of the MWC delegation noted that in addition to 9,000 members, the Dutch Mennonite Conference counts 4,000 “friends.” Delegation member Cynthia Peacock of India wrote that while the number of baptized believers is declining, the number of friends is increasing. She and others commended the Dutch openness to include all who express interest in the church.
They have a history of generosity. During the Dutch Golden Age of the 1600s, Mennonites rode the tide of prosperity — and their own traits of hard work, honesty and frugality — to join the wealthy elite. Yet they maintained a “sober bearing toward consumption,” according to Piet Visser and Mary Sprunger in Menno Simons: Places, Portraits and Progeny (Masthof, 1996). They sent aid to persecuted Mennonites in Germany, Poland and Switzerland. They became benefactors of the arts and social welfare. They shared with the poor, widows and orphans. They believed profit should not be made for its own sake but for the good of others, “especially those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10).
They have been innovators. The Dutch were the first Mennonites to send mission workers overseas, beginning with a teacher, Pieter Jansz, who went to the Dutch colony of Indonesia in 1851. They founded a seminary in Amsterdam 275 years ago and ordained a female pastor 100 years ago. Leadership for gender equality is still needed today. Peacock commented: “In most parts of our Mennonite world, women are still considered to be second best.”
Unity, inclusiveness, generosity and innovation are four good qualities for a church. And another: a joyful spirit. Bert Lobe, North American representative on the MWC delegation, observed that the Dutch church “celebrates well and has a great capacity for laughter.”
Ironically, those who can claim Menno as their own don’t call their church Mennonite but instead are the Doopsgezinde, or “baptism-minded.” Perhaps that’s a sign of humility, yet another good quality for Menno’s heirs.
Comment on the article Gifts from the land of Menno
Please keep comments civil. MWR editors reserve the right to remove any comment. When posting a comment, you agree to the MWR Comments Policy. Name and comment will be posted; commenters are strongly encouraged to give their full name. Email address is for follow-up only and will not be made public.