Resettlers in Germany mix tradition and changeBy Tim Huber Mennonite World Review
NIEDERNBERG, Germany — Jenny Spenst is fascinated by her parents’ stories of life in the Soviet Union. “It’s worlds away from what I experience today,” said Spenst, a 24-year-old member of Christuskirche Niedernberg (Niedernberg Christ Church). “They speak more of nature and childhood, like what you sometimes find in books. But they also tell of poverty and vulnerability.”
Her great-grandfather was once taken prisoner, and her grandmother was sent at a young age to labor in Kazakhstan, separated for weeks from her mother and sisters. The KGB, the Soviet secret police, kept a watchful eye and applied pressure when they felt religious efforts were going too far.
But she wonders about a paradox of freedom.
“Sometimes I get the feeling they were more grateful than we are in our luxury,” she said.
Spenst’s family and the Niedernberg congregation are Aussiedler (resettlers) — Russian Mennonites who emigrated from the former Soviet Union to what was then West Germany in the 1970s and ’80s.
Some established new congregations in cities like Bielefeld, Neuwied and Wolfsburg. Others joined existing churches. Many Aussiedler have historic connections to the Mennonite Brethren tradition — some maintained more closely than others.
Aussiedler are more conservative than other German Mennonites. For women this sometimes translates to an objection to cosmetics, jewelry and fashionable dresses.
Lay preaching is preferred, and churches avoid the salaried-pastor system employed by the nearby Vereinigung Deutscher Mennonitengemeinden (Union of German Mennonite Congregations).
There is little interaction between Aussiedler and neighboring Mennonite groups. Some, like the Niedernberg congregation, do not use the word “Mennonite,” preferring to describe themselves as evangelical or Baptist — the only Protestant group recognized by the U.S.S.R.
However, while not an official member, Christuskirche is an active participant in the Bund Taufgesinnter Gemeinden (Conference of Anabaptist Churches), an association of 28 Anabaptist churches in Germany with 6,000 members that is a member of the International Community of Mennonite Brethren.
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