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New book outlines congregation’s neglected history

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Important source material on an early and foundational Mennonite congregation in Europe is the topic of the latest volume in the Cornelius H. Wedel Historical Series, published by the Mennonite Library and Archives at Bethel College.

The Danzig Mennonite Church: Its Origin and History from 1569-1919, by H. G. Mannhardt, translated by Victor G. Doerksen and edited and annotated by Mark Jantzen and John D. Thiesen, will be officially introduced at a reception at Bethel College on Thursday, May 3, at 10 a.m. in the college cafeteria. The public is invited to this free event.

“This volume was originally published in 1919 in Germany for two reasons,” said Jantzen, associate professor of history at Bethel College. “One was the desire to reflect on 350 years of congregational history, going all the way back to the initial leadership provided by Dirk Philips, one of Menno Simons’ most important co-workers.” Menno Simons was the early Anabaptist leader from whom the Mennonite denomination took its name.

“Celebrating the 1919 centennial of the Danzig congregation’s church building, which stands to this day in Gdańsk, Poland, was the second reason,” Jantzen continued. “The author, Hermann Gottlieb Mannhardt, served the congregation as pastor from 1878 to 1927 and was an important leader of the German Mennonite church.

“The wide-ranging congregational history he wrote places the Mennonite community of Danzig/Gdańsk in its broader context as a religious minority that faced persistent discrimination in early modern and modern Germany, and as a vibrant urban congregation in the midst of a large rural Mennonite community. Mannhardt’s account is important to Mennonite history for bridging the gap from the Anabaptists of the 16th century to the larger and better-researched Mennonite communities of Russia founded in the late 1700s by the Mennonites of the Vistula Delta region.”

Jantzen concluded, “This volume also reminds contemporary urban Mennonites that some Mennonites have always lived in cities.”

Special features of this new translation include an epilogue by Tomasz Ropiejko, current lead pastor of the Pentecostal congregation that has used the former Mennonite church building in Gdańsk since the 1950s. His account updates the history of the building and relates the struggles the congregation faced to reclaim this building for worship.

Original maps make the streets and villages of Mannhardt’s account easy to locate. Editorial annotations to the original text explain passages that might otherwise remain obscure and also highlight the places where Mannhardt’s 19th-century perspectives shaped his interpretations.

Editors Jantzen and Thiesen, archivist and co-director of libraries at Bethel College, are planning additional translations of original sources from the Mennonite community along the Vistula River in Prussia. “The reality of publishing books for this niche market is that we will not recoup all of our expenses from book sales,” Jantzen noted. “Several generous donors have underwritten the pre-publication expenses of The Danzig Mennonite Church.” Jantzen invites donations to the Vistula Mennonite Studies Project at Bethel College, to enable further publication and scholarship in this area, by contacting him or Thiesen at the college.

The book will be available for sale at the launching reception and thereafter at the Mennonite Library and Archives, open Monday-Thursday 8 a.m-5 p.m. and Fridays by appointment, or call 316-284-5304. It will also be available in the future at Kauffman Museum and Bethel College’s Thresher Bookstore.

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and has been named a Top Tier college by U.S. News & World Report every year since 1998. For more information, see the Bethel web site at

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