Friday, June 27, 2008

The waters of Berne

One of the things that I like about Bern is the way the Aare River surrounds it on three sides. Hundreds of years ago Bern built a moat on its west side so that the city was completely surrounded by water. But the moat is gone. The river is a beautiful and clean blue and rushes past the city quite fast, almost looking like rapids in places. The river begins in Lakes Brienz and Thun, flows through Bern, and then goes to the Rhine River.

The Bernese like their river and they swim in it. Unfortunately I did not have my swimsuit with me when I was there. I visited the river and the free swimming pool with a friend I met at Taize and the place was full of people enjoying the sun and the water. We finally had some heat and sun after a full month of cooler and wetter weather.

The first photo is of the Aare River. This general area was once a port, apparently when smaller boats were used. Today Basel on the Rhine River is the only port in Switzerland. One of the ways that Bern tried to deal with its Anabaptists in the late 1600s was to ship them down the Aare River all the way to Holland, where they would be exiled to America, and then would not be able to return. As I think I already mentioned, they would exile Anabaptists but then they would return anyway.

I have mentioned before my ancestors Isaac Kaufmann and Elsbeth Mergerdt. Isaac moved around a lot over his life time, as he tried to avoid authorities. He became part of one of these ship schemes. In 1699 there is a reference to him being sent to a ship in Amsterdam, which would then take him to the West Indies.

The problem the Bernese had with this is that the Dutch would not cooperate. As soon as these prisoners would reach Dutch soil, the Dutch let them go free. They did not agree with what the Bernese were doing, recognizing it as persecution.

And so it appears that in this case Isaac escaped to Cologne, Germany. And so an entry a year later mentions the authorities needing to pay 5 men to look for Isaac.

I had another interesting water experience in Bern. On Sunday, June 22 I attended the Bern Alttaufer Gemeinde, or Bern Mennonite Church. What a great day to attend! They had a baptism and communion service.

Daniel Neuenschwander, president of the congregation, hosted me for the morning. He picked me up and took me to the Wohlensee where the baptism took place. A highlight for me is that the officiant baptized his son, and asked the questions and gave the pronouncements in Spanish for him. So I could understand much better than the German questions. They are the ones in the second photo.

And then the father of the officiant (grandfather of the one being baptized) preached the sermon that morning, so that I first heard the sermon in Spanish, and then the son translated into German. So again I understood more of this sermon than any I have heard for a month. This family is apparently a missionary family from Spain, and so the officiant is now a professor at Bern University. Several other Swiss young people were baptised and it was nice to see all of them.

Daniel was an excellent host and I had good conversation with him. I was surprised how much I felt at home in this congregation in Europe. There is such a great cultural and geographical distance between this congregation and my own, but there also was so much that was similar. The baptismal pledges and formulas seemed very familiar, as was the communion practice, except for one small thing I find among Europeans, or maybe it is most other Christians. They eat the bread and drink the cup as soon as they get it. The American Mennonite congregations I have attended usually serve the bread to everyone and then eat it together, the same with the small individual cups of juice.

Berne, capital of Switzerland

On Saturday evening I arrived in Berne, and I might as well say from the beginning that I have decided that it is the least favorite of the major Swiss cities. You might say that the relationship got off to a bad start. When I got off the train I followed some other people to some stairs and went up them. But I have since learned that I went the wrong way. The place where I came out had little information. The bus I needed to get to my hotel was off at some strange place. I walked around towards it but couldn't find it. I gave some money to a beggar who looked like a 20-something meth addict. She was the first of many addicts I would see during my visit. She was also only the second beggar I have encountered, the first was an old man in, of all places, the small French Swiss village of Tavannes in the Jura.
So I walked back towards the station trying to find my way. The strangest thing to me was that everywhere else you come out in a big train station filled with stores and friendly people. You just ask someone or go to the information booth. But here there was none of that. I was on my own. I wandered around for some 45 minutes before I finally found the train station that I would have come out of if I had gone the "right" way.
I went into a ticket office to ask how to find the bus. In Switzerland these offices always have you take a number rather than waiting in a line. But in this office there was no line and the number dispenser wasn't working for me. Even so, the next available agent insisted that I take a number before he would help me, even though I was clearly the only person there. And then he couldn't really help me so he sent me to another office. There I met a young man who was very sympathetic to my comments about how difficult it is to find anything in this city. Finally I got to the Marthahaus, which is a reasonably price pleasant place to stay, though it is not in the old town. But the theme of seeking and not finding continued throughout my stay in Bern. The one time it was when I just wanted an ice cream cone but couldn't find any.
Perhaps another problem I had with Bern was its strong motif of human domination of animals. There is a statue of Samson subduing a lion and Bern is name after the bear and symbolized by it. There are several statues that show a man in charge of a bear, and of course there are the bear pits, where bears are kept in not so pleasant conditions. A Bernese friend says she is embarassed by them, but they are now working on making a nice spot for the bears.
Bern came across to me as a dominating city. As I read the history, and notice that Bern is the largest canton in Switzerland, there is almost an imperialistic sense of conquest, gobbling up more rural areas to put under their rule. And of course part of their ruling of rural areas was trying to root out Anabaptists, something the cities wanted to do but the rural areas themselves didn't seem too keen on.
Having said all that, Bern is a beautiful city, but in a bigger is better, aren't you impressed with us kind of way. Don't worry, I will have nice things to say about Bern. I met some wonderful people, really the friendliest people I have met. But that is for another blog.

Thun and its prisons

Thun is a nice city on Lake Thun, with an old castle on top of a hill that has a unique presence in the city. The castle was at one point a grain bin and is now a museum. And up until the early 20th century, the four towers continued to be used as prison cells. I saw at least eight potential prison cells at the present time. Only one of them, of course, is actually set up like a prison cell, the one I have photographed. The others now have other museum displays not related to their original use. From what I can tell, these were still prison cells even after part of the castle was a museum!
There is also a large knights room in the top middle section of the castle. It was used for meetings of the knights but then eventually became an interrogation or torture room. Torture was the standard method of interrogation in the 1500s.
When I first discovered these prison cells I sat in one of them for a long time. This is the prison where my ancestor, Isaac Kaufmann, was imprisoned for his faith. I still have some translating to do, but it may also be where my ancestor Elsbeth Mergerdt, his wife, was imprisoned, and she may have given birth to a daughter here.
This was certainly the most emotional experience that I have had here so far. And it's a little difficult to know how to write about it. When you look out the windows of these towers you are way up in the air. You are not going to try to escape. I considered what it might feel like to have your freedom taken away like that. You have other people telling you where you will sit and eat and what you will do. It must be awful. I considered also my anger at those people who imprisoned them. I guess sitting there in the prison cell made it all feel closer and more real to me than it ever has before, and my sense of the feelings that Isaac and Elsbeth may have experienced was more real.
And I considered the choices that Isaac and Elsbeth made. There was first of all their choice to be baptized as adults, against the law of the land. And then there was the congregation's choice of Isaac as a leader, and his decision to accept that charge and exercise it. It made his life difficult. Rather than the rather sedentary life of most Swiss, who would stay in their home village, he moved around a lot, as I will mention as I visit these other places. Because he moved around so much it appears to me that he was genuinely trying to stay in Switzerland for many years. But eventually he and Elsbeth moved to Alsace and then Montbeliard in France.
I thought about the choices he made, and how he could have given up. He could have decided to recant his faith. But he decided to stubbornly remain with his convictions and to allow his life to follow its course according to where they lead. I thought about the choices of the authorities, who thought that the only way to deal with these heretics was through imprisonment, confiscation of property, and exile.
All of their choices have made all the difference in the world in who I am today. Isaac and Elsbeth's decision was one of a series that have formed me into an American Mennonite pastor. I am grateful for the decisions they made, though I am not necessarily proud of them or think that I am in the best possible situation. But it is good. And what they did was good. Perhaps I can find ways to be a similar witness to a new world that God is making, that is so different from the current world that the authorities don't understand it.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Oberhofen, home to Ulrich Ammann

Here are two scenes from Oberhoften, a beautiful location on Lake Thun. The first is the Oberhofen church, where Jacob Ammann's younger brother Ulrich was baptized. Ulrich was some 15 years younger than Jacob. Their parents moved to Oberhofen at some point between them. Jacob made his living as a tailor in Oberhofen.

We know a little about the Ammann brothers' personalities from the Letters of the Amish Division that have been preserved. The portrait we get of Jacob from these is that he was rather rash and had a temper. Several times people describe him getting angry. However, from the letters that Ulrich wrote by himself he comes across as a gentle person. They are a study in contrasts. Ulrich supported his brother through the Amish division, but his tone was always more conciliatory.
We also doubt that Jacob Ammann was literate. He signed many contracts among his followers and it was usually i.A., sometimes with the note that he couldn't write. Robert Baecher points out that that doesn't mean he couldn't have read. But we also read in the Letters of the Amish Division that Jacob would have letters read to him out loud. All that suggests that he was illiterate, though we don't know.
Ulrich never reached the stature and respect that his brother Jacob had among his followers, but in many ways his views in the Amish Division letters ended up as the Amish ones.
The Oberhoften Castle is now a museum and a beautiful place to visit. I rode my bike there and the bike ride along Lake Thun is great. Then I took a ship from Oberhofen to Thun, and as we approached Thun we heard people clapping and singing. I thought it was a game but in fact some people were being baptised!

Steffisberg, home of the ancestors

So last Friday night I finally got to Steffisberg, which is where the Kaufmanns originate, or at least the Anabaptist ones. It turns out that their grandfather immigrated from Shopfe near Basel. I got to Steffisberg and I might as well admit that I was disappointed. Steffisberg was no grand location. I experienced it mostly as a place that people try to drive through as quickly as possible.
I have become accustomed to central Basel, but also its surroundings. There just aren't many cars around. When I ride bike the 20 km into town, I hardly have any stop signs because the roads are not full of cars. It's nice. But Steffisberg was more like America in the way it was just full of fast cars. Steffisberg itself is fairly flat, it's just that it is surrounded by beautiful mountains.
In some ways maybe it is a good thing that I don't think Steffisberg is the most beautiful place on earth. I don't find myself pining for the old country.
The church in the photo is the Steffisberg Reformed Church and it is where my ancestors Isaac Kaufmann and Elsbeth Mergerdt had the majority of their children baptised. I am not sure, but I think it is also where Isaac was baptized.
I have been learning a lot about Isaac and Elsbeth. On February 18, 1676, they were married with two other couples in a triple wedding. From the names, Jacob Kaufmann and Anna Kropf, and then Hans Kropf and Elisabeth Buerki, one can imagine that Isaac was married together with his brother and that his brother's wife was married together with her brother.
Isaac was called a Tauferlehrer, or Anabaptist preacher. So the authorities paid a lot of attention to him and I keep finding more information about him. Ernst Mueller mentions him in his book "Geschichte der Bernischen Taufer" and Robert Baecher mentions him in his article "Le prince de Montbeliard acoueille les anabaptistes." Unfortunatelythere isn't much about him in English yet.
The second photo is the view from Homberg. This is a place where Isaac was at one point. This is not that far from Steffisberg, but it is a ways from the church. I can imagine that Isaac came here because it was more remote and made it less likely that he would be found out. In contrast to Steffisberg, this is a beautiful place. I could settle here. I had a nice time in a cozy Bed and Breakfast, Dreiligasse Zentrum.
I visited the church and its graveyard near Homberg. It was filled with names like Gerber, Graber, Oesch, Oswald, Tschantz (Shantz, Johns, and maybe Jantzi, which is another ancestor of mine). I'm not so sure that these folks have Mennonite connections as much as it is evidence that Mennonites come from Switzerland, and that this area had a concentration of Anabaptists.
And in fact this whole area was full of Anabaptists at one point, and the majority of them followed Jacob Ammann, becoming Amish. Because this area is known as the Berner Oberland, or uplands, these Anabaptists came to be known as the Obere Gemeinde, the upper congregation, while the Emmental Anabaptists became known as the Untere Gemeinde, or lower congregation.
My family joins me tomorrow. I have missed them alot. The last week has felt kind of lonely. There haven't been as many people around Bienenberg and I am getting impatient to see my family. In any case I can't wait.
My time at Bienenberg is coming to an end. I don't know how often I'll find an internet connection the next three weeks, but I'll try to keep in contact when I find one.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Erlenbach, birthplace of Jacob Ammann

On Friday I visited Erlenbach im Simmental, the birthplace of Jacob Ammann, the founder of the Amish. The first photo is of the farm where he likely was born, though I am pretty sure the buildings are not that old. The second is of the view from his home. He was born in a small village called Thal that is up a little ways from Erlenbach. Tal in German is a valley, so that the Simmental is the Simme Valley, with the Simme being the river that flows at the bottom.
This is the most beautiful inhabited place I have ever seen. The mountains are majestic. The fields and chalets are picturesque. The farmers were out turning their hay, since we finally have had some dry sunny weather. It was cool and wet almost all of my first four weeks in Europe! Some of the fields are so steep that they turn them by hand. But in others they have equipment that I can't believe is able to stay upright on these mountains. Someone told me they are built especially not to tip over.
I also took the cable car to the top of the Stockhorn mountain. It was unbelievable to be so high so quickly. I was up where there we still patches of snow and could see all the way to Lake Thun. I also got my first good look at the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau peaks.

A little something about Jacob Ammann. Ammann is a common name in Switzerland. It was the title of the mayor of a village. In fact the same day I was in Erlenbach I read about Miss Switzerland who is competing in the Miss Universe contest. Her name? Amanda Ammann. I also remember Switzerland's gold medalist in ski jumping in the Winter Olympics some years ago. His name is Simon Ammann. Are they related? Not very likely.
Jacob and at least some members of his family converted to Anabaptism from the Reformed church. The late 1600s were an interesting time for Anabaptists. On the one hand the government was putting a lot of pressure on them again, confiscating their property and forcing them out of the country. On the other hand a lot of their friends and neighbors were interested in their faith and were converting to it. A lot of what we consider traditional Mennonite names did not become so until some 150 years after Anabaptism started. The Kaufmanns and the Blanks were some of the newcomers during this time, as were the Buetschis, what we call Beachy/Peachey. And so were the Ammanns. Jacob Ammann's father Michael probably became an Anabaptist, and his brother Ulrich did too, in fact he also was a leader along with Jacob. But I will write more about his tomorrow when I describe my visit to Oberhofen, to where the family moved from Erlenbach.
Perhaps part of the interest came from Pietism, a movement that focused on a personal spiritual relationship with God. These neighbors sensed that Anabaptists were living their faith, not just thinking and talking about it.
I followed Sam Wenger's directions to Ammann's birthplace in his Rural Switzerland book. It was maybe 3-4 km from Erlenbach and it was too steep to bike, so I walked my bike up. Actually the walk would have been better without the bike, a little shorter. However there is nothing like the bike ride down. The hike to the house is quite possible from the train station for someone in good shape.
After my visit to Erlenbach I took a bike ride down the Simmental to Lake Thun. It was beautiful.

Monday, June 23, 2008

David Joris and other Dutch Anabaptists

Once again I am going to write something about David Joris, the leader of the Jorists who was an Anabaptist but never became a Mennonite. In fact Menno Simons condemned him in no uncertain terms. In the face of persectuion Joris spiritualized the faith to such an extent that he could hide out in Basel as a Dutch Reformed leader, pretending to be something he was not. He was apparently fabulously wealthy, with the mansion I already showed you before, several farm properties, including one in a remote location for meeting his followers, and then also the castle above. I assume he bought the castle because he could. I spoke to an employee of the restaurant that now operates in the castle, the Schloss Biningen, and she also claims that David Joris' ghost is here as well as his mansion where the Swiss Federal Railways office is now. Maybe he still travels between the two.
I am finally getting to the point where I can "show and tell" about the Amish. But before I do that I need to talk a little about Dutch Anabaptists because they played a surprising role in the division between the Amish and the Reist factions of the Swiss Brethren.
The Dutch Anabaptists have a somewhat deserved reputation, in my opinion, of having all kinds of strange groups among them. And so they are the ones who took over the city of Munster, and had what was generally considered a reign of terror, though I don't know much about it. Perhaps the main terror to the other Christians was that the Anabaptists were in charge, not them. But the Munsterities did expel all those who were not baptized. They believed that Munster was the New Jerusalem. They took up arms and eventually also polygamy.

It was the Munster debacle that led the Roman Catholic priest Menno Simons to become an Anabaptist. He wanted to guide them in a more Biblical and peaceful direction. Perhaps it is the existence of all these different groups and beliefs that led Menno to shunning. This practice is that when a member of the church remains in sin, they should not only be excommunicated from the church's communion, but also shunned. Christians should have nothing to do with them.
Another influence for shunning from Menno was his view of Jesus not having the flesh of Mary, but a special celestial flesh. From an orthodox perspective this is heretical, not identifying Jesus as fully human. And so also Menno's view of the church is that it ought to be celestial, without spot or wrinkle.
Of course shunning doesn't really solve factions as much as create new ones. So Dutch Anabaptists had several major splits in their history, but in 1632 the Flemish and Old Flemish factions came together with the Dordrecht Confession of Faith. Menno is long dead by now but his influence continues. The view of Christ is not clearly defined, allowing for some to keep Menno's view of the incarnation. Also there is an article on the ban and then another article on the shunning of the ban. So clearly it was an important issue.
By the mid-1600s something else was happening as well. The Dutch were no longer persecuted. They still had a few restrictions but in general they were richer and more liberal than their Reformed neighbors. This was the golden age of the Dutch Anabaptists, and it was during this time also that Thieleman J. van Braght, concerned about the worldliness setting in among the Dutch Anabaptists, wrote his Martyrs Mirror to remind them of their heritage as a persecuted people and the importance of keeping the faith.
At the same time the Swiss Anabaptists continued to be persecuted. The Swiss and the Dutch at times came together as in Strasbourg, but in general their contact had been limited. But the Dutch used their power and money to help their Swiss brothers and sisters. They put pressure on the Swiss governments to ease their persecution.
As I mentioned earlier, at the time of the late 1600s they were not executing Anabaptists. Rather they were confiscating their property and forcing them into exile. Of course some returned anyway.
The Dutch had only partial influence on the Swiss governments. They talked Zurich into allowing the Anabaptists to leave with the proceeds from the sale of their property. Then they talked the Zurichers into leaving Switzerland for Alsace. It was these ex-Zurichers and some of the Alsatians who had been there for years who signed a German edition of the Dordrecht Confession, calling it theirs as well.
And when the Bernese government wanted an explanation of the faith of the Swiss Anabaptists, they decided to provide Dordrecht as well. However the Swiss had remained orthodox on the incarnation of Jesus and had never practiced the shunning of the banned, nor footwashing, all things that were different about Dordrecht. Of course the Swiss really didn't do careful theology, so their view of the incarnation is hard to say.
A couple of other differences between Dordrecht and the Swiss outlook. Dordrecht had a more hierarchical view of authority, with bishops, etc. The Swiss had ministers appointed by their congregations and leaders were accustomed to consulting with their congregations on issues. Dordrecht said that if you go to a city and they mistreat you, then go to another city, quoting Matt. 10:14ff. The Swiss said, quoting Psalm 24, "The earth is the Lord's," ie, it doesn't belong to the lords of Bern and they can't tell us what to do with the land the Lord has given us. We're staying.
Well, so now you have the background that brings us to the point of the division within the Swiss Anabaptists, or Swiss Brethren as they are generally called, the division between Jacob Ammann and Hans Reist, or between the Amish and the Reistians.
I will finally mention that the second photo is also from Basel. It is of the Holeestrasse Mennonite congregation. This congregation was given permission to build a building in 1847, making it the oldest church building that was not a state church. This is a new building, but at the same location. Interestingly enough, this congregation was an Amish congregation, until they liberalized enough to become a Mennonite congregation. But more on that later.

Early Basler Anabaptists

I wanted to show a few more photos and tell a few more Basel Anabaptist stories before I move into the Amish part of the blog. So far I have concentrated on the Mennonite and Amish common heritage in Anabaptism with its emphasis on a faith lived out in daily life within a community of reconciliation. This means a break with infant baptism which takes personal accountability out of the community and a break with the state church, which turns pesonal accountability into a matter of state enforcement.

As I said before, there were early Anabaptists not just in Zurich and Bern, but also in Schaffhausen and Basel, and for that matter in St. Gallen and other places. The first picture is of Weisse Gasse, a place of known Anabaptist activity already in 1529, four years after its beginnings in Zurich. Basel also followed Zurich in switching from Roman Catholicism to Reformed, with John Oekolampad being the leader as Ulrich Zwingli was the leader in Zurich.

Weisse Gasse is not out in the country but right in the middle of things in Basel, like the first Anabaptists in Zurich. It is next to Barfusserplatz, which means what it sounds like, the Barefooters Plaza. It is near the Franciscan church and monastery, and apparently since the Franciscans were barefooted their nickname in German became Barfusser. The Franciscan Church, or Barfusserkirche, is now a museum. The Franciscans don't have a place in Reformed Basel.

Like Zurich, Basel also persecuted its Anabaptists. And so the second photo is of the Spalentor. This was a place where Anabaptists and other criminals were imprisoned. It was a main gate into the city, and part of the old city wall. Basel decided to preserve this relic of its history.

Finally there is photo of the Basel Rathaus. This is the seat of city and cantonal government
in Basel. The building is beautiful. In 1595 Basel issued one of the most severe mandates against Anabaptists. They would confiscate their property and exile them from the country.
There is a village near me here in Bienenberg called Hersberg. It is of course where the Hershberger family comes from, and some of those local Hershbergers became Anabaptists.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Pont des Anabaptistes

Last time I wrote about how nice it was to go into the Jura Mountains. Well, when I got home from that excursion I had a response from a Jura Mennonite pastor and we arranged to meet the very next day. So I had two Jura excursions two days in a row. This one was not so exhausting because the pastor, Michel Ummel, picked me up in his car and drove me to the places I wanted to see. So I took the train through Moultier again but this time got a small train to Tavannes. I still am kind of amazed at the public transportation system that takes you out to these remote places. This train had only two cars to it and in some ways was more like a tram.

Michel eventually picked me up and then we climbed high in his car. That would have been a very difficult climb by bike. I am not sure how it would have gone by foot. And unlike the other old Anabaptist worship spaces, the Pont des Anabaptistes, or Bridge of the Anabaptists, is right next to a road. There is no long climb on a trail to get there. You can drive right to it and then climb down a few feet of trails and steps if you actually want to go into the gorge.

Those with a sense about language may have noticed that Pont des Anabaptistes is French and not German, and so I refer you to yesterday’s post about Jura being French Switzerland instead of German. Like the German language Tauferhoehle in Zuerich, two of perhaps the only places with the name of our faith in it, this spot got its name from the local pastor who knew it as a place of Anabaptist worship. The bridge at the time was the main bridge that would carry not just people but also carts and wagons. We have a picture of the bridge only because on time a horse fell to its death from the bridge. The Anabaptists would meet in the gorge apparently near the bridge.

Here you can see the ruins of the bridge. And then again one more photo of me, proving that I was here. Michel Ummel, who along with being a pastor at Sonnenberg Mennonite Church is also the director of the Swiss Mennonite Conference archives housed at Sonnenberg, told me about their historical efforts with the bridge. They would like to see the bridge reconstructed. But the archaeologists said they should leave the ruins and build a replica a few feet away. (This interests me because I went to the Roman ruins of August Raurica and discovered that the amphitheater and temple mount had been rebuilt. This was strange to me because generally Americans let ruins remain ruins, and build a replica if we want one. But for some reason on this issue they are more inclined to leave the ruins.)

Then Michel took me to the Jeanguisboden meetinghouse of Sonnenberg (they have four meeting places, as I mentioned yesterday.) There he showed me a historical timeline on the wall that they had developed as part of the Tauferjahr, or Anabaptist Year last year when Switzerland commemorated its Anabaptist history. I was pleased that they had made copies of two of Balthasar Hubmaier’s books, where he makes an argument for believers rather than infant baptism, and then responds to Zwingli when he writes in favor of infant baptism. Hubmaier has sometimes been ignored or marginalized by Mennonites because he was not a pacifist, but he certainly was one of the most articulate defenders of the baptism upon confession of faith, rather than as a rite of birth.

Then Michel took me down to the archives. Now for some reason the electricity wasn’t working. But I happened to have the light that I use with my bike and so since the archives are in a basement without windows it was very dark. But I could use my flashlight to see things. There I saw some old and significant books. Two of them interested me the most. The first was the Biblical concordance of the Swiss Brethren. Apparently over time a book developed that was basically a thematic concordance of the Bible, with the themes being based on what was important to Mennonites. This was recently translated into English and for the first time I saw one of old German copies.

The other interesting manuscript is actually a photocopy. Apparently there is a handwritten copy of the Schleitheim Confession of Faith, so this is before publication, and the government of Bern possesses it. So the Mennonites have a photocopy in their archives. I was shocked that we have a version of this that is so early.

Michel also told me about some projects they are working on. They are hoping to open a Taufer museum in Switzerland. They are seeking someone with architectural knowledge to help them design it. They would need to raise funds to build this, and of course they are already raising funds for the restoration of the Pont des Anabaptistes.

I enjoyed visiting with Michel a lot. He and his wife attended Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in the years just before I was there. He told me about the joys and trials of being a pastor in Switzerland, and also about his time in mission work in Portugal. After Jeanguisboden, he had to go to a Mennonite historical gathering, and so he told me how to take my bike down to Tavannes. So once again I started biking down hill, and again had quite the ride down into the valley. The poor brakes on my bike.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Geisskirchli, Chapel of the Goats

On Wednesday I finally got out to the Jura Mountains. As I got about half an hour out of Basel and started to see the mountains, I thought to myself, why haven't I been coming out here more often? It was simply beautiful.
After arriving at Moultier from Basel by train, I got on the bus to Souboz. He was just pulling out but waited for me. And for one of the first times in this little country buses, I didn't have to pay him. My Swiss Pass got me free passage.
One of the strange things about the Jura is that it is French. I had always assumed that Switzerland is trilingual, with many people knowing German, French, and Italian. But really people learn the language of their location. And then they study another language in school, though many are also studying English.
So when I am taking the train out of Basel, the announcer says "Naechste Halt" for "Next Stop." But as I approach Delemont, only half an hour out of Basel, the announcer starts saying, "Prochain Arret" for "Next Stop." This is a bit of a problem because I don't know much French and French speakers, like English speakers, don't like to learn other languages, assuming that most educated people should know their language.
All of that to say that I am now in French-speaking Switzerland and can communicate in only a basic way to the driver. He takes me to the last stop. I fill my water bottle from one of those famous Swiss springs, and he immediately comes out of the bus and dumps my water on the ground and takes me into the bathroom in the garage to get clean water. And so I learn not to trust the water in those springs.
From Souboz I bike down to Le Pichous, where the trailhead is for the Geisskirchli, or Chapel of the Goats. This is another Anabaptist worship place/cave. I could have walked but Hanspeter Jecker figured out that the next bus didn't leave until like 5 pm. So he devised a way for me to get out of their sooner which I'll explain later.
So I bike for awhile, miss the special trail to the cave, and then find it on the way back. The signs pointing to it down at the bottom of the mountain are gone at the moment. So I leave my bike and hike up. You can see the cave and it is another inspiring place. Again, we do not have ancient churches to point to as Mennonites but we do have ancient holy places that God created thousands of years before churches. I find these places holy and inspiring. I am grateful for them and for their beauty.
I kept hiking up, though I think I again missed the trail and followed a gully. I slipped and fell at one point. Finally I got to the top, at about 3000 feet, and what do I see but farms. And a farmhouse with a little hotel and restaurant.
But first I hiked over to the Burkhalter farm, which is still a Mennonite family. That is the second photo, and they are related to Sheldon Burkhalter if you know him. (I forget if I mentioned that he and his wife were at Bienenberg for a number of days when I was. So we would eat together.) Then I hiked through a cow pasture to a beautiful vista overlooking the Pichoux Gorge. Then I reward myself with ice cream and water at the farm. The farmer's wife is very familiar with Mennonites coming. She actually knows some German.
The Jura is the area where many Mennonites fled to from persecution in other parts of Switzerland. There were two aspects to life here. One is that it was simply remote and so it was more difficult to be caught. But the other is that it was ruled by the Prince-Bishop of Basel. I need to find out more about this, but as I understand it Protestant Switzerland tolerated a Roman Catholic Bishop who was also a prince. They probably had no choice but to tolerate him. But apparently eventually he came to rule the high spots over 100o meters or about 3000 feet. He was not inclined to persecute Anabaptists and so they settled here. There are perhaps 10 Mennonite churches here today. And perhaps 5 in other locations.
Back to this language issue. I was surprised to discover that these congregations are increasingly switching from German to French. Again I assumed in Switzerland you spoke both German and French. So these Mennonites from German areas have maintained their German for many years, but now like the Mennonites who after about 150 years in America started to speak English, now they are switching over to French, with all the issues and arguments that go along with that. Some did this already a generation ago, but others like the Sonnenberg congregation, are changing more slowly. And Sonnenberg now has German and French worship in separate locations. (They are one congregation that meets in four different places, something that Mennonites still do here, and what Mennonites, or at least Amish, used to do in America. Though I only know of one congregation meeting in two places.)
I better finish my story. I then hiked down a path that took me down the mountain at unbelievable speed. It was one switchback after another. I have no idea how someone figured out such a trail, but it wasn't bad.
And then for the exciting part. I rode my bike through Le Pichous Gorge, which was simply a gorgeous ride. A creek had cut this gorge through the mountain range, and there were sheer cliffs one either side. It was a thrilling and exhilirating ride. Then I hopped on the train in Glovelier and made my way back to Moultier and then Basel. I highly recommend this.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The cows of Switzerland

On one of my first hikes at Bienenberg, I was walking through the woods when I heard what sounded to me like drums. I imagined Africans dancing in a circle with others beating the drums. But since I was in Switzerland, and the German speaking parts hardly have any Africans, I considered what Swiss might look like beating drums in the woods. But as I walked further and came to a pasture, I realized that the sound I heard were cow bells!
Some evenings when I have my window open the cowbells are less rhythmic and more like a soft singsong. If I believed in fairies, then I would suspect that fairies were making tinkering their bells. It really has become a beautiful sound to me.
Because Switzerland is so mountainous there are not a lot of places where you can grow crops like we do so abundantly in Indiana. And so the Swiss have worked with cows in their pastures for all these centuries. In the first picture you can barely see the cows, and so you realize how high up they are, but also I am pretty high that day. That picture is in the Jura Moutains and I was just hiking down from some Mennonite farms above 3000 feet.
The other photo is of the local herd. I am grateful to them for providing me with at least my ice cream. They may also provide some of the milk and cheese, I am not sure.
At first I was concerned about missing out on Chief ice cream this summer. I don't know what I was thinking. There is plenty of good ice cream in Switzerland. And so many flavors. I have had grape, lots of caramel, someting called Stracciata, and even rhubarb. That wasn't my favorite but when you have the option of eating rhubarb you have to take it.
The cheeses of course have been great and every morning I have been drinking hot chocolate. I must confess that I have gone with ice cream as my indulgence rather than chocolate. Here at Bienenberg they combine the ice cream with cream and other delectables for excellent taste experiences.
The Swiss also have a national drink called Rivella. I have been drinking it. It is made from whey, a cheesemaking byproduct. It's not that it is the best tasting drink. It is too fizzy for me, as is all soft drinks. It's just that this is my chance to drink it so I might as well.
So I am sure that I am eating entirely too much dairy right now. But I am grateful to the cows of Switzerland, and to the Swiss for their ingenuity in adapting agriculture to their environment and then giving the world such great cheeses and chocolates.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

More Bienenberg Buzz

I have been writing so much history lately that there hasn't been much news. This past weekend I stayed at Bienenberg rather than travel around. The reason is that interesting people came to Bienenberg. Alan Kreider, a professor at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary and former missionary in England, spoke on the end of Christendom, that time when church and state were united in Europe. He commended to us the early church's model of lengthy catechesis as a way to make our congregations distinctive from the culture around us. We met in the building above.
The participants were from Switzerland, Germany, and France. Alan would speak in English, someone would then translate into German, while someone else was translating into French on ear pieces. One time they reversed French and German, but so many of the people spoke German that usually the French needed to special headphones.
Whenever Alan wasn't speaking, someone would speak in German or French and then the other person would translate into the other language. It really wasn't that bad, except that I don't know German well enough to know what was going on. I could understand the directions about snacks and the Biblical passages, the important things.
I saw some people I knew, including the Mennonite pastor in Ingolstadt who came to the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center trainings for several years, at least one of them with me. I also met some people, like the former leaders of Christliche Dienst in Germany. They knew several former Forest Hills youth that I had worked with, including one who is getting married in Germany in a few weeks. And then I met her fiance who was one of the attendees! It was wild to make these connections.
I must admit that I often used English in this setting, because my German is so basic and the people at this gathering mostly knew English very well. It is essentially a modern Latin. I also enjoyed meeting Neal Blough, long-time Mennonite missionary in Paris.
Finally I met a woman who spoke great British English but turned out to be originally from East Germany. She knew some Russian, like one of our waiters here. She basically wants to become Amish. So we had a good conversation since I am trying to understand the Amish. I had noticed her head scarf but it really didn't connect at first. She wrote to Family Life asking if it is possible for someone from the outside to join but she received no reply. I told her I had heard of it but it was rare. I gave her some ideas for people to contact. I must say that in talking to her she gave answers that suggested she really could be Amish, as much as I know, at least. When I asked her about her children not be educated beyond the 8th grade she spoke about how education pulls you away from the community and so basic education is enough.
The fountain at the top of the blog is the first station in a peace path coming to reality here at Bienenberg. They see this as a way of telling the gospel with art. This sculpture is creation and was donated by the PAX boys, American volunteers who gave several years of service here. The speaker mentioned that many of them stayed with the Mennonite faith because of the influence of the PAX boys. They are taking each spot one at a time, looking for ideas and donations. Do you have any?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Felix Manz, first to be baptized in blood

Felix Manz, as I've mentioned before, was a kind of co-founder with Conrad Grebel of Anabaptism. Like him he was an educated young man in Zurich. They broke with Zwingli on separation of church and state, and infant baptism and so were imprisoned in a tower and put on bread and water. But they escaped. Manz was in and out of prison as he would travel around baptizing people upon their confession of faith. He appeared in several disputations arguing against Zwingli's views. Eventually the Zurich council decided to increase the penalty, and so finally in January 1527 he was drowned in the Limmat River, near the current Rathaus bridge.

Above is a picture of the location of the commemorative plaque that Zurich put beside the river in 2004. It says: "Here in the middle of the Limmat from a fishing platform Felix Manz and five other Anabaptists were drowned in Reformation times between 1527 and 1532. The last Anabaptist who was executed in Zurich was Hans Landis in 1614."

The second photo is an illustration of the Felix Mantz drowning found in the book written by Heinrich Bullinger, Zwingli's successor after Zwingli went off and fought in a battle and got himself killed. Thomann copied and illustrated Bullinger's book with these beautiful illustrations.

I just read a review of a 1999 book called Salvation at Stake: Christian Martyrdom in Early Modern Europe by Brad Gregory. Gregory covers the about 5000 martyrdoms that took place in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. For Mennonites with our strong martyrdom tradition it is important to note that this covers Protestant and Catholic martyrs also, Anabaptists were not the only martyrs of the time. Catholics killed both Protestants and Anabaptists and Protestants executed both Catholics and Anabaptists. Of course in both cases Anabaptists don't come out well.
I am interested in the question of whether Anabaptist created any martyrs. Many Mennonites are unfamiliar with the Muenster episode, when Dutch Anabaptists took over the city of Muenster and made a mess of things.
In any case, when you learn that 40 - 50 percent of the martyrs during this time were Anabaptist, and when you consider that we are roughly .001 % of Christians today, you can see why for us this has figured as an essential part of our story. To be a Mennonite is to inherit the story of martyrdom. It is both gruesome and heroic, a testimony to inhumanity and a testimony of faith.

Conrad Grebel, founder of the Anabaptists

Conrad Grebel was born into a fairly wealthy, leading Zurich family. The first photo is of his house in Zurich. It is a large and beautiful home. It is currently a small theater called Theater am Neumarkt. There is a plaque on it that says: "1508 - 1514 and 1520 - 1525 in this house lived Conrad Grebel, who together with Felix Manz founded Anabaptism."
Conrad was well-educated. His father used his political connections to gain what we would call scholarships today. Conrad first went to Vienna to study, through a scholarship through the Holy Roman Emperor, who ruled what would roughly be Germany today. There he was a student of Joachim von Watt, or Vadian. Through the years Conrad wrote many letters to Vadian, who eventually married Conrad's sister, and many of these letters were preserved.
After Vienna Conrad transferred to Paris, now under the auspices of the King of France. He was a studen of Glarean, another Swiss in a foreign setting. But there Conrad had much conflict with Glarean and eventually abandoned his studies. Glarean apparently thought Conrad was spoiled, and in my mind not without reason. He moved out of his lodgings with Glarean because they were too cold. But Glarean also played favorites and was hard to get along with.
In Paris Conrad got into other kinds of trouble as well. He was part of a group of Swiss students that became involved in a brawl that killed two Frenchmen. Apparently the French were attempting to rob the Swiss, so it was considered self defense. Conrad also admitted that he frequented prostitutes. He also suffered from an illness already at this time, something we hear about again and again, but not with enough details to know what it was.
So Conrad came home. But then his father got another scholarship for him, this time from the Pope to study in Rome. Now at this time the Pope was not just spiritual leader of the Catholic Church, but also political leader of the Papal states, much of northern Italy. So in other words Conrad's father managed to get money from each of the major countries that surrounded Switzerland at that time. This is part of the reason that Conrad's father was eventually executed, not for religious reasons but for treason.
But Conrad didn't have the heart to go to Rome and so stayed in Switzerland. He was a bright student, knew Latin as well as Greek. He wrote poetry that was published in Vadian's books.
It was only as he joined a study group with pastor Ulrich Zwingli, Felix Manz, and others that he began to have a spiritual awakening. He became more serious about life and about God. With Zwingli he believed that the church should be reformed according to the Bible. But as he read the Bible he didn't agree with all of Zwingli's ideas.
His greatest problem with Zwingli became infant baptism. He believed that baptism should follow a declaration of faith. That was the Biblical pattern.
The second photo is an illustration of the baptism disputation in Zurich. This comes from a handwritten copy of Heinrich Bullinger's Reformation History. The book was handwritten for political reasons, to not upset the Catholic cantons of Switzerland. The Swiss after all had battled each other over religion. The copyist painted these beautiful pictures. While the artist did not necessarily actually attend the events, he was drawing the rooms and places as they appeared at the time. In this picture the lords of the council are on the left, the clergy on the right, and the Anabaptist party are the ones standing at the front of the picture.
This is the disputation that the Anabaptists lost, where the council decided to maintain infant baptism, and to force parents to have their children baptized. As I already mentioned, the group soon thereafter decided to baptize each other as adult believers.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Basler Taufer, David Joris, and living with persecution

Before I came to Switzerland I thought that most Swiss Anabaptists were found in Zurich, where it all began, and Bern. These are the two primary sources of Swiss Amish and Mennonites in America today. But as I found out last week Anabaptists were also plentiful in Schaffhausen, which is where the Schleitheim Confession was written. I have also learned that they were active early in Neuchatel, which is where the 1/3 less fat cream cheese originated, I suppose. And finally I've learned that there was a lot of Anabaptist activity in Basel as well.
Today I mention one of the most colorful of Anabaptists, David Joris. He is the only early Anabaptist that I know of where we have a portrait of him, and his portrait hangs in the presitigious Basel Art Museum. The house below the portrait belonged to him when he lived in Basel.
Joris was a companion of Menno Simons in Holland, though often in conflict with him. Menno stuck closely to the Bible whereas Joris was more of a spiritualist. That emphasis on inner spirituality more than the outward appearances eventually led him to flee to Basel where he pretended to be a Reformed refugee. He lived under an assumed name and became extremely wealthy. This house is one of several that he owned, along with farms and even a castle, which I may eventually visit. All this time he remained in secret correspondence with his followers the Davidjorists.
After he died his real identity was discovered. So he was dug up from his grave at the church and his bones were burned as a heretic. People would pejoratively say that Basel only burned its heretics after they were dead. The current Basel folklore is that Joris' ghost haunts his home because of the way his remains were treated.
Joris is an extreme example, but the same day that I saw his home I read an article in the Mennonite Quarterly Review (Mark Furner, "Lay Casuistry and Anabaptist Survival in Bern" October 2001) about how Anabaptists managed to survive in spite of government opposition. We talk about Mennonites becoming die Stille im Lande, or the Quiet in the Land. But this article painfully exposes the machinery that helped create this situation.
Anabaptists were killed by Swiss governments from 1525 to around 1614, though the majority of those deaths were in those early years. But even after they had abandoned execution, persecution continued. Some of the methods included imprisonment, sometimes on starvation diets. The Zurich government eventually succeeded in expelling all its Anabaptists, and so Bern tried to do the same, but never succeeded.
What Bern tried to do was confiscate Anabaptist land and then force them into exile. But Anabaptists would then start giving their land away to their children, or they would make complicated arrangements with neighbors and friends. And while the government would tell them they are exiled, they would simply return again.
So what do you do if being an Anabaptist means that your property and your children will be taken from you, and you will be forced to leave your home country? Anabaptist had four strategies. The first was to simply avoid the authorities. And so there are the Anabaptist caves. They would also avoid going to the Reformed Church.
Secondly they would compromise on non-essentials, and defining non-essentials became difficult as the authorities put more pressure on them. Surprisingly many Anabaptists allowed their children to be baptized, and then they would just call it a meaningless ceremony. To not have your children baptized made you a suspected Anabaptist and created all kinds of trouble.
Thirdly, avoid being identified as an Anabaptist. And so if you were called before the church courts, because the Swiss Reformed Church had a kind of morals court that would make sure that everyone in the parish was behaving in a properly Christian way. And so if an Anabaptist would be forced to appear, they would avoid answering questions and even perhaps outright lie, to avoid being identified officially as an Anabaptist.
Finally some Anabaptists went so far as to say oaths or recantations of their faith. One way to do this was to show up for the oath ceremony and mumble. But as authorities became suspicious they would individually be forced to speak. And so they might say it while inside they tell themselves that they don't really mean it.
For obvious reason in our telling of history we focus more on the heroes who were willing to die for their faith. They are of course to be admired. But other people tried to find a way to be faithful in an impossible situation. David Joris became a facade in order to be both Anabaptist and successful. Others after him, though not as extreme, found ways to hide their identity.
I'm not sure what to do with this story. I won't say go thou and do likewise. But at the same time I sympathize with their predicament. What would I do if I was going to lose my family and my home and my country? What compromises would I make? Or rather, what compromises do I make? When the pledge of allegiance is said, I don't say it, but I do stand up and face the flag like everyone else. Am I just pretending to participate in the national oath while only myself and perhaps one other person in the place knows that I am not?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Tauferhohle, or the Anabaptist Cave

Hopefully you can indulge the many photos in this particular entry. On Sunday I visited the Tauferhoehle, or Anabaptist Cave, near Baeritswil. It was a deeply emotional, spiritual, and enjoyable experience.

In Schaffhausen I met some Mormons. They overheard me talking to a local woman and then because the one was American, he started talking to me. The other one was Swiss German, and when I told him that I was a Taufer, he recognized the name because he knew about the Tauferhohle. But just because that was the name of the cave, he did not know much about Anabaptists. I needed to give him the regular explanations.

And so while Mennonites think of Tauferhohle as a worship space for our spiritual ancestors, the Swiss think of it as a beautiful and fun place to hike. Since I was there on Sunday afternoon the place was full of people. There are several fire circles with grills and wood, so people would hike up to the cave and then picnic. It was nice to know that it was a place that was giving so many people such joy, especially children who loved the cave. But of course many of them did not know where the name came from or what its significance might be. However some signs were put up recently that do an excellent job in both German and English of explaining the place.

For my part I spent a lot of time in quiet, when I could. I also sang 606, which is the thing to do in such places. I felt a little awkward doing it by myself, especially since a family was within listening distance.

I have visited a number of beautiful cathedrals, or muensters they are called in German, during my stay here. Some of them have been not so beautiful, such as the Grossmuenster of Zurich which is still very plain after the manner of Zwingli. It even has places made for statues but no statues there. Zwingli preached against all such decorations and they were taken out of the church.

But the Fraumuenster, or women's cathedral of Zurich is just the opposite. It is gorgeous. It has a whole series of stained glass windows designed by Marc Chagall. They go from the life of Jesus, to the prophets, Jacob's ladder, King David and New Jerusalem, and the giving of the law. Each one is in its own color. I sat there for a long time meditating on the meaning and beauty of the pictures.

But I have to say that the beauty of this Tauferhohle is beyond anything else that I experienced. I thought about the irony of the Anabaptists needing to meet here because it was so isolated and so safe for gatherings. But at the same time finding such a beautiful and peaceful place to meet. There is a water fall that goes over the front, so there is the soft noise of water the whole time you are there. And if the preacher is standing at the front, you would have the beauty of God's creation to meditate on as you look past him or her. It is a holy and beautiful place.
A note on finding the place. Sam Wenger gives excellent directions in his second volume of A Tour of Ten Important Anabaptist and Reformed Sites in Rural Switzerland. They are very detailed. But you could also use Markus Rediger and Erwin Roethlisberger's Walk in the Footsteps of the Anabaptists. The main thing is to go to Baretswil and then follow the yellow "wanderweg" signs to Tauferhohle.
I took the train from Zurich to Wetzikon, and then the bus from Wetzikon to the Oberdorf stop in Baretswil. It was under 40 minutes to be at the Overdort stop. From there the Wanderweg sign says it is 1 1/2 hours by foot. I took my bike up the roads about 2 km and then went by foot another 1 km, I would estimate. It is a climb. And then I returned all the way to Wetzikon by bike. There is a nice bike path part of the way, though it was all down hill for me coming from Baretswil. So you could easily take public transportation and walk the rest of the way for about at total of 4-5 hours.
I met some hikers when I got off the bus. I biked up and then saw them on my return. They had given me some guidance. When I spoke to them I told them I was a Taufer, and they said they thought I might be. They could tell I was a foreigner, and thought I might be there to visit an origination point. They were well informed, asking about the Amish as another kind of Taufer.
This was a worthwhile and satisfying visit. My last photo is of the beautiful scenery you see when you come out of the woods.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The first Anabaptist baptisms

These two photos are the locations of the first baptisms among Anabaptists. The nondescript street is Neustadtgasse, where Felix Mantz lived. We don't know where he lived exactly, but it was on this street near the Grossmuenster, or cathedral. Mantz was the illegitimate son of the canon of the cathedral.

Mantz gathered at his home with Conrad Grebel, George Blaurock and others to decide what to do after the Zurich council had declared that everyone must have their children baptized. They decided to start baptizing each other based on their confession of faith. So this happened on January 21, 1525.
The Hutterite Chronicle tells the story: "After prayer, George Blaurock stood up and asked Conrad Grebel in the name of God to baptize him with true Christian baptism on his faith and recognition of the truth. With this request he knelt down and Conrad baptized him. Then the others turned to George in their turn, asking him to baptize them, which he did."

The second picture is of a house in Zollikon, once a farming village outside of Zurich, now a suburb. I travelled there by boat, though it is also accessible by train.
The Anabaptists were evangelistic from the start. The very next day Johannes Broetli baptized someone in Zollikon at this Rudi Thomann home. A wave of baptisms swept the area. There is a plaque on the house, though it can no longer be read because the owner has allowed that bush to grow over it. Perhaps there is some frustration with tourists snapping photos? I don't know.
Anyway, from Sam Wenger's Swiss Anabaptist tour book I know that it says, in English translation: "The concept of the believers' church was first realized in Zollikon by Anabaptists. In this house on January 25, 1525, one of their earliest meetings was held.
I want to mention that my source for the beginnings of Anabaptism in Zurich, Zollikon, Hallau, Waldshut, etc., is the recent essay by C. Arnold Snyder called "Swiss Anabaptism: The beginnings, 1523-1525" found in A Companion to Anabaptism and Spiritualism, 1521-1700, edited by John D. Roth and James M. Stayer, 2007. The book itself is a great resource for getting up to date on the state of Anabaptist studies.

First there was Zwingli

Here in Zurich I was where I could witness for myself the places where Anabaptism had its origins. Anabaptism is the common background of both Amish and Mennonites, as well as the Hutterites, a communitarian group. In my introductory blog I wrote about a "Where in the world is Carmen San Diego" show that incorrectly identified the Amish as the origins of the Mennonites, when in fact it is the reverse, the Amish come from Mennonites. But I wondered exactly who the Mennonites come from. Increasingly I am convinced as I read and ponder, that Mennonites come under the Zwinglian Reformed. I mention Zwingli because eventually John Calvin became the leading voice of the Reformed church. But first there was Zwingli.
Zwingli was the main pastor of the Grossmuenster, or cathedral, of Zurich. Based on the humanism of Erasmus of Rotterdam, who for many of these years was a teacher in nearby Basel Switzerland, Zwingli was with Luther preaching for the reform of the church. Humanism was a rediscovery of classic literature, especially Greek. This meant educated people were able to read the New Testament in its original language.
Zwingli formed a sodality, or study group of ancient literature. The group included the promising young student Conrad Grebel and Felix Mantz. This was to inform his teaching of the Scriptures. But Bible study groups were also set up for studying the Bible in the new German versions of the Bible.
Eventually Zwingli broke with the Roman Catholic Church, believing that following the Bible was more important than following church hierarchy. He believed in faith alone and Scripture alone. But if the pope and the bishops were no longer the final authorities on matters of faith, than who was? Zwingli turned to the city council of Zurich.
This is what eventually led to the break between Zwingli and Grebel and Mantz, considered the founders of Anabaptism. It was another member of the group, Simon Stumpf, who told Zwingli, "You have no authority to place the decision in Milords' hands, for the decision is already made: the Spirit of God decides."
Of course other differences that flowed with this one was the idea of believers' baptism, that someone expresses faith before they are baptized, something a baby cannot do, and the idea of Christians not participating in war and other forms of governmental authority. That is all outside the perfection of Christ.
I have here a picture of Zwingli found in a prominent place in Zurich, he is after all a major figure in Zurich history, perhaps the most famous. The statue has him with the Bible in one hand and the sword in the other, symbolizing his bringing together of church and state. And actually Zwingli died at a relatively young age in battle.
I show all the paraphernalia around his statue from the night of partying before. It was an odd scene to see drunken revelry. The beer manufacturer at that spot had obviously paid several young women to dance provocatively at that spot, I assume to keep men buying beer there. I wondered what Zwingli would think about the goings-on around him and whether anyone there knew who he was or what he stood for.
The second photo is an illustration of the Zurich disputation on baptism, which the Anabaptists lost. It was after this disputation that refusing to have your child baptized, or being re-baptized, were considered offenses for banishment. The illustration comes from the Zurich Chronicle of the time.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Of Snails and other wonders of God's creation

This photo of a snail is when I was biking on the trail between Neunkirch and Schaffhausen. It's a beautiful path and I saw something on the trail but went speeding by. But I thought it warranted further investigation and so turned around and saw the largest snail I have ever seen. I have also seen some big slugs. I took the photo with my sunglasses to give you some sense of the size of the thing. And it was trucking along pretty quickly. I suppose this is mostly for my boys.
I also visited the Rheinfalls, the largest falls in Europe. This gave me the opportunity to eat lunch in a castle as well, the Schloss Laufen. And then I was off to Zurich.
But in Schaffhausen I was again helped by the legendary Swiss hospitality. A couple asked me about my bike and then helped me get my bike and luggage in the train. They then helped me get oriented in Zurich.
Zurich was a very different place from Schaffhausen. I went from a very country area to the most urban. Zurich is the largest and richest city in Switzerland. Because of the European soccer championships, the place was full of people, and especially young people. It was a wild, decadent, and loud place to spend the night. At one point I thought, oh to be 20 years old and single again. But then I remembered that when I was 20 and single, I wouldn't have liked the drunken and sexually charged festivities either. So what did it matter?


After a wonderful night's sleep in the barn pictured above, I was fed a fabulous filling breakfast. This is the barn of farmer Werner Gysel. They are connected with the Geissels in America, and in fact an American Mennonite had given his wife a Geissel family cookbook. In turns out that along with Bern, Basel, and Zurich, Anabaptists were also active here in Schaffhausen. The Gysels are not Mennonite, but perhaps some ancestors were.
Frau Gysel was extremely generous, feeding two filling meals. The scenery from here is fantastic. You are on top of the mountain. You can learn about them at I had planned to sleep in the straw, and they have a small building for that. But as I smelled the straw I thought my nose might not be functioning properly by morning so I slept in the barn, which at this end is filled with bathrooms, meeting rooms and 2 dormitory style rooms. Since I was the only person there it wasn't a problem.
I then made my way across the mountain for awhile on my bicycle, and it was of course a wonderful trip down. I wanted to stop in the nearby town of Hallau because of a little-known incident there related to Anabaptist history. From April to November of 1525, the church and community there became Anabaptist. So I took the photo of the Hallau church interior, partly because its plainness seemed so Mennonite to me. But of course a plain style is also part of the Swiss Reformed emphasis of Ulrich Zwingli, the man from whom early Anabaptist parted ways. However there were two stained glass windows at the Hallau church, and one was of a knight! So that wasn't particularly Mennonite.
The people in the countryside are extremely accomodating and trusting and friendly. I arrived at the Hallau church only to find it locked. But some people were around and so he opened it for me. He drove away and told me to be sure to shut the door when I left.
The story of Hallau goes like this. After the first baptisms in Zurich in January 1525, the leaders spread out quickly. A few days later they went to Zollikon and then a few more days and Conrad Grebel was in Schaffhausen and Johannes Broetli and Wilhelm Reublin were in Hallau. At this point things were in flux and there were different ideas about what this movement might be. They did not assume that the state would be against them, though that was their experience in Zurich. So Broetli and Reublin preached in Hallau and many people were baptized.
Connected with this was the idea of the tithe no longer going to support the faraway administrators but for the support of the local community. They also wanted to decide who their pastors would be. There was a lot of peasant agitation against their lords and eventually the Peasants' War broke out.
What role did Anabaptists play in that? Certainly they shared in the frustrations of peasants. It is also clear that some of the early Anabaptists were pacifists, and others were not. When the capital city of Schaffhausen sent troops against Broetli and Reublin in Hallau, the villagers protected them with weapons.
A similar thing happened just across the border in Waldshut, Germany. Essentially the whole city became Anabaptist under the influence of the preaching of their pastor, Balthasar Hubmaier. Hubmaier was avowedly not a pacifist and the most educated of the early Anabaptists. He is one of the best Anabaptist theologians, especially in his writings about believers baptism and the separation of church and state. However for him that separation did not mean not participating in government functions, only that the state should not compel people to believe.
But in any case these experiments in whole cities being "Anabaptist" did not last long. Anabaptists never did garner state support. And two years later an ex-Benedictine monk, Michael Sattler, marked Anabaptism with some of his monastic ways. He was the writer of the Schleitheim confession, which I mentioned as the place I visited on Friday, and was also an area very sympathetic to Anabaptism. Schleitheim called for a strict separation between the state and the church. There was to be no mixing and Christians could not serve in state functions because that would require the use of the sword, something outside the perfection of Christ. You can read the Schleitheim Confession, which isn't very long, here
Not that Schleitheim is the first pacifist statement among Anabaptists. Conrad Grebel and his associates had also criticized the revolutionary Thomas Munzter for his advocacy of violence. But it is also clear that there was not originally consensus on this issue, and that at least for the Swiss, Schleitheim was inluential in eventually building that consensus.
After visiting Hallau I started biking towards Schaffhausen to catch a train to Zurich for the night. However I got a flat tire. And again I was aided by a complete stranger. I explained to someone that all I needed was air pressure, but he insisted on driving me and my tire to the nearest bike shop. Then he brought me to his home for a short visit and some chocolate with warm milk. His name was Iso and he was born in Greece, raised in Macedonia, and now lived in Hallau. He was a very busy man who worked hard, and being rewarded by gaining property in Switzerland, no small feat. As Andy had told me my first day in Switzerland, owning real estate is only for the rich. Everyone else must rent from them.

Sunday, June 8, 2008


I had a fantastic and grueling weekend, going first to the canton of Schaffhausen to visit some of the country locations where Anabaptist seed first grew and then also to Zurich, the great city where the Anabaptist seed germinated. In Schaffhausen I visited Schleitheim and the Tauferstein. The countryside around Schaffhausen is just beautiful. Take the picturesque scenes of Lancaster County and double them, and you get some idea. It was simply gorgeous. Schaffhausen, though it is the capital of a Swiss canton, is a small city of only about 40,000 people.
Schleitheim is a short bus ride from Schaffhausen. Schleitheim has a small city museum, and one room is dedicated to the Schleitheim Confession, the confession written early in the Anabaptist movement, 1527, as a way to unite these disparate adult baptizers. The display is very well done, with panels explaining Mennonite beliefs very well in both German and English. And I was surprised to see brightly painted pictures of important Anabaptist events, such as the Zurich disputation on infant baptism and the drowning of Felix Manz. These are all depicted in the Zurich Chronicle, from the perspective of the Reformed Church of course. The volunteer curator was a great man to talk to.
A couple of things for those who might visit. The bus really does take you almost exactly where you need to go. You get off at the Schleitheim Gemeindehaus stop. Samuel Wenger has a series of 4 books on touring important Reformed and Anabaptist locations in Switzerland. Masthof Press out of Morgantown, PA, published them. They are very helpful. They include maps that take you right to the places you want to see, basically. However Wenger assumes you have a car, which I have not had. So I will let people know how to find things by public transportation.
There are also a couple of issues, the first being that you need to call ahead to ask for the museum to be opened, otherwise it is open only on the first Sunday of the month. Herr Bechtold is glad to open it for you, but he only speaks German.
The museum has one of only four copies of the original Schleitheim printing, which is in the photo above. It so happens that the Mennonite Historical Library in Goshen also has one, as the curator told me. The exhibit is well done, thanks to Dr. Urs Leu, a professor in Zurich.
After my visit to the museum I thought I would visit the Tauferstein. The Tauferstein, or baptist stone, is a memorial stone remembering the Anabaptists who fled Switzerland via the Tauferstieg, or baptist path. In German Anabaptist/Mennonites are generally known simply as taufer, or baptist. The stone was put on this path about four years ago as an act of reconciliation from the Reformed for their ancestors persecution of ours.
I was enjoying my time riding my bike along a lovely path. A local woman suggested a way for me to get to Hemmental, near the Tauferstein. But as I biked along I noticed a shortcut on the map. So I took it. Bad idea. It had some grueling climbs. And then as I kept going I just kept climbing and climbing. I saw what was basically a mountain and thought to myself that there was no way I would have to go all the way up that thing to find the Tauferstein. Well, I was wrong.
I think part of my problem is that the map showed numbers like 900, which I took to mean 900 feet. But of course this is Europe and 900 is for meters, or more like 2700 feet. So now we are talking the altitude of some of Pennsylvania's Allegheny Mountains. And it was getting cold and I was now walking my bike, wishing that I was returning the way that I came so that I could leave my bike somewhere. I took a path that ended up being wrong and I felt completely lost on this mountain with no one around and no water. Then I see a famous Swiss spring.
Then I hear a tractor. As he passes me by I flag the farmer down and ask him if he knows where I could find the Tauferstein. Yes he does, but it's difficult to explain and my German isn't that good. He says, I can go with you. I cannot express the relief I felt when he said this, but all I could say was, but you don't have time. He replied that he had lots of time. So he walked with me for about 20 minutes until we found the stone, and then he snapped my photo above.
When I told him that he was like an angel to me, he replied that he was president of Schleitheim, and that when someone visited Schleitheim, he wanted to make sure that they had a good time. Then he gave me directions for a good way down the mountain, and of course when you are on a bicycle going down is a lot of fun. I am so grateful to Herr Stamm for taking the time to make my visit a success. And I met person after person in Schaffhausen who took care of me.
It was getting pretty late by then and I still had a ways to go to the barn where I would be sleeping. So once back in Schaffhausen I hopped on the train to near the place. Since the address was Berghaus, or mountain house, you can imagine that once again I had a steep climb, but it was doable. I made it up the hill just as the sun was setting and the kind farmer's wife made me a hearty supper of potatoes, bacon, eggs, and salad. I ate everything and slept very well and very long. Did I mention that I was exhausted?
It was a satisfying day by the end, though there were moments when I wondered if it was a good idea to be in a foreign country with only a bike. But I again had the opportunity to experience the extraordinary kindness of strangers, a kind of reversal of angels unaware.