Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Attempts at reconciliation

On Tuesday we left Switzerland. It is the first time I am out of that country for 5 ½ weeks and it does feel strange. We are far away from the Swiss trains, from any trains for that matter. My plan had been to never rent a car during our time in Europe, to stick with railroads and bicycles. I prefer both of those modes of transportation to cars anyway, so it was no sacrifice. It also seemed like an appropriate way to honor my Amish heritage as I also explored that heritage in Europe. But ironically enough, as we decided to visit the location where the Amish once flourished, and where Jacob Ammann led his followers, we needed to rent a car. The owner of the Ferme-Auberge, or farmhouse inn, said that the bus just didn’t get that close. And we are indeed in a very remote location, near Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines.

We climbed through the Jura Mountains to get here, going by Glaserberg in search of some early Kaufman farms. We were able to find an old Rich farm, and a town that had Kaufmans in it, but unfortunately we missed a number of farms as well. In any case the Jura Mountians were again beautiful and I was happy to be in them. At some point we crossed the Swiss-French border.

After passing many small towns with closed restaurants we finally found a cozy restaurant that was open. We struggled in this new country with the French language. We know very little French and the French are as bad as British and Americans, perhaps worse, when it comes to learning other languages. All three of these nations expect others to learn their language, so why should they have to learn anyone else's? But the waitress was very patient and kind and with what German, French, and English we knew we managed to order a good meal.

Very quickly we moved from mountains to a wide plain. I was surprised just how flat this section of the Alsace is. Included on this plain was a small town called Ohnenheim. It was in the mill of Ohnenheim pictured above that in 1660 Anabaptist gathered to sign the Dordrecht Confession. And some 3 decades later, in 1694, another important meeting was called, somewhat related to the first. Because part of the Dordrecht confession that was accepted included the idea of shunning those excommunicated.

Palatine Mennonites were trying to effect a reconciliation between the Swiss and the Alsatian Anabaptists, or more properly the Amish and the Reist factions of the Anabaptists. Some of the Amish were still in the Berner Oberland in Switzerland. The Palatinate in Germany had been another location, along with the Alsace in today's France, that had tolerated Swiss Anabaptists. So all these folks were connected with Switzerland, but now they were in different locations.

The Palatines found themselves somewhat caught in the middle. They were accustomed to thinking of themselves as siblings in the faith and so the idea that the Alsatians had excommunicated the Swiss was very troubling. There was no idea of national autonomy. All believers were connected with one another and needed to be reconciled with each other.

So in 1694 Palatine Mennnonites called for reconciliation at this mill in Ohnenheim, Alsace. Reist admitted he was negligent in church discipline and in teaching that the true-hearted were saved, the Palatines rejected the shunning of the excommunicated, saying it goes too far. However Ammann would not drop shunning. For him that was unthinkable.

In fact some years later Ammann and his followers did ask for forgiveness for their wrongs. He admitted that he was too hasty in excommunicating Reist and his followers. He called for reconcliation. However he also continued to believe that shunning was essential and so would not reconcile unless they admitted that shunning was necessary. So again there was no reconciliation. According to some manuscripts my ancestor Isaac Kaufmann was one of the signers of this letter asking for forgiveness.

Here the the Palatines and Swiss were united in greeting Ammann's plea for forgiveness with silence. They did nothing. Jacob Gut of the Palatinate wrote that he thought silence was the best response to Ammann.

So there is an interesting, in my opinion, use of silence on both sides of this disagreement. Recall that the schism first started when Reist in practice silenced Ammann by ignoring him. He didn't come to a general conference because he was too busy farming. And then decades later again Ammann's attempts at reconciliation are greeted with silence, or what we might even call shunning.

I am a Mennonite and so in that sense I am more sympathetic with those who rejected shunning. But on this I sympathize with Ammann. The Swiss were saying they don't believe in shunning and yet in practice were shunning Ammann. I prefer Ammann's shunning to theirs. For Ammann the shunning is open and it has the goal of reconciliation. The Reist practice of shunning is veiled. Because it is done in what we today would call a passive-aggressive way, there is no way for the silenced one to achieve reconciliation. Because the other party does not openly admit that they are silencing the person, there is really no hope of reconciliation.

We are just outside Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, or what was also known as Markirch in German. This is the town where Ammann moved after he left Switzerland. This is a small town that is in the next mountain range, the Vosges. It is nestled in a valley in the mountains and it again, like Erlenbach im Simmental where Ammann was born, gives one the sense of being protected and secluded from the wider world. Amman was there for decades, my wandering ancestor Isaac Kaufmann was there for a little while.

I also have a photo of one of the many castles we saw in this region of Alsace. This is a reminder of Alsace's location as the border between France and the Holy Roman Empire, or what became Germany. It changed hands many times and there are so many castles, one supposes, because people had a great need to protect themselves from the many wars that raged across this land.

This is also a reminder that the Amish were able to live in this area because the local lords permitted it. I have not yet verified whether this was the castle of the lords of Rappolstein, but they are the ones who tolerated the Anabaptists.

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