Friday, July 4, 2008

Mennonites of Emmental

Last Saturday we arrived at Langnau im Emmental, the location of the oldest continuing Mennonite church in the world, with its roots going back to 1527. The Langnau congregation is alive and well. I again contacted the President of the congregation and I again was treated with the utmost hospitality by him, as I was treated in Bern.

President Daniel Engel had been a MCC trainee in Ephrata, Pennsylvania and Steinbach, Manitoba. He spoke very good English that he learned from that time, and he said that their congregation hosts American visitors almost every Sunday. They have printed several of their congregational brochures in English for our sakes. Daniel picked us up at the farmhouse where we are staying and brought us to church.

The service was quite the event, it being the first time I have heard a Swiss Mennonite preacher. As I think I mentioned before, when I attended the Schaenzli Mennonite congregation in Basel the local Reformed pastor was preaching for a joint service. When I attended the Bern congregation last week, a Spanish Baptist preacher was the guest. So finally I heard a Swiss preach. However, he preached in Swiss German. The whole service was in Swiss German except for some High German hymns, and there were quite a few Swiss German hymns. I think it's great that they are doing so much in Swiss German, the language of the heart for the Swiss. But it was harder for me to understand than High German.

After the service was a carry-in meal, something they do every fifth Sunday. When we asked about it, it sounds like something they adapted fairly recently from American Mennonites. So again I am impressed with the interconnections between Mennonites across oceans from one another. MCC has made many connections possible. There is a sense of commonality and what in German can be called a siblinghood in Christ.

When Daniel learned that we planned to visit places in Langnau by bus and train, he thought that would be too difficult. So he took part of his day off on Monday and drove us to the Emmental Schaukaeserei, the place where they show you how they make Emmental cheese, what we in America call Swiss cheese. That was fascinating and tasty.
Then he drove us to Trachelswald Castle. This is the infamous castle where so many Anabaptists were imprisoned through the years. And in fact the castle remains open to the public, and the displays in it focus on the Anabaptists. I found that astonishing, but I think it is one of the affects of the Tauferjahr last year, the Anabaptist year, where Switzerland made some attempt to recognize its history of mistreatment of Anabaptists but also the survival of Anabaptism in Switzerland.
At Trachelswald I discovered that there is a Tauferpfad, or Anabaptisit path, that one can walk through the Emmental. I also bought some Tauferbrot, or Anabaptist bread, at the bakery. When I aske the baker about it she didn't know why it was called Tauferbrot. Daniel said that Tauferbrot was unheard of until the Tauferjahr, so he suspected bakers made it to connect with the commemorations.
In the photo you can see the beautiful Emmental land, this being the view from outside our window at a farmhouse. The second photo is one of our guys trying out the leg irons in one of the Trachelswald prison cells.
We came to Emmental expecting to find some ancestral lands in this area. But as I think I already mentioned, the Kaufmans were latecomers to Anabaptism, joining some 15o years after its founding. They also were more from the Oberland area, near Thun, and not so much here in the Emmental.
However, my wandering ancestor, the Anabaptist leader Isaac Kaufmann, did live for a while in Schangnau near here. Hanspeter Jecker suspects he lived there because it was ruled by Trachelswald but it was not connected to it. There was another county in between. So the rulers in Trachelswald had more trouble keeping track of what was happening in Schangnau. In any case some of the earliest official reports on Isaac are connected with Trachelswald. If I'm reading correctly, it appears that he and perhaps his wife Elsbeth were imprisoned here at one point.

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