April 1999

           

ANABAPTIST-MENNONITE SPACES AND PLACES OF WORSHIP

 

JOHN M. JANZEN

     This special issue of The Mennonite Quarterly Review explores the Anabaptist perspective on the relationship of worship, broadly defined, to the physical place in which it occurs. Worship here includes gathering as a body of believers or as a well-organized congregation, listening to one or more speakers read scripture and instruct the group, singing together, speaking and exhorting one another, praying and conducting common affairs, practicing communion, footwashing, baptism and eating together.[1] 

     The relationship of building to worship and meeting in the Anabaptist tradition should be examined for several good reasons-historical, contemporary and future-directed. Congregations, historical societies and museums that are concerned with the fate of historic Mennonite places and spaces about to be remodeled or abandoned must discern what is significant and worthy of preservation. Once the decision for preservation is answered affirmatively, other questions arise concerning interpretation.

     Congregations and communities that live and act within their existing places and spaces should be aware that the embodiment of relationships, identity and memory in material form is a powerful expressive force. They should know just what is being expressed through their built form.

     The issue also has a future orientation. Today, at a time when the construction of buildings for Mennonite worship and meeting has become big business, questions about the significance of form and meaning in the spaces and places of worship and meeting may even be more critical than earlier. Building committees, architects and contractors project their concepts, ideals and religious beliefs into materials and emotion-evoking treatments of light, color and particular space-defining forms.

     In the ecclesiastical traditions that have identified with the Anabaptist or radical wing of the Reformation-Mennonite, Amish, Hutterite, Brethren in Christ and others-buildings of meeting and worship have had an ambiguous and paradoxical status in relation to the sacred. Architect Rudy Friesen characterizes the Mennonite worship space as having "no separate 'holy' area, no mysticism, and no strong spatial direction. . . . The church is a gathering of believers in Christ and the church building is merely a shelter in which believers worship together. It is not a holy place."[2]  Accordingly, some Anabaptist groups like the Old Order Amish or the Hutterites meet and worship in homes or in other public buildings such as schools. They have no "sanctuaries." On the other hand, in the affluent communities of Europe and North and South America, the buildings of worship and meeting are increasingly the object of lavish spending, designed by professional architects with the resultant form resembling "churches" of other denominations. In the face of such simultaneous world rejection and world affirmation in different parts of the Anabaptist body, there is a need for clearer theoretical discernment of underlying theological and cultural issues. In many ways these past, present and future-oriented issues represent the same set of questions: how do the material elements surrounding meeting and worship mirror or embody the relationship of a people to God or relationships among fellow humans? how do gathering and worship lend significance to space and place? how do the structures of space and place shape community? Following from these questions, how does a worship building in the context of Anabaptist-Mennonite ideas and practices take on significance?

      These issues were debated at the conference "Bethaus, Meetinghouse, Church: An Historical Inquiry into the Architecture of Anabaptist-Mennonite Worship Spaces and Places" held October 16-18, 1997 at the Mennonite Heritage Center in Harleysville, Pennsylvania.[3]  The impetus for the conference came from the challenge facing the Germantown Mennonite Historic Trust, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which is charged with preserving and interpreting the 1770 building and site, including the cemetery, of the Germantown Mennonite Church, the oldest continuous Mennonite congregation in North America, founded in 1683.[4] 

     Although the 1770 Germantown meetinghouse was built by Jacob Knorr, a well-known and highly-regarded builder, the use of the phrase "an architecture of Anabaptist-Mennonite spaces and places of worship" is a problematic rubric for this inquiry, at least initially. For "architecture" usually denotes an intentional approach to built form that embodies well-formulated ideas and concepts.[5]  "Spaces and places of worship" suggests a broader range of settings in which Anabaptists and their Mennonite, Amish, Hutterite, and other successors have met, including secret caves and open fields, under trees and in boats on water. The barns, homes, and revamped warehouses that were used as "spaces and places of worship and meeting" with greater tolerance by authorities, were frequently vernacular spaces hardly worthy the designation of "architecture." An "architecture" in this sense emerged only after decades, sometimes centuries, out of meeting in these "spaces and places."[6] 

 

BETHAUS, MEETINGHOUSE, CHURCH

     The earliest worship and meeting places that authorities permitted descendants of the Anabaptists to build or adapt-from the late sixteenth century to the eighteenth century in Europe-are of special interest to this present project. They represent a distinctive set of characteristics arising from community practices, beliefs and the culture of the time. These characteristics, and the distinctive forms of meeting and meeting spaces they may have reflected, also migrated to new lands that often required building with different materials and in climates other than those to which their builders were accustomed.[7]  The forms were thus not merely haphazard.

     One of these distinctive Mennonite traditions is that of the Bethaus (literally, "house of prayer"), the term used widely to describe the building tradition that emerged in the seventeenth or eighteenth century in the Vistula Delta of Poland and Prussia, and spread eastward to Russia and later to the Americas.[8]  By contrast, the Meetinghouse tradition, which derives from the Swiss, South German and Pennsylvania German term Versammlunghaus, has become very widespread in English usage. A first set of chapters of the present volume explores the sources and characteristics of these traditions and their transformations: in Central and Eastern Europe (Gross, Visser, Schritt, Friesen); in Pennsylvania and beyond (Ruth, Horst-Martz); and in the "diaspora" communities of Central North America (J. Janzen, Sprunger) and of South America (Klassen).

     The Bethaus and Meetinghouse traditions reveal a remarkably congruent set of features that one may appropriately call a "classical" Anabaptist-derived Mennonite tradition of building for worship and meeting. The most striking features of these buildings, some of which are described in this special issue, include the following: (1) the congregation is seated in a face-to-face arrangement, usually with the long side of the building serving as the "front" or center of worship; (2) the (usually collective) leadership is seated along this side, either behind a table from which they speak while seated, or on a bench against the wall behind a "pulpit;" (3) the "pulpit" is either a raised place on the table or rail, or is centrally located between the bench and the congregation; (4) the congregation is usually divided along gender lines, including gender-separated entrances; (5) the interior decoration is usually plain, except for scriptural motto hangings and floral motifs which may echo the central placement of the Bible and the use of flowers in worship; (6) the building's exterior is of simple functional design, with ample clear windows allowing abundant sunlight to flow into the gathered assembly.

     These early Bethaus and Meetinghouse structures are frequently mentioned as worthy of historical conservation. They include: the "hidden" sixteenth and seventeenth-century meetingplaces in the Netherlands; the barns, lofts or hidden meeting sites in Switzerland, Alsace and south Germany; the eighteenth-century wooden structures of the Vistula Delta; the early buildings of the Chortitza and Molotschna colonies in Russia; the old meetinghouses of Pennsylvania; the adobe and clapboard structures of the American Plains; the first twentieth-century buildings of the Chaco in Paraguay. Unfortunately, however, many of these buildings which marked the emergence of a distinctive building style are already gone or are seriously threatened. Some have been recycled beyond recognition. Only a very few are in the hands of preservation organizations.

     How do we establish the significance of sites, structures and things? What is worth preserving and commemorating? What stories do these vanishing places tell in our larger story? How do we construe and convey the culture history of Mennonites and Amish among the migrating and resettling peoples of our globe, (for example, a Jewish cemetery and synagogue in Poland, or a Pawnee cemetery and earthlodge site in Kansas)?

     One of the tasks of scholarship on these "classical" buildings and sites is to determine why there was such widespread coherence of built form in Mennonite communities in Europe and the diaspora. This is all the more intriguing because of the strong historic conviction against making the worship building into an object of worship. Was there an implicit theology of "spaces and places of worship?" Or was the form simply the outward shape of the congregational self-image? Perhaps these buildings took on distinctiveness because their builders had formulated a strong communal identity, originating from the character of their meetings, their theology of congregation, their rituals, the structure of their leadership and the economic composition of their communities.

     The third term of the cluster, "church," (or its German equivalent Kirche) came to replace Bethaus and Meetinghouse in the nineteenth century as both a designation for the building of worship and meeting as well as the congregation. Prior to that time the community of believers had been designated as a "congregation" (Gemeinde, Gemeine, assembl‚e) or similar term. Some of the chapters of this volume (especially the papers by Sprunger, Visser and Schritt) detail the transition in identity and the resulting tensions that surfaced as congregations, often at the time of remodeling or building anew their space and place of worship and meeting, renegotiated their very identity and their relationship to their non-Mennonite neighbors. This often occurred at the same time as they delegated their building projects to professional (usually non-Mennonite) architects and contractors.

 

WRITING ON ANABAPTIST-MENNONITE WORSHIP BUILDINGS

     Much of the writing on space and place of worship and meeting among Mennonites and Amish that might have addressed these questions has been descriptive, consisting mainly of accounts of buildings in connection with congregations and peoples, their settlements, migrations and celebrations. References to buildings in congregational histories are innumerable, often marked by mention of the importance of simplicity or, alternatively, of the inevitability of progress and innovations. As these contradictory allusions suggest, congregational histories rarely address the theological or cultural rationale for the building from an Anabaptist-Mennonite perspective. A few histories of regional or national building traditions provide the beginnings of a systematic look at the subject.[9]  Of these, J. Schiere's study of the Netherlands Doopsgezinde church architecture[10]  and Rudy Friesen's study of Russian Mennonite building[11]  stand out as concentrating on broad national histories over the entire sweep of Anabaptist-Mennonite presence in the two countries-four centuries and two centuries, respectively. Entries on "architecture" in the Mennonite Encyclopedia sketch a brief history of meetinghouse and church buildings, with reference to sites and structures of particular interest.[12]  Non-Mennonite scholarly works are few and do not represent a critical awareness of the multiple traditions of the wider global Mennonite world.[13]  Symposia have been held in recent decades seeking to answer the general question of the kinds of buildings that are appropriate for Mennonite congregations.[14]  These writings begin to look at the formative theological and philosophical questions of the Anabaptist movement of the sixteenth century and at the cultural/historical issues that architectural scholars identify in their analysis of building traditions. Yet to answer the questions that face historical interpreters, preservationists and congregational builders at the turn of the twenty-first century, more study is needed that connects the shaping of buildings for worship and meeting with thinking on the nature of the congregation, teaching, communion, baptism, music and other aspects of worship.

 

ON THE ASSOCIATION OF FORM TO MEANING

     The Anabaptist legacy of ideas and practices that most challenges contemporary generations concerned with places and spaces of worship-whether for preservation, interpretation or building new-is the doctrine that desacralizes the material world. This perspective, of course, was articulated most clearly around the significance of the eucharist and baptism-the two "sacraments" from Roman Catholicism that were retained in "desacralized" form among the Anabaptists as "ordinances."

     Sixteenth-century Anabaptists propagated the view that particular forms in worship bear no essential connection to the meaning they represent. They specifically rejected the doctrine of "transubstantiation," which held that the elements of bread and wine were mystically transformed in the communion service into the actual body and blood of Christ while retaining their outward appearance. Most also rejected Luther's view of "consubstantiation," by which the double essences of the blood and the wine and the body and the bread were simultaneously present. For the Anabaptists, wine and bread retained their substance and character as food, merely representing or symbolizing the blood and body of Christ. They insisted that the acts and elements of communion were the outward signs of an inner, willful, adult consciousness.[15] 

     Not surprisingly, as a consequence of this rejection of any formal essentialism in the central rites of the Anabaptist movement, the descendants of the Anabaptists have created a diversity of particular forms of communion-e.g., meeting around tables as in a meal, drinking from one collective cup, drinking from many individual cups, etc.-and of baptism-e.g., baptism by pouring, by effusion, by three-fold backward immersion, etc. In other rituals such as footwashing there also has been diversity; some groups have provided individual freedom to practice it or not to practice it. Other groups, especially the Old Order Amish, Old Order Mennonites and Old Colony Mennonites, have required particular forms of worship ordinances as essential for their faith. This diversity of forms and attitudes has led to controversies and has even been reflected in denominational schisms.

     It is useful to compare for a moment this diversity of form in the carrying out of ordinances with the character of music in Anabaptist-Mennonite worship. Music, especially singing, has been a mainstay of Mennonite expressive identity. Amish and a few other Old Order groups continue to sing the sixteenth-century martyr ballads of the Ausbund, the oldest known Christian hymnal in use, in a form reminiscent of medieval Gregorian chant. On the other hand, four-part congregational singing is also greatly appreciated, often performed with a great deal of polish. If we add non-European Mennonite musical traditions, we must admit, for example, Central African song-dance and drumming and Plains Indian drumming and chanting to the range of musical forms that are acceptable, cherished, cultivated and performed in the Mennonite world. We might even say that these forms of singing all have their own "canonical" status.

     The analogy of the musical canon, alongside the diversity of forms in the ordinances, may provide us with clues for elaborating a critical perspective on architecture in worship. A canon is a historically and artistically created form of expression. It has its own codes of aesthetic and liturgical elaboration. Not just anything goes. Clearly Mennonites have often maintained particular traditions for long periods of time and have exported them to new regions. The expressive genres of the sermon, the worship service, the celebration of the eucharist, the singing of a chorale and the telling of a story all have their characteristic basic attributes that must be respected for the genre to make sense. Is not the classic Mennonite prayerhouse or meetinghouse a particular canonical built form? Thus, worship forms such as music, congregation governance, seating arrangements and elements of built form such as the leader's bench are recognized and invested with a degree of value. They are rehearsed, polished, performed and built; they are handed down from generation to generation with care. A canon has its own integrity.

     A kind of Anabaptist paradox results. Can the doctrine of the arbitrary relation of form to meaning that has become the stock-in-trade of Anabaptist worship be reconciled to the significance of canons of music, rhetoric and other aspects of worship and life? In other words, how might we attempt to situate the theological stance of non-iconic forms with the inherent properties of music, liturgy, meeting, speech and other human arts, including building? Before examining some solutions to this challenge surrounding the "contingent" association of form and meaning, we will review writing on the "canonical" properties of architectural forms pertinent to the study of space and place of worship.

 

THE EMBODIMENT OF IDEAS AND PRACTICES IN BUILT FORM

     One model of scholarship on the relationship of ideas to built form is Erwin Panofsky's well-known Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism.[16]  In this remarkable, small volume Panofsky explores the relationship of the premier late medieval building type, the Gothic cathedral, to the system of thought that inspired it. Panofsky's writing is all the more helpful because he has also written about the impact of the Reformation upon the association of form to content in Christian art and worship.

     Panofsky suggests that late medieval scholasticism, as embodied in Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologiae, took Aristotle's idea of the divine in nature and raised it to its maximum explicitness. Thus,

     the human soul, though recognized as immortal, was now held to be the organizing and unifying principle of the body itself rather than a substance independent thereof. A plant was thought to exist as a plant and not as the copy of the idea of a plant. The existence of God was believed to be demonstrable from His creation rather than a priori.[17] 

     The Gothic cathedral, through the work of the architect and builder, is the incarnation of the divine in the particular of the divinely-created universe. Just as the Summa was a rational outline of the universe, so the cathedral became a universe of the sensual to the glory of God, punctuated with correspondences between material and spiritual or logical rules.[18]  The high ceiling vault corresponded to the omnipotence of God; the expansive windows allowed the light of faith and God's reality to pour in to the worshiper. Laws of physics and of divine truth fused in the nature of God. Because of the particular way in which Gothic architecture attempted to perfectly and explicitly express the system of ideas we now call scholasticism, the medieval cathedral represents an excellent example of how form and meaning may be integrated within a recognizable canonical form.

     These comments about the materiality of worship and built form are echoed in the more systematic presentation by German church architect Rudolph Schwartz on the impact of particular spatial arrangements upon congregational life.[19]  Schwarz develops three basic types of worship forms, each with many variations. These are "the holy circle," "the holy opening" and "the pilgrimage" (also called "the way").[20] 

     In the first, the congregants encircle the altar, the eucharist, a priest and perhaps a candle (Fig. 1). They are a face-to-face community with Christ at the center.

     To celebrate the Lord's Supper, one needs a not too large room of good dimensions, in the middle of which is a table on which is placed a plate with bread and a vessel with wine. The table may be decorated with candles, and encircled with chairs for the congregants. A table, a room and walls is all that is needed to constitute the simplest church. The table is the carrying earth raised for the celebration. The vessel is the inner hollow of the mystery, its first emerging form and as such also the prototype of the people around the table and the walls around the people, which is their inner church. The candle is the living light, which radiates from the center. The space is holy presence. Walls and roof are ultimate envelopment. The small congregation sits or stands around the table, and the Lord is in their midst, as he promised, where two or three are gathered in his name.[21] 

      The second, or "holy opening," is a rectangular pattern in which the congregants are positioned on three sides of the center, the eucharist and a priest (Fig. 2). This form has some of the social properties of the "holy circle," but there is opportunity here of a transcendent presence outside of, or beyond, the gathered community. The "opening" often faces a visual sign of the transcendent such as an altar, a cross, a window or the open sky.

     The third form, "the way" or "the pilgrimage," is found in the basilica form of church (Fig. 3). All congregants face forward to the altar and priest and perhaps a cross or other representation of the Eternal.

     This is a severe form, and if one may designate as "love" that which occurs in the closed circle, then here love is missing. Missing here is the eye-to-eye regard, here no one meets the other's view, and all look forward. Missing here is the warm exchange of both hands, the giving of one person to another, the warm-hearted bonding. Here everyone stands together but alone, shoulder to shoulder and step after step in totally straight lines, connected to one another at right angles. That which ties one to another is measured and cold, not a binding of the heart, but of the scheme: one person walks ahead, another follows him, two follow, and all go together. He sees no one face to face, two he sees beside him, and one (behind him) he sees not at all. One is before, another behind, two are with him in the space. Thus all are woven into the whole scheme, each is a branch of a built cross. The form of the road or the way leaves each one alone in the whole scheme, the heart remains isolated. People cannot thus come together heart-to-heart, because this form has no heart. In the "Holy Ring" it was completely different. People were united in an internal form. . . . Each one was a piece of the common ring. One's eyes held together the society mutually, they were both directed toward the middle and saw together a single picture. . . .[22] 

      For Schwarz, the first two forms of congregational worship space embody community and accountability; they are egalitarian but with higher authority. The third form, "the way," is inherently unloving and hierarchical; it presupposes a submissive congregation. Its linear rows of seats facing a "front" reflect or may contribute to a passive community governed by a priesthood that controls access to the divine.

     If we read Mennonite history against the backdrop of Schwarz's admittedly essentialist architectural scheme, it is apparent that the first and second types, the "holy circle" and the "sacred opening," best embody the classical Bethaus and Meetinghouse forms. It is also apparent that as Mennonites have adopted the Church form as their building style, they have moved from the egalitarian face-to-face mode of worship to a more impersonal, hierarchical and severe form of "the way," as in Schwarz's third type. Put another way, if Mennonites adhere in official theology to the doctrine of the arbitrary association of form to meaning, then the necessary associations of built form to implied content have served up almost the opposite of that which Mennonites espouse in their theology. The ostensibly egalitarian priesthood of believers has clothed itself in the robe of hierarchical, high-priestly architecture.

 

THE CONTINGENT ASSOCIATION OF FORM AND MEANING

     The Reformation, and particularly the radical Anabaptist Reformation, broke up the medieval construction of reality. It separated the individual from priests, the church from the state. Likewise, the perfect integration-a kind of essentialism-of the outer form with the inner consciousness that had held in scholasticism, was shattered. Panofsky, writing about the Christian arts in this transformation, notes that the principles of iconography, that is of representation, were affected rather than the expressive form and intrinsic content of the story.[23] 

     But for Anabaptists and their successor groups, this "iconographic transformation" remained a very difficult fence to straddle, insofar as materiality in worship was concerned. The resulting "Anabaptist paradox" accounts for some of the lurches and swings between libertarian behavior and doctrinal formalism, between iconoclasm and strictness, between the "liberals" and the "conservatives" in every Mennonite settlement of any complexity and historic depth. In the twentieth century it has given rise to Old Order groups which affirm continuity-including houses of worship and the forms of worship-with the past.[24]  In fact, these groups are often less a breakaway from the progressives than simply a continuation of the tradition, while the progressives are those who embrace reforms and outside influences.

     Astute observers of this scene have understood the tension as both a source of conservatism and creative expression. Alvin Beachy, a theologian of Amish background, suggested that the very materiality of art and architecture were manifestations of the incarnation of Christ. He lamented what he called a "latent Gnosticism" in the Mennonite rejection of the transforming mystery of pre-Reformation Christianity, including Eastern Orthodoxy in which the mysterious grace of God was accessible through the eucharist.[25] 

     Max Weber made reference to the Anabaptists in his work on religious asceticism and offers a very helpful formulation of the paradox in question. In his discussion of world-rejecting religions and the impact such a stance had upon cultural forms and aesthetic expressions, Weber used the phrase "contingent" to describe the cultural forms that resulted within an "ethic of religious brotherliness."[26]  Weber's insight proves crucial in clarifying how a religious and cultural movement may reconcile the combined "world-negating almost mystical ethic" and the sensory trappings of our bodies and communities in a life on earth. We can apply this thinking to the underlying relationship of built form and the life of a gathered community. For Weber, the contingent stance of the relationship of form to meaning, the connection between form and meaning, is that it "may or may not be."[27]  That is, the association is not necessary, although-like good Mennonite singing or baptism by a variety of means-it may be recognized and significant as well as appreciated. But it is not essential, iconic, for truth and faith.

     The contingent association of form and meaning, as spelled out by Weber, offers a good theoretical framework for analyzing Mennonite cultural history, and especially the built form in the house of worship-not a particularly focal object in Mennonite scholarship. For, as we know, we are dealing with a history replete with long-term persistent formal traditions, alongside a founding and central doctrine of arbitrary forms as seen in the eucharist. Contingent association of form and meaning suggests that there may be particular traditions and forms-as in music, baptism, the eucharist or worship spaces-that vary but nevertheless have their own compelling logic.

     Not surprisingly, therefore, within the "Bethaus, Meetinghouse, Church" conference discussion on the relationship of form to meaning in Anabaptist-Mennonite buildings, individual voices ranged across the spectrum from "arbitrary" to "necessary," suggesting that we continue to face both ways on this ancient Anabaptist paradox. In his paper on the history of buildings for worship among the Dutch Mennonites, Piet Visser insisted that four centuries of built form evidence revealed no essential formal patterns consonant with Anabaptist belief and ideas of congregational life and worship. Leonard Gross, presenting Peter Riedeman's sixteenth-century Hutterite theology of the church, strongly suggests that the symbolic worldview of Anabaptists precluded anything distinctive in the form of church building. Others echoed these sentiments in their suggestion that some forms were clearly not Mennonite.[28] 

     Many of the conference papers paid lip-service to the doctrine of arbitrary association of form and meaning, but then went on to describe extensive formal continuities, or gradual changes within formal features of building. Rudy Friesen's presentation on Russian Mennonite buildings for worship put it in terms of evolving phases that moved away from distinctive Anabaptist-Mennonite forms toward gradual accommodation to academic high styles of building.

     Huub Osterhuis's hymn "What is this Place?"[29]  provided John Ruth with a master metaphor for his analysis of Pennsylvania Mennonite building history and worship. The transforming quality of the place-"only a house"-by the community at worship is heralded with the phrase "Yet it becomes a body that lives when we are gathered here, And know our God is near. . . ." Ruth takes the coupled phrases "only" and the "and yet" as an illustration of the contingency and contextualization of particular forms and community procedures, including building. "Yet it becomes . . ." is for Ruth an indicator of the creative potential within Anabaptist canons that have often been squelched by more timid spirits rather than by doctrinal constraints.[30]  Reinhild Kauenhoven Janzen brings Weber's contingent form as a guide for her study of the visual arts in the imaging of congregation as well as in the practice of worship.

     In a paper on Central Kansas Mennonite congregational buildings, John Janzen couches the contingent association of form and meaning in terms of "rituals of congregational life." Failing to find intrinsic formal building features that express theological tenets, he identifies a number of key rituals that, in historical and ethnographical description, "clothe" or "house" these rituals.

     Voices identifying and heralding the necessary association of form and meaning were also present in the Harleysville conference, coming mainly from the architects. These voices emphasized less issues of doctrine and more the physics of space, sound, color, light and materials and their impact on the human presence. Leroy Troyer pointed out that eye contact is possible between two persons only up to a distance of fifty feet. This physical fact would limit the effective size of a building for meeting and worship if its construction were predicated on the premise of face-to-face community. A number of conference participants wondered whether the size of a congregation dictated the effective embodiment of the principles of Anabaptism. In this perspective, a "mega-meetinghouse" would be an oxymoron.

     In his contribution to this volume Canadian architect Harold Funk comes the closest to imagining a formal set of correspondences between the Anabaptist-Mennonite congregation and an appropriate built form. Already aware of Rudolph Schwarz's writing at the beginning of his career,[31]  he today designs "Mennonite churches" for Mennonite, Catholic and other congregational clients in the Winnipeg, Manitoba area.

     Regardless of the stance taken on the relationship of form to meaning in worship and building, it should be possible to summarize the issues in terms of several precepts that find general assent. All contingent traditions and forms that have been identified as Anabaptist-Mennonite in a particular time and place are worthy of note. If the elements of a discernible Anabaptist-Mennonite built form are present in a building, they are worthy of identification and preservation.[32]  If there are formal properties of building and material that resonate with the Anabaptist-Mennonite community's understanding of sincere discipleship of Christ, they should be celebrated and embodied in creative new forms.[33] 

     Mennonites continue to debate-and need to continue to debate-the relationship of founding ideas on material reality to the particular forms that embody meeting, worship and living the faith. The papers in this volume provide a cross-section of current research, writing and analysis of the evidence and the issues surrounding preservation, interpretation and current and future building.


[*]  John M. Janzen is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Kansas; he was Director of Kauffman Museum, North Newton, Kansas from 1983 to 1992. Return to Text

[1] . This is my own "definition" of twentieth-century Kansas Mennonite worship, based on a lifetime of Mennonite participation and observation and a recent reading of Cornelius Krahn's article on "Public Worship" in ME 4: 984-88. Return to Text

[2] . Rudy Friesen, "An Architect's View of Church Buildings," The Meetinghouse of God's People: Essays on Mennonite Church Architecture, ed. Levi Miller (Scottdale, PA: Mennonite Publishing House, 1977), 48-49. Return to Text

[3] . The conference was co-sponsored by the Mennonite Historians of Eastern Pennsylvania and the Germantown Mennonite Historic Trust. Fifteen presenters, five discussants and thirty registered participants assembled for three days to listen to the presentations, discuss the issues and study historic meetinghouses in the immediate area. Return to Text

[4] . This project was initiated in the 1950s by Melvin Gingerich and Cornelius Krahn as an inter-Mennonite effort to preserve the historic sites of Mennonite interest in Germantown, a responsibility that was considered beyond the capabilities of the then-shrinking local congregation. Happily, the Germantown Mennonite Church congregation rebounded and by 1994 had outgrown the historic building, necessitating the acquisition of its own nearby meeting place. This left the historic meetinghouse and site solely in the charge of the Germantown Mennonite Historic Trust. Return to Text

[5] . In the plain words of architectural historian Pamela Kingsbury in her discussant's comments at the Harleysville conference: "Architecture presupposes architects." Return to Text

[6] . There is growing literature on vernacular building in archeology, anthropology, cultural geography and art history, represented in such writings as Amos Rapoport, House Form and Culture (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1969) and Bernard Rudofsky, Architecture Without Architects: A Short Introduction to Non-Pedigreed Architecture (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1965). Return to Text

[7] . Cornelius Krahn, "Architecture," ME 1:146-51. Return to Text

[8] . The term is generally not used by the English-speaking descendants of the tradition. Return to Text

[9] . John Ruth, Maintaining the Right Fellowship (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1978) covers the history of meetinghouses in the Franconia Conference and Eastern District Conference in the context of a conference history. 300 Jahre Mennonitenkirche Krefeld 1693-1993, ed. H.A. Hertzler (Krefeld: Mennonitengemeinde Krefeld, 1990) includes the developments of the building history of this congregation in Germany. Return to Text

[1] 0. J. Schiere, "De architectuur van doopsgezinde kerken," Doopsgezinde Bijdragen, Nieuwe reeks, 3 (1977), 71-100. Schiere compares Mennonite building forms and trends in the Netherlands to formal parallels and influences from Jewish synagogues, Catholic basilicas and Reformed "churches of the word." Return to Text

[1] 1. Rudy Friesen, Into the Past: Buildings of the Mennonite Commonwealth. (Winnipeg: Raduga, 1996). Return to Text

[1] 2. Important general writing on Mennonite church architecture was summarized by Cornelius Krahn in his 1955 entry "Architecture,"ME 1:146-51, and by Robert Kreider in a 1990 update article on "Architecture" in ME 5: 34-5. Mennonite Life carried occasional articles on the subject in the 1960s and 1970s. Return to Text

[1] 3. C. A. Heatwole, "Sectarian Ideology and Church Architecture, "The Geographic Review 79 (1989), 1, 63-79, focuses on a Pennsylvania German region of Pennsylvania and inappropriately generalizes to "all Mennonites"; Jeffrey Eighmy, Mennonite Architecture: Diachronic Evidence for Rapid Diffusion in Rural Communities (New York: AMS Press, 1989), applies a method of form and style elements to the material culture of Mexican Old Colony homes. Return to Text

[1] 4. The best and most accessible of these works is published in The Meetinghouse of God's People: Essays on Mennonite Church, ed. Levi Miller (Scottdale, PA: Mennonite Publishing House, 1977). Alvin Beachy, Worship and Celebration of Covenant and Incarnation (Newton, Kans.: Faith & Life Press, 1968) reviews several study conferences on worship, including architecture, held in the Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church in the 1960s. Other writing on the subject remains unpublished in historical archives and congregational libraries. Return to Text

[1] 5. The scholarship on this stance is vast and can only be alluded to here through several secondary sources. Cornelius Krahn emphasizes the Anabaptist rejection of the sacramentarian perspective in "Communion," ME 1: 651-55, and in Dutch Anabaptism: Origin, Spread, Life and Thought, 1450-1600 (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1968), especially "From Sacrament to Symbol," 45ff., and in his discussion of the influence of Erasmus. Alvin Beachy, in Worship as Celebration, points to some Anabaptists accepting the eucharist and baptism as the incarnation of God's grace, thereby accepting the transforming mystery of Christ. See also John D. Rempel, Christology and Lord's Supper in Anabaptism: A Study in the Theology of Balthasar Hubmaier, Pilgrim Marpeck and Dirk Philips (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1993). Return to Text

[1] 6. Erwin Panofsky, Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism: An Inquiry into the Analogy of the Arts, Philosophy, and Religion in the Middle Ages (New York: Penguin Books, 1985 [1951]). Among Mennonite scholars, Alvin Beachy also explores the formal expressive properties of worship in the Hebrew temple, the Orthodox church and the Gothic cathedral. - Beachy, Worship and Celebration, 21-35. Return to Text

[1] 7. Panofsky, Gothic Architecture, 6-7. Return to Text

[1] 8. Ibid, 44-45. Return to Text

[1] 9. Rudolph Schwarz, Vom Bau der Kirche (Heidelberg: Verlag Lambert Schneider, 1947). Return to Text

[2] 0. Ibid, 22, 40, 78. Return to Text

[2] 1. Ibid, 21. Return to Text

[2] 2. Ibid, 79. Return to Text

[2] 3. Erwin Panofsky, "Comments on Art and Reformation," in Symbols in Transformation: Iconographic Themes at the Time of the Reformation, ed. Craig S. Harbison (Princeton, N.J.: The Art Museum, 1969), 10. Return to Text

[2] 4. Beulah Stauffer Hostetler, "The Formation of the Old Orders," MQR 66 (Jan. 1992), 1, 5-25. Return to Text

[2] 5. Beachy, in Worship and Celebration, 45-46, suggests that some Mennonite rejection of artistic and liturgical expression is based on a Gnostic-like belief in the evil of the material world, and a radical separation between matter and spirit. This denies the goodness of creation and denies the possibility of the incarnation, of the material as a vehicle for the communication of the spiritual. Return to Text

[2] 6. Max Weber, "Religious Rejections of the World and Their Directions," Essays in Sociology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1958), 323-43. Return to Text

[2] 7. Weber, Essays, 66. Return to Text

[2] 8. Peter Klassen, for example, after stating that there are no formal Mennonite worship building forms, declared that "towers aren't Mennonite!" Return to Text

[2] 9. Huub Oosterhuis, "What is This Place?" Hymnal: A Worship Book (Elgin, Ill.: Brethren Press; Newton, Kans.: Faith and Life Press; Scottdale, Pa.: Mennonite Publishing House, 1992), 1. This hymn became a kind of theme song for the conference. It was sung on the first morning and then invoked by John Ruth to make his central point. Its newly-assumed role as the articulation of an implicit Mennonite theology of worship is perhaps evident in its placement as the very first song in the hymnal. Return to Text

[3] 0. John Ruth, Mennonite Identity and Literary Art (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1978), 46-59. Return to Text

[3] 1. Harold Funk, "The Meaning of Church Architecture in the Mennonite Church." Unpublished Bethel College Social Science Seminar Paper, 1967. Return to Text

[3] 2. Leroy Troyer suggested in a circular following the conference that an association be formed to maintain a registry of significant Mennonite historic sites along the lines of the National Registers maintained in many countries. Return to Text

[3] 3. This is an idea that might inspire Mennonite and Anabaptist-related architects to create an association of architects for the purpose of professional dialogue on these issues and comparison of each others' work.



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