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.
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
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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
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,
assemble) 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
Of these, J. Schiere’s study of the Netherlands Doopsgezinde church architecture
and Rudy Friesen’s study of Russian Mennonite building
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.
Non-Mennonite scholarly works are few and do not represent a critical
awareness of the multiple traditions of the wider global Mennonite world.
Symposia have been held in recent decades seeking to answer the general
question of the kinds of buildings that are appropriate for Mennonite
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.
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”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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”).
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.
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. . . .
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
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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
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.
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'”
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.
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
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.
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.
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
. 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
. 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
. 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
. 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
. In the plain words of architectural
historian Pamela Kingsbury in her discussant’s comments at the Harleysville
conference: “Architecture presupposes architects.” Return to Text
. 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
. Cornelius Krahn, “Architecture,”
ME 1:146-51. Return to Text
. The term is generally not used
by the English-speaking descendants of the tradition. Return to Text
. 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
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. Rudy Friesen, Into the
Past: Buildings of the Mennonite Commonwealth. (Winnipeg: Raduga,
1996). Return to Text
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
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
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
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
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 ). 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
7. Panofsky, Gothic Architecture,
6-7. Return to Text
8. Ibid, 44-45. Return to
9. Rudolph Schwarz, Vom Bau
der Kirche (Heidelberg: Verlag Lambert Schneider, 1947). Return
0. Ibid, 22, 40, 78. Return
1. Ibid, 21. Return to Text
2. Ibid, 79. Return to Text
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
4. Beulah Stauffer Hostetler,
“The Formation of the Old Orders,” MQR 66 (Jan. 1992), 1, 5-25.
Return to Text
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
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
7. Weber, Essays, 66.
Return to Text
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
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
0. John Ruth, Mennonite Identity
and Literary Art (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1978), 46-59. Return
1. Harold Funk, “The Meaning
of Church Architecture in the Mennonite Church.” Unpublished Bethel College
Social Science Seminar Paper, 1967. Return to Text
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. 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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