Mennonites are Christians whose origins can be traced back to sixteenth-century Anabaptists, a radical group of religious reformers who emerged in Switzerland during the Protestant Reformation. Mennonites arrived in America during the seventeenth century but did not establish a significant presence in Georgia until the twentieth century. As of 2007 more than 1,000 Mennonites lived in Georgia.
Beliefs and Doctrines
Mennonites tend toward a literal interpretation of the Bible that often leads them to practice a rigorous form of
A number of different historical influences have shaped Mennonite doctrine, polity, and piety since the
Migration patterns also contributed to the establishment of various Mennonite congregations through the years. As early as the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Mennonites in Holland and northern Germany became largely separated from Mennonites in Switzerland and southern Germany. Dutch and north German Mennonites also followed trade routes to North America, arriving in New Amsterdam (later New York City) as early as the 1650s. Germantown, Pennsylvania, was the site of the first permanent Mennonite settlement in America; most of the immigrants settling there in 1683 came with the hope of escaping heavy taxes and bad economic conditions in Europe.
The nineteenth century saw increased immigration to North America from Mennonites originating in Switzerland, southern Germany, and Russia. Upon arrival, diverse Mennonite groups often assisted and associated with each other, but they tended to form settlements with co-religionists of the same ethnicity and cultural heritage. These communities began spreading west, north, and south as land opened up for ownership, and most settled in rural areas to engage primarily in farming.
Mennonites in Georgia
In 1953 a community of Beachy Amish Mennonites from Virginia formed a more permanent settlement, which thrives today near the town of Montezuma, in Macon County. Deriving their name from Moses M. Beachy, the sect's first bishop, Beachy Amish Mennonites accept some technological conveniences that Old Order Amish prohibit, including automobiles and electricity. However, they still strive to maintain a separatist posture in relation to American society, rejecting such modern forms of entertainment as movies and television. As of 2007 the community in Montezuma supported three churches and three Mennonite schools. The White House Farm Bed and Breakfast and the Deitsch Haus restaurant, both operated by the Yoder family in Montezuma, offer visitors a glimpse of life in a Mennonite community.
In 1958 a Mennonite service unit was founded in Atlanta by missionaries Hershey and Norma Leaman. This unit coordinated various outreach activities, including the placement of draft-age Mennonite men in civilian service organizations during the Vietnam War (1964-73), and established Berea Mennonite Church. Still in operation today, Berea Mennonite Church claims to be one of the first racially integrated churches in Atlanta.
Another entity, the Mennonite House, operated in Atlanta from 1961 to 1964. Established by Mennonite minister Vincent Harding and his wife, Rosemarie, of Chicago, Illinois, this house on Houston Street (later renamed John Wesley Dobbs Avenue, in honor of influential black political leader John Wesley Dobbs) became a residence and headquarters for Mennonites active in the civil rights movement. In 1962 Vincent Harding was arrested at a demonstration in Albany during the Albany Movement, prompting internal debate over appropriate protest activities for Mennonites. The Hardings ultimately left Mennonite House in 1964.
Perry Bush, Two Kingdoms, Two Loyalties: Mennonite Pacifism in Modern America (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998).
Cornelius J. Dyck, ed., An Introduction to Mennonite History: A Popular History of the Anabaptists and the Mennonites (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1967).
Donald B. Kraybill and Carl F. Bowman, On the Backroad to Heaven: Old Order Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001).
Richard K. MacMaster, Land, Piety, Peoplehood: The Establishment of Mennonite Communities in America, 1683-1790, vol. 1., The Mennonite Experience in America (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1985).
David S. Williams, From Mounds to Megachurches: Georgia's Religious Heritage (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2008).
Elmer S. Yoder, The Amish Mennonites of Macon County, Georgia: The History of the Beachy Amish Mennonite Community of Montezuma, Georgia, from Its Settlement in 1953 through the Year 1980 (Hartville, Ohio: Diakonia Ministries, 1981).
William Brent Jones, University of Virginia, Charlottesville
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.