Monday, March 27, 2017

Anabaptists and Reformed Siblings of Reformation in Zürich

“Zürich has always been known as the seat of the (Zwingli) Reformation in Switzerland,” stated Peter Dettwiler, retired pastor of the Grössmünster Reformed Church in Zürich. “But Zürich was also the seat of the beginnings of the Anabaptist movement.”

“Anabaptists are siblings of the Reformation in Zürich,” declared Nina Sonderegger, pastor of the Reformed Church in Heimisbach, near Trachselwald.  “Unfortunately, this has been ignored for nearly 500 years.”

“Reading the Bible in small groups in their homes does not make (Anabaptists) a sect,” affirmed Catherine McMillan, in her “Das Wort zum Sonntag“ (The Word for Sunday) broadcast to the Swiss people on November 5, 2016. She is a Reformed pastor from Dübendorf and a Reformed Church Ambassador for Ecumenical relationships. “Their Jesus is the same as ours; they read his words in their Bible study groups from the Sermon on the Mount with different eyes.”

“Many Mennonites and Amish, descendants of the Anabaptists, came to visit Switzerland from the United States and Canada,” said Don Siegrist, visitor from Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania. “We visited sites related to Anabaptist history, but we had little contact with the Zwingli Reformed people themselves. We had been erased from their history.”

Peter Dettwiler shows slides of his visit
Amish country in Pennsylvania. 
These statements came from two recent meetings in Switzerland which I attended. The meetings were reunions of Swiss Reformed delegations who visited Anabaptist peoples in the United States, many of whom trace their roots to Switzerland. These efforts for more contact between Swiss Reformed and Anabaptist groups began after “A Day of Reconciliation” held on June 26, 2004, in which ambassadors from the Zwingli Reformed Church of Switzerland, asked representatives from various Anabaptist groups for forgiveness for the years of ostracizing and persecution. As a result of these efforts, a plaque in honor of the first Anabaptist Martyr in Zürich, Feliz Manz, and the last, Hans Landis, was placed along the Limmat River in Zürich, near where they were drowned.
The plaque honoring Felix Manz and
Hans Landis, Anabaptist martyrs. 

Throughout Switzerland in 2017, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation is being celebrated. As part of these celebrations, there has been increased interest in the forgotten part of the Reformation for most Swiss; the Anabaptist story that arose at the same time as a sibling of the Zürich Reformation. For example, at the St. Matthäuskirche in Basel, Switzerland, I will join with Swiss Mennonite historian, Hanspeter Jecker, in sharing the history of Anabaptists/Mennonites; he about those who stayed, and I about those who emigrated.

Another example of these celebrations were the two recent meetings that I attended, both with the title, “The Reformed and the Anabaptists.” The first meeting was held in Heimisbach, a village nestled in the Emmental Valley, near Trachselwald. There is still a strong Anabaptist presence in this area, even though they were pushed to farm on impossibly steep mountainsides (see photographs from blog post Whither the Wengers). Trachselwald is also the site of the castle where many Anabaptists were imprisoned and tortured.  

An unexpectedly large crowd of over 60 people showed up to hear the story of the Anabaptists, see a slide show of visits to Anabaptist-related groups in the USA, and to hear words from tour hosts Don and Joanne Siegrist. The presenters were peppered with questions related particularly to the Amish.

Grössmünster in Zürich, Switzerland,
where meeting took place. 
The meeting in Zürich took place in the facilities of the Grössmünster, perhaps even where Zwingli debated with early Anabaptist leaders Conrad Grebel and Felix Manz. Even though it was mostly a reunion of people who participated in the Reformed-Anabaptist exchanges, it was clear that there was great interest and respect for Anabaptist groups among the Reformed who were present.

“Tell an Amish person that you are from Switzerland,” stated Don Siegrist in his remarks at both meetings. “And you will see their eyes light up. They still consider Switzerland to be their homeland.” In fact, the Siegrists have compiled a list of cultural characteristics that the Amish and the Swiss have in common. The respect went both ways.

Joanne Siegrist (second left) speaks
with representatives of the Reformed
Church in Zürich, including Pfarrerin
Christine McMillan (right). 
It was refreshing for me to hear directly from people of the Zwingli Reformed Church, especially the words in the video by Reformed Pastor Catherine McMillan. My visits to Switzerland stretch over 36 years, and Mennonites (Anabaptists) have mostly been considered by the general populace a sect to be scorned and shunned. Even though this is still the case, the fact that church leaders are providing an alternate view on the national media, is a change in the right direction. Also, the fact that these two meetings generated such interest in Reformed-Anabaptist relationships is an encouraging sign.

Siblings of the Reformation. In Switzerland, through actions taken and show by leaders in the Zwingli Reformed Church, Anabaptists have been elevated to a position alongside the Zwingli Reformation. This not only gives credibility to the long-ignored Anabaptist movement, but also helps to forge new relationships with fellow Christians.
Retired Pfarrer Peter Dettwiler, right, was one of the
original promoters of "A Day of Reconciliation" from
the Zwingli Reformed movement. He has led Swiss on numerous
tours of Anabaptist areas of the USA. I met him originally
when he spoke at an EMU chapel on the reconciliation between
Anabaptist groups and the Zwingli Reformed Church.


  1. I was on business travel last summer, when my host was still making lodging arrangements, he went online looking for an accomodation he thought I'd like -- just something out of the way a bit, not in, but not far from, "the big city". He arranged for a two-night stay at Hotel Bienenberg! Wow! What's the chance of that??!! What an interesting discovery on my part, and what a beautiful place!!! I even saw Hanspeter Jecker in the dining hall!

    1. Thanks for your comments! Wonderful place to stay, indeed. I gave a 4-day seminar there during the week leading up to New Year's day. Enjoyed the accommodations very much. By your comments I assume that you must be Anabaptist-related.

  2. Sorry, I thought you knew my screen name "Catharus"...this is Hillel Brandes...(if you remember me from long ago).

    1. Indeed I remember you, Hillel. You've made numerous cogent comments here over the years. However, you used a different screen name that I recognized! I'll be on the lookout for this one in the future.