Don’t you sometimes miss the good old schisms of yore?
No, probably not.
Most Mennonites are deeply embarrassed by our history of coming apart at the seams. We generally don’t like to talk about it and, when we do, we treat it as a regrettable vestige of past foolishness.
But, phooey on that.
I say it is time we began to celebrate all that falling to pieces that we Mennonites are so good at.
Sure, it was fun linking arms in the 1980s and breaking out in 4-part harmonic renditions of Unity. It was inspirational. It was aspirational. But it was the 1980s. It’s time to move on.
And I gotta say, unity’s a whole lot less funny than schismatizing. Yes, I know all those break-ups were painful at the time with family member turning against family member and neighbours getting all judgy. But with the benefit of time, they look kinda silly. Or, if not downright silly, at least quaint.
Today I present a list of a few of my favorite schisms. There are so many schisms in our history and many of them are worthy of their very own blog posts (and cocktails). Stay tuned — that might happen. For now, I’ve included the schisms that have either touched me and my ancestors personally or I just find particularly amusing. I’m sure there are others that warrant mention. Feel free to add some in the comments.
The cannier of my readers will note that the earliest schisms mentioned were actually Anabaptist not Mennonite schisms. Fine. Consider it a Top Eight List if you’re gonna be like that.
Top Ten Amusing Mennonite Church Schisms (for now)
The Big A-Day.
Naturally, any list of Anabapta-schisms needs to begin with the schism that started them all on January 21, 1525. This wasn’t the first ever Church split but it was the first of ours. When Grebel and his pals said Vaarwel to Zwingli and his spirit of conciliation.
The Great Hub-Hut Debacle.
Balthazar Hubmaier and Hans Hut were two of the best itinerant preachers that our movement has ever known. But the Moravian Anabaptist Community was not big enough to hold them both. That was 1527.
The Housebuyers vs The Anti-Housebuyers.
This was actually a subschism of the bigger Frisian-Flemish schism that rocked the Mennonite world in the Netherlands from 1566 to 1811 and continued to have repurcussions afterwards. This subschism makes the list because the factions actually called themselves the Housebuyers and the Anti-housebuyers and I can’t believe that sounded any less ridiculous in Dutch in the 16th century than it does in English now.
Amen to Ammann.
Contrary to popular belief, the followers of Jacob Ammann did not split from the Mennonites in 1693 primarily over questions of facial hair. That would have been funnier but I like this schism mostly because it continues to confuse the crap out of everyone outside the Mennosphere.
One Bad Secretary Too Many.
When I was taught about the origins of the General Conference in my high school Mennonite history class, the teacher omitted to relate that a key factor in the Oberholtzer faction leaving the Franconia conference in 1847 was the lousy minutes they kept at their meetings. I expect the teacher thought it just sounded too silly.
Mennonite Brethren vs the “Kirchliche” Mennonites.
This long-lasting schism began in Russia in 1860 and has been successfully transplanted to North America. In this schism, a new church was created when one group of Mennonites called out the others for being too “churchy.” Yup.
The Mennonite Templers.
C’mon. Just saying “Mennonite Templers” is funny. Also from Russia in 1860, this group had no relation to the medieval Knights Templar or to the physical temple of Jerusalem, though Jerusalem was dear to them. Never let confusing nomenclature get in the way of a good Church schism, I always say.
A Khanate for the End of the World
There’s a certain tragicomedy in every premature apocalypse and Claas Epp’s not so orthodox chiliasm that divided the Am Trakt colony in 1870s Russia is no exception. The story’s been getting a fresh coat of paint of late since it turned out that Mennonites living with Muslims wasn’t the end of the world after all.
The Sommerfelder Bergthaler split
This schism from 1890 is close to my heart since my father’s parents straddled that divide with my grandfather converting from Sommerfelder when he married my more progressive Bergthaler grandmother. Isn’t it grand that all these schisms can make star-crossed lovers out of just about anyone?
The Famous Bonnet Controversy of Stirling Ave.
Mennonite women in Ontario wore hats until the mid-nineteenth century. Like everyone else. Then they switched to bonnets. Like everyone else. Then, in the early twentieth century, they started to switch back to hats again. Like everyone else. Which, apparently, was wrongheaded of them. In 1924, the hat-wearers and their supporters at Berlin Mennonite Church (now First Mennonite), having had enough persecution from the bonnet faction, marched up the hill to form Stirling Ave. Mennonite Church. I attended this Church through my growing up years. And never wore a bonnet once.
Cause for a Church Split
There are a couple of recipes out there for cocktails called “Cause for Divorce.” This isn’t all that much like any of them but it does hold onto some of the bitterness of a split while adding just enough sweet to make it all palatable. If you want to savour the bitter more, increase the Campari.
- 3/4 oz Campari
- 1 oz cassis
- 1/2 oz rye whiskey
- 1 oz cranberry juice
- 1 oz orange juice
Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker half-full of ice. Shake vigorously 15-20 times and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with orange peel and a maraschino cherry. Or whatever you think will annoy your opponents the most.
What, no mention of the time that Jacob Ammann excommunicated the leadership of the Swiss Brethren, then repented and excommunicated himself as punishment?
Also, if anybody is interested in the split that created the Old Order Mennonites, look for the writings of Isaac Horst, the Old Order Mennonite historian.
There are so many good schisms to choose from.