Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Mennonite....what does that mean?

When our family began the process of moving to SW Kansas we learned our new community was largely Mennonite. Now I grew up in northern Indiana and had plenty of experience with the Amish but Mennonite was a different story. Were Mennonite and Amish the same? I knew Mennonites drove cars and Amish didn't but what other differences are there? The sort of dressed the same...sometimes.

As we settled into our new home I tended to have some of my questions answered but I finally did a little Internet research to learn more about Mennonites.

The Mennonites broke away from the state church (Catholic or Lutheran) in Europe during the 16th century. About 150 years later the Amish broke away from the Mennonites. Mennonites, Amish and German Baptist (there is a small community of GB's here as well) are all peace churches which means they refuse to join the military but live a life of peace without conflict. Briefly Mennonite beliefs are based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, particularly the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7). The importance of discipleship is of special emphasis in Mennonite life; community, nonresistance, mission and service.

Here in Montezuma the Mennonite community runs a mission supply office and has built a very nice retirement community/nursing home. Mennonite women are routinely employed at community businesses; the bank, grocery store, pharmacy, etc. Everyone of the Mennonites I have encountered have been extremely warm and friendly, which I can't say for my experiences with Amish. In fact, the Mennonite woman who works at the deli counter went out of her way to show my boys how the meat slicer worked one day!

Where the Amish still live without electricity, cars and other modern conveniences the Mennonites are not nearly as strict in appearance and lifestyle. I was surprised to learn in fact that it would be difficult to identify the majority of Mennonites from most people in the larger society. That isn't the case for Montezuma, KS however. Montezuma is still a very conservative Mennonite community.

Although the above shows a group of Mennonite women, I didn't take this photograph. I found it on the Internet. I felt weird trying to discreetly take pictures of the local Mennonites. But the Mennonite women here look very much like those in the photo. They wear homemade, long dresses and cover their heads with black caps and wear simple shoes.

I haven't noticed many Mennonite men who wear hats nor do they wear handmade clothes. Apart from DR's mustache, he could pass for a Mennonite man. Mustaches are a symbol of the military to many conservative Mennonites. The Mennonite community here drives cars, uses cell phones and has electricity. The Mennonites do not use the town pool or go to public school. I'm not sure if they watch television or go to the movies; I think it may be a personal preference. They do have their own school on the outside of town near their church.

Although many of the Mennonites here are farmers I never understood why so many of them settled in Kansas rather than better farmland in the Midwest for example. I found the answer to that question too. The first century of Mennonite history is marked by great persecution; imprisonment and torture. Therefore, many groups stayed on the move in Europe and later in North America seeking religious freedom. The first permanent settlement in North America was in Pennsylvania.

One large community of Mennonites had established themselves in southern Russia (Ukraine) by invitation of Catherine the Great in 1800. By 1870, much of their religious freedom was gone however and many wanted to emigrate to North America. The 1870's and 80's saw tens of thousands of Russian Mennonites arrive in the Great Plains and western Canada, where the railroads were eager to have these people noted for their excellent farming practices settle the land. One such group brought their seed wheat, the "hard" winter wheat that would transform wheat farming in North America. In fact I bought a 25 lb. back of whole wheat flour at the local grocery that was grown and milled right here in Montezuma by a Mennonite family.

In a short time I have come to love living here in Montezuma and I think that a lot of that has to do with the Mennonite community. They have been welcoming and warm and always with a smile on their faces. Their sense of community doesn't set boundaries to their own kind but welcomes all people and that has been very comforting as we settle in.

Note: I found most of my information on the Mennonites from these websites;


  1. This was so interesting to read. I found your blog from Ranch Momma's and read your profile and saw where you were settled and know a ton of people that have relatives there. The community and area I grew up in is very similar..a lot of holdeman mennonites live here!

    I appreciate the fact you felt funny about trying to discreetly photograph mennonite ladies.

    Thanks for sharing a bit of your life...

    I am enjoying reading through your blog!

  2. Oh-and yup, no tv, radio's etc.

  3. Great post! I just visited a conservative mennonite church this weekend for the first time. They were some of the warmest most hospitable people I've ever met! Found your post thru a google search. Thanks!

  4. Montezuma, Ks is Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. Yes, some of my brst friends in Harvey county Ks.

    1. It's a lovely place to live! We've been here almost four years and the people here are by far the friendliest neighbors I've ever had!


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