Mennonite Culture

Mennonites and Pennsylvania Germans

When they originated in Zurich in 1525 as the radical wing of the Protestant Reformation, Mennonites were known as as “Anabaptists”—re-baptisers—because of their emphasis on baptising believing adults. Today, “Anabaptist” describes a family of faith that includes Amish, Brethren in Christ, Church of the Brethren, Hutterites and Mennonites.

Mennonites got their particular name from Menno Simons, an early Dutch leader. Basic tenets of their faith, for which many Mennonites were executed, included nonviolence, voluntary church membership, practicing believers’ baptism and loving one’s enemy.

The Amish, followers of the Swiss leader Jakob Ammann, split from the Mennonites in 1693 over issues of church discipline. Menno_Simons_from_Friesland_1608_engraving_by_Christoffel_van_SichemSubsequently, Amish and Mennonites followed different migrations to America.

In America, both groups were part of a larger 18th and 19th century Pennsylvania German milieu that also included German Baptists, Lutherans, and Reformed Church members.

According to the 2000 Census, 17% of the U.S. population has German ancestry, making it the largest ethnic group in the country. Most Americans whose ancestors immigrated before 1892 (when Ellis Island opened) are of Pennsylvania German heritage.

According to Mennonite World Conference, as of 2006, there are about 1.5 million Mennonites and Brethren in Christ members worldwide. The United States had the highest number of Mennonites with 368,280 members. Of these, about 37 percent identify as either Conservative or Old Order Mennonite. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, India and Canada have the next highest populations, respectively. Fewer than 55,000 members remain in Europe.