Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Worship and Churches in the Development of Mennonite Settlements in Paraguay and Brazil

Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Worship and Churches in the Development of Mennonite Settlements in Paraguay and Brazil

Article excerpt

Abstract: Most of the Mennonite communities currently in Paraguay and Brazil were settled by groups from the Russian Mennonite tradition. The first groups met for worship in the open air, then in make-shift shelters and then in schools. Only after the communities were well-established did they begin to build meetinghouses. Initially, poverty and a shared experience as refugees helped to blur differences among the various Mennonite denominations and encouraged the shared use of church buildings; today, however, the trend is away from joint churches. The architectural style of all the churches was shaped, to some degree, by climate and available building materials, though conservative groups were more apt to preserve the Bethaus style. Most Mennonite church buildings constructed in Brazil and Paraguay since 1970 reflect borrowings from other architectural traditions and a heavier reliance on the technical expertise of architects.


Mennonite history in Latin America began in 1922 with the migration of Canadian Mennonites to Mexico. In large waves, and with very differing motives, there followed further immigrations into other countries of South America.

Conservative groups emigrated from Canada to Paraguay in 1927 and 1948. In 1929, in the aftermath of World War I, a large group of Mennonites fled the Soviet Union via Moscow to Germany. Some of these refugees immigrated to Paraguay in 1930, others arrived in the same year to Brazil. In 1947 and 1948 another wave of refugees settled in Paraguay, namely those who had fled the Soviet Union in World War II. Around the same time a small group of Prussian Mennonites came to Uruguay. Starting in 1969, additional groups of conservative Mennonites have emigrated from Canada and Mexico to Paraguay and Bolivia.

Because of these immigrations and also through internal migrations, today there are Mennonite settlements in Mexico, Paraguay, Brazil, Belize, Bolivia, Uruguay and Argentina. All Mennonites of German ancestry in Latin America have the characteristic that they or their forebears migrated or fled as closed groups and attempted to establish closed communities in their new home countries. Most settled in colonies similar to the model developed in Russia.

The Latin American Mennonites who trace their history back to Russia also share a common set of customs. This is true particularly of their Low German (Plattdietsch) language, their settlement form and customs in congregational life, worship and the construction of churches. (1)

Another distinctive feature of these Mennonite settlements, present already in Russia and persisting in Latin America, has been the co-existence of several different Mennonite groups within the community of settlement. So the community of faith and the community of settlement are not always coterminous. While the settlement community includes, under the guidance of Mennonite civil administration, all descendants of Mennonite families, the community of faith includes only baptized members. The responsibility of the civil administration, which is elected by all settlers, is to shape the economic, cultural and social life, while the community of faith strives to form the spiritual life in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition. (2)

This dovetailing of civil-communal and ecclesiastical-spiritual life is manifest in the form of worship and, to a degree, in the construction style of the houses of worship. Mennonites of Paraguay and Brazil typically established colonies in largely uninhabited regions where the environment and climate were alien to them. In Paraguay it was the Chaco savanna, in Brazil the primeval forest of Santa Catarina. Colonization--often a struggle of life and death--went hand in hand with the creation of the community of faith and the initiation of worship forms. Thus the building of churches was linked to the development of settlements. (3)


"In the beginning was the gathering of the faithful"--thus one might recall the origins of Christian worship, independent of any building. …

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