Mennonites (mĕn´nənīts), descendants of the Dutch and Swiss evangelical Anabaptists of the 16th cent.

Beliefs and Membership

While each congregation is at liberty to decide independently on its form of worship and other matters, Mennonites generally agree on certain points—baptism of believers only, the necessity of repentence and conversion for salvation, the refusal to bear arms and to take oaths, the rejection of worldly concerns, simplicity of dress and habits, and disapproval of marrying outside the faith. In celebrating the Lord's Supper, some branches include the rite of foot washing and the kiss of charity.

Differences in discipline and performance of church services have resulted in a division of the church into a number of branches. The Mennonite Church, whose members are sometimes known as Old Mennonites, is the original body in the United States and has the largest membership. The General Conference of the Mennonite Church of North America (1860), the next largest body, may be listed among the more liberal branches. One of the most conservative divisions is the Amish Church, which, under the leadership of Jacob Amman (late 17th cent.), broke away from the main body in Europe. The Amish are noted for their rejection of the world and most modern technology and conveniences, and have historically farmed in a traditional manner or earned a livelihood by practicing such crafts as carpentry and cabinetry. The principal Amish groups in the United States are the Old Order Amish, who do not use churches but worship in homes and conduct their services in German, and the Conservative Amish, who abide by the Dordrecht Confession of Faith but hold services in English as well as German and accept such innovations as the Sunday school. The terms "House Amish" and "Church Amish" have been used to distinguish the branches. The Amish in the United States are predominantly in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, but Amish communities are found in more than half the states. Another conservative body is the Reformed or Herrite branch, established (1812) under the leadership of John Herr. The Church of God in Christ (1859) and the Old Order Mennonites, formed in 1870 under Jacob Wisler, are among the other branches.

Large numbers of Mennonites are found in Canada, and a number of American, Canadian, and European Mennonites have moved to colonies in Mexico and South America. Although attempts at unification have not been particularly successful, the Mennonite Central Committee, formed in 1920 as a response to famine affecting Mennonites in Russia and Ukraine, has enabled the branches to cooperate in many service and relief activities around the world. There are now over 1 million baptized members worldwide. The largest denomination in the United States is the Mennnonite Church USA.


The name Mennonite is derived from Menno Simons (c.1496–1561), Dutch reformer and organizer of the early congregations. Menno left the Catholic priesthood in 1536 to help gather together and rehabilitate the Dutch Anabaptists confused by the downfall of the revolutionary Anabaptist theocracy set up at Münster (c.1524–25). He soon became the movement's outstanding leader. The new movement restored the earlier evangelical form of Anabaptism practiced by the pacifistic Swiss Brethren (see Anabaptists).

Persecutions drove many of the Mennonites to Germany, where new congregations were formed. The movement spread also to France, Russia, and the Netherlands, where it became influential. The Dordrecht Confession of Faith, embodying the distinctive features of Mennonite belief, was issued (1632) in Holland. Mennonites in the United States have settled mainly in Pennsylvania and Ohio (especially in the Amish Country centered on Lancaster co., Pa.) and the Middle West. The first permanent Mennonite settlement in America was made (1683) at Germantown, Pa., by a group from Krefeld, Germany. Mennonites from Switzerland, Russia, and other parts of Europe also emigrated in numbers to North America.


See H. S. Bender et al., ed., The Mennonite Encyclopedia, (5 vol., 1955–90); J. C. Wenger, The Mennonite Church in America (1966); C. Redekop, Mennonite Society (1989); J. A. Hostetler, Amish Society (4th ed. 1993); D. B. Kraybill, The Riddle of Amish Culture (2001); C. E. Hurst and D. L. McConnell, An Amish Paradox: Diversity and Change in the World's Largest Amish Community (2010); D. B. Kraybill et al., The Amish (2013).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Amish: Selected full-text books and articles

An Amish Patchwork: Indiana's Old Orders in the Modern World By Thomas J. Meyers; Steven M. Nolt Quarry Books, 2005
The Amish Way: Patient Faith in a Perilous World By Donald B. Kraybill; Steven M. Nolt; David L. Weaver-Zercher Jossey-Bass, 2010
Shipshewana: An Indiana Amish Community By Dorothy O. Pratt Indiana University Press, 2004
The Pennsylvania Dutch By Fredric Klees Macmillan, 1950
Librarian's tip: Chap. III "The Amish"
American Culture: Essays on the Familiar and Unfamiliar By Leonard Plotnicov University of Pittsburgh Press, 1990
Librarian's tip: "Persistence and Change Patterns in Amish Society" begins on p. 25
Examining the Merits of Old Order Amish Education By Ediger, Marlow Education, Vol. 117, No. 3, Spring 1997
Sacred Worlds: An Introduction to Geography and Religion By Chris C. Park Routledge, 1994
Librarian's tip: "The Old Order Amish in Europe and North America" begins on p. 123
Culture, Citizenship, and Community: A Contextual Exploration of Justice as Evenhandedness By Joseph H. Carens Oxford University Press, 2000
Librarian's tip: "Group Culture and Legitimate Inequality: The Amish" begins on p. 93
Religious Sects: A Sociological Study By Bryan Wilson McGraw-Hill, 1970
Librarian's tip: "The Old Order Amish: 'The Ban' as an Insulatory Device" begins on p. 128
The Separation of Church and State By Darien A. McWhirter Oryx, 1994
Librarian's tip: "Exemption from Compulsory Education Laws" begins on p. 99
Rural Social Systems: A Textbook in Rural Sociology and Anthropology By Charles P. Loomis; J. Allan Beegle Prentice Hall, 1950
Librarian's tip: Includes discussion of the Amish in multiple chapters
Counseling Multicultural and Diverse Populations: Strategies for Practitioners By Nicolas A. Vacc; Susan B. Devaney; Johnston M. Brendel Brunner-Routledge, 2003 (4th edition)
Librarian's tip: Chap. 15 "Counseling the Old Order Amish: Culturally Different by Religion"
Religion, Dress and the Body By Linda B. Arthur Berg, 1999
Librarian's tip: Chap. 3 "Sacred Dress, Public Words: Amish and Mormon Experience and Commitment"
Sects, Cults, and Spiritual Communities: A Sociological Analysis By William W. Zellner; Marc Petrowsky Praeger, 1998
Librarian's tip: Chap. 7 "Single Women in Amish Society"
The Supreme Court and Civil Liberties Policy By Richard C. Cortner Mayfield Publishing, 1975
Librarian's tip: "The Good Guys in the Black Hats: Religious Liberty and the Amish in Wisconsin" begins on p. 153
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