D. F. P. Publications
Published: 1986
337 pages
ISBN: 0-920739-19-9

The Kleine Gemeinde Historical Series

Vol. 3

Storm and Triumph

The Mennonite Kleine Gemeinde (1850–1875)

Delbert F. Plett

From the foreword, by Dr. John Friesen: In this volume of the history of the Kleine Gemeinde in Russia, Delbert Plett continues the story of the development and maturation of this reform church. Even though the volume includes a relatively short period of time, a quarter of a century, significant changes occur during this era. The Kleine Gemeinde has to face inner conflict, competing factions, division, and emigration to North America. Through these experiences the Kleine Gemeinde becomes a more mature movement, at times weakened, but despite all adversities still carrying on the original vision of reform.

In volume one, entitled The Golden Years, the Kleine Gemeinde appeared as the reformer calling both the cultural and the pietist Mennonites to the vision of the peaceful Anabaptists. The Kleine Gemeinde was challenging those Mennonites caught in maintaining cultural forms to revitalize their religious life by rediscovering peace, forgiveness, and the humble life. Other Mennonites who were turning to pietism were being challenged to seek the resources for reform within their own heritage.

In this volume the Kleine Gemeinde energy is largely consumed with internal issues. The most important of these is the division of 1866, which results in two factions, one led by Johan Friesen and the other by Heinrich Enns. This division is a serious blow to the Kleine Gemeinde’s self-image and role because in its early years it was the reconciler when conflicts arose, and now it proves unable to resolve dissension within its own ranks.

Despite these problems, the church does not disintegrate. It continues in two factions, both promoting the earlier vision of Klaas Reimer and his friends who began the movement. Both groups move to North America in the 1870s, the Friesen group to Nebraska, and the Enns group to Manitoba under the leadership of Peter Toews.

In this volume Plett continues to provide extensive quotations in translation from a variety of letters and other documents from the Russian era which have not been published before. This is a significant contribution to Russian Mennonite scholarship. It is, however, Plett’s interpretation of the Kleine Gemeinde and the role which it played in the Russian Mennonite community which will make the greatest impact. It is evident that interpreters of Russian Mennonite religious history will need to come to terms with Plett’s division of Russian Mennonites into three orientations, cultural, pietist and, Anabaptist. This interpretation not only places the Kleine Gemeinde into a different role from the one assigned to it by traditional Mennonite scholarship, it also provides a new interpretation of the other Mennonite groups. This interpretation of Russian Mennonitism will certainly receive vigorous discussion.