An Aussiedler congregation near Bonn, Germany.

Aussiedler Churches Packed to the Rafters

Good, Merle. "Aussiedler Churches Packed to the Rafters." Mennonite Weekly Review, 22 April 2002, 1 & 2.

One of the world's larger groups of Mennonite-related people is still adjusting to a new home in Germany. Some are not even sure they really are Mennonites. Others are pretty sure they don't want to be Mennonites, at least not the "liberal" sort they've met or heard about elsewhere in Europe.

In fact, these people number more than all of the other Mennonites in Germany, the Netherlands, France, Spain and Switzerland combined.

They have come by the thousands out of the Soviet Union and its emerging republics over the past generation. No one knows how many should be considered Mennonites, but well-informed observers estimate the number of Aussiedler to stand between 30,000 and 50,000 members, not counting children, youth and other adults who are not baptized members.

Aussiedler churches are often packed to the rafters and are growing at a rate of nearly 5 percent a year, according to John N. Klassen, an expert on the Aussiedler.

They are mission-minded and consider evangelicalism a central part of their identity. Aussiedler churches number more than 350 congregations in 10 groups in Germany.

Aussiedler is German for "out of," in this case referring to the migration of people from Russia and the Eastern bloc.

Another commonly used term is Umsiedler, meaning "over" or "relocating from one place to another."

These terms apply to 4 million people of German background, of which the Mennonites are only a small part, who have resettled in Germany during the past 30 or 40 years.

In the Soviet Union, because of the repression of Christian faith, many Baptists and Mennonites worked and worshiped together.

In 1961, there was a division of opinion within the church about whether the government had too much say about church policies, theology and the ministry. Those who went underground have tended to view those who registered with the Communist government as being somewhat compromised and perhaps less faithful.

Those experiences still shape the church life of these groups.

In a congregation near Bonn, several people agreed to be interviewed after the service but asked that their names not be used. They repeatedly expressed suspicion of churches that devote a great deal of energy to bringing all Christians together under one umbrella.

The congregation we visited was overflowing with hundreds of worshipers at the Sunday morning service. This congregation was in the process of building a larger worship space to accommodate the 900 regular attendees.

Music played an important role. Congregational singing was led by three teenagers, followed by a children's choir.

We were told that this congregation also has a youth choir, a church choir, a senior choir and a Russian choir, in addition to numerous special groups and an orchestra.

"Music is one means we have to express our love to Christ," the music director told us. "Music was one of the main things that held us together in Russia."

The move to the West has left some Aussiedler deeply concerned.

"Our cohesiveness in Russia was created by outside forces - a hard life, an atheistic government and persecution," one person said.

But in Germany they found many options, great diversity and little Christian enthusiasm.

"Our greatest challenge," one said, "is how to deal with so much liberty and freedom."

Reprinted with permission of the Mennonite Weekly Review.

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