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Photo Friday: The Global Anabaptist Family

E. J. Swalm stands by bridge
Brethren in Christ bishop E. J. Swalm stands at the spot along the Aere River in Berne, Switzerland where 16th-century Anabaptists were put into a weighted cage and lowered into the water until they died. Then they were raised to be replaced with the next victim. (Brethren in Christ Historical Library and Archives)

Mennonite World Conference (MWC), founded in 1925, is a global fellowship of Anabaptist-related churches. Some regular readers of the blog may know that I currently serve with this organization; others may know that MWC’s next global gathering (called an Assembly) will be held in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in summer 2015.

The North American Brethren in Christ have long been involved in this world-wide body of Christ — at least as far back as 1957, when Canadian bishop and nonresistance advocate E. J. Swalm participated in that year’s MWC Assembly in Karlsruhe, Germany. (According to records, he was accompanied on his trip by fellow Brethren in Christ leaders Charlie B. Byers and C. N. Hostetter, Jr.)

Before and after the assembly in Karlsruhe, Swalm traveled around Europe, often visiting historical sites related to 16th-century Anabaptism, or fellowshipping with European Mennonite leaders he knew. He occasionally published notes from his travels in the Evangelical Visitor. The following excerpt comes from a missive published in the September 9, 1957 issue of that publication:

My dear readers, we broke our conversation with you at Basle, Switzerland where we spent a few hours and did some shopping.
. . . Later in the day we called on Rev. Samuel Gerber, President of the Swiss Mennonites who is a farmer high in the Alps. He is a very spiritual man with a strong passion for evangelism. After having a little prayer meeting, we went on our journey arriving at Berne about sunset.

Berne is a large city, famous for its miles of Arcades along the main street, also rich in Anabaptist history. Here in the Aare River early Mennonites were drowned one by one because their faith held them steadfast in Christ. We felt a sense of holy awe as we walked down the cobble stone street toward the bridge where scores of them took their last earthly journey before they stepped on heaven’s shores.

The Brethren in Christ have continued to be well-represented within Mennonite World Conference in the intervening years. For instance, former MWC president Nancy Heisey grew up as the child of Brethren in Christ missionary parents. The current MWC president is Danisa Ndlovu, bishop of the Brethren in Christ Church in Zimbabwe. And many North American and Global South Brethren in Christ leaders participate in various levels of MWC administration and leadership, from the Executive Committee to the four Commissions to the leadership for the Pennsylvania 2015 Assembly.