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Australia: World Factbook, 2010
7,741,220 sq km
21,262,641 (July 2009 est.)
English 78.5%, Chinese 2.5%, Italian 1.6%, Greek 1.3%, Arabic 1.2%, Vietnamese 1%, other 8.2%, unspecified 5.7% (2006 Census)
Catholic 25.8%, Anglican 18.7%, Uniting Church 5.7%, Presbyterian and Reformed 3%, Eastern Orthodox 2.7%, other Christian 7.9%, Buddhist 2.1%, Muslim 1.7%, other 2.4%, unspecified 11.3%, none 18.7% (2006 Census)
white 92%, Asian 7%, aboriginal and other 1%
Groups Associated with MWC
Membership in MWC Affiliated Churches
1950-1970 Dutch Anabaptists immigrate to Australia
1954 Bruderhof begin expanding, a small group moved to Australia
1964 Froppe and Alice Brouwer are baptized and return to Australia with the intent of beginning an Anabaptist congregation.
1977 Ian and Ann Duckham went to Australia to serve the Mennonite church
1979 The 1st Mennonite church of Hope was founded
1970s Mark and Mary Hurst have been working with MMN in Australia
2006 The Rocky Cape Hutterite community began to form.
2009 Irene’s place was founded.
2011 The community at 1643 is in the process of being built
The Australian Mennonite groups have always been conscientious about their religious convictions; this position has been illustrated through their intentionally about developing community and following Jesus’ biblical example in their every day lives. Their story in Australia is similar to other religious groups; learning how to worship in a new context, discovering what it means to be church in a new community, and understanding how to confront the challenges that accompany any religious group re-rooting.
Their story begins in the years following World War II, a number of immigrants from Dutch Mennonite, and Friesland backgrounds immigrated to Australia cities, Sydney and Melbourne. The immigrants went in search of a safe and secure place to raise their family, and a deep desire for peaceful living and worshipping. They were hopeful about Australia and ready to help the movement to succeed at whatever cost was demanded of them. Although the number of immigrants is not known it has been estimated that between 2,000 and 5,000 persons of Mennonite background voyaged to Australia from the 1950s-1970s.
When these groups of people left they were encouraged to continue cultivating their Anabaptists heritage through communal worship. But, since there were no Mennonite congregations to join and members of the denomination were spread out, they began to be encouraged by their church leaders back in Europe to join Baptists churches. The Mennonite leaders from Europe through the Baptists denomination would be the best since they also practiced adult Baptism. Some immigrants quickly found a Baptists church and became active members within the community. However, others were preoccupied with settling their families and finding jobs.
A wave of Anabaptist renewal came to Australia in 1952 when Froppe Brouwer emigrated from the Netherlands. Brouwer was a young man with an Anabaptists heritage who moved to Sydney, he quickly found work like many other young Mennonties with a strong work ethic. He met other Mennonites in a Presbyterian church, this was unique because the pastor was originally Dutch and also preached the churches sermons in Dutch. In 1956 Froppe married Alice Hazenberg, a young adult with a similar Anabaptists background as himself. Together they continued to worship at the Presbyterian Church, however, in 1964 they took a family vacation to the Netherlands. During their travels they attended the Hollumop Ameland Mennonite Church, in April of 1965 their family was baptized. When they retuned to Australia they attempted to keep the Anabaptist vision they had re-discovered in the Netherlands alive. Froppe placed an advertisement in the Dutch Australian Weekly asking other Mennonites to respond to his desire for a Mennonite fellowship in Australia. Eventually he also began publishing “Die Mennist”, a four-page publication that was sent to about 80 families in the Netherlands through the 1970s and 80s.
Die Mennist was a newsletter that focused on the “Mennonite Fellowship of Hope.” The Froppe’s hopped that it would serve to locate dispersed Mennonites in Australia and bring them together. The Froppe’s worked hard to make the fellowship at Fennell Bay an attainable community for all ages. In 1981 they purchased a bus that was used to get Sunday school children to and from home, they also used the bus to transport children to club camp at Lake Mcquarie. They also began a “Care and Share” fruit and vegetable shop that catered to some peoples produce needs.
With the help of the publication the Anabaptist group began to grow, initially they used the local scout’s hall as a worship place but in 1979 the first Mennonite church was began. The small community decided to call it the 1st Mennonite Church of Hope in the Australian Mennonite Church conference. In response to the growing demand for Anabaptist leadership, Ian and Ann Duckham came in 1977 after graduation from Eastern Mennonite College (now Eastern Mennonite University.) www.emu.edu/ They were ordained in North America but they were readily accepted in the congregation in Australia. The Duckhams worked closely with Vietnamese immigrants in 1978 and established many members in the congregation. By 1987 about 25 adult members had been baptized into the congregation. Unfortunately the congregation was not sustainable and closed down.
Presently there are a number of different Anabaptists groups in Australia. The largest of these groups are comprised of an Indonesian Mennonite group who immigrated for religious reasons. However, three smaller groups exist that also have a great deal of impact in their communities. The first is a Bruderhof community located in the Danthonia Community in Inverell, Australia, the second is a Hutterite community from Tazmania, Australia, and the third is a Mennonite Mission Network (MMN) www.mennonitemission.net/Pages/Home.aspx team run by Mark and Mary Hurst.
The Bruderhof community began in 1920 by Eberhard Arnold and his wife Emmy. During World War II they were moved around because of their religious convictions. Eventually they moved to Paraguay but the climate was extremely difficult and tropical illnesses depleted the vitality of the group. In 1954, in response to American guests, a small number of people from the group migrated to North American and established a place called Woodcrest. Now Woodcrest is established in five different countries and they continue to grow. The community holds everything in common with one another, meals, possessions, and of course, worship. They try to live simply and committed lives to Jesus’s call. thecommonlife.com/about
The Hutterite community is from a more diverse background. Their leader, Peter Hover, is a strong leader in the group. They, “have close and direct links to other Anabaptist communities, and seek fellowship with all serious believers regardless of their background or credentials—that know Christ and follow him.” A detailed account of the groups history can be found at their website. thecommonlife.com/home
The Hursts are working on developing an intentional community called 1643, after the address of the neighborhood. One strength the Mennonite church brings to Australian people is a sense of community that Anabaptists tend to naturally embody. By starting the community the Hursts hope that people will be drawn to ask questions about the group and become more interested in the faith tradition. Another similar location is Irene’s Place, this house also focuses on community building and fellowship. www.facebook.com/irenesplace.canberra www.anabaptist.asn.au/index.php
Anabaptist Identity Today
In Australia today being an Anabaptists means being a witness to the radical life Jesus calls us to in the Gospels. By living in community, and building a model of how we treat each other Anabaptists hope to be a witness to the people around them. Anabaptists also hope to show what it means to faithfully worship together, eat together, and living peacefully together. The building blocks of Anabaptisms are not only inspiring but also appealing to youth in Australia. Pacifism, living responsibly with the environment and being radical witnesses to these, and other convictions, is exciting. It is also encouraging to Mennonites in Australia that they are connected to the larger history and church represented around the world through the denomination. Having a connection with different Anabaptist groups around the world enables them to take root in the movement and tie into the history of the denomination.
The theology of the Australian Mennonite movement is varied throughout the country. The Bruderhof and Hutterite groups tend to be a bit more conservative while the MMN team and the 1643 community is a relatively liberal. However in all three groups the message is clear; community is crucial to a vibrant faith community, and Jesus calls us to be servants to the world and faithful witnesses to the Gospel. The groups do have contact with each other but they do not generally mix with one another, similar to how an Amish congregation would not necessarily worship with an English church. On the conference web page the group professes to, “…share a passion for Jesus, community and reconciliation. The network finds inspiration from the life of Jesus, the earliest church and the convictions of the first Anabaptist communities…” www.anabaptist.asn.au/ The group also strives to be peacemakers in a society where pacifism is not always natural and, “inspires people to go further and deeper in ways that make a difference.”
The primary challenge facing the Mennonite church in Australia is the societal understanding of religion. If people attend a church two Sundays a month they claim to be regular attendees. This is difficult for well-established congregations in Australia, like the Catholic and Anglican churches, but for new congregations it is almost impossible to create a congregation if people do not commit themselves to worshipping together. Another challenge confronting the Mennonite church is the fragmentation the group often feels from the rest of the Anabaptist world. Not many people know about the group inside the country and even fewer people remember outside the country. Feeling alone is a threat to the community even with the historical tie to the first Anabaptists.
Future of the Group
Regardless of the different Anabaptists groups, one common factor is clear, each group has a unique vision and has a passion for growing. The Bruderhof and Hutterite communities have unique ways of branching out and evangelizing to the communities around them. The MMN system is actively working to establish an intentional community that will give voice to the religions convictions they believe. Other smaller movements such as Iren’s place are also encouraging, although this organization is not directly Anabaptists, its beliefs and theology are so similar it has often overlapped with Mennonite groups. In the coming years the Australian Mennonite church will begin growing in unique way, although not traditional, it may be a way for Australian culture to exemplify Mennonite theology.
In 2006 there was one Anabaptist-related group officially associated with MWC in Australia:
- Australian Conference of Evangelical Mennonites
- www.anabaptist.asn.au/index.php and www.facebook.com/irenesplace.canberra
- "Kenya," CIA World Factbook. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/as.html (accessed 11 April 2010).
- "2006 Mennonite and Brethren in Christ World Membership," Mennonite World Conference. http://www.mwc-cmm.org/en15/PDF-PPT/2006mbictotal.pdf (accessed 11 April 2010).
De Mennist Newsletters www.goshen.edu/mhl/Home
Mennonite World Handbook (1978)