Zurich Protestants beg forgiveness for persecuting Mennonites and Amish

May 5, 2003

Protestants in the Swiss canton of Zurich have made a public apology for the persecution during the 16th century Reformation era of a radical Christian movement called Anabaptists, whose present-day successors include many Mennonites and the Amish community in North America.

At a service in Zurich cathedral, Reformed Christians from Switzerland, and Mennonites and Amish from the United States, held out the hand of friendship to each other.

'The Reformed churches of Switzerland persecuted the Anabaptists. The resulting injustice, centuries ago, was a betrayal of the Gospel, something we now recognize with horror,' said Ruedi Reich, president of the Cantonal Reformed Church of Zurich, at the service.

A contingent of about 40 Amish from the United States, wearing their distinctive plain dress, sat in the front rows of the cathedral's nave as Reich made his statement.

The Amish and many Mennonites trace their roots to the Swiss Brethren, a 16th-century radical Christian movement near Zurich, vigorously denounced and combated by Ulrich Zwingli, Zurich's leading Protestant Reformer, and his followers.

'In the name of my people we forgive you in the name of Jesus. In him, we find the power to forgive you, bless you and love you,' Bishop Ben Girod, an Amish leader from Montana, told the spiritual heirs of Zwingli gathered in the cathedral, reported the Swiss Protestant news agency Protestinfo.

The Swiss Brethren were called Anabaptists, or re-baptizers, because of their rejection of the baptism of infants and their insistence on believers' baptism. They were persecuted as heretics both by Protestants and by Catholics, and many fled to America to seek refuge.

Protestinfo described Reich's speech as historic, and reported that it was that the first time Reformed Christians had received the Amish with such ceremony in the Zurich cathedral to exchange words of reconciliation.

The idea for the event, part of a four-day conference, came from Geri Keller, a retired Swiss Reformed pastor who last year travelled to the United States and visited a number of Amish and Mennonite communities. During the conference Reformed pastors wearing clerical attire washed the feet of the Amish and Mennonites present. Foot-washing, demonstrating humility, is an important part of Anabaptist tradition.