Mennonite World Conference

The Mennonite World Conference is an organization which strives to be a bridge between Mennonite churches in many countries, living in very different situations. One of its major tasks has been to organize assemblies every 6 years or so.


The First Mennonite World Conference in Switzerland, 1925 (9 Kb): ME IV illustrations, p.19
The First Mennonite World Conference, Switzerland (1925)

The Mennonite World Conference started as an opportunity to reflect on Mennonite history and its religious heritage, as well as to deal with pressing issues as they arose. The first assembly was held in Basel, Switzerland in 1925, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the beginning of Anabaptism. Although recognized as the first "World Conference," this gathering was virtually all European, with one person from North America present. The third conference in 1936 also focused on Anabaptist history, celebrating the 400th anniversary of Menno Simons' departure from the Roman Catholic Church.

The second conference, held in 1930, was called to coordinate support for Mennonite refugees leaving Russia for Paraguay, Brazil, and Canada. Again held in Europe, six delegates from North America attended.

Delegates to the Mennonite World Conference in the US, 1948 (9 Kb): ME IV illustrations, p.19
Delegates to the 1948 World Conference in the US (1948)

Because of World War II the assembly planned for 1940 was cancelled. 1948 marked the first conference in North America, which was held in the United States. Of 27 "overseas" delegates, 19 were from Europe. 

Kitchener, Ontario hosted the 1962 World Conference. Many more people participated than in previous conferences. Also, there were 25 countries represented and over 500 people from outside of North America.

New Era

The 1972 Mennonite World Conference assembly symbolized the arrival of a new era. The meeting in Curitiba, Brazil marked the first time the Conference was held outside of Europe and North America. Although not attended by as many people as previous meetings, 33 countries were represented. There was a large representation of Mennonites of non-European background, with less than one third from Europe and North America.

Preparing the Tent for World Conference Assembly in Calcutta, India (12 Kb): Canadian Mennonite photo
Preparing for the Mennonite World Conference in Calcutta, India (1997)

After this point, the Conference made a concerted effort to become more internationally balanced. A travel fund was set up so that countries could send representatives ("delegates") even if their national conferences could not have afforded it themselves. The trend towards a more diverse conference with many languages, cultures, and regions represented has reflected the changing nature of the global Mennonite church.

The last World Conference took place in Calcutta, India in 1997.

The World Conference Today

The organization of the World Conference has also come to reflect the diversity of the global church.

Mennonite World Conference General Council, 1993 (12 Kb)
Mennonite World Conference General Council (1993)

The decision-making bodies of the Mennonite World Conference are made up of a General Council and an Executive Committee. Each church conference is able to send anywhere from one to three members, depending on its size. A travel fund helps representatives of less wealthy nations to be present and make their significant contributions to worship, discussion and planning. This council of about 120 people meets every 3 years.

MWC Executive Committee and Staff (13 Kb): photo by Wayne Mark Thomas
Mennonite World Conference Executive Committee (1997):  MWC photo

The General Council also elects an Executive Committee of about 12; representatives from each continent select 2 representatives, while the Council selects a President, Vice-President, and Executive Secretary. This Committee meets every year, and remains in close contact between meetings. This group acts as the backbone of the organization, and is its main decision-making body.

Created 1998 by Derek Suderman