- 1800-2015 (Creation)
Level of description
Extent and medium
46.8 meters of textual records.
Name of creator
The Kleine Gemeinde had its beginning in the Russian Empire in 1812 when Klaas Reimer (1770-1837), already an ordained minister when he emigrated from Prussia to the Molotschna Settlement in 1805, assumed the role of leader of a small group of members of the Mennonite Church who felt disgruntled about church discipline. Reimer's writings and concerns reveal that he was genuinely concerned with reforming the Mennonites in accord with his understanding of the traditions of the church and the writings of Menno Simons, Dirk Philips, and Peter Peters. Other issues were contributions to government war-funds and church-authority versus civil-authority. Reimer and his followers became known as the Kleine Gemeinde (small church) as distinct from the Grosse Gemeinde (large church), the main body of Mennonite church in the Russian Empire.
Weathering several internal dissensions and reconciliations over the decades, some 200 Kleine Gemeinde families, part of a larger Mennonite migration that began in 1874, emigrated to North America as two separate churches: the larger group of about 80 families settled in Manitoba in two areas—one on the East Reserve and one near Morris on the West Reserve, and a smaller group settled near Jansen, Nebraska.
In Manitoba, further serious divisions occurred, one schism under the influence of John Holdeman, a Mennonite from Kansas; in the 1880s, more than one third of the Kleine Gemeinde in Manitoba were re-baptized and joined the Holdeman group known as the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. Over the next three decades, a steady number of the more-progressively minded Kleine Gemeinde joined other groups such as the Evangelical Mennonite Brethren congregation in Steinbach.
Even so, Kleine Gemeinde membership, and stability, grew considerably in the post-World War I era. The church organized Sunday-school classes, choir singing, and youth groups; it established a church paper and a Bible school, and became involved in relief work, a home for people with disabilities, and mission interests at home and abroad. In the 1940s, Rev. Ben D. Reimer was in the forefront of an evangelical revival movement. In contrast, in 1948, conservative families of the Kleine Gemeinde, some 800 people, migrated from Canada to Mexico. Resisting what they considered changes that were too radical changes in the Kleine Gemeinde in Canada, the Mexican branch held on to its name and traditions. In 1958, about half of the Mexican Kleine Gemeinde moved to Belize. Various levels of tensions seem to have characterized the greater part of this church’s development.
The Manitoba Kleine Gemeinde in Canada changed its name to Evangelical Mennonite Church in 1952 and to Evangelical Mennonite Conference (EMC) in 1960. It grew from 6 Manitoba churches with a membership of 1,870 in 1951 to 53 EMC churches in five Canadian provinces in 1997, and a membership of 5,813 in 1990, in addition to mission churches in Germany, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Paraguay. Kleine Gemeinde members from Belize have recently expanded to Nova Scotia. Congregations are organized into nine regions. The EMC has five national boards with broad responsibilities, but is ultimately governed together by its churches; delegates attend conference council meetings twice a year, and ministerial members meet nationally twice a year. The Messenger, printed monthly and available on-line, is its official publication. The EMC Constitution, including its Statement of Faith, was revised in 1960, 1973, and 1994.
In 2015, the EMC is described on its website as a “conference of 62 churches averaging 7700 worshippers in five provinces ministering in about two dozen countries”. Significant changes over the past six decades include English replacing the German language in worship services, some baptismal practices, the inclusion of musical instruments, and theological training for ministers.
The conference archives were housed in the EMC office in Steinbach, Manitoba, until the fall of 2015, when most materials were transferred to the Mennonite Heritage Centre Archives in Winnipeg. In Dec 2021 EMC sent additional boxes.
Immediate source of acquisition or transfer
Content and structure area
Scope and content
The EMC Archives were intellectually arranged into 9 categories:
- I. Archives
- II. EMC Church and Conference (organized into 15 series) (ca. 580 files)
- III. Congregations (organized by 9 regions) (ca. 360 files)
- IV. Related Organizations (a number of larger and smaller entities totaling, ca. 280 files)
- V. Person Collections (numerous collections) (ca. 2600 files)
- VI. Mennonites in Manitoba (ca. 130 files)
- VII. Other Materials. (ca. 110 files)
- VIII. Small archives (pamphlets) (ca. 60 files)
- IX. Newspapers (ca. 40 files)