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Mennonites in Tennessee

Though the two groups of Mennonites in Tennessee share a religious background, only one functions as a distinct cultural and ethnic community. As Anabaptists, they trace their roots to the radical wing of the Protestant Reformation, and nearly all are part of the "Swiss Brethren" wing of Mennonites. With a few exceptions, the approximately twenty Mennonite churches and/or settlements are relatively small, usually numbering less than one hundred.

One part of Tennessee's Mennonites functions primarily as a church and not as an ethnic culture group. Included are the four churches which are part of the Mennonite Church--two in Knoxville, one each in Nashville (Brentwood) and Mountain City--and the three Brethren in Christ churches in Rolling Acres (McMinnville area), Dowelltown, and De Rossett (near Sparta). With one or two exceptions (such as the Concord Mennonite church in Knoxville, which dates to the late nineteenth century), these churches were established as home mission efforts by Mennonite Conferences outside of Tennessee after World War II. Consequently, native Tennesseans comprise much of their membership.

The second major group of Tennessee Mennonites are comprised of church groups and/or communities that can be classified as cultural (and ethnic) as well as religious groups. Many of the members are first or second generation migrants from Indiana, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, and even Ontario, Canada. All of these groups define Christian discipleship, at least partly, in terms of resisting aspects of modern culture, such as formal high school education beyond the eighth grade, urbanization, mass communications (including television and in some cases telephones), the appropriate use or nonuse of technology in farming and transportation, and occupations which remove the individual from working with the soil and/or one's hands. Included here are the Old Order Amish settlements in Lawrence, Carroll, and Hickman counties established in 1944, 1975, and 1982, respectively, and groups classified as Beechy Amish, Mennonite Fellowship, or Christian Community near Bolivar, Paris, Winchester, Crossville, Cookeville, Sparta, and Clarkrange, as well as the Cumberland Mountain community near Monterey. At least three other Amish communities, one dating back to the nineteenth century, did not survive. Reasons these groups came to Tennessee include the search for affordable land, concern over school consolidation, and compulsory school attendance laws that were instituted after World War II in the Middle Atlantic and Midwestern states.

Published » December 25, 2009 | Last Updated » February 21, 2011