Early Anabaptism as social movement, part 1: Movement of the Word, 1525-1535

This is the first in a four part series from my essay entitled, “The Early Anabaptist Movement through the Lens of Social Movement Theory.”


By way of introduction to my piece, I wrote the following poem. I invite you to read it as an exercise of imagining what the emerging Anabaptist movement must have felt like to a new believer.

Dappled Sunlight in Highgate Wood

Movement of the Word, 1525-1535

The word spreads on farms,
in taverns and barns, in sewing circles
the fold grows, stitch by stitch.
Behind the looms we whisper
good news and now dozens come to sit
on stumps and stone, our forest pews.

We dare not learn our leaders’ names,
for fear that tortured tongues might speak;
we know the brothers when they say,
“The Lord’s peace remain with thee.”
‘Til He returns to vanquish our foes,
many join Christ’s agony.

The vorsteher travel hither and fro,
hay still clinging to their clothes.
By mouth and pen, life and death,
north and south, east and west,
they go on riding, preaching and chiding
to keep the way of the New Testament.

Oh, Satan’s kingdom gives us grief,
for we chose our faith, not by birth or state,
but by belief in God’s own son,
we live the Spirit’s rule of love
and baptize on, and continue to meet,
and gather to pray, for the Last Days near,
may they not delay, may they not be late.

Poem Notes: The phrase, “By mouth and pen, life and death” is from a quote on spreading the gospel by Menno [see The Complete Works of Menno Simons, ed. J.C. Wenger (Scottdale, Penn.: Herald, 1956), 633]. The word vorsteher is what some groups called leaders and elders.

Katerina Friesen is currently a M.Div. student at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, IN. Her poem and essay were for a class on Anabaptist History and Theology.