Not long after the Apostle Paul arrived as a prisoner in Rome, Latin-speaking Christians refugees and missionaries, it is said, pushed north across the alps into the sheltered valleys of what is now Switzerland. A Christian fellowship, perhaps withing a hundred years of Paul’s time, already flourished in the green valley of Interlaken, between the Lakes of Brienz and Thun.
Other Christian missionaries arrived in Switzerland from the British Isles, and from Roman settlements in France and Germany.
Small Christian communities took shape all through Switzerland in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth centuries. Believing families lived with their children in great simplicity and wandering charismatists (missionaries / teachers) spread the Gospel far and wide.
Some charismatists, given to prayer and contemplation, found humble homes in the wilderness. Where two or three, or sometimes small groups of them shared their prayers and work together, little communities took shape. And after the arrival of Irish and English missionaries, Christian centres quickly grew large — Reichenau, Einsiedeln, Disentis, Ittingen, Engelberg, d’Hauterive, Kappel, Töss, Fahr, and many more.
Jesus’ work expanded in Switzerland for many years, new winds of the Spirit, new revivals and fellowships — such as The Poor (Waldenses) — who constantly kept earnest believers struggling together, onward, upward, along the narrow road to everlasting salvation. One of these revivals sparked . . .
The Anabaptist Movement
As soon as the Swiss cantons of Bern and Zürich broke away from the Roman Catholic Church, serious believers set out to build a Spiritually blessed church community for the glory of God. In spite of all opposition and persecution, the new movement took root and grew rapidly.
Swiss authorities did all they could to stop the new Anabaptist movement. In Zürich, it was extinguished by the mid-1600s. In Bern it was drastically reduced in numbers and forced into remote areas, oppressed by unhandy laws. But most believing families who eventually disappeared in Switzerland promptly reappeared in fast-growing new communities in other parts of Europe. Read about Swiss emigrants from Zürich.
To the Elsass and Baden
The Huber, Neff, Schnebli, Weber, Urmy and other families from Zürich left during the great tribulation of renewed persecution in the mid-1600s. First they found their way to Alsace, a serious war-ravaged area in what is now part of France.
As too many families arrived at once to live comfortably, they also began to find work and lodging in the German Kraichgau, part of Baden, east of the Rhein. More troubles, steep taxes and crowded conditions in a war-ravaged land awaited them. Read more.
Across the Ocean to Pennsylvania
Like a miracle, in the late 1600s, Quaker messengers began to appear in Central Europe to invite long afflicted Anabaptist families into a new peaceful country on the other side of the ocean — Pennsylvania, with the remarkably named city of Philadelphia (City of Brotherly Love).
At first only a small group of Anabaptist families emigrated from Krefeld in the Lower Rhein. They established Germantown, just west of Philadelphia, in the New World. But in the early 1700s Swiss Anabaptist families from the Kraichgau — the Hubers, the Neffs, the Schneblis, the Webers and the Urmys included — claimed and cleared a much larger area in the Pequea Valley, a place now known as Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
During the next generation many families found their way across the Susquehanna River into York County. Starting again in virgin timber. But after two more dreadful wars many believers began to look to the north, to Upper Canada. Read more.
On to Canada
David Huber, an unmarried brother from York County, Pennsylvania, travelled north on horse-back to check things out at Upper Canada (now Ontario) in the 1790s. He already found a good number of believing families in the Welland area.
Pushing westward, across the Grand River, he found good land and friendly neighbours — the Attawandaron (Neutral) Nation. A German-speaking United Empire Loyalist soldier sold him a modest tract of land, and as soon as possible he brought his family, his new wife (of a Bernese Swiss family), and within a few years many other believing families with names like Neff, Schnebli, Weber, Urmy, and others became their neighbours in the wilderness tract that became known as Rainham Township, Haldimand County, Ontario. Read more.
While the first Anabaptist families in Rainham Township struggled to clear their land and build log houses and barns, working nicely together came naturally. But by the mid-1800s, by the time a large number of new families and new ideas had settled amongst them, a long process of adjustment and reconsideration of values had begun to take place.
Some of the settlers, inspired by the teachings of Christ and his apostles, began a new zealous congregation, strictly separated from the world — the Herrites. Others who had taken part in the same revival focused on missions, dramatic conversions and spontaneous baptism through immersion — the Disciples of Christ. Some took part in more revivals among the Primitive Methodists and A. B. Simpson’s Christian and Missionary Alliance, while a good number of others were baptised among the Anabaptist Tunkers (Brethren in Christ).
Those who continued to worship in the Rainham Mennonite meetinghouse also chose two distinct directions — some of them with the rapidly acculturating Ontario Mennonite Conference, and the others in small, non-conformed, autonomous fellowships of believers, now scattered throughout Ontario, the United States and Australia. Read more.
Thanks to the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work in the Church of Jesus, Rainham descendants have found fellowship and marriage partners in a wide spread of situations around the world. Wherever the Holy Spirit was involved and the teachings of Christ were honoured, things have turned out well. Where the opposite was true, God alone knows what will happen, and we pray for everyone, far and wide, who needs a helping hand, a friendly word, the love of Jesus in a fast-pased often cruel world.
By 1967 the “Herrite” (Reformed Mennonite) congregation at Rainham closed and the meetinghouse was torn down. A cemetery remains.
At the present time two small acculturated Anabaptist congregations remain in the Rainham area, “Conference” Mennonite and Brethren in Christ.
All of the families who decided to stay “plain” and follow Christ in the full instructions of the New Testament have left the area to help establish new church communities in Algoma, Huron, Perth, Renfrew and Wellington Counties, in the Waterloo Region and in the District of Rainy River of Ontario, in the Unitied States and Tasmania, Australia.
In a physical way we will certainly never put all the pieces of our Rainham Settlement back together again. Neither would we want to. But thanks to the saving Gospel of our Lord Jesus we may become spiritually connected again and back in touch — if we wish.
Let us walk humbly and faithfully with Jesus until we see him again!