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A Dunker Guide to Brethren History

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Take a quick trip through three hundred years of Church of the Brethren history. In A Dunker Guide to Brethren History, the past comes to life through the stories of key personalities - from Alexander Mack Sr. to M.R. Zigler. The magazine-style articles culminate with a forward-looking section that shifts the focus from past to future.

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History Holds the Keys

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dunkerguide-history-complete35/27/104:55 PMPage 3300 YEARSHistory holds the keys by Steve LongeneckerRemembering the Brethren past can help the present and futureGeorge Santayana’s maxim is probably every historian’s favorite saying. When I taught high school, I posted it over the classroom door.“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”But Santayana leaves several points unsaid.Most obviously, he neglects history’s most appealing asset: It is fun. In brief, history is the study of everything that comprises human behavior in the past: altruism, greed, courage, cowardice, honor, sleaze, love, hatred, sex, and violence. Or, to paraphrase Ecclesiastes 3, history is birthing, dying, planting, plucking, killing, healing, breaking, building, weeping, laughing, mourning, dancing, embracing, refraining from embracing, seeking, losing, keeping, throwing away, tearing, sowing, being silent, speaking, loving, hating, making war, and making peace.True, the players on history’s stage are usually dead, but they still make up one big soap opera. If you think people are interesting, you have to like history.

 

Why Brethren History?

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dunkerguide-history-complete35/27/104:55 PMPage 7300 YEARSWhy Brethren history? by Frank RamirezHeritage is full of rich stories and lessonsIlearned a good deal of Brethren history before I even considered joining the Brethren. What surprised me at the time was how little real Brethren knew about their own story.In 1974, while I was a theater arts major at La Verne College in California, fellow students Mike Titus and Phil Franklin told me that professor Vernard Eller had been asked to write a play about Brethren beginnings called “A Time SoUrgent.” It had been commissioned for the 250th anniversary of the church in1958 but never performed. Mike and Phil got this crazy idea that we ought to take this play out into Brethren society that summer. Could I help?It was the height of the gas crisis, with long lines at the pump, but the college was offering us a van (wonderfully refurbished because the staff mistakenly thought it was for the president) and a gas card. We would depend on Brethren churches for food, lodging, and maybe an offering or two.

 

The Keepers of History

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dunkerguide-history-complete35/27/104:55 PMPage 10300 YEARSThe keepers of history by Kenneth M. Shaffer Jr. and Logan CondonArchives provide significant service of preservationWhat becomes of a congregation’s membership records and council meeting minutes when the congregation is disorganized? Are the records destroyed? Does the last pastor to serve the congregation keep the records? Are they stored at the district office?According to the Church of the Brethren polity manual, congregational records become the property of the district, and the district decides where to deposit the records. Typically districts place congregational records at one of theBrethren archives. These records generally include newsletters, bulletins, directories, yearly budgets, annual reports, etc., as well as minutes and membership records. Some congregations transfer their inactive records directly to the district-approved archives on a periodic basis. And districts sometimes place their inactive records at the archives they have selected.

 

Alexander Mack

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dunkerguide-history-complete35/27/104:55 PMPage 171708-1758Alexander MackA seeker of scripture by Alice ArcherOrganizational and unity-building skills gave new movement a foundationAlexander Mack was born in 1679 in a family of village leaders inSchriesheim, Germany. His father was twice mayor. During Mack’s childhood years his family fled three times into nearby hills for safety from invading armies, returning to help rebuild life in the community.When his oldest brother died, Mack’s parents expected him to partner with another brother in the family mill, ending any plans for a university education.Mack’s marriage to Anna Margaret Kling in 1701 united two of the leading families of Schriesheim.Mack soon became disillusioned with the local Reformed Church and joined thePietist movement. While some Pietists continued a relationship with local congregations, others known as Separatists withdrew from organized religion. Mack became a Separatist. In violation of laws against private religious gatherings, he began a

 

Peter Becker

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dunkerguide-history-complete35/27/104:55 PMPage 22Mack and Beissel far outshone him as preachers, writers, and influential figures. But Becker was recognized for his sincerity, common sense, care for others, and patience. These qualities made Becker the perfect person to lead the Brethren through the turbulent first decades in America. founding of the church in America, Peter Becker is little more than a name to mostBrethren today. He deserves better.Becker was born in the village of Dudelsheim, northeast of Frankfurt,Germany, in 1687. Baptized into the Reformed church, he grew up to become a prosperous farmer with extensive landholdings. Yet he also grew dissatisfied with the established church. He became interested in the enthusiasm and deep spirituality of the radical Pietist movement. He was especially attracted to the preaching and teaching of the radical Pietist leader Hochmann von Hochenau. Hochmann’s influence prepared Becker to hear and respond to the message of Brethren minister Johannes Naas, who visited the Dudelsheim area in 1714. Peter Becker and his wife, Anna Dorothea, were baptized by Naas on the 15th of May, 1714.

 

Schwarzenau

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dunkerguide-history-complete35/27/104:55 PMPage 251708-1758SchwarzenauThen and now by Nevin DulabaumAs I leaned over, I dipped my hand into the cool, flowing waters of theEder River. Mist hung in the air that August morning, limiting visibility to about a quarter-mile as I turned around and looked toward the base of the hill that leads to the Hüttental (Valley of the Huts), site of Alexander andAnna Mack’s home in Schwarzenau, Germany. I imagined the Macks and six others—five men and three women—making their way down the hill, descending through the mist and continuing straight to the water.Standing by the Eder, one easily can imagine the first eight Brethren rebaptizing themselves in August 1708 in open defiance of the Catholic, Reformed, andLutheran churches. For although the world has changed in many ways since that year, in a way Schwarzenau feels as though little has changed.Sure, modernization has come to the town, but development and expansion on the village’s boundaries has been so slight that Schwarzenau is a living snapshot of the early 18th century. There aren’t developments that have consumed the ground where the first Brethren walked; there’s ground! The Eder continues to flow past open fields, and one can walk freely along the water’s edge.

 

John Naas

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dunkerguide-history-complete35/27/104:55 PMPage 281708-1758John NaasTall man or tall tale? by Frank RamirezWill the real John Naas (1669-1741) please stand up?Was he the character in the Dorothy Brandt Davis children’s book TheTall Man who endured torture cheerfully because he had no captain but Immanuel?Maybe not. This most famous story about Naas may not be true. According to an account more than a century and a half later by Abraham Harley Cassel, Naas—“a man of great physique and commanding personality”—was press-ganged to become part of the royal bodyguard for the king of Prussia. Despite excruciating tortures, including thumbscrews and being forced to hang by a toe and a thumb, Naas did not submit. When finally dragged before the throne he was reported to have said that he had no captain butChrist, which so impressed the king that he was released and given a gold coin for his faithfulness.There is no such account among either theEuropean or Colonial documents, although Naas is often mentioned in many other regards. It is possible that some confused him with John Fisher from Hall, who was tortured for 10 days and, after refusing to renounce his faith, pricked with pins all over his body and thrown into a hole, where he was found by a prince who took pity on him and arranged for his release.

 

Christopher Sauer Jr.

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dunkerguide-history-complete35/27/104:55 PMPage 331758-1808Christopher Sauer Jr.Faith under fire by Kenneth M. Shaffer Jr.Influential printer lost everything during the Revolutionary WarOn the night of May 24, 1778, Christopher Sauer Jr., a Brethren minister and printer, was forced from his home in Germantown, Pa., by a party of American soldiers. He was marched through cornfields and when he— being nearly 57 years old—could not keep up with the young soldiers in the dark, he was prodded in the back with bayonets.The next morning he was forced to remove all his clothes and given pants and a shirt that were so full of holes that they barely covered his body. Then his hair and beard were cut and he was painted red and black, the colors of the British, to show he was loyal to the king and a traitor to the American Revolution. NextSauer was forced to march barefoot to the American camp where he learned he was accused of being “an oppressor of the righteous and a spy.” With the help ofGen. Peter Muhlenberg, the son of a Lutheran pastor who knew Sauer, he was eventually released, but not permitted to return to his home in Germantown.

 

Alexander Mack Jr.

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dunkerguide-history-complete35/27/104:55 PMPage 371758-1808Alexander Mack Jr.The tolerant reconciler by Frank Ramirez‘Sander’ Mack led Brethren for more than half a centuryThe story is told that Floyd Mallott, who taught Brethren history atBethany many decades ago, used to write on the blackboard the dates during which the old Dunkers in Europe decided they needed to practice celibacy. He would then write down the year Alexander Mack Jr. was born to AnnaMargaretha Kling Mack and Alexander Mack Sr., two of the original eight.The birth year fell smack dab in the middle of the celibate period.The Brethren experiment in celibacy was only temporary. Our ancestors in the faith returned to the scriptures and decided it was not a biblical practice.And while some might chuckle at this proof that Brethren occasionally found out the hard way that a particular biblical interpretation was impractical, to my mind it is symbolic of the way Mack Jr. (or “Sander” Mack as he was generally known all his long life), bridged the gap between idealism and realism, perfect practice and practicality.

 

Conrad Beissel

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dunkerguide-history-complete35/27/104:55 PMPage 431758-1808Conrad Beissel and the Ephrata Cloister by Christina BucherElements of radical Pietist community survive todayThe Ephrata Cloister, a religious community of radical Pietists, was founded in 1732 by a German immigrant named Conrad Beissel (16911768). For a short time, Beissel was a leader of the Brethren congregation at Conestoga, in Pennsylvania; however, he differed with the Brethren on several key points and left the Brethren in order to follow his own distinctive beliefs and practices.Conrad Beissel. Beissel was born in 1691, in Eberbach am Neckar, in what is now Germany. Orphaned by age 8, Beissel became a baker. Beissel’s family belonged to the Reformed tradition; however, as a youth, Beissel encountered radical Pietist groups and became convinced of the truth of their understanding of theChristian life. In his late 20s, Beissel emigrated to the New World, settling first inGermantown (near Philadelphia). There Beissel associated with Brethren, apprenticing himself to Peter Becker, a weaver and a leader in the Brethren movement.

 

Sarah Righter Major

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dunkerguide-history-complete35/27/104:55 PMPage 491808 -1858Sarah Righter MajorPreaching with power by Pamela K. BrubakerHer ‘uncommon’ ministry stretched boundaries of Annual MeetingSarah Righter Major (1808-1884) was the first known Brethren woman to preach publicly. Her story is not only inspiring; it also offers insight into church polity and practice among 19th-century Brethren.Sarah was born to John and Elisabeth (Stern) Righter on August 29, 1808, inGermantown, Pa. She was not yet a member of the church when she heardHarriet Livermore preach in August of 1826. Livermore was a writer, teacher, and traveling evangelist who called herself “The Pilgrim Stranger.”Livermore had been invited to preach by Peter Keyser Jr., pastor of theGermantown and Philadelphia congregations. Sarah’s son later wrote, “Here it was that my mother heard The Pilgrim Stranger and as the first fruits of her labors in Philadelphia was the conversion of my mother whom HarrietLivermore ever afterwards called ‘my daughter’ as Paul called Timothy his son, and was not lacking in parental solicitude for her welfare.”

 

The Wolfes

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dunkerguide-history-complete35/27/104:55 PMPage 531808 -1858The WolfesLeading the way west by James BenedictThree generations of family gave key leadership to frontier churchMedford D. Neher / Courtesy of Camp MackIn the great western migration that defined the late 18th and the 19th century in North America, Brethren were largely non-participants. To this day, the vast majority of Brethren in the United States live within a few hundred miles of the Atlantic Ocean. But a few brave Dunker families did go west, and among them none had a bigger impact on the life of the church than the Wolfe family.In the course of three generations, they carried the Brethren message fromLancaster County, Pa., to the Pacific slope of California.It just so happens that in each generation of the Wolfe family, the boldest pioneer was named George. It began with George Sr., born in Lancaster County in1750. Most likely ordained to the ministry there, at age 37 he moved his young family toFayette County, Pa. It isn’t far by modern standards, but in those days the distance was significant. Lancaster County was well established; Fayette

 

Samuel Weir

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dunkerguide-history-complete35/27/104:55 PMPage 571808 -1858Samuel WeirAfrican-American preacher and elder by Anna M. SpeicherMinistry gifts prompted outreach to blacks in OhioSamuel Weir was born a slave, in Bath County, Va., April 15, 1812. So begins an 1896 sketch of the life of a remarkable man. Weir’s life story is a testimony to gracious perseverance in the face of many obstacles.When Samuel Weir was 12 years old, he experienced one of the heartbreaks of slavery: For the price of $280 he was sold away from the rest of his family, enslaved to a Virginia landowner. Weir was fortunate only in that his buyer,Andrew McClure, treated him relatively well. McClure was a farmer who labored in the fields alongside Weir. Young Samuel retained a measure of autonomy in keeping the surname of his father, James Weir, rather than adopting the name of his owners as many slaves did.Weir’s enslavement continued for 19 years. It ended because of tragedy in theMcClure family. When the son of the family was killed in a horseback riding accident, the McClures turned to religion and soon petitioned to become members of the local Brethren congregation. For the Dunkers, though, the existence of a slave in the household was grounds for denial of membership. Unlike most other

 

Westward Ho, Brethren

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dunkerguide-history-complete35/27/104:55 PMPage 601808 -1858Westward ho,Brethren!Groups gradually moved across nation by Jane DavisAfter receiving a Spanish land grant in 1796, Pennsylvanian DanielClingingsmith moved his family by boat down the Ohio River and then up the Mississippi to a new settlement in southeastern Missouri called CapeGirardeau. Brethren members of George Frederick Bollinger’s wagon caravan from North Carolina (1800) and Brethren from western Kentucky soon added to the settlement along the Whitewater River near Cape Girardeau.By 1806, Kentucky elder George Wolfe Sr., minister to the scattered Brethren along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, had moved to Cape Girardeau. Whether he traveled north of St. Louis to visit the Hostetter Brethren near Saint Charles is unknown. We do know Wolfe became ill in traveling from Kaskaskia, Ill., to Ste.Genevieve, Mo. His verbal will is recorded there, as are the names of those verifying his identity at his death on August 8, 1808. The Hostetter family began arriving in northern Missouri from Kentucky after receiving a land grant about 1797. Brethren elder Francis Hostetter (1739-1806) was one of the earliest Protestant ministers in northeastern Missouri, preaching in German to English-speaking listeners.

 

Israel Poulson Sr.

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dunkerguide-history-complete35/27/104:55 PMPage 621808 -1858Israel Poulson Sr.Breaking the mold by Frank RamirezHis famous ‘three visions’ included scenes of Last JudgmentThere’s a tendency to think of the old Brethren elders as “one size fits all,” but even when they sought uniformity in faith and practice, they still tended to be unique figures. Certainly Israel Poulson Sr. followed the pattern of not following a pattern.First, he was half Native American in a largely German church. Second, he played the fiddle when Brethren sang a capella. And finally, he was a dreamer, and he told people about his dreams.Israel Poulson (1770-1856) was abandoned by his parents when he was seven years old. He was raised by Brethren near Centerville, N.J. When he first married he was unable to read or write, but his first wife taught him those skills.When she died he married her sister. All his children were born through her. He married a third time after her death.Poulson was much beloved by the children and trusted by his neighbors. Once a man called a “false prophet” announced that the world was about to come to an end and asked what people intended to do. One individual who was developmentally disabled had a quick answer: “I would hold on to Uncle Israel’s coat-tail.”

 

John Kline

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dunkerguide-history-complete35/27/104:55 PMPage 671858-1908John KlineA beloved man of God by Paul RothVirginian led Brethren through turbulent Civil War yearsThe old pine floorboards in John Kline’s house are bare now. The footsteps of this beloved Brethren elder have not been heard on them for 144 years. Yet memories still linger about this 19th-century missionary, herbal doctor, Annual Meeting moderaMedford D. Neher / Courtesy of Camp Mack tor, farmer, and friend.John Kline was born June 17,1797, in Dauphin County, Pa., the second child and first son ofJohn Sr. and Mary HersheyKline. His grandparents GeorgeJr. and Elizabeth Altaffer Klein were among the early settlers to the Shenandoah Valley ofVirginia in the 1780s, buying several acres on the west side ofLinville Creek near the trading post known as Broadway. JohnKline Sr. moved his family to take over George Klein Jr.’s farm in 1811, with John Jr. driving the horse-drawn wagon.Writing in “Elder John Kline:A life of pacifism ended in martyrdom” (Virginia Cavalcade,

 

James Quinter

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dunkerguide-history-complete35/27/104:55 PMPage 711858-1908James QuinterGentle, persistent progressive by J. Douglas ArcherRespected Brethren leader championed periodicals, higher educationJames Quinter was born in 1816 in Philadelphia. At that time theBrethren supported no schools or colleges and had no regular publications or publishing houses. By the time of Brother Quinter’s death in 1888 this had changed dramatically—thanks in large part to his efforts.Almost all of what we know of his early life can be traced to the Life andSermons of Elder James Quinter (1891), by his daughter Mary. Raised in poverty near Phoenixville, Pa., and breadwinner for his mother and sister from the death of his father when he was 13, Quinter lacked all but the most basic formal schooling. However, what his family lacked in material resources was more than equaled by a passion for education. By 1833, at age 17, Quinter managed to qualify for a teaching position, and he appears to have been one of the first Dunkers to be employed as an teacher. While he held several jobs over the years, education— especially higher education—remained an enduring commitment.

 

Polarization and Schism Among the Brethren

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dunkerguide-history-complete35/27/104:55 PMPage 751858-1908Polarization and schism among the Brethren by Kenneth M. Shaffer Jr.Three-way split “rent the Brethren fabric” in the early 1880sApetition to the 1880 Annual Meeting called for the removal of “the fast element from among us, which is the cause of the troubles and divisions in the church.”The petition, generally known as the Miami Valley Petition, came from a group of elders in southern Ohio; those supporting the petition became known as theOld Order group. While the petition condemned the “fancy painting” of houses and barns, “fine furniture,” and “costly carriages,” the major opposition was to innovations such as: (1) education in high schools and colleges, which were unsafe places for simple Christians; (2) Sunday schools that usurped the duty of parents; (3) revival meetings where revival songs were sung and invitations given;(4) the salaried ministry where ministers were paid to preach the gospel; and (5) the single mode of feetwashing where one person washes and dries the feet of a neighbor and the neighbor in turn washes and dries the feet of the next person.

 

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