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Brethren receive apology for the persecution of the 1700s in Europe.
During the international celebration of the 300th Anniversary of the Brethren movement, held in early August in Schwarzenau, Germany, the Brethren received an apology for the persecution their faith ancestors suffered during the early 1700s in Europe. Ingo Stucke, a member of the Governing Board of the Protestant Church of Westphalia, Germany, made the apology during the formal Anniversary Program on the afternoon of Aug. 3.
"The persecutions are a black spot on the history of the Evangelical Protestant Church," Stucke said. "We regret the persecutions of that time and ask your forgiveness."
The apology to the Brethren follows on the heels of a decision in mid-July by the main governing body of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) to seek forgiveness for Lutheran persecution of Anabaptists during the 16th century in Europe. The LWF decision was made at the recommendation of a committee chaired by a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria, Germany, and comes out of a Lutheran-Mennonite study commission. In 2006, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America made a formal apology for Lutheran persecution against Anabaptists.
Stucke prefaced the apology with remarks noting that he has been gaining insights into the history of Anabaptist and Pietist movements. He named three conclusions about the ecumenical coexistence of his own faith tradition with that of the Brethren: that the Protestant Church of Westphalia was founded after World War II but is located in the first German territory where religious tolerance prevailed historically; that it was Lutheran and Reformed Christians who persecuted the Pietists and Anabaptists; and that where Pietism and revival movements have been active they have left their mark.
"When we look at the legacy of Pietism I regret that the potential of this movement did not develop here, but celebrate that it did thrive elsewhere," Stucke said.
Stucke characterized a celebration like the 300th Anniversary of the Brethren as an invitation to place commonalities in the foreground. The 250th anniversary of the Brethren was an important ecumenical event for German churches during the time of reconstruction after World War II, he said. This year's celebration offers another occasion to critically examine theological concepts about baptism and other marks of faith, and perhaps a call for more conversation about theology, he said.
He added a personal hope that such conversation may lead to the reality "That they all may be one." Unity is not about uniformity, Stucke said, but about a witness to the world.
Brethren Service is recognized at Peace Fest in Germany.
Members of the Lutheran Pfarrkirche St. Marien and the Marburg Peace Initiative hosted a Peace Fest on Aug. 1, for Brethren attending the 300th Anniversary celebrations in Germany. The program focused on the history and progression of Church of the Brethren work in Europe from the post-war period to the present. More than 200 Brethren were joined by representatives of partner organizations for peace that the Brethren helped found after World War II.
Ken Rogers, a professor at Manchester College in North Manchester, Ind., introduced the evening's speakers, noting that Christians had been gathering in this location in Marburg for 900 years. The pastor of the Pfarrkirche, Ulrich Biskamp, greeted the meeting by saying, "Since the beginning, the Church of the Brethren has cared about peace. We will never forget the work of Church of the Brethren after the war, for which we are very thankful."
Ken Kreider reported on Brethren work in Europe, beginning with the work of Dan West in Spain in the 1930s. The Brethren next assisted in Europe following World War II, providing for prisoners in POW camps in England, the Netherlands, and Belgium, and distributing food in France.
Church of the Brethren leader M.R. Zigler was able to convince the US military to allow him to go into Germany after the war to assess needs there. The US military allowed the Brethren to provide for urgent physical needs of the population because according to the Geneva Convention, an occupying power is responsible for providing for the needs of the civilian population, Kreider reported.
Brethren aid following World War II also reached Poland, and Kassel in central Germany, which was 80 percent destroyed in the war. A few of the original volunteers who worked at the Brethren House in Kassel were present at the Peace Fest.
The US military after the war suggested that the church begin a student exchange program for German young people to go to the US for a year. Thus began the International Christian Youth Exchange (ICYE), which is now an independent organization. Four representatives of ICYE drove from Berlin to Marburg to be present at the Peace Fest.
Rogers noted in his presentation that after many years of relief work, "clearly more had emerged than just material aid. Sincere friendship had developed." Brethren Colleges Abroad (BCA) was organized in 1962 as a way to continue making meaningful connections between the Brethren and the people of Europe. The city of Marburg was the first BCA site, and the late Donald Durnbaugh was one of its first onsite directors. The program expanded into many countries outside of Europe under the direction of Allen Deeter, and now has participants from over 100 colleges.
Dale Ott, former coordinator of Brethren Volunteer Service (Europe), reported that "wherever there was division in Europe, BVS projects tried to be there." BVS sites have been places of dialogue for people to come together and understand one another, he said. During his work for BVS, Ott placed volunteers in N. Ireland, Berlin, Poland, Cypress, and Jerusalem, and visited churches in the Eastern bloc.
After churches and grassroots groups in East Germany started the movement which led to the Berlin Wall coming down, BVS expanded its project sites into the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Serbia, Croatia, and Belgrade, under the leadership of Kristin Flory, Brethren Service (Europe) coordinator for the past 20 years. Expansion occurred despite declining resources for the program. Flory quoted one volunteer as saying, "We live in a hurting world and churches need to respond to that in love."
Ott recognized Wilfried Warneck, who established Church and Peace, building on the efforts of M.R. Zigler and Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder. The organization established a Historic Peace Church network in Europe, together with the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. French Mennonite theologian and Church and Peace general secretary Marie-Noelle von der Recke remarked that the Church of the Brethren was key in the foundation of Church and Peace. Members of Church and Peace also were instrumental in leading the Decade to Overcome Violence of the World Council of Churches.
"Jesus' nonviolence belongs to the core of the Gospel and the church is called to give witness to this nonviolence in society" by showing God's love and compassion, von der Recke said. "Love of enemies is the way of the cross, confronting the myth of redemptive violence. Conscientious objection and peace service; justice and solidarity with the oppressed, victims of war, and injustice; and advocacy for justice in issues of economics and the environment give expression to our belief that Jesus is Lord. Peace and justice must be practiced on a daily basis.... True security is found in God."
Angela Koenig, director of Eirene International Christian Service for Peace, congratulated the Church of the Brethren on its 300th Anniversary. Eirene, the conscientious objector service in Europe founded by the Historic Peace Churches, cooperates with BVS in sending volunteers to the US, throughout Europe, South America, Morocco, Niger, and South Africa. Eirene celebrated its 50th anniversary this summer. "We wish and pray that the Brethren continue to stay strong and keep working in the spirit of your founders," Koenig said.
Wolfgang Krauss, who worked with the German Mennonite Peace Committee for 25 years, brought Mennonite congratulations on the 300th Anniversary. "The Anabaptist movement started almost 200 years before... so let me, as an older brother, congratulate my younger brothers and sisters!" he said.
The German Mennonite Peace Committee was founded in 1956 to recover an Anabaptist peace witness that had been lost, Krauss explained. "German Mennonites had lost their nonconformist peace position. Those who had gone to North America helped us a lot after World War II, with material relief and even more in helping us start a new discourse in peace theology."
European and North American Mennonite volunteers also are part of the Military Counseling Network that works with US military personnel who are considering conscientious objection. There are some 70,000 American GIs stationed in Europe.
Members of the Marburg Peace Initiative, who are also members of the St. Marien Parish, presented a summary of their activities for peace in the last 20 years. Marie-Luise Keller spoke for the group.
The crowd also was treated to organ music by the organist of the University Church in Marburg, the parish provided refreshments, and information tables were available to the guests.
After an evening of celebrating mutual mission efforts between the Church of the Brethren and its partner organizations in Europe, Rogers summed it all up by saying, "Thank you to our European brothers and sisters for giving the Church of the Brethren so much!"
--Myrna Frantz is a former Brethren Volunteer Service worker at Church and Peace.
In August 1958, Ken Kreider didn't care whether he ever returned to Lancaster County, Pa. The 24-year-old Elizabethtown College student knew he had so much less to return to at the college and, especially, at his home.
The trauma of that dreadful summer--when his mother and 12 other Lancaster County residents died in what was characterized at the time as the largest mass tragedy in county history--dominated his thoughts. He wasn't sure what to do.
Kreider had led a group of fellow members of the Church of the Brethren to Germany to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the founding of the Brethren movement. They toured Europe for 35 days, concluding with the 250th anniversary celebration in Schwarzenau, Germany. Then they returned to the United States, by way of the Netherlands, on three flights.
The second of those flights, carrying Brethren pilgrims and other passengers, exploded and fell into the Atlantic Ocean. All 91 passengers and eight crew members perished. Among them was Kreider's mother, 49-year-old Catherine Kreider.
With that crash, life for the young tour guide changed forever.
Flash forward to this summer--50 years later. Life, in some ways, repeats itself. On July 28, Kreider, 74, a retired professor of history at Elizabethtown College, left for Germany again, leading a tour group that would help commemorate the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Brethren.
Kreider, of course, hoped this trip would be happier than the first. But he could not forget the past. "I put them on the plane in Amsterdam and the plane went down just off the coast of Ireland," Kreider recalled of the early morning of Aug. 14, 1958. "I stayed on an additional week or I would have been on that plane."
Kreider spent much of that week mourning his mother and wondering how he could board another plane to fly home. "The thought went through my mind, it would be easier not to go home than to go home," he said. "In other words, I didn't care whether my plane went down or not."
But Kreider boarded his plane a week later. Informed of the young man's personal distress, the pilot called him to the cockpit. He told him there would be no repeat of the tragedy. His mother's plane--KLM Flight 607E--had exploded "instantaneously," the pilot said. The people on board had died before they hit the water. The strong implication was that the "accident" was no accident.
"The people involved in the airline (Dutch KLM) said it was an explosion," Kreider said. "I believe it was the first of the bombings of airplanes. It was terrorism, though I can't prove it."
In addition to his mother, Kreider lost his great-aunt, Florence Herr, 71, a retired teacher making her first trip abroad.
Many of the other Lancaster County passengers were related or had planned to become related. John Hollinger and Audrey Kilhefner, recent graduates of Brethren-affiliated Elizabethtown College and prospective teachers, were engaged to be married. The flight was Hollinger's engagement gift to Kilhefner. Surviving members of the tour group later said the engaged couple was "always hand-in-hand."
Eby Espenshade, 44, director of admissions at Elizabethtown College, also died in the crash. Another tour member recalled that Espenshade had been homesick and said he would never tour Europe again without his family.
Elsie Armstrong, of Holtwood, and her cousin, Ruth Ann Armstrong, of Drumore, went down with the plane. So did sisters Joy and Rose Groff, also of Drumore. All four were in their mid-20s. Mr. and Mrs. Reuben Hummer died along with Hummer's sister, Maria--all lived in Ephrata. Mary Stoner, 40, of Lititz, also lost her life in the crash.
The mourning for these people went on for a long time. Postcards arriving from the dead to the living provoked added grief.
Tinges of sadness remained 50 years later as Kreider, his wife, Carroll, and others prepared to leave Philadelphia for Germany. It was impossible to forget what happened in 1958, but the primary focus of their trip was on something that occurred in 1708. In that year, Alexander Mack began rebaptizing adult believers in the Eder River. Such activity, called Anabaptism, was illegal. That was the beginning of the Brethren movement.
This summer, Kreider led a group of 49 travelers, including 13 from Lancaster County, on a two-week tour that visited Schwarzenau and the Alps. He would be the only traveler who also made the 1958 trip.
While history has been Kreider's vocation, tour-guiding has become his summer avocation. Since deciding, after all, to make that plane trip home 50 Augusts ago, he has led dozens of tours to all seven continents. None of those tours, to his everlasting relief, has been as eventful as the first.
--Jack Brubaker writes for the "Lancaster New Era." This article first appeared in the July 28 issue of the newspaper, and is reprinted here with permission.
The following new resources have been published as part of the celebration of the 300th Anniversary of the Brethren:
"Back to Schwarzenau: Celebrating 300 Years of the Brethren Movement": This video wrap up of the international celebration of the 300th Anniversary held on Aug. 2-3 in Schwarzenau, Germany, has been produced for the Brethren Encyclopedia Board by David Sollenberger. The video is available in DVD format and offers highlights of events as members of the six major Brethren bodies returned to their roots on the banks of the Eder River, where the first eight Brethren were baptized in 1708. The DVD contains a narrated 12-minute overview of the gathering, a three-minute collage of images from the weekend, the sermons from the Anniversary worship service, the McPherson College choir singing the anthem commissioned for the 300th Anniversary, a presentation by Larry Glick as Alexander Mack Sr., and a video tour of the Alexander Mack Museum. Order for $29.95 from Brethren Encyclopedia, Inc., 313 Fairview Ave., Ambler, PA 19002.
"Schwarzenau 1708-2008": A new book about the relationship between the village of Schwarzenau and the Brethren has been released in German and English. The book has been edited by Otto Marburger, who served as a co-coordinator of the Schwarzenau Committee for the international celebration of the Anniversary. Identifying the village as the birthplace of the Brethren, authors from Schwarzenau and the Bad Berleburg region as well as from different Brethren bodies contributed to the book. Proceeds will support the Alexander Mack Museum in Schwarzenau. Order through Brethren Press for $25 plus shipping and handling, call 800-441-3712.
"The Old Brethren: People of Wisdom and Simplicity Speak to Our Time": Brethren Press is offering a second edition of this book by James H. Lehman. "The Old Brethren" reviews the history, life, and faith of the Brethren in the United States in the 19th century. It is a vivid portrait of a courageous community that dared to be different. Living entirely by the Bible "as it reads," and dressing and acting in ways that often made them seem peculiar to their more sophisticated countrymen, the Brethren cultivated a faith that was simple but not simplistic. For people of the 21st century, "the old Brethren offer welcome words that speak of a deeper wisdom in the art of living," said a review from Brethren Press. Lehman is a writer and publisher and an active member of Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren in Elgin, Ill. Order from Brethren Press for $18.95 plus shipping and handling, call 800-441-3712.
A photo journal of 300th Anniversary events in Schwarzenau, Germany, is available at www.brethren.org. It documents the international celebration that took place on Aug. 2-3, showcasing the work of Church of the Brethren photographer Glenn Riegel.
The 300th Anniversary Committee has published results of its "Annual Conference Attendance Challenge," in which congregations were challenged to triple the number of members who attended Annual Conference in 2008 in celebration of the 300 years of the Brethren. Eighteen of the 22 congregations that recorded their names for the challenge met the goal, the committee reported. "These and many others are to be commended for their contribution to the terrific attendance in 2008." The congregations include Olympia-Lacey Community Church and Olympic View Community Church in Oregon and Washington District; Mountain View in Idaho District; Columbia City in N. Indiana District; Blue Ball, Mountville, and a "First Church" in Atlantic Northeast District; Community of Joy, Glade Valley, Harmony, and Midland in Mid-Atlantic District; Charlottesville, Flat Rock, Mount Zion, and Sunrise in Shenandoah District; and Newport News-Ivy Farms, Moneta-Lake Side, and West Richmond in Virlina District.
A concert by Ken Medema highlights the "Seeds for a Great Harvest" weekend of celebration and worship sponsored by Shenandoah District on Sept. 5-6 at the Rockingham County, Va., fairgrounds. The weekend will commemorate the 300th Anniversary, and most of the congregations in the district are expected to participate. Opening worship begins at 7 p.m. on Sept. 5. On Sept. 6, several historic sites in the area will be open for tours including the John Kline Homestead, Tunker House, Valley Brethren-Mennonite Heritage Center, and the Reuel B. Pritchett Museum. The celebration also includes a heritage fair and appearances by figures from Brethren history such as Alexander Mack Sr., John Kline, Anna Beahm Mow, and Sarah Righter Major. Contact Ellen Layman at email@example.com or 540-828-5452 or 540-515-3422.
Northview Church of the Brethren in Indianapolis, Ind., is planning a celebration of the 300th Anniversary on Sunday, Sept. 7, according to an announcement in the "Indianapolis Star." The celebration begins at 9:45 a.m. with the dedication of an expansive art quilt created for the church's sanctuary, followed by a reception and exhibition of Church of the Brethren historical memorabilia including items from the 300th Anniversary Celebration in Germany, and an 18th century Sauer Bible.
Also on Sept. 7, the Cedar Creek, Cedar Lake, and Pleasant Chapel Church of the Brethren congregations in Northern Indiana District are planning a journey "Back for the Future" to celebrate the Anniversary. Events begin at 6 p.m. at Cedar Lake Church of the Brethren in Auburn, Ind., and will include skits, historical displays, refreshments, and more.
Nearly 300 people attended all or part of the 25th Annual Homecoming at Spruce Run Church of the Brethren in Lindside, W.Va., on July 20, according to a notice in the Virlina District e-newsletter. The event was sponsored by the Women's Circle, and celebrated the 300th Anniversary as well as the congregation's annual homecoming. Co-pastors Dewey Broyles and Rodger Boothe led a two-hour service that included a history presentation, stories exemplifying Brethren beliefs, and recognitions of church members. The highlight of the service was "A Visit with Alexander Mack" delivered by Larry Glick.
Brethren who visited the castle in Bad Berleburg, Germany, during the international celebration of the 300th Anniversary will be interested in Nathalie Zu-Sayn Wittgenstein's Olympic accomplishment. She is an equestrian athlete and the daughter of Princess Benedikte of Denmark and Prince Richard of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg, whose family counts the castle in Bad Berleburg as its residence. Zu-Sayn Wittgenstein was on the three-member dressage team for Denmark, and helped that country win a bronze medal in the Team Dressage competition. Bad Berleburg was one of the recommended sites for Brethren to visit during the Anniversary weekend. The Berleburg Bible, a German language Bible from the early 1700s, was printed there while the town was a center for Pietism.
A book, a bumper sticker, and a train ride in Germany.
R. Jan Thompson, interim director of Global Mission Partnerships for the Church of the Brethren, relates this story of a train ride he took in Germany in early August, around the time of the 300th Anniversary celebration:
On the train to Frankfurt from Bad Berleburg, the town with which the village of Schwarzenau is consolidated, Thompson struck up conversation with a couple seated nearby. Heidi and Dieter were from Switzerland, and had been in Bad Berleburg for a conference on the Pietist movement.
The couple were well informed about the Brethren and their relationship with the Pietists. They mentioned a recent book edited by a friend of theirs and dedicated to a Brethren historian, the late Donald Durnbaugh. Thompson responded that he had known Durnbaugh, who was his boss in Brethren Volunteer Service.
Dieter jumped up, pulled a brand-new copy of the book from his bag, and gave it to Thompson as a gift. The book was "Schwarzenau 1708-2008," edited by Otto Marburger, co-coordinator of the Schwarzenau Committee for the international celebration of the Anniversary of the Brethren.
Remembering that he had something in his own luggage that he could give as a gift, Thompson offered his new friends a bumper sticker published by On Earth Peace, that read, "When Jesus said 'Love your enemies,' I think he probably meant don't kill them."
The Swiss couple accepted the gift with polite smiles and a thank you. Thompson soon learned, however, that they do not own a car because of their concerns about the environment and the cost.
Thompson is still wondering, "So what have they done with my bumper sticker?" For his part, he is treasuring the book he received on the train.
The Brethren heritage: Not a bloodline, but a message.
When I was asked to write about the Church of the Brethren ancestors and their life struggles 300 years ago in Germany, panic set in--for my folks were slaves back then, and Alexander and Anna Mack were not among my family's ancestral lineage. What could I contribute to this German story line?
Then I read "Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust" (Hay House Inc., 2006), the story of Immaculee Ilibagiza's survival and forgiveness of the killers who hunted her down and hacked her family to death during the upheaval between the Tutsi and Hutu in 1994.
A great wave of shame washed over me. My thinking about the 300-year commemoration was so small minded. The Brethren are my ancestors not because of a bloodline, but because of the message of love and peace in the bloodline of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
On Sundays, I sit in church and look around at the various families from so many different ethnic, cultural, and racial backgrounds, and my heart swells with such joy that I belong to this church. Is this mix of languages and differences what those early Brethren wanted, or could have dreamed of?
The early Brethren had the scriptures, so they knew that the plank over Jesus' head as he hung on the cross was written in Greek, Latin, and other languages of the day. They knew from the Apostle Paul's letters that the early church was made up of a mixture of people.
Besides, of what value would the Good News have been to the Brethren, if they had remained a small German sect? That would have made them as small-thinking as I had been only days before. To seek peace among German speakers only, and to ignore the world around, does not sound very Brethren to me.
In "Left to Tell," Immaculee speaks of her beloved father's belief that passions of hate for the Tutsi were not shared by their Hutu neighbors, and thus would not harm them. But hate is an awful virus that only love can cure--everyday, all day love. Her father was most likely correct in his belief that their Hutu neighbors did not hate them, but their neighbors participated in the slaughter anyway.
The hate virus is a trap. In Rwanda the violence was over in months, but it left a million people dead. In Bosnia it lasted more than 10 years, and still today it is contained only by the continuous presence of UN peacekeepers. Violence goes on and on in Israel and Palestine and the occupied territories of that ancient land. Violence has unleashed itself once again in the 1,400-year-old dispute between Shiite and Sunni in Iraq. Violence spreads across the Darfur region of the Sudan into all of Africa at this moment.
It is a struggle to remain Brethren and carry the message of peace and love in the face of so many temptations to bend just a little. It is not enough to say, I love my neighbor, and then laugh at jokes that stereotype someone's culture or heritage. It is not enough to say, I give money to immigrants, and then request my Congressional representative to stop the flow of immigrants into this country. It is not enough to say, I believe that all people are created equal, and then ignore laws that bend justice to imprison people of color. It is not enough to believe in equalities of education, housing, and so forth, and then create means of testing that fix results in a predetermined manner to display the dominant group as wiser, smarter, or better suited to continue to rule over all.
This anniversary of the Church of the Brethren is a great opportunity to commemorate 300 years of spreading the message of peace and love. We can celebrate the wonderful culture of peace our Brethren ancestors have given us--a culture of peace that enriches the glory of the Son!
--Doris Abdullah is a member of First Church of the Brethren in Brooklyn, N.Y. In retirement she serves on the board of On Earth Peace and represents the Church of the Brethren at the United Nations as a member of the NGO Subcommittee for the Elimination of Racism. This reflection was first published as a devotional in "Seed Packet," a newsletter for Christian educators in the Church of the Brethren.
Newsline is produced by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of news services for the Church of the Brethren General Board, firstname.lastname@example.org or 800-323-8039 ext. 260. Dean Garrett, Jeff Lennard, and David Sollenberger contributed to this report.