From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Newsline: Brethren hold international celebration of their roots in Germany

From "COBNews Newsline" <>
Date Mon, 04 Aug 2008 03:58:07 -0500

Newsline Special from Schwarzenau, Germany      Aug. 3, 2008 Contact: Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of News Services, Church of  the Brethren,


Close to 1,000 people gathered in Schwarzenau, Germany, on Aug. 2-3 for
the international celebrations of the 300th Anniversary of
the Brethren movement. The observance has been held in the village on
the banks of the Eder River, where the first group of eight Brethren, led
by Alexander Mack Sr., were baptized in 1708.

Schwarzenau, "that small town at the edge of the wood...has attained a
reputation" for tolerance and the free exercise of religion, said the
keynote speaker for the celebration, in his address at the Anniversary
Program in Schwarzenau's Riding Hall on Aug. 3.

Keynote speaker Marcus Meier is a research fellow at the Institute for
European History in Mainz, and a German academic authority on the
early history of the Brethren. His presentation went on to outline in  great
detail the influence of Pietism and Anabaptism on the early Brethren.

The village of Schwarzenau is firmly anchored in the memory of
Brethren around the world, Meier said. The baptisms in Schwarzenau are
"the primal seal for the today many-branched Brethren movement....
Here a group of eight people first counted the cost," he said, quoting a
phrase from a hymn by Alexander Mack.

A unique Sunday morning service celebrating the 300th Anniversary
was a highlight of the meeting. Preaching for worship were Fredric G.  Miller Jr., pastor of Mount Olive Brethren Church in Pineville, Va., and  James Beckwith, the 2008 moderator of the Church of the Brethren Annual  Conference and pastor of Annville (Pa.) Church of the Brethren.

Prayers, litanies, and scriptures were read by representatives of five of
the six major Brethren bodies: the Church of the Brethren, the Brethren
Church, the Old German Baptist Brethren Church, the Dunkard Brethren
Church, and the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches (the
representative from the sixth major body, the Conservative Grace
Brethren Churches International, was unable to be present).

The McPherson (Kan.) College Choir sang two anthems. The first was
one of the pieces of music commissioned by the Church of the Brethren's
300th Anniversary Committee: "Speak, O Lord," by Keith Getty and
Stuart Townsend, arranged by John Ferguson (see
for more information).

Speaking on Matthew 3:13-17, Miller gave a message titled, "The
Beautiful Rewards of Immersion." He spoke of the first Brethren
baptisms as "the echo of the splash of Jesus being dunked in the water of
the Jordan."

Dropping a 300-year-old German coin, made in 1708, into a small glass
bowl set on the podium, he asked the congregation to listen for the
echoes of its fall. "Hear the echo of a church that was formed here 300
years ago. I believe God is well pleased when he sees the results of the
work of the Brethren," he said. "We are 300 years young and still feel the
passion for mission."

He complimented the Church of the Brethren for its work in founding
Ekklesiyar Yan'uwa a Nigeria (the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria),
which has grown to be the largest Brethren denomination in the world.
He also lifted up the success of the Brethren Church, which has only
some 120 congregations in the United States, he said, but has planted
2,000 churches around the world.

Miller encouraged Brethren today to have "hearts immersed in love, and
hands immersed in service," and emphasized that the story of Jesus
Christ is only discovered through immersion in the word of God. He
added that the Brethren heritage also calls for an immersion in prayer.
"There will be no Brethren church without fervent prayer," he said.

He closed with a call for Brethren to continue to listen for and hear the
echoes of their heritage. "The next time you swing a hammer or attend an
anointing service, I pray that you might hear an echo of the early church
and the early Brethren," Miller said. "And the next time you attend a
baptism...hear the Father say, This is my church which I love, with the
Brethren I am well pleased."

Beckwith preached a sermon titled, "Shaped by the Love Feast," on the
text John 13:1-17 and 34-35. The Schwarzenau Brethren "washed one
another's feet simply because Jesus said so," Beckwith said, as he began
his comments about the lasting influence of the Love Feast on Brethren
practice and community. The witness of the Love Feast has been "that
Brethren take Jesus seriously and seek to follow him closely."

The Love Feast "makes us appreciate the gritty needs of the world," with
its requirement for self examination, and the act of footwashing that
makes so many people uncomfortable. "It still expresses faithfully the
love and care of belonging in God's family," he said.

Beckwith characterized the Brethren practice of Love Feast as not just a
personal or congregational preparation for partaking in the service of
Communion, but as a way for the church to prepare to engage in service
to the world as an act of communion with God. "Three hundred years of
Love Feasts have shaped us to express mutual care and understanding,"
he said. "The Love Feast has been the spiritual antidote to the violence  of
the world."

"It is serious business to declare a loving fellowship, to declare  ourselves
Brethren," Beckwith said. "It is a foretaste of the coming Kingdom of

The Anniversary Program acknowledged the debt that the Brethren owe to
Schwarzenau, its people, and its leaders over the centuries. Greetings
were brought by many dignitaries including Bernhart, Prince of Sayn-
Wittgenstein-Hohenstein, who is considered the patron of the
celebration. Prince Bernhart offered the use of his grounds and facilities
for the Anniversary meeting area, including his residence, the Manor
House in Schwarzenau.

On behalf of the Brethren Encyclopedia Board, Dale Stoffer thanked the  Prince for continuing the hospitality shown by his forebear, Count Henrich
Albrecht, who offered the first eight Brethren refuge in Schwarzenau.

The mayor of the town of Bad Berleburg and the village mayor of
Schwarzenau also brought greetings, as did ecumenical guests
representing districts of the Protestant Church, and Oliver Lehnsdorf,
pastor of the church in Schwarzenau--the Protestant St. Luke Parish in
the valleys of the Eder and the Elshoff.

Stan Noffsinger, general secretary of the Church of the Brethren,
introduced the five leaders of Ekklesiyar Yan'uwa a Nigeria (the Church
of the Brethren in Nigeria) who were present; and Dave Guiles,
executive director of the Grace Brethren International Missions,
introduced more than 20 delegates from several different countries who
were gathering in Schwarzenau to begin a six-day planning meeting for
future mission endeavors. Organizers reported that as many as 18 nations
were represented at the celebration today.

The Encyclopedia Board gave a number of gifts of appreciation to the
community of Schwarzenau, and also received a number of gifts from the
village and the visiting dignitaries. The board also gave gifts specificall y
to the Schwarzenau Celebration Committee, and the Heimatverein
Schwarzenau, a heritage association that is responsible for and maintains
the Alexander Mack Museum. Among the gifts, a stack of newly
published books about the Brethren were presented for the museum's
collection, including a number from Brethren Press, and a peace pole was
presented to the community.

"The people of Schwarzenau have been tireless" in their preparations for
the Anniversary, said Dale Ulrich, a member of the board of the Brethren
Encyclopedia, Inc., which planned and organized the international
celebration along with a Schwarzenau Celebration Committee of local
residents. Ulrich has served as primary coordinator for the logistics of  the

The village of Schwarzenau has a population of only 800 people, Ulrich
said, and at least 260 of them helped with the difficult task of converting
the Riding Hall temporarily from a horseback riding arena into a meeting
place with seating for 1,000 people. The conversion included the laying
of a wood plank floor, and installation of a stage, sound system, and
lighting equipment. Schwarzenau's volunteer fire department stood by
throughout the weekend, and helped control bus and car traffic. A local
catering company served the meals in a large tent between the Riding
Hall and the river.

Villagers also offered an outdoor cafe selling cold drinks and homemade
baked goods, made warm waffles for the Brethren on Sunday morning,
and sold commemorative bottles of Eder River water, that came
complete with certificates of authenticity.

The Schwarzenau Celebration Committee was co-coordinated by Bernd
Julius and Otto Marburger, and also included members Bodo Huster,
Peter Kanstein, and Karin Zacharais. Johannes Haese served as liaison
between the Schwarzenau Celebration Committee and the board of the
Brethren Encyclopedia.

The Brethren Encyclopedia board is made up of members representing
the six major Brethren bodies. Its president is Robert Lehigh; vice
president Dale Stoffer coordinated the afternoon Anniversary Program;
secretary Dale Ulrich served as a main coordinator for the Schwarzenau
events; Terry White is treasurer; and Michael M. Miller and Jeff Bach
are members of the board. Consultants to the board for the Schwarzenau
events were Ken Kreider and Ted Rondeau.

A short gathering for worship at the river closed the events, which also  included on Saturday, Aug. 2, opportunities to tour places of interest to  Brethren in Schwarzenau, the unveiling of a plaque by the Eder River  commemorating the friendship between the Brethren and the people of  Schwarzenau, and an evening concert of local choirs and the McPherson  College Choir.

For the closing worship, people gathered on both sides of the Eder River  and on the bridge over the river, to participate in the short time of  hymns and prayers led by a group of Old German Baptist Brethren. A brief  meditation was brought by Michael Miller, a member of the Encyclopedia  Board representing the Old German Baptist Brethren.

"So we come to the banks of this quiet river to say goodbye," Miller said.
The earth has listened to so much pain and suffering, he commented, but
the earth also has heard the 24 splashes as the first eight Brethren were
lifted from the waters of baptism. He closed with a blessing for the  place,
the people of Schwarzenau, and their children and descendants. Coming
close to tears, he said, "May God bless you here in Schwarzenau."

To the Brethren, Miller offered this blessing: "May we go with the same
joy, peace, and hope that those eight people had 300 years ago.... Our
prayer is that 300 years from now, we will all stand together again in the
Kingdom of God."

Worship ended with the singing of the Doxology, the Lord's Prayer, and
a hymn.

After the dismissal, many people still stood for some time along the
banks of the river and on the bridge, in what became a moment of
appreciation for the solemnity of the occasion. Some took the
opportunity to dip their feet or hands in the river.

A comment made by Meier during the afternoon program was affirmed:
For the Brethren, "the act of baptism...laid the cornerstone."



Two Church of the Brethren youth were baptized in the Eder River in
Schwarzenau in the late afternoon, following the closing worship service
of the 300th Anniversary weekend. Lauren Knepp and John Michael
Knepp--who are sister and brother--were part of a tour group from the
United States led by Dana Statler of Lancaster, Pa., and were traveling
with their family.

Through their baptisms, the two have become members of a Church of
the Brethren congregation in Everett, Pa.

"They wanted to be baptized," Statler said, adding that their families
gave agreement to the ceremony prior to the trip. Statler, who is  associate
pastor of Brethren Village in Lititz, Pa., decided to perform the service
after receiving permission from the pastor of the Everett church, and
after contacting the planning committees for the Schwarzenau events.

Otto Marburger, a co-coordinator of the Schwarzenau Celebration
Committee, lent his pasture along the river as the place for the baptism.
Marburger even got up early this morning to mow and trim a tree in order
to prepare the site.

"From my perspective as a pastor, to baptize someone in the Eder River
is an honor," Statler said.

He added, however, "The important thing is the decision, not the place.
It's not just a show in Schwarzenau, it's a decision."

Following the baptism of the two youth, two more men entered the water
to experience re-baptism in the waters of the Eder. Standing knee deep in
the water for prayer, each man then baptized the other.

An invitation to the baptisms had been issued during the afternoon
Anniversary Program, and they were witnessed by a small crowd
gathered on each side of the river, many with cameras in hand. As the
baptismal candidates rose from the river water, after prayer, the Brethren
responded with applause.

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