Several hundred spiritual descendants of Alexander Mack (1679–1735) recently celebrated the coming of the Brethren to America 300 years ago. The Seventh Brethren World Assembly, sponsored by the Brethren Encyclopedia board, met July26–28, 2023, on the campus of Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania to hear scholars, panels, and presentations about the coming of the Brethren to America from Germany in 1723 and the 20 years thereafter.
The first three days of the conference focused on scholarship with presentation of papers by scholars from various branches of the Brethren groups. Dale Stoffer, former dean of Ashland Theological Seminary, led off with a presentation entitled “What Led the Brethren to America?” Succeeding scholars including Denise Kettering-Lane, Stephen Longenecker, Jeff Bach, Robert Matthews, Sam Funkhouser and others examined aspects of those first 20 years as the Brethren established a presence in the colonies. Each evening featured a worship service, and programming also included panel discussions on Brethren ordinances, Brethren attitudes toward slavery, and more.
On the final day participants were bussed to Germantown, the Philadelphia suburb where the first Brethren meeting house was established. There the Germantown congregation hosted a worship service, provided interpretive guides for the attached cemetery, served a fellowship meal, and sponsored a quick trip to Wissahickon Creek, where the first Brethren baptisms in America occurred.
The world assemblies are held every five years, and the papers that were presented will be assembled into a paperback book which should be available in about a year.
The Charis Fellowship was well represented at the assembly. When the original chair of the local planning committee had to relinquish his position due to open heart surgery, Pastor Dan Thornton from the Maranatha Brethren Church in Hagerstown, Md., stepped in to chair the committee and handle last-minute details. He also participated in leading music for the assembly, and Terry White from Winona Lake, Ind., was the pianist for the sessions. Dave Guiles of Encompass World Partners spoke on God’s faithfulness in the opening worship session and also participated in a panel on Brethren attitudes toward slavery. Charis Fellowship Coordinator Tim Hodge represented the Charis Fellowship on the ordinances panel and Jared Burkholder, of the Grace College history program, presented a paper on Alexander Mack, Jr.
This year was also the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Nigerian ministry by the Church of the Brethren (EYN) and a number of Nigerians were present. An address was given by Samuel Dai, who currently leads the Nigerian church.
Nine Brethren groups who have descended from Alexander Mack’s baptism of believers in the Eder River in 1708 now comprise the Brethren Encyclopedia family. They include the Charis Fellowship (Grace Brethren), the Brethren Church, the Covenant Brethren Church, the Church of the Brethren, the Conservative Grace Brethren Churches International, the Dunkard Brethren Church, and three different groups of the Old German Baptist Brethren. More information and available books, encyclopedias, and monographs on Brethren history are available at www.brethrenencyclopedia.org.
Written by Terry White. Photos curtesy of Terry White, Dave Guiles, Tim Hodge, and Amy Keith.