The Church of the Brethren

Farewell of Saints Peter and Paul, showing the Apostles giving each other the holy kiss before their martyrdom. (Alonzo Rodriguez, 16th century, Museo Regionale di Messina).

On Sunday May 23, 1971 I attended Pastor Henry A, Krommes’ Mohican Church of the Brethren, near Wooster, Ohio with my brother-in-law Earl’s parents Maw and Paw Beegle, Paul, Faye and the rest of the family. They are the loveliest people I have ever met and looked after me during my many sojourns in America. Historically the family belong to the Dunkers, members of a pious religious group also known as the German Baptist Brethren.  They are referred to as Dunkers due to their tradition of fully immersing, or dunking,  those being baptized, as in our Old Gospel Hall in Conlig., now a Community Hall.  They share a traditional rural life style with other Anabaptist groups, such as the Mennonites and the Amish (Pennsylvania Dutch), but their beliefs distinguish them from these other more well known sects. The Brethren love feast is a conscious imitation of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples. It begins with foot washing symbolizing humility and service. They then share a meal, symbolizing fellowship. Finally, they share the bread and cup communion (using unfermented red grape juice), symbolizing participation in Christ’s suffering and death. They practice the Holy Kiss or kiss of peace, a traditional Christian greeting dating to early Christianity.

The Dunkers began as a small pacifist community which emerged from German Reformed and Lutheran Churches in 1708 in West Central Germany, with origins in the Schwarzenau Brethren (German: Schwarzenauer Neutäufer ‘Schwarzenau New Baptists’) organized by Alexander Mack of Schwarzenau, Germany. The other two pacifist Churches are the Amish and the Quakers.The Brethren movement began as a melding of Radical Pietist and Anabaptist ideas during the Protestant Reformation we celebrate today. During a 10 year period from 1719 to 1729, all of the Dunkers fled Germany to avoid religious intolerance.  They crossed the Atlantic and settled in the farmlands of eastern Pennsylvania, where they prospered.  By the early 1880’s the sect had grown from the original 50 families to 58,000 people.  In 1882, the Dunkers officially split between progressive  and conservative (Old Order) members.  The conservatives rejected modern farm machinery and other late 19th century inventions.  Likewise, they wanted to maintain their older customs, style of dress, and forms of worship.

The original  language of the Dunkers was Pennsylvania German (Deitsch, Pennsylvania Deitsch, Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch, Hinterwäldler Deutsch, usually called Pennsylvania Dutch) now spoken mainly by the Amish and Old Order in the United States and Canada, closely related to the Palatine varieties of the Geman language. There are possibly more than 300,000 native speakers in North America.  Although for many, the term ‘Pennsylvania Dutch’ is often taken to refer to the Amish and Old Order  groups exclusively, the term should not imply a connection to any particular religious group. In this context, the word “Dutch” does not refer to the Dutch people or their descendants. Instead it is probably left over from an archaic sense of the English word “Dutch”; compare German Deutsch (‘German’), Dutch Duits (‘German’), Diets (‘Dutch’), which once referred to any people speaking a non-peripheral continental West Germanic  language on the European mainland. Alternatively, some sources give the origin of “Dutch” in this case as a corruption or a “folk-rendering” of the Pennsylvania German endonym “Deitsch”. As their settlements abutted that of the Scotch-Irish, Pennsylvania Dutch also has words of Ulster origin,

Lord’s Prayer..

Pennsylvania Dutch

Unsah Faddah im Himmel,
dei nohma loss heilich sei,
Dei Reich loss kumma.
Dei villa loss gedu sei,
uf di eaht vi im Himmel.
Unsah tayklich broht gebb uns heit,
Un fagebb unsah shulda,
vi miah dee fagevva vo uns shuldich sinn.
Un fiah uns naett in di fasuchung,
avvah hald uns fu’m eevila.
Fa dei is es Reich, di graft,
un di hallichkeit in ayvichkeit. Amen.

Modern German

Unser Vadder im Himmel,
dei Naame loss heilich sei,
Dei Reich loss komme.
Dei Wille loss gedu sei,
uff die Erd wie im Himmel.
Unser deeglich Brot gebb uns heit,
Un vergebb unser Schulde,
wie mir die vergewwe wu uns schuldich sinn.
Un fiehr uns net in die Versuchung,
awwer hald uns vum ewile.
Fer dei is es Reich, die Graft,
un die Hallichkeit in Ewichkeit. Amen.


Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses;
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power
and the glory, For ever and ever. Amen.

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