BIC101: Reflections on Week #1

teachingWe’re about to start week two of January term here at Messiah College, and my course on Brethren in Christ history and theology is clicking along nicely.

We have a great bunch of students assembled this semester — 12 in all. It’s a small class, but that makes it more conducive to conversation about some of the theological issues at stake with the Brethren in Christ (particularly issues like peace, women in ministry, and others).

Most students are here to fulfill a General Education credit in theology; a few had never even heard of this Brethren in Christ! But several have or currently do attend a Brethren in Christ congregation, and other one or two grew up in theologically related denominations (like the Mennonite Church) and are looking to learn something about a sister church.

We’ve only been at it for three days, but we’ve been flying through the early history of the Brethren in Christ. To give you some context, in January term, we cover about a week’s worth of material in a single, three-hour day. Thus, we’ve already talked about the emergence of Anabaptism and Pietism as church renewal movements in Europe; about the immigration of Mennonites, other Anabaptists, and “church Pietists” (like Lutherans and Reformed Christians) to Pennsylvania in the early 18th century; about the origin of the River Brethren along the banks of the Susquehanna River in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; about the “Brethren mindset” that allowed the River Brethren to emerge; and about the early doctrines and practices of this community.

Whew!

Students have been pretty engaged — about as engaged as you can expect for students in a Gen Ed theology class! We’ve already had some good conversations about Christian pacifism — always a topic of some controversy, even at a place like Messiah College. Students were open about their opinions, and varied in their perspectives: many affirmed the position and said they liked it, while one or two others had some reservations. We’ll continue to address this issue throughout the next weeks.

Ringgold Meeting House (Brethren in Christ Historical Library and Archives)

Ringgold Meeting House (Brethren in Christ Historical Library and Archives)

I’m looking forward to the rest of my time with these students. Later today, we’ll be headed down to Smithsburg, Maryland, to tour the Ringgold Meeting House — the oldest Brethren in Christ meeting house still in existence — for a field trip. (For the uninitiated: Brethren in Christ people met in “meeting houses” for much of their history, rather than in more typical “churches.”) Later this week, we’ll start exploring what historian Carlton Wittlinger has called “the first period of transition”: that period of about 30 years in which the Brethren in Christ adopted a number of new innovations — from missions to higher education, from Wesleyan holiness theology to revival meetings. These innovations began to transform the “Brethren way” — a subject we’ll consider in some depth over the next three or four days of the course.

Stay tuned for more reflections!

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About Devin Manzullo-Thomas

Writer, editor, historian, blogger
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4 Responses to BIC101: Reflections on Week #1

  1. Harold Miller says:

    I don’t think Ringgold is the first BIC building. Woodbury (PA) and Valley Chapel (OH) were built in 1867.

  2. Devin Manzullo-Thomas says:

    Hi Harold: Great to hear from you! Thanks for your comment. You’re right: Valley Chapel in Ohio and Woodbury in western PA were the two congregations that built the first meetinghouses in the late 1860s, with Ringgold building in 1871. (I actually mentioned this history during our short lecture at the meeting house today!) I tried to communicate this nuance in my post by noting that Ringgold was the earliest meeting house still in existence today. I think this is accurate– unless Woodbury and Valley Chapel have also preserved their buildings? I’m pretty sure Valley Chapel at least built a new building, and got rid of the old meeting house. I’d be interested to know more about Woodbury, though…

  3. Pingback: BIC101: Field Trip to Ringgold Meeting House | The Search for Piety and Obedience

  4. Pingback: BIC101: Ending on a Positive Note (Literally, and Figuratively) | The Search for Piety and Obedience

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