As someone who recently tied the knot (in a Brethren in Christ church, no less), I’ve become interested as of late with the practices associated with Brethren in Christ weddings throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. (I’ve posted on the topic before.)
Unfortunately, very little has been written historically or sociologically about how the denomination approached the wedding event. Were ceremonies large affairs with family attending from various parts of the country? What kind of expectations were placed upon family members (parents of the bride, parents of the groom, etc.)? How did family members treat the “wedding experience”?
After the jump: Some insight into Brethren in Christ wedding rituals, courtesy of one church member’s 1940 diary.
Thanks to David Byer and his research into his family history, we now know a bit more about the rituals and practices associated with Brethren in Christ weddings in the early part of the twentieth century — at least from the perspective of one groom’s mother!
Recently, David shared with me a selection from the diary of his grandmother, Mary Book Byer. Born in Iowa, Mary grew up in Marion County, Kansas. Her father, Jacob Witmer Book, was one of the ministers at the Rosebank church in Ramona. She married Levi Byer in February 1908 and moved to Brown County, Kansas, where she and her husband became involved with the Pleasant Hill congregation there. The couple had six children: Glen, Lois, Everett, Verland, Wendel, Donald, and Carol. Upon Levi’s death in 1935, Mary remained at Maple Lawn with her two youngest, Donald and Carol. (Shortly after their 1940 wedding, Everett and his wife Adela would move to Maple Lawn, occupying the first floor while Mary and the two children moved upstairs.)
In March 1940, Mary traveled across Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico en route to Upland, California — the location of her son Everett’s wedding to Adela Tissot. Her diary from that month grants intimate insight into the patterns and practices associated with preparing for a Brethren in Christ wedding.
Here’s a snippet from her journal. (Note that the portions in brackets represent annotations made by David Byer to Mary’s original entries.)
March 6 Wed. Nice Quite warm. Got to Tissots [Arthur Ernest Tissot and Lucy Irene Williams Tissot, parents of Adela and Constance, Edison Avenue, Chino] about 10:15 A.M. Had dinner there. Evert took me to Upland to Lydias [Lydia Byer, sister of Mary’s late husband Levi Byer] PM. Went to Pyr M. [Prayer Meeting] at church in eve. [Lydia at 669 N 3rd Ave, Upland Brethren in Christ Church at 611 N 3rd Ave Upland]
March 7 Thursday. Very warm & Sunny P.M. Went with Lydia to sewing circle at church. Had dinner there. Afternoon Evert [her spelling, her son. He preferred Everett] took me to Wendel’s at Hollywood. [Her son Wendel and Laeta Scott Byer] . . .
March 10 Sunday. Nice but cool wind. Went with Jesse Eyster [Jesse Ramp Eyster] to S.S. Convention at Chino Church. Had dinner here. Came to Upland after afternoon meeting, with Ralph Byers [Ralph Rhodes Byer and Emma Mae Lenhert]. Went to Upland Church in eve.
March 11 Monday. Nice. Lydia and Mary [Mary E Byer sister and caregiver for Lydia Byer] washed A.M. Lydia & I called on Mrs. Cassel A.M. [Emma H Hartman Cassel, wife of Harvey Elwood Cassel whose daughters included Alma B Cassel and Miriam Cassel Byer] then went with Evert to orange [packing] house and to Lydias for dinner. Evert took Lydia Mary & I to Ontario to shop P.M. Went to R. Franklins [Roy Arthur Franklin and Beulah Zook Franklin] with Evert and Adela for supper. Folks had [pre-nuptial] shower there after supper. . . .
March 19 Tuesday. Cloudy. Mary & I called at John Books [John M Book and Delilah Eldora Haldeman Book]. Lydia and I to see Mrs. Burkholder [Fannie E Zook Burkholder 20 Oct 1866 to 17 Aug 1940, widow of Christian Charles Burkholder]. I had dinner at Harvey Wingers. Pressed clothes P.M. Lydia and I called at Ralph Byers. P.M. Went to Chino in eve with Eysters to hear colored quintette.
March 20 Wed. Nice. Evert slept here last night. Took Lydia & Mary to Ontario A.M. Evert called on Mrs. Van Eichelberger A.M. [Mary Jane Sanner, wife of Silvanus Martin Eichelberger] Afternoon we went to Clarences to birthday party for Mrs. Page. [Elizabeth (Lizzie) Wingerd Page born 21 MAR 1872, widow of William Martin Page, mother of Cora Elizabeth Byer] Called on Mrs. Cassel A.M.
March 21 Thursday. Cloudy. Evert & I called at Wagamans A.M. & packing house. [Jacob Henry (Bishop J. H.) Wagaman and Edna Madora Plum] Lydia & I called at Trautweins P.M. [Herman C Trautwein and Lillie Mauch Trautwein]. Went to Wedding of Adela and Evert at Church near Chino. Came to Hollywood after wedding with Adelas Aunt & Uncle [Mabel J Tissot Coupe and Richard A Coupe] to Wendels in automobile. . . .
March 23 Nice. Wendel took me to station on street car to take PE [Pacific Electric] back to Upland, got to Upland about 2:30 P.M. Went to wedding at church of Lowell Hoover & Dorcas Alderfer at 8 P.M. [Lowell D Hoover and Dorcas R Alderfer]
March 24 Easter Sunday. Foggy early. Went to church A.M. & with Verland to Harvey Lenherts for dinner. [Harvey Wingerd Lenhert and Ethel Alvina Lilley] Drove around P.M. to different places & to Dan Engles. [Daniel Jacob Engle and Stella Etta Sword] Went to hear Easter singing at church in eve.
Read all the entries for March 1940 (including David Byer’s annotations) here.
A few observations:
1. Visitation was an important pre-wedding ritual. Before and after the ceremony, Mary visited a number of family members living in and around Southern California, and also spent time “calling on” family friends and acquaintances — most (if not all) of whom were connected to the Brethren in Christ Church. These visitation rounds reveal the church’s deep-seated notion of community, and to maintaining those community relations. (This point is further evidenced by Mary’s references to letters written during her time in Upland.)
2. Not all of Everett’s siblings attended the wedding. Verland is the only sibling mentioned by name (in the diary) as attending the wedding; others likely remained at home in Kansas (tending to the farm?) or were scattered elsewhere. Even Wendel, who lived in Hollywood, appears not to have attended. We can surmise quite a bit from this fact. On one hand, we might assume that economic and familial responsibilities might have superseded a “responsibility” to attend the wedding. On another, we might infer that, for the Brethren in Christ, such weddings were more symbolic and routine than today’s ceremonies; for the Byer siblings, the eventual homecoming (or later visitation) of Everett and Adela might have meant more than the travel to attend the ceremony. Of course, all this is conjecture — and remains unproven. Still, an interesting facet of the Byer/Tissot ceremony.
3. Church activities were the central component of members’ lives — even members on vacation! During her time in California, Mary attended numerous events at various Southern California congregations: a love feast, a Sunday school convention, evening prayer meetings, regular worship services, an Easter Sunday musical program. All this in addition to Mary’s extensive visitation schedule!
Some of these conclusions (especially number 3) reinforce what we already know about the Brethren in Christ Church in this era. Others (like 1 & 2) add new depth to our understanding of Brethren in Christ church culture. Hopefully future scholars will probe ever deeper into these questions, and help us fill out our understanding of the church’s wedding rituals.