Photo Friday: A General Conference in the Birthplace of the Brethren in Christ

A session at the Brethren in Christ General Conference of 1946, held at the Cross Roads Church in Mt. Joy, Pennsylvania. (Brethren in Christ HIstorical Library and Archives)

A session at the Brethren in Christ General Conference of 1946, held at the Cross Roads Church in Mt. Joy, Pennsylvania. (Brethren in Christ HIstorical Library and Archives)

As most readers of The Search for Piety and Obedience know, the Brethren in Christ community was born in the midst of a pietistic revival that swept through Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in the late 18th century. Several European Anabaptist immigrants to the British Colonies — likely Swiss-German, and mostly Mennonites — experienced warm-hearted conversions and determined to start a new fellowship, baptizing one another in the Conoy Creek.

And most readers also know that the U.S.-based heirs of these “River Brethren” (as early Brethren in Christ were sometimes known) will be meeting for their biennial General Conference this weekend — and that they’ll be doing so in the “birthplace” of the church: Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

What readers may not know is that the 2014 General Conference marks the first gathering of Brethren in Christ in Lancaster County since 1946.

Today’s Photo Friday offers a snapshot of the last Brethren in Christ General Conference held in Lancaster — one that took place at the Cross Roads congregation in Mt. Joy, in Lancaster County. The image shows what is likely a sermon being delivered to Conference attendees by Jacob T. Ginder, a long-time bishop in the Lancaster County area.

I love this photo for the glimpse of Brethren in Christ life it gives us. In the 1940s, the Brethren in Christ were not yet building more modern-looking church buildings, especially not in Lancaster County, one of the church’s most conservative areas. The Cross Roads congregation still met in a meetinghouse, and theirs is a class version of the Brethren in Christ meetinghouse structure! You can see that there’s no pulpit (as many churches have today) but rather a long bench along the back wall behind a railing. There’s no divided chancel, and pews run the length of the room. To the extreme right of the photo, you’ll see the space where men could hang the broad-brimmed hats they wore (a typical piece of Brethren in Christ garb in this era).

I kinda doubt that the General Conference meeting this weekend will gather in such a simple space. What do you think, readers?

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About Devin Manzullo-Thomas

Father to Lucas. Husband to Katie. Prof and administrator at Messiah College. PhD student at Temple University. Member of Grantham BIC.
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3 Responses to Photo Friday: A General Conference in the Birthplace of the Brethren in Christ

  1. David Felter says:

    Hello Devin:
    I really enjoy reading your blog. I am a novice student of the Anabaptist movement, and the Brethren in Christ in particular for a couple of reasons. 1) My first ministry was in a Brethren congregation (not sure how much it was related to the Brethren in Christ) as a theological student in Oklahoma. They were between ministers and patiently endured me as their interim preacher. 2) I was raised in a Wesleyan-Holiness church that apparently had many “Anabaptist” impulses, namely, a high emphasis on separation, believer’s baptism, the Sacraments as “memorial”, and a strong provision for their form of pacifism, known as the “conscientious objector” clause.

    A few questions: 1) Since all organizations experience “drift” from the original founders’ ideals and perspectives, to what extent is that true within the Brethren in Christ movement? 2) How strong is the emphasis on the relationship between “holy living” and “sanctification?” 3) Does a “renewal” movement exist within the Brethren in Christ, and what are its specific concerns?

    I am looking forward to reading your posts. Presently, I am a retired denominational director and know how exciting General Conference can be. May your event be blessed by God’s presence.

    Blessings,
    David J. Felter

  2. Well, for one thing, they would not all FIT in such simple surroundings.
    Are there any other photos from that event? A view of the parking lot would be interesting.

    • Devin Manzullo-Thomas says:

      Donna, you’re certainly right about the space issue! 🙂 I have one other shot from the conference… I’ll try to post it later this weekend.

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