This news release from the Church of the Brethren marks the beginning of the 300th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Brethren movement, which will culminate in Schwarzenau, Germany, this August. Pastor Christian Becker of the Buena Vista, Virginia, Grace Brethren Church is representing the FGBC at the Richmond meetings.
July 13, 2008 (Richmond, Va.) — A conference celebrating the 300th Anniversary of the Church of the Brethren and of the Brethren Church has begun in Richmond, Va. The Conference began yesterday, July 12, and continues through Wednesday, July 16. (Go to www.brethren.org for daily coverage online.)
This marks a historic occasion as the first joint annual meeting of these two Brethren denominations since a schism of the Brethren movement in the 1880s. The event also is the Church of the Brethren’s 222nd recorded Annual Conference.
A high point of the Conference takes place this morning, with a joint worship service between the Church of the Brethren and the Brethren Church, where organizers expecting up to 6,000 people. The worship service will take place at the Richmond Coliseum.
The Church of the Brethren and the Brethren Church both stem from the Brethren movement that began in 1708 in the village of Schwarzenau, Germany, when the eight founders of the movement were baptized in the Eder River. Alexander Mack Sr. was the leader of the first eight Brethren.
During the 1880s, the church then called the German Baptist Brethren experienced a three-way schism over divisive issues of the time such as education and church publications. The Old German Baptist Brethren split off in 1881. The Progressive Brethren were separated out in 1882, and in 1883 adopted the name the Brethren Church. The group that remained adopted the name Church of the Brethren in 1908.
The cooperative planning for this 300th Anniversary Conference represents the largest such effort between the Church of the Brethren and the Brethren Church. The Conference has been planned as a joint effort by the 300th Anniversary committees of the two denominations.
Other major points of cooperation over the years have been joint mission work in Nigeria, beginning in 1944, when a number of Brethren Church missionaries worked in conjunction with the Church of the Brethren mission program. In the 1940s, the two denominations worked together in peace witness and war-time agencies, along with mission and relief programs.
The Brethren Encyclopedia Board was formed in the 1970s, and in addition to publishing the “Brethren Encyclopedia” covering all Brethren bodies, has continued to function as an informal cooperative fellowship among Brethren today.
Over 300 years the Brethren movement has grown, and the faith descendants of that first group of eight now number in the hundreds of thousands, and may be found on most continents. The two largest bodies are the Church of the Brethren in the US and Puerto Rico, with about 127,500 members in 1,064 congregations, and Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (Church of the Brethren in Nigeria), which now outnumbers the American church.
The Brethren Church headquartered in Ashland, Ohio, has close to 10,400 members in 119 congregations, and has an emphasis on international mission.
Other bodies that descend from the Schwarzenau Brethren include the Old German Baptist Brethren Church, which is a “plain” church with about 6,300 members in 56 congregations; the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches with about 30,400 members in 260 congregations; and other smaller bodies including the Conservative Grace Brethren Churches International, the Dunkard Brethren Church, and the Old Brethren. (Membership statistics from the “Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches 2008.”)
The Church of the Brethren is a Christian denomination committed to continuing the work of Jesus peacefully and simply, and to living out its faith in community. It is based in the Anabaptist and Pietist faith traditions and is one of the three Historic Peace Churches.