The following report from the General Board of the Church of the Brethren explains in more detail the impact and legacy of the late Brethren historian Donald F. Durnbaugh (see blog entry for 8/27):
Donald F. Durnbaugh is remembered
as `dean of Brethren historians.’
Church of the Brethren historian, educator, and church leader Donald F. Durnbaugh died on Saturday, Aug. 27, at Beth Israel Hospital in Newark, N.J., at age 77. He and his wife, Hedda, were returning from a trip to Europe. He lived in James Creek, Pa., and attended Stone Church of the Brethren in Huntingdon, Pa. He was born in Detroit, Mich., in 1927. The Durnbaughs have three children and two grandchildren.
Durnbaugh held a unique position in the Church of the Brethren as “the dean of Brethren historians,” in the words of Dale W. Brown, a colleague when Durnbaugh taught at Bethany Theological Seminary. He also was considered a leading authority on the Historic Peace Churches and American communitarian movements.
“Don is internationally known and widely considered to be the leading twentieth century historian of the Church of the Brethren and other Brethren groups that originated in Schwarzenau, Germany, in the early 18th century,” wrote seminary colleague Donald E. Miller in a 1997 “festschrift” celebrating Durnbaugh’s work.
Among his numerous books and articles are “European Origins of the Brethren: A Source Book on the Beginnings of the Church of the Brethren in Early Eighteenth-Century Europe” (Brethren Press, 1958), “Brethren in Colonial America: A Source Book on the Transplantation and Development of the Church of the Brethren in the Eighteenth Century” (Brethren Press, 1967), “The Believers’ Church: The History and Character of Radical Protestantism” (Macmillan, 1968), and “Fruit of the Vine: A History of the Brethren, 1708-1995” (Brethren Press, 1997).
Durnbaugh served as editor-in-chief of the three-volume “Brethren Encyclopedia,” published in 1983-84. He was working on completing the editing of the fourth volume that is to be published soon.
Durnbaugh taught at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa., for four years before he began teaching church history at Bethany Theological Seminary in 1962. In 1988 he became the J. Omar Good Distinguished Visiting Professor at Juniata, and in 1989 became the Carl W. Ziegler Professor of History and Religion at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College.
He held degrees from Manchester College in North Manchester, Ind.; the University of Michigan; and the University of Pennsylvania; and studied at Philipps-Universitaet Marburg, Germany. His many professional associations included affiliation with the Young Center for the Study of Anabaptist and Pietist Groups at Elizabethtown, and service as president of the Brethren Journal Association.
Among Durnbaugh’s Brethren mentors were Gladdys Muir and M.R. Zigler. Commissioned by Zigler, he collected a book of documents entitled “On Earth Peace: Discussions on War/Peace Issues Between Friends, Mennonites, Brethren, and European Churches 1935-1975” (Brethren Press, 1978). His biography of Zigler, “Pragmatic Prophet,” was published by Brethren Press in 1989.
Durnbaugh’s career as a church leader began with volunteer service in Europe through the Brethren Service Commission, beginning in 1949. He was in the third unit of Brethren Volunteer Service and worked with refugees in Austria, later returning to direct the Brethren Service program there.
He met his wife, Hedda, at a peace seminar in Vienna. It was with her help in translating documents from the German that Durnbaugh began his study of Brethren history in Europe.
In 1986 he served in the highest elected position in the Church of the Brethren as Annual Conference moderator. Other church leadership positions included a Conference study committee on church and state, leadership of the Brethren Colleges Abroad program in Europe 1964-65, membership in the Brethren Historical Committee and the Germantown Trust, leadership in a Brethren-Russian Orthodox Exchange in 1971, and service in the Fraternal Relations Committee. With John Howard Yoder he was a co-coordinator of Believers’ Church conferences that gathered “free church” traditions in a new configuration.
Most recently, he was a member of the committee planning the celebration of the 300th anniversary of the Church of the Brethren. He served a term as chair and was a key leader in contacts with other Brethren bodies, who held him in high esteem. In recent years, he and Hedda also led Brethren history tours of Europe.
A memorial service is being planned for a future date.