The Grace Brethren movement traces its roots back to Alexander Mack and the year 1708 in Schwarzenau, Germany, which means that celebrations and tours marking the 300th anniversary of the movement are now in the planning stages for 2008.
Until about 1882, the Grace Brethren were part of the same group as the Church of the Brethren with the well-known “Holsinger split” occurring at Arnold’s Grove near Milford, Indiana, in 1882. The name “Church of the Brethren” was adopted in 1906, according to David Plaster’s history of the Grace Brethren Church, Finding Our Focus, published by BMH (www.bmhbooks.com).
With the fledgling new “Brethren Church” beginning to have annual conferences and meetings in Warsaw and and Winona Lake, Indiana, and in Ashland, Ohio, the “main body” continued to meet annually in Indiana and a new marker will commemorate those meetings.
The Indiana Historical Bureau will be presenting a new historical marker to the town of North Manchester, Indiana, commemorating the social and economic impact of the Brethren’s Annual Meetings in North Manchester in 1878, 1888 and 1900. This project was initiated by the North Manchester Historical Society.
These conferences, hosted by the Manchester Church of the Brethren with help from nearby Brethren churches and many community residents, attracted thousands of visitors to the week-long gathering.
In 1900, attendance was variously estimated as high as 60,000 people on Sunday, June 3, 1900. You can imagine the impact of this crowd on this little rural town of barely 4,000 inhabitants. The demands for services (food, lodging, local transportation, etc.) were a tremendous challenge to local residents, both in town and in the surrounding rural area.
The 1900 conference attracted perhaps the largest crowds ever assembled at a Brethren conference. It might also have been the largest religious assembly ever held in Indiana up to that time. The historical marker, developed by the Indiana Historical Bureau, contains the following words:
CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN FOUNDED 1708 IN EUROPE. BY 1778, BRETHREN MET ANNUALLY TO DETERMINE CHURCH POLICY. FIRST ANNUAL MEETING IN INDIANA WAS IN ELKHART COUNTY 1852. NORTH MANCHESTER CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN HOSTED ANNUAL MEETINGS 1878, 1888, 1900; LAST TWO MEETINGS HELD HERE IN HARTER’S GROVE. HAD ENORMOUS SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC IMPACT ON AREA.
BUSINESS MEETINGS AND PREACHING BY PROMINENT BRETHREN LEADERS DREW THOUSANDS FROM U.S. IN A FAIR-LIKE ATMOSPHERE, VISITORS HAD ACCESS TO MODERN CONVENIENCES OF THE TIME, INCLUDING IN 1888, ELECTRIC LAMPS. AREA RESIDENTS COOPERATED IN PROVIDING VISITORS WITH HOUSING, TRANSPORTATION, VAST QUANTITIES OF FOOD, GOODS, AND CLEAN, RUNNING WATER.
The historical markers are large black metal plaques (about 2 ft by 4 ft) with raised letters in gold or brass color, mounted on a post. About half of the historic Harter’s Grove is today occupied by the city park, while the remainder is a nature preserve complete with nature trails. The marker will be located on the south side of the Grove (Seventh Street) about a block west of Market Street.
This historical marker for the Brethren’s Annual Meetings will be unveiled and dedicated on Friday, August 11, 2006. A Dedication Ceremony will begin at 9:30 a.m. at the Park, near the entrance to the Scout Hall on Seventh Street. A representative of the Indiana Historical Bureau will be present, as will representatives of the North Manchester Historical Society and various church and community leaders. A choir will present some old-time, favorite hymns.
At 11:00 a.m., an illustrated lecture on The Social and Economic Impact of the Brethren’s Annual Meetings in North Manchester will be open to the public at the North Manchester Center for History at 124 East Main Street in North Manchester. On the way from the park to the Center for History, you will pass the recently restored birth house of Thomas Marshall, early governor of Indiana and Vice-President of the United States under President Wilson. Vice-President Marshall was born in North Manchester March 14, 1854.
This is the first State Historical Marker to be awarded to the North Manchester area. It is also the first time that any Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren has been so recognized.