Old Order River Brethren

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The Old Order River Brethren are a small Old Order Christian denomination with roots in the Mennonite church and German pietism through the Schwarzenau Brethren.

History[edit]

The denomination began about 1778 in Pennsylvania. It shares an early history with the Brethren in Christ Church. A group of brethren near the Susquehanna River that had previously separated from the Mennonites became known as the River Brethren. In 1856, a group left the larger body of River Brethren and established a separate, more conservative group. [1] They were sometimes referred to as the York Brethren or Yorkers, because most of the members in 1843 were located in York County, Pennsylvania. This minority group believed the majority of the church was becoming lax in non-conformity and non-resistance, and desired to return to old doctrines and traditions.[2] With the emergence of the Old Order groups among the Amish (Old Order Amish forming 1862-78), the Mennonites (Old Order Mennonites, 1872-1901) and the German Baptist Brethren (Old German Baptist Brethren 1882) in the late 1800s they defined themselves also as "Old Order".

Between 1921 and 1961 four splits occurred in the group, mostly about the use of cars, leaving the Old Order River Brethren divided into five subgroups. Three of the five groups reunited between 1969 and 1977 so that there are three subgroups until today.[3]

Religious practice[edit]

Traditionally meetings for worship were held in the homes of the members. In recent times, meetinghouses and public buildings are also used for church services. Ministers are un-salaried and there is no formal training for preachers. A traditional congregation has a bishop, two ministers, and one or two deacons.[4]

Testimonies are an integral part of every worship service. There is no Sunday School. The two-day Lovefeast observance of communion is practiced which includes foot washing. Baptism is by trine immersion. Old Order River Brethren wear a very conservative form of plain dress, which has been a distinctive of them. Men wear beards and women wear white head coverings along with general plain clothes. Like among the Reformed Mennonites children do not dress plain until conversion.[5]

In 1919 the Old Order River Brethren forbade the use of automobiles and thus the use of horse-drawn vehicles was generally maintained until the Musser group allowed cars in 1951 and the Strickler group in 1954. A third smaller and shrinking subgroup, called the "Old Church", still uses horse and buggy transportation.[6]

Television is forbidden, but electricity and telephones are accepted.[7]

During the 20th century the Pennsylvania German language was replaced by the English language which has been used exclusively in services since about the 1940s. Only few members could speak Pennsylvania German in the 1980s.[8]

The Old Order River Brethren publish a newsletter called "The Golden Chain". In 1984 Sonlight River Brethren School was started in Lancaster County.[9]

Members and congregations[edit]

Year Membership
1935 472
1960 ~340
1986 327
2000 328
2014 ~350

During the 20th century several settlement of the Old Order River Brethren in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Ontario dwindled and finally became extinct. For 1935 and 1937 the Association of Religion Data Archives lists 472 members for the Old Order Yorker River Brethren, that is the Old Order River Brethren.[10] In 1960 there were 340 members.[11]

In 1986 there were 327 members in three subgroups, the Strickler group with 172 members, located in Lancaster and Franklin Counties, Pennsylvania and Dallas County, Iowa, the Horst group with 121 members in Lancaster and Franklin Counties and the "Old Church" with 34 members in Franklin County.[12]

In the year 2000 all groups of the Old Order River Brethren had together 328 members, organized in three subgroups and five congregations. The Strickler group had three districts, Franklin with 86 members, Lancaster with 83 and Dallas Center in Iowa with 33, all together 202 members. The Horst group had one district in Franklin County with 109 members, and the Old Church also one in Franklin County with 17 members.[13] The horse and buggy people have relocated to Clay County, Kansas between 2000 and 2010.[14]

The total population of all Old Order River Brethren groups including children and young not yet baptized members was between 530 and 535 around the year 2000.[15] In 2014 all Old Order River Brethren groups together had about 350 members in five congregations of which the "Old Church" had only about half a dozen members.[16]

Poet and historian G.C. Waldrep (born 1968) is a member of the Old Order River Brethren as author Stephen Scott (1948 – 2011) was until his death.

Publishing[edit]

The Old Order River Brethren publish a newsletter called "The Golden Chain". In 1984 Sonlight River Brethren School was started in Lancaster County.[17]

Literature[edit]

  • Margaret C. Reynolds: Plain Women: Gender and Ritual in the Old Order River Brethren, University Park, PA, 2001.
  • Laban T. Brechbill: History of the Old Order River Brethren, Wrightsville, PA, 1972.
  • Laban T. Brechbill: Doctrine of the Old Order River Brethren, 1967.
  • Myron Dietz: The Old Order River Brethren, in "Brethren in Christ History and Life 6", June 1983, pages 4-35.
  • Stephen E. Scott: The Old Order River Brethren Church, in "Pennsylvania Mennonite Heritage I", July 1978, pages 13-22.
  • Donald B. Kraybill: Concise Encyclopedia of Amish, Brethren, Hutterites and Mennonites, Baltimore, 2010.
  • Donald B. Kraybill and Nelson Hostetter: Anabaptist World USA, Scottdale, PA, and Waterloo, ON, 2001.

Links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Donald B. Kraybill: Concise Encyclopedia of Amish, Brethren, Hutterites and Mennonites, Baltimore, 2010, page 247.
  2. ^ Frank S. Mead (1975). Handbook of Denominations in the United States (6 ed.). Abingdon Press. p. 72. 
  3. ^ Simon J. Bronner: Encyclopedia of American Folklife, London and New York, 2006, page 909.
  4. ^ Old Order River Brethren at Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online
  5. ^ Old Order River Brethren at Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online
  6. ^ Donald B. Kraybill: Concise Encyclopedia of Amish, Brethren, Hutterites and Mennonites, Baltimore, 2010, page 247.
  7. ^ Old Order River Brethren at Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online
  8. ^ Old Order River Brethren at Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online
  9. ^ Old Order River Brethren at Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online
  10. ^ Old Order Yorker River Brethren at Association of Religion Data Archives.
  11. ^ Ira Landis: The Origin of the Brethren in Christ Church and its Later Divisions in The Mennonite Quarterly Review, XXXIV (1960), page 304.
  12. ^ Old Order River Brethren at Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online
  13. ^ Donald B. Kraybill and Nelson Hostetter: Anabaptist World USA, 2001, Scottdale, PA, and Waterloo, ON, pages 246 and 272.
  14. ^ Old Order River Brethren Counties (2010) at Association of Religion Data Archives
  15. ^ Margaret C. Reynolds: Plain Women: Gender and Ritual in the Old Order River Brethren, University Park, PA, 2001, page 41.
  16. ^ Donald B. Kraybill: Concise Encyclopedia of Amish, Brethren, Hutterites and Mennonites, Baltimore, 2010, page 247.
  17. ^ Old Order River Brethren at Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online