BY MARY KAY TURNER / August 2016
It is difficult for 21st century brains to imagine life up to the Middle Ages, when all books were copied by hand. Only churches and wealthy people had books, so few people could read. In 1450, Johannes Gutenburg printed the first book using moveable type, so books were printed much more quickly and economically; thus were more available, so thousands more people learned to read.
Sixty-seven years later, in 1517, Martin Luther, a priest who had studied the Bible, posted his 95 theses protesting some practices of the Catholic Church that he understood to be at odds with teachings in the Bible, and started the Reformation. Other people were also reading the Bible and establishing other churches.
Also in Germany, a group of eight men and women studied the Bible together, and felt that the churches were not following the teachings of Jesus. The early Brethren felt called to radical obedience to Jesus. They followed the example of John baptizing Jesus by immersion, and believed that persons about to be baptized should understand and be ready to live by the teachings of Jesus. Following this example in 1708 in Schwarzenau, Germany, they were baptized in the Eder River, an act of civil disobedience, as they had been baptized at birth – as all children were – and it was illegal to be baptized. With this act, Alexander Mack, his wife Anna and six friends started the Church of the Brethren with the New Testament as the only creed.
The Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew 5-7 is important text for Brethren. There is teaching about being peacemakers and loving enemies, living simply and not worrying. The parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25 says to take care of the needs of our neighbors, and service has always been important to Brethren. At the Last Supper, Jesus shared a meal with the disciples, washed their feet, then shared the bread and cup with them and said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Group and individual Bible study, no force in religion, nonconformity, reconciliation, and making disciples are important ideals for the church.
Because of persecution by other denominations in Europe, members of the Church of the Brethren began to migrate to Germantown, Pennsylvania in 1719, most of them sailing by 1740. From Germantown, the Brethren moved to the country searching for better land, and by 1770 there were more than 1,500 baptized members and 42 ministers in 33 congregations in Pennsylvania and other eastern colonies.
In 1790, David Pfoutz moved from Maryland to western (then) York County, Pennsylvania, and built a fulling mill on Marsh Creek, three miles west of Gettysburg. In 1805, Brother Pfoutz and 12 other people formed the Marsh Creek Congregation. They met in homes, as many Brethren congregations did, until they built a stone meetinghouse near Marsh Creek in 1830.
The ministers worked at other jobs until the congregation voted in 1944 to hire a minister, because they felt they needed someone devoting full time to the congregation. The stone church building, located three miles north of Gettysburg, was dedicated Jan. 25, 1953.
Come to the Cumberland Township Historical Society meeting at the Gettysburg Church of the Brethren, 1710 Biglerville Road, at 7 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 12, to learn more about the history of this church.
Mary Kay Turner is a retired teacher who is an active member of the church.