Site of BIC founding receives historical marker

A historical marker describing the 18th-century beginnings of the Brethren in Christ Church was dedicated on June 23, 2012, during a small ceremony jointly sponsored by the Brethren in Christ Historical Society and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

New historical marker in Lancaster County, Pa., marks the beginnings of the Brethren in Christ ChurchThe marker—one of more than 2,000 erected throughout the commonwealth by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission—details the founding of the River Brethren, the religious community from which the present-day Brethren in Christ trace their origins.

The marker reads:

One of the first religious denominations founded in America, the group held their first baptism in the nearby Conoy Creek around 1780. Worship services were held down this lane at the Magdalena House, the home of Jacob Engel, one of the founders. The River Brethren changed its name to the Brethren in Christ in the mid-19th century. Other organizations with River Brethren roots are the Old Order River Brethren and the United Zion Church.

All three groups with River Brethren roots participated in the June 23 dedication ceremony, held at the home of Dr. and Mrs. Jerry Luck, Jr., in Bainbridge, Pa. The restored Magdalena House is part of the Lucks’ property.

The ceremony opened with an invocation by John Deitz, a member of the Old Order River Brethren and that group’s representative to the Brethren in Christ Historical Society. His comments were followed by remarks from Jonathan Stayer, the head of the reference section at the Pennsylvania State Archives (Harrisburg, Pa.).

E. Morris Sider, editor emeritus of the Brethren in Christ Historical Society, delivered a brief talk, “Remembering a beginning,” in which he described the formation of the River Brethren community.

The Magdelena House in Marietta, Pa., was the home of Jacob Engel, founder of the Brethren in Christ Church.“We stand today on historic grounds,” noted Sider in his remarks. “Here, some 230 years ago, a new religious group was formed, which . . . continues today. . . . It is right and good that we should remember the beginning of the religious body from which we have come and to honor the memory of its founders with a marker at this historic place.”

Following Sider’s talk, leaders from each of the three groups—Warren Hoffman (moderator, Brethren in Christ Church in the U.S.), David Sauder (bishop, Old Order River Brethren), and Charles Brown (bishop, United Zion Church)—read a dedicatory litany. During the reading, Glen Pierce, executive director of the Brethren in Christ Historical Society, unveiled the historical marker.

Closing remarks were delivered by Emerson Lesher, president of the BIC Historical Society, and a benediction by Clyde Martin, the United Zion Church representative to the Historical Society, rounded out the ceremony.

Though the dedication was an invitation-only event, a video recording of the ceremony and the preceding talk by Dr. Sider will be made available by the Historical Society in the near future. A shortened version of this recording was screened at General Conference, held in Ontario, Calif., in July.

Reflecting later on the dedication ceremony, Pierce described the event as a true collaboration—not only between the three groups descended from the 18th-century River Brethren, but also between the Historical Society and state and local authorities.

Speaking on behalf of the Historical Society, Pierce acknowledged the contributions of the members of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission for their approval of the project, and to Stephen Mohr, Conoy Township supervisor, and Greg Smith, township roadmaster, who “went far beyond the call of duty to assist in site preparation and erection of the marker.”

by Devin Manzullo-Thomas, BIC Communications staff writer