I read the article, “Janice Holt Giles and the ‘White Caps’ of Kentucky: A Novelist Portrays the Brethren in Christ,” by Michael Brown (December 2016), and it raised an interesting issue.
For the record and to provide context, I am third generation Brethren in Christ and have served in various ministries going back to the 1970s at Camp Kahquah, and further north in Ontario around Matachewan, Dobie, and Virginiatown where I was a teacher of VBS amongst First Nations children, led by George and Milly Sider. I also did two stints of summer service working with children and teens from the Bronx out of Fellowship Chapel at the last year of Camp Brookhaven (1973) and the first year of Spring Lake Retreat (1974). That was when Alvin and Theta Book were at Fellowship Chapel.
My home church is Port Colborne. I became a licensed minister in 1993 and was ordained in March 1998. Since 1993, my wife Anita (another third generation Brethren in Christ, whose parents and grandparents were involved in home missions) and I have served in pastoral ministry in Iowa, Illinois and Ohio. From 2011 forward we’ve served the Brethren in Christ Overcomers Program at the Navajo Mission in New Mexico, and recently were placed as the pastoral couple of Broken Walls Fellowship, a new out-of-the-box church plant aimed at connecting and staying connected with past graduates and their families.
Across the years and miles, vocally and in print, I have referred to the Brethren in Christ as the best kept secret in North America. I have been a member of the Brethren in Christ Historical Society. I even served a term on the editorial board when E. Morris Sider was the editor.
Here’s the problematic passage in the article: “Over the years a handful of short works of fiction, mostly missionary tales, have been written within Brethren in Christ contexts. Recently Glenn A. Robitaille, a former Brethren in Christ pastor, published two theologically didactic novels with a minimum of veiled references to the denomination. But in all these works, only insiders can discern the connections. Only Janice Holt Giles has put the Brethren in Christ squarely (and fairly) into popular fiction.”
I find it somewhat disconcerting that Mike Brown’s research came to that conclusion. I have written six historical fiction novels featuring a River Brethren thread woven through the narrative from the second chapter of the first book through the sixth and final installment.
In 2012, Days of Purgatory, the first in the series, was published—a western with a River Brethren man as the main protagonist. Cut and pasted from the synopsis on the back cover: “Days of Purgatory is a mystery thriller set against the backdrop of westward expansion. The action and intrigue rolls across the frontier landscape of the 19th century as the ensemble cast of characters is swept along on the currents of time, chance, fate, or destiny. Their lives intersect at those hard crossroads where faith meets reality. From the idealism of the River Brethren of Conoy Creek to the passions of the abolitionist movement, Deke Coburn becomes entangled in the horrors and societal upheaval of the Civil War. His story is part historical epic, part spiritual odyssey. He is a man on the run, encountering friendship where he can find it.”
Here I am, a living breathing Brethren in Christ fiction writer who evidently is invisible!
Bloomfield, New Mexico
My sincere thanks to Ken Abell for correcting my inaccurate statement about the near total absence of Brethren in Christ fiction beyond that by Janice Holt Giles. I am delighted to learn that other novels featuring the denomination have been written and, moreover, that the author himself is a member of the denomination, and third generation at that!
My apologies for my lack of information. Nothing about Abell’s writings showed up in my online searches of various databases, and I failed to learn of his work from those who knew about my project. Too bad his novels had not been deposited in the Brethren in Christ Historical Library and Archives. In any case, I am happy for the correction and for the possibility of stirring up further interest in Brethren in Christ fiction.
We hope to feature a review essay of all six of Ken Abell’s novels in a future edition of the journal. I bear some of the responsibility for Mike’s not having known about Ken’s novels. In conversation with Mike about my knowledge of existing Brethren in Christ fiction, I failed to point him in Ken’s direction. All six novels are available on Amazon.com.
Harriet Sider Bicksler, editor