At least twice when either our newsletter, “History Matters,” or an article in the journal referenced the change in name from River Brethren to Brethren in Christ, attributing it to the need to register during the Civil War, I received a note from Jonathan Stayer. He reminded me of the research he had been doing that refutes this popular explanation. Now, finally, Stayer’s years of meticulous research have produced the lead article in this edition. Don’t get lost in the weeds of his in-depth research; rather, enjoy the fascinating story of how we became known as Brethren in Christ. We owe our thanks to Stayer for his work; he isn’t a member of the Brethren in Christ but learned to know the denomination when he was a student of E. Morris Sider at Messiah University.
During some of the same time period Stayer covers, the denomination was beginning its foray into overseas missions work in southern Africa, specifically Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Less than twenty years into the work in Rhodesia, World War I broke out. Unless you are a student of or well-read in World War 1 history, you could be forgiven if you thought that the war was rather removed from mission work in a remote rural location in Africa, far away from the well-known battlefields of Europe. Wendy Urban-Mead, however, has extended her significant research and writing about the Brethren in Christ in Zimbabwe to the World War I period, and puts the missionaries and the fledgling church in the larger geo-political context. Of particular interest to the modern reader is the close relationship of the early missionaries to the white colonial government that had defeated the black Africans among whom the missionaries settled. Once again, a non-Brethren in Christ person has contributed to the growing body of research about our earlier years.
Fast forward to the end of World War II and the subsequent establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. One major consequence was the displacement of thousands of Palestinians whose land was taken to create the new country, including the Saba family. I first met Costandy Saba when he came to Messiah University as a freshman in 1964, the same year I did. I knew Costandy was Palestinian, but in my teenage ignorance, I didn’t know either his personal story or the larger story of the Palestinians. Last fall, the Theological Study Forum, an informal Brethren in Christ study group that used to meet in person in central Pennsylvania but since Covid meets by Zoom, featured the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Costandy’s personal story of his family’s experience of the 1948 seizure of Palestinian land by the new state of Israel. I am pleased that he was willing to offer his presentation for a wider audience through the journal.
This edition concludes with the text of the 2023 Schrag Lecture and four book reviews. Richard Hughes, former professor at Messiah University, returned to campus in March 2023 to speak. In his lecture, he told the story of his journey to Anabaptism from his small and very separatist denomination. The books reviewed this time all have particular resonance for the Brethren in Christ—a book that has implications for how we view the land in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where we were born; a memoir from a well-known author from a conservative religious background with similarities to our own; the most recent book by our own editor emeritus, E. Morris Sider; and a book by a former Brethren in Christ pastor who challenges us on what it means to be on the side of people who are oppressed.
Harriet Sider Bicksler, Editor