Quite coincidentally, three of the four articles in this edition feature women and their growth, service, and influence in the Brethren in Christ Church. Readers of a certain age will feel the nostalgia in the lead feature—a collection of stories of a Brethren in Christ childhood set mostly in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. The author, Charlotte Brechbill White, and I are contemporaries, having both graduated from Messiah College with majors in English in 1968. Charlotte and I had very different Brethren in Christ childhoods (me as a missionary kid in Africa and her as a child in a conservative part of the church in the US) and we went our separate ways after college graduation. Yet, Charlotte’s stories and reminiscences resonate deeply with me at certain points and feel typical for many who grew up in the denomination during the 1950s and 1960s during a period when the church was experiencing significant change.
The stories should not only be interesting to folks of my and Charlotte’s generation, however, but also to the generations that follow. Although practices have changed, (there are few women in the church who wear coverings anymore, as just one example), what hasn’t changed is our desire to follow Jesus and live according to his teachings. Charlotte’s commitment to the essentials of her childhood faith has not changed.
Not on the theme of women but of race, Timothy Epp dips further back into Brethren in Christ history with a fascinating and at times distressing analysis of how the church periodical, the Evangelical Visitor, covered “race” and “blackness” in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. On the one hand, it is gratifying that our forebears, despite their isolation from “the world,” were aware of and cared about people of other races and ethnicities—particularly black people. On the other hand, from our present-day vantage point, it is frustrating that they mostly did not challenge the racial stereotypes of the day.
Shifting gears to the post-World War II period, the third feature is a reprint from a book by M. J. Heisey and Nancy Heisey about Elsie Bechtel’s relief work in France in the late 1940s. Elsie was a young Brethren in Christ woman from Ohio who volunteered with Mennonite Central Committee after the war. The Heisey sisters tell her story in their book, Relief Work as Pilgrimage: “Mademoiselle Miss Elsie” in Southern France, 1945-1948 (Lexington Books, 2015). I have been wanting to give this story a wider audience within the Brethren in Christ Church for several years and was ultimately successful in obtaining permission from the publisher to reprint excerpts from the book in the journal. I hope along with the Heiseys that this “quiet story” of a mostly unknown woman will be a significant contribution to the historical record.
Finally, Zach Spidel traces the history of women in ministry in the Brethren in Christ Church between the late nineteenth century, when Rhoda Lee read a paper at the 1894 General Conference in support of foreign missions, to 1982 when General Conference formally affirmed its support for women in ministry. He argues that understanding that century-long history (what he calls historical recovery) is important as we think about how the 1982 action has been received and implemented. It is also important as we look forward to the 2024 General Assembly when delegates will be voting for a second and final time to codify our commitment to women in ministry at all levels of church life into the Articles of Faith and Doctrine.
Four book reviews round out this edition, including two by Brethren in Christ writers.