Editor’s Note: Recently, on the Brethren in Christ email discussion group, “BIC-Talk,” Aubrey Hawton, Oro-Medonte, Ontario described a recent find on eBay.com, a website that connects buyers and sellers all over the world: a postcard of the Moonlight Church, a River Brethren church in Kansas (later the Bethel Brethren in Christ Church, about two miles from the Zion church). The postcard had originally been mailed in 1909. In the ensuing email discussion, Bonnie Frey, whose husband Chris grew up in Kansas, chimed in with her and Chris’s memories of the church. I asked Aubrey to say a little more about his eBay adventures, and Bonnie and Chris gave their permission to share some of their memories.
Aubrey: I grew up in a Brethren In Christ congregation in Ontario, Canada, with direct ancestors who included Brethren in Christ ministers, bishops, missionaries, etc. I’ve always been fascinated by history, and that fascination led me to do some research on some of the schisms that have occurred. In my university “Mennonite History” courses, I wrote about the development of the Old Order River Brethren, the United Zion Church, the Calvary Holiness Church, and a schism in a Brethren in Christ congregation in Saskatchewan that hit particularly close to home, since that’s where my mother is from.
This fascination with history led me to look for items of historical interest online, particularly on eBay. In the past, I’ve located old copies of the Evangelical Visitor; a copy of my grandfather’s book “My Pilgrimage and Pioneering,” which he wrote shortly after homesteading in Saskatchewan in the early 1900s; copies of Brethren in Christ and Old Order River Brethren (OORB) hymnals, some of which contained the original owners’ inscriptions; a few copies of The Gospel Witness, a publication of the Calvary Holiness Church (Philadelphia); numerous postcards of Brethren in Christ and River Brethren (often mistakenly written as River Brethern) churches, meeting houses, and camps.
I’ve occasionally shared my findings with the BIC-Talk email list, in case any others are interested in purchasing the items that I’ve found. Sometimes, if the piece has a real connection with me, I’ve purchased it. Other times, I’ve just looked in fascination at the items that have appeared.
As I write this, eBay has several related items for sale: postcards of the Abilene River Brethern [sic] Church; an unused advertising pencil from the Brethern [sic] in Christ Church in Graterford, PA (Jacob H. Bowers, Pastor); an OORB hymnal belonging to Eli G. Musser; a fundraising cookbook from the Sonlight River Brethren School, along with another from the Conoy church; a 1944 press photo of OORB member Earl Hawbaker and his daughter Hazel, of Minburn, IA, as Hazel prepares to leave for New York and begin training for the WAVES (the WWII women’s branch of the United States Naval Reserve); along with several other more recent publications by Brethren in Christ authors.
Memories from Chris and Bonnie Frey:
- At love feast time, the boys would get in line to eat first because their plates would then be wiped with a piece of bread to be used again for someone else.
- There were two entrances on the east side of the church facing the cemetery, one for the men and one for the women. There were steps near the driveway that buggies could pull up to and let the women and children out.
- During love feasts, they ate apple butter, maybe chicken and noodles, and pie. Large groups from Abilene, Belle Springs, Rosebank, and Zion came. Evangelists would come from the east for two-week services at Zion and then another two weeks at Bethel. It took a lot of revivals to keep us “in the straight and narrow way.”
- Bonnie’s earliest memory of Bethel is coming to General conference, probably in 1936 when she was seven, from her home in Dallas Center, IA and getting sick. Her mother put a blanket down under a tree in the cemetery and Bonnie lay on it.
Where is the postcard of the Moonlight Church now? Andy Saylor, from the Harrisburg (PA) Brethren in Christ Church, bought it from eBay and donated it to the Brethren in Christ Historical Library and Archives. Should you happen upon similar treasures with historical significance for the Brethren in Christ, whether online or in your attic or basement, the Archives will welcome additional contributions!
Correction: A photo in the Fall 2017 newsletter incorrectly identified M. G. Engle. Instead, the photo is of Mike Engle.