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Photo Friday: “I Trust the Brethren”

He "Trusted the Brethren": Conservative Brethren in Christ church leader Jacob T. Ginder, bishop of the Rapho District in Lancaster County, declared his faith in the church community, despite cultural changes with which he did not agree. (Brethren in Christ Historical Library and Archives)

Today’s Photo Friday installment relates to the cultural change legislated by the Brethren in Christ General Conference between 1950 and 1961. Most readers of this blog are familiar with the story, as told by historian Carlton O. Wittlinger: Beginning in the 1950, Brethren in Christ leaders — inspired by what they saw at a National Association of Evangelicals convention earlier in the year — suggested to their church community a radical review of denominational distinctives. Many aspects of Brethren in Christ culture — from the use of musical instruments to the purchase of life insurance — were reconsidered.

This transformation was not without conflict. Yet, according to historian E. Morris Sider, such conflict was worked out through the strong bonds of community present within the Brethren in Christ Church. As he described it in a presentation to the General Conference of 2010:

. . . despite the very dramatic changes, our conservative denomination stayed together. This so impressed Mennonite leaders that they brought our leaders to a conference at their camp near Pittsburgh to ask how they managed this feat. The Mennonites (they said) would have split into many pieces.

One of the explanations that may be given for the church staying together despite the changes may be seen in a marvelous story that Henry Ginder tells of his father and of the General Conference of 1951 in which the changes were initiated.

His father was Jacob Ginder, an ultra-conservative church leader, bishop of the Rapho District in Pennsylvania (which Henry Ginder claimed was the most conservative district in the denomina- tion). He asked his father to go with him to General Conference, held that year in Kansas.

“Oh no,” his father replied. “I can’t go. They will be talking about changing so many things and I’ll be sad.”

But Henry persuaded his father to accompany him by offering to drive his car to Kansas. On the way home, Henry turned to his father and asked, “Well, father, what did you think of the Conference?”

His father replied in this beautiful way, “Oh I couldn’t enjoy the conference because of the changes that were made, but I trust the Brethren.”

To read the entirety of Sider’s presentation, download the General Conference Minutes, 2010 (pp. 13-14), here.

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