Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Church Name Change

A symbol of the many changes that were occurring throughout the church at the turn of the century was the discussion surrounding the adoption of a new name. By the late 1800s, many people had become uncomfortable with German Baptist Brethren which had been adopted in 1871. Even though the last German-language hymnal was printed in 1903, the majority of Brethren could not use the language after 1900. The name was considered too limiting and was often cited as a hindrance to evangelistic efforts.

Even though the name of the denomination was officially German Baptist Brethren, they were still popularly known as Dunkards or Dunkers outside the church, and many members themselves clung to those terms. Annual Meeting came close to adopting the name Dunker Brethren Church in 1905. The discussion continued until 1908 when Annual Meeting adopted the name Church of the Brethren. It was the same year that the bicentennial of the original baptisms in Schwarzenau was being observed.

As with most other changes, some Indiana congregations immediately adopted the new name. For others, it took much longer. One impetus to adopt the new name was World War I which made an affinity to anything German extremely unpopular. At West Goshen, for example, a stone marker identifying the church as German Baptist Brethren was removed from the front wall and put into storage after the church and several individual members received threats. In 1933, the stone marker was taken out of storage and placed in a sidewalk. It was again moved and used as a cornerstone when an addition was constructed in 1955.

Source: Planting the Faith in a New Land: Church of the Brethren in Indiana