Monday, August 18, 2008


It seems that music has long held an important role in worship for the Brethren. It is said that the earliest Brethren not only sang together but were constantly composing new hymns - which were sang without musical accompaniment. And yet while music has played an important role in our heritage, it has also been the source of conflict in many churches over the years.

After the denominational split of 1881-1883 there continued to be a struggle among the Brethren related to the use of musical instruments in the church, particularly pianos and organs. While a number of Brethren had obtained musical training on their own from the mid-1800s, conservative Brethren condemned having musical instruments even in private homes, although many (including some elders) purchased pianos and pump organs. Some of these musicians wanted to use their talent in worship, but traditionalists would not allow it.

One of the best examples of the attitude at the time was at Middle Fork (later Rossville) in Indiana where three meeting houses were in operation. After the 1882 split between the Progressives (Brethren Church) and the Conservatives (Church of the Brethren), the Edna Mills meeting house was used on alternate Sundays by the two groups until the late 1800s. The Progressives purchased an organ and used it during their worship services. The next week when it was the turn of the Conservatives to use the house, the organ was unceremoniously shoved into a closet.

The first pianos began showing up in Indiana churches soon after the turn of the century, and the pace accelerated in the 1920s. It was not without controversy, however. Most congregations debated the issue over several years before the question was eventually resolved. In some congregations, the question was resolved by a sort of default process. Pianos were sometimes donated by a particular family. Rather than offend these members or lose an excellent donation, congregations accepted them.

At Kokomo, the situation was slightly different. The debate over the use of a piano had gone on for several years when the youth of the church decided to take matters into their own hands. They managed to obtain a piano and, late one night, a group of young people lugged the heavy instrument up to a second floor classroom where it was covered with blankets. It wasn't until several weeks later that opponents to the use of a piano found out about its existence. They demanded its immediate removal. However, most of those against the piano were elderly and somehow there never seemed to be enough younger, able-bodied people around at the same time to haul the offending beast out. The piano stayed.

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