Thursday, December 25, 2008

First Brethren Baptism in America

In August of 1723 a rumor spread that famed preacher Christian Liebe had come from Germany to the Colonies to preach in Philadelphia. The rumor was false, but it caused some of the scattered Brethren who had emigrated to Pennsylvania to get back in touch with each other after four years in America.

In 1719 the Brethren in Europe, penniless after having been hounded from sanctuary to sanctuary because of their religious beliefs, faced dissension from within as the group split over the question of whether one could only marry within the fellowship. Exhausted and hurt, some emigrated to Germantown, under the leadership of Peter Becker.

For the next four years they established farms and businesses, while sending back glowing letters describing the unlimited opportunities in William Penn's colony, which was the home of an experiment in religious liberty. Though the Liebe rumor proved false the Brethren realized they missed worshipping together. Peter Becker, who had a great reputation for singing, was named their first minister in America.

A baptism was arranged at the edge of the Wissahickon Creek on Christmas Day of 1723. The ice was broken, and six new members were dunked three times forward. Twenty-three adults gathered afterward at the Gumre home on the top of the nearby hill. With everyone dried off and warmed both outwardly and inwardly, the Brethren shared their Love Feast.

They felt so good afterwards they decided that the following fall all the men would go forward in a great evangelistic trip, one that would result in the founding of new churches that are still in existence today.

Christmas Day, 1723 - one of the most important dates in Brethren history.

Source: Frank Ramirez, Tricentennial Minute for December 23, 2007