In August 1708, eight adults met on the banks of the Eder River in Schwarzenau, Germany. These five men and three women, through intensive scripture study and prayer, had come to the conclusion that they needed to be baptized by immersion. They had been influenced by both Pietism and Anabaptist groups around them. During this time in Germany, the government controlled the churches and it was illegal for them to be re-baptized as adults. These adults were willing to defy the government because they understood baptism as an outward symbol of their new faith and as a commitment to living that faith in community.
They called themselves “brethren” and based their beliefs on the New Testament. Following the life of Jesus, they lived their lives as closely to his teachings as possible. They based their lives on peaceful action, plain and compassionate living, and a shared search for truth.
In 1719, the first group of Brethren immigrated to North America due to persecution and economic hardship. A new congregation was formed in Germantown, Pa., in 1723. Most Brethren left Europe by 1740. The “brethren” shared their faith and moved west. New congregations were founded as the Brethren community moved westward.
The group that now calls itself “Church of the Brethren,” now has about 125,000 members in more than 1,000 congregations in the United States and Puerto Rico; about 150,000 in the fast-growing Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (Church of the Brethren in Nigeria); and hundreds more in India, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti.
Today, the Church of the Brethren continues to work at peaceful action, living in plain and compassionate community and finding shared truth in the scriptures.
Information for this article was drawn from “History of the Church of the Brethren,”http://www.brethren.org/about/history.html . For additional information and resources, visit the Brethren Historical Library and Archives online.
History of the 28th Street Church of the Brethren
In April of 1909, a group of men were appointed by the Altoona 1st Church of the Brethren, 6th Ave. and 5th St. to locate a facility in the southern part of the city of Altoona for a Sunday School. In July of 1910, a Sunday School was organized in a rented hall at 8th Ave. and 23rd Street. In 1913 a church building was begun on the corner of 6th Ave. and 28th Street. In June 1914, the brick church was dedicated and services were held there in the evenings. During this time, the congregation was considered to be a mission point of the “Mother Church” at Altoona 1st Church of the Brethren. On April 1, 1920, the new congregation was fully and independently organized. The church grew rapidly.
A series of ministers were hired for the church, beginning with Benjamin F. Waltz, followed by Glen E. Norris, and Henry F. Kulp. During Kulp’s pastorate, there was a deep schism in the church. It ended with a group leaving the church and starting a non-Brethren congregation. The remaining members reorganized and continued to work as the 28th Street Church of the Brethren. In 1961, they moved into a new church on Union Ave. and 28th Street.
Pastors since the 1949 division include Levi K. Ziegler, C.H. Cameron, Donald H. Fogelsanger, Jay E. Gibble, Russell Burris, Richard G. Bright, George Townsend, Mark Liller and Rebecca Miller Zeek.
What We Believe
The tagline of the Church of the Brethren says, “Continuing the work of Jesus. Peacefully. Simply. Together.”
This tagline speaks to the heart of our beliefs. We have no creed. Instead, members study the words of the Bible and try to live by the example of the life and teachings of Jesus. Decisions about the church are made in community, trying to be faithful to our understanding of the Bible. As a denomination, we believe in peace, simplicity and community. We live that out as our individual conscience directs, to the glory of God and for our neighbors’ good.