In want of a stenographer

Henry Ritz Holsinger

Henry R Holsinger v. Standing Committee

By Ashley Scarr

Henry Ritz Holsinger (1833 – 1905) was the spearhead of the progressive movement in the German Baptist Brethren who valued education, dissemination of information, and was “impatient with the passive, time-bound patterns of the past and eager to spur the church forward with energy and new ideas.”[1] Donald F Durnbaugh further describes him as “a man who did not suffer fools gladly and was not hesitant to let others know that he considered them to be such.”[2] While Durnbaugh offers an unbiased retrospective look at Holsinger, Robert H. Miller’s opinion in 1870 reads like prophecy: “He has too much zeal for his own peculiar notions, which makes him have too little regard for counsel of others, and it will always have a tendency to lead him into difficulties and misunderstandings…”[3] This surefooted personality repeatedly walked him into debates with Annual Meeting.

Holsinger first’s notable trouble with Annual Meeting was in 1867 when a debate regarding deacons led to a sarcastic remark which Holsinger was forced to apologize for, though it was apparently “more aggravating than the original offense.”[4] This was just the beginning of Holsinger’s 15-year troubled relationship with Annual Meeting and the Standing Committee. His continual disregard for the meeting’s decisions on which articles should not be published in periodicals was settled with formal apologies and promises to be more considerate. However, two events escalated beyond Annual Meeting, and both involved Holsinger’s employment of a stenographer.

Editorial from Christian Family Companion, May 1869
“Editorial Correspondence. Salem, VA., May 18, ’69 D.B.M.: Dear Brother; The Standing Committee has decided that we are not publish any Report of the proceedings of the Annual Meeting. Mark you: NOT ANY. You will therefore proceed to finish the paper with such matter as you have. We are much aggrieved by this decision, but must submit. Our Reporter was on the ground ready for action, but was not allowed to proceed. The expenses–which are all lost money now–will be about $40. Our readers will therefore know the reasons for the absence of the Report. No more. H.R. Holsinger” (Editorial from Christian Family Companion, May 1869)

In 1869 Holsinger decided to hire a “short-hand reporter” in order to publish a fuller report of proceedings of that year’s Annual Meeting and shared this intention with the readers of the Christian Family Companion that May.[5] While it’s unclear whether it was before or after this announcement, Holsinger wrote to Benjamin F. Moomaw in order to secure a space for the stenographer during the meeting and suggested that since there would be opposition to a ‘reporter’ he should be referred to as a ‘clerk’. However, Moomaw was disinclined to allow a reporter and Holsinger’s apparent request to keep the matter secret did not leave a positive impression. Moomaw was further concerned that the Virginians we represented would be against the reporter’s presence as well, so when the Standing Committee visited him before Annual Meeting Moomaw asked for their advice on how to proceed. By a unanimous vote, it was decided the reporter couldn’t be allowed and Moomaw was told to inform Holsinger of such. Holsinger refused to stand down and brought the stenographer anyway.[6]

After opening the 1869 Annual Meeting, the Standing Committee called Holsinger forward and once more informed him of the Standing Committee’s decision. A full report would be new and might cause some to refrain from expressing themselves, besides the discussions were only “to obtain the decisions, and that being obtained they were no more wanted.”[7] As tensions were high and Holsinger was already considered a frustration, a misunderstanding occurred. As the discussion concluded, Holsinger inquired if he could not publish a report; the reply he received was “No, nothing at all.”[8] Holsinger was referring to his usual report, the kind he had been giving for years—which had already been decided was not a problem. The reply was referring to the report of the stenographer whom he had hired, the key problem of the discussion. Holsinger then proceeded to publish his misunderstanding to explain the lack of a report in the Christian Family Companion.[9]

This misunderstanding escalated when Holsinger published Solomon Z. Sharp’s correspondence lamenting the lack of a report and how it was not the Standing Committee’s duty to deny the stenographer but the Annual Council’s; also commenting on how a large proportion of the Standing Committee denied the forbidding of the report.[10] Moomaw, Daniel P. Saylor, James Quinter, and John Wise defended the Standing Committee’s actions and argued against Holsinger. Of course, Holsinger responded to these subtle call outs with less subtle remarks, going so far as to suggest that since Moomaw didn’t hear any objection to the report’s denial he might be an “enemy of free speech as well as the press” and “his hearers … dare not open their mouths.”[11]

In January 1870, Robert H Miller eloquently tried to put the matter of the Standing Committee’s right of refusal to rest[12] and though reader of Christian Family Companion expected Holsinger to react, the editor’s reply was merely “the arguments have been exhausted” and he did “not feel half as badly under brother Miller’s strictures”.[13] With Sharp’s misunderstanding cleared up, Wise agreed with other Standing Committee members that an investigation into the matter was called for.[14]

And so, it was brought before the 1870 Annual Meeting where it was decided via assigned committee that Holsinger unjustifiably employed a reporter without authority; he had defied the Annual Meetings previous decision regarding publications; as well as responded to the Standing Committee’s defense in criticism and language unbecoming of a brother. Finally, the committee concluded that the Standing Committee were not wrong to reject the reporter.[15]

After a previous clash in 1873 where Holsinger became so impassioned on a debate over a full report of the proceeding of Annual Meeting he suggested some men would be “opposed to the printing of the bible”,[16] he wasn’t directly referred to in the minutes again until 1881. (Although, considering he published an article comparing the Standing Committee to a secret society,[17] it certainly wasn’t because he was being quiet.) His return to the spotlight was once again due to the concern of the articles being published in his paper, now the Progressive Christian.

1881 photo of a field, small trees, and large tents.
Annual Conference, Ashland, Ohio, 1881

At Annual Meeting in 1881, several papers were brought forward regarding progressive periodicals stirring up divisions within the brotherhood. While Samuel Kinsey’s Vindicator was given an honorable mention, Holsinger was singled out for his continual disregard for the meeting’s decisions on such publications. And although no specific evidence was presented to the Annual Meeting,[18] a committee (later known as the Berlin Committee) was appointed to visit Holsinger’s church and “deal with him according to his transgressions.”[19]

As much interest was expressed in attending the committee, Holsinger published his intentions to share a full report of the committee as well as an open invitation in July: “All right, brethren, you are all welcome so far as we are concerned. Come and hear the committee and exercise impartial judgment. If your editor and minister is as bad a man as they would have it in Northern Illinois, and Southern Missouri and Ohio, you ought to know it.”[20]

The committee convened at the Berlin congregation August 9th, 1881. After stating the committee was there to “investigate brother Holsinger’s case”, they proceeded to ask if the congregation would accept the committee and if they were willing to be “governed by the general usages of the Brotherhood”. That is to say: Holsinger’s employment of a stenographer and open invitation to the committee hearing were unacceptable and should be removed. Holsinger argued that he was accused publicly before the Annual Meeting and the nature of the case of unprecedented; furthermore, the Berlin congregation approved and would take responsibility for their decision. The committee initially agreed to these measures, however when they returned the next day, they shared concern that the congregation didn’t know what they were taking responsibility for and asked for the decisions to be rescinded. When Holsinger and the congregation refused, the committee decided to leave to write their report.[21]

Report published in Primitive Christian in September 1881 “We the undersigned Committee, appointed by Annual Meeting to go to the Berlin church, Somerset county, Pa., ‘to wait on Elder H.R. Holsinger, and deal with him according to his transgressions,’ do report as follows: Met with the Berlin church on Tuesday, August 9th, 1991, and were unanimously accepted by the church. H.R. Holsinger included. And upon the question to H.R. Holsinger, whether he would conceded to, and accept the general usages of the church in conducting this investigation? H.R. Holsinger declined, whereupon a lengthy discussion followed upon the following departures from the general usage of the church: 1st. H.R. Holsinger employed a stenographer to take down and publish the proceedings of the council.
2nd. The council to be held in the presence of persons not members of the church, which discussion closed by the Berlin church saying that they had passed a resolution in absence of the Committee, that they will have a full report of proceedings taken; and right on this, passed, in presence of the Committee, the following:
Resolved, That this council shall be held openly to all members, and persons not members of the Brethren church, will be considered present by courtesy only, and none but the members of the Berlin church and the Committee are invited to participate in the business. In view of the above considerations, especially in view of the fact that brother H.R. Holsinger refused to have his case investigated by the Committee in harmony with the gospel as interpreted by our Annual Meeting, and the consent of our general brotherhood, and inasmuch as brother H.R. Holsinger and the Berlind church assumed all responsibility in the case, therefore we decided:
That brother H.R. Holsinger cannot be held in fellowship in the brotherhood, and all who depart with him shall be held responsible to the action of the next Annual Meeting.
Signed by the committee,
John Wise,
Enoch Eby
C. Bucher
David Long
Joseph N. Kauffman

The Berlin Committee decided as follows: “… in view of the fact that brother H. R. Holsinger refused to have his case investigated by the Committee in harmony with the Gospel as interpreted by our Annual Meeting, and the consent of our general brotherhood, and inasmuch as brother H. R. Holsinger and the Berlin church assumed all responsibility in the case, therefore we decided: That brother H. R. Holsinger cannot be held in fellowship in the Brotherhood, and all who depart with him shall be held responsible to the action of the next Annual Meeting.”[22]

This decision frustrated and confused many Brethren. It seemed that no trial actually occurred, and instead of the charges Holsinger was accused of – that of publishing articles against the meeting’s criteria – he was being disowned because he and his congregation would not allow a private trial. Even Holsinger later lamented “It will be seen that the whole issue hinged upon the open council and stenographer.”[23] So, although the Berlin Committee’s report announced Holsinger’s disfellowship, there was confusion on its immediacy; prompting Solomon H Bashor to title his scathing tract on the subject: “Where is Holsinger?” Perhaps due to this confusion, the progressives were hopeful that their appeal to the Annual Meeting would lead to positive results.

Unfortunately, that would not be the case. After an explanation of the decision was given to the Annual Meeting in 1882, the Berlin Committee cited 1Corinthians 5:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14; and Romans 16: 17, 18 as their gospel authority to accuse Holsinger vaguely of railing and creating divisions while defending his disfellowship. D. C. Moomaw introduced a motion to delay the decision, highlighting his concerns that the report was banning not only Holsinger, but all who sympathized with him. He hoped that the proposed olive branch (an apology signed by Holsinger) would deescalate the tensions and give time for Annual Meeting to consider rejecting the Berlin Committee’s report.

This motion failed for a couple reasons. Most prominently was the discussion of the motion’s validity. The motion was not brought forward through a District Meeting, and therefore could not be heard at the current Annual Meeting. Second, Holsinger had made clear he would not offer the olive branch again if Annual Meeting accepted the Berlin Committee’s decision, making the offer seem disingenuous.

D. C. Moomaw and others who feared a schism within in the church, passionately argued in Holsinger’s defense – stressing that the Berlin Committee’s decision was not based on the charge of railing but on Holsinger’s employment of the stenographer and that no trial had taken place. They also asked for the meeting to not be rash, as the decision affected more than just Holsinger.

By the end of this long charade, Annual Meeting accepted the Berlin Committee’s report, and the progressives decided to hold a meeting that night to determine their next course of action. Although, Holsinger was so demoralized by this point he admits he “was the least interested among all the aggrieved progressive brethren”,[24] the progressives lifted him up and pressed on, deciding to petition the Standing Committee towards reconciliation. Regrettably, this petition was also rejected by the Standing Committee as it did “not come in regular order.”[25] With Holsinger’s disfellowship, which he never recognized as valid,[26] the progressives separated from the German Baptist Brethren and created the Brethren Church.

Both events left their marks in church history. The schism between the German Baptist Brethren and the Brethren Church is certainly the most cataclysmic, however the 1873 incident eventually led to the 1876 decision to allow the publication of a Full Report of the Proceedings of the Annual Meeting. While those reports ceased after 1930, by then the Annual Conference minutes had evolved to a much more detailed form. Hopefully, it is a decent enough compromise between Holsinger’s concerns of transparency and the Standing Committee’s concern of privacy. At the very least, no other poor stenographer will find themselves between a rock and a hard place. 


22 Abbott, James. 1882. “Report of the Proceedings of the Brethren’s Annual Meeting.” Annual Meeting. Huntingdon, PA: Brethren’s Publishing House. 6-31.

1, 2, 26 Durnbaugh, Donald F. 1997. Fruit of the Vine. Elgin, Illinois: Brethren Press.

19 Hollenberger, Theodore C. 1881. “Report of the Proceedings of the Brethren’s Annual Meeting.” Annual Meeting. Ashland, Ohio: Brethren’s Publishing House. 10-12; 58-59.

9 Holsinger, Henry R. 1869. “Editorial Correspondence.” Christian Family Companion, May 25: 319.

5 —. 1869. “Editor’s Table.” Christian Family Companion, May 18: 302.

7 —. 1869. “Editor’s Table.” Christian Family Companion, June 1: 332-334.

13 —. 1870. “The Reporter Question.” Christian Family Companion, March 1: 138.

8, 11 —. 1869. “The Standing Committee’s Defense.” Christian Family Companion, November 16: 696-699.

4, 17, 18, 23, 24, 25 —. 1905. History of the Tunkers and the Brethren Church. Lathrop, California: Pacific Press Publishig Co., Oakland, Cal.

21 —. 1881. “Stenographic Report of the Sayings and Doings of the Committee for the Trial of Eld. H. R. Holsinger, for insubordination to the traditions of the elders.” Progressive Christian, August 19: 1-2, 4.

20 —. 1881. “Gleanings.” The Progressive Christian, July 29: 2.

3, 12 Miller, Robert Henry. 1870. “The Standing Committee and the Report.” Gospel Visitor, January: 17.

15 1981. Minutes of the Annual Meetings of the Brethren 1778-1980. Winona Lake, Indiana: Annual Meeting.

6 Moomaw, Benjamin Franklin. 1870. “To our Common Brotherhood.” The Gospel Visitor, March: 89-92.

16 Quinter, James. 1873. “Report of the Annual Meeting Continued.” The Weekly Pilgrim, July 1: 201.

10 Sharp, Solomon Z. 1869. “Correspondence.” Christian Family Companion, Aug 24: 506-507.

14 Wise, John. 1870. “Defense of the Standing Committee.” Gospel Visitor, March: 92.

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