The date was March 27, 1941, eight months before the USA entered World War Two. The ZamZam was a rickety Egyptian freighter, sailing from New York bound for Alexandria by way of the Cape of Good Hope. On board were ambitious tobacco buyers, refugees from bomb-torn England, 136 missionaries and family members from 19 different faiths, a couple of dozen irreverent and high-spirited ambulance drivers, at least one noted scientist, and a motley multi-ethnic crew. The ZamZam took a zigzag course, running quietly so as to avoid running into any German commerce raiders.
After the mistreatment of conscientious objectors by the military and government in World War I, peace groups such as the Mennonites, Society of Friends, and Church of the Brethren discussed the creation of a program that would exempt them from a future draft. Civilian Public Service was formed in 1940 as an alternative noncombatant way for conscientious objectors to serve the United States during World War II. Programs sponsored by CPS included work in agricultural service, mental hospital service, and numerous other projects supported both by the state and privately. The Brethren portion of the program was overseen by Brethren Service Committee.
On March 13, 1958, Nathan Leopold was paroled from Statesville Penitentiary in Illinois into volunteer service work with the Brethren Service Commission in Castaner, Puerto Rico. He had formerly been imprisoned thirty-three years for his involvement in the 1924 murder of fourteen-year-old Bobby Franks.
While the entrance of the United States into World War I in 1917 challenged the very beliefs of the young Brethren men caught up in the draft, the war also challenged the leadership of the Church of the Brethren. During the war the church faced two major challenges. The first was how to inform the government and the public about Brethren beliefs while also demonstrating patriotism. Second was how to best serve and strengthen the Brethren men called into military service. This second challenge served as a complex and difficult issue for church leadership.
When the United States entered into World War I in April 1917, the Church of the Brethren faced a significant challenge to their peace witness. The traditional Brethren peace position placed them in opposition to American society’s definition of patriotism as doing everything possible to support the war (including fighting in Europe, buying war bonds, supporting the Red Cross, etc). How could they remain true to their peace position during a time of national war hysteria? Could they hold to their nonresistance while still demonstrating their loyalty to the United State? Nowhere was this challenge more prominent than for those Brethren in military camps following the beginning of the draft in June 1917.
This past summer Warren Garner donated letters to BHLA that were written between his parents and his mother to her parents. These letters were written while the Garner family was living in India, and the letters were written while the Garner family was Church of the Brethren Missionaries in India. By the time the Garners arrived in India the Church of the Brethren already had a history of mission work in India. The Church started here in 1895 and continued until the Church of the Brethren in India became an independent church. The Garner family was in India from 1916 until 1932, and these family letters give us the chance to see the mission field through a different lens.
Even if you don’t recognize his name, you’ve probably sung Ken Morse’s Move in our Midst. Kenneth Ivan Morse was the son of Herman V. and Sadie Bennett Morse, born 1913 in Altoona, PA. He grew up in the Altoona congregation and graduated from Juniata College and Pennsylvania State University with a Masters in English Literature.
The Brethren Historical Library and Archives (BHLA) recently acquired the papers of The Rev. H. Austin Cooper (1911-1999) from his son, Larry C. Cooper, of Landenberg, PA. The Rev. Cooper was a well-known Church of the Brethren minister who served congregations in Illinois, Ohio, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. A fine historian, he authored four books and various other publications.
A few weeks ago, the BHLA received a rather unique donation: The personal family photo album of Ernestine Hoff Emrick, granddaughter of Emanuel B. Hoff. If that name rings a bell, it is likely because E.B. Hoff, along with A.C. Wieand, founded the school that would become Bethany Theological Seminary in 1905.
Here are several photographic images of Church of the Brethren baptisms in the early 1900s. All are from the photographic collection of the Brethren Historical Library and Archives. Each minister baptizing was either already an elder or became one during the course of their ministry. The eldership was officially abolished by the Church of the Brethren in 1967.