43rd Annual Dunker Church Service Planned at Antietam Battlefield

Photo by Joel Brumbaugh-Cayford
The Dunker Church at the Antietam Civil War battlefield is called a “Beacon of Peace” in the description posted by the National Park Service.

The 43rd annual worship service in the restored Dunker Church at the Antietam National Battlefield, a Civil War battlefield in Sharpsburg, Md., will be held on Sunday, Sept. 15, at 3 p.m. The service will be similar to an 1862 Dunker worship service, with Gene Hagenberger preaching on “Words Around Antietam.” Scripture texts will be James 1:19 and 26, and 3:1-12.

The service is sponsored by the Churches of the Brethren in Maryland and West Virginia, and is open to the public. Leadership includes Tom Fralin of Brownsville, Md.; Eddie Edmonds of Moler Avenue (W.Va.) Church of the Brethren; Ed Poling of Hagerstown (Md.) Church of the Brethren; the Back Row Singers, also from Hagerstown Church of the Brethren; and Gene Hagenberger, district executive minister for Mid-Atlantic District.

For more information about the Dunker Church Service contact Eddie Edmonds at 304-267-4135, Tom Fralin at 301-432-2653, or Ed Poling at 301-733-3565.

Excerpts from the historical notes that will be provided in the bulletin for the service:

Today’s preacher Gene Hagenberger, executive minister, Mid-Atlantic District Church of the Brethren…wants to say a special thank you to Antietam Park Ranger Alan Schmidt for sharing time and information with him as he prepared for this service.

The Dunker Church, which stood in the midst of one of the bloodiest battles of our national history, was the place of worship for a group of people who believed that love and service, in place of war, was Christ’s message. After the battle they helped minister to both armies, using the church as an improvised hospital.

The Dunker movement began in the early 18th century in Germany with people seeking religious freedom. The treaty that closed the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) established three state churches. Those who did not accept the beliefs and practices of these churches were persecuted. One such group of people gathered in the village of Schwarzenau.

After much study and prayer, they came to the conclusion that repentance and baptism of believers was necessary. Eight of them were baptized in the Eder River by trine immersion. This method of baptism gave rise to the name Dunker–one who dips or dunks. Sometimes known as New Baptists, more commonly known as German Baptist Brethren, the official name became Church of the Brethren in 1908.

About 1740 the Brethren began to settle along the Conococheague and Antietam Creek of Maryland. At first holding worship services in homes, the members were organized into a congregation known as the Conococheague or Antietam in 1751. The Mumma Church–the battlefield church–was built in 1853 on a lot donated by Brother Samuel Mumma. Baptismal services were held in nearby Antietam Creek and the building was made available to other Christian denominations for funeral services.

Photo by Joel Brumbaugh-Cayford
The small Dunker Church on the Civil War battlefield at Antietam is a symbol of the calling of the Brethren–to be a landmark of refuge during a time of violence.
La pequeña iglesia de Dunker en el campo de batalla de la guerra civil en Antietam es un símbolo de la vocación de los Hermanos – para ser un punto de referencia de refugio durante una época de violencia.

Elder David Long and Daniel Wolfe conducted the Sunday, Sept. 14, 1862 church service, just before the Sept. 17, 1862, Battle of Antietam. The church building was extensively damaged by artillery shells, yet stood through one of the most severe battles of the Civil War. Funds raised under the direction of Elder D. P. Sayler were used to make repairs. Services were resumed in the building in the summer of 1864 and continued until a wind and hail storm demolished it in May 1921.

Today’s service is the 43rd commemorative service held since the church was rebuilt in 1961-62 through combined efforts of the Washington County Historical Society, the State of Maryland, and the National Park Service. The Churches of the Brethren of West Virginia and Maryland extend special thanks to participating area ministers and members of cooperating Churches of the Brethren present today. We extend our gratitude to the National Park Service for their cooperation, for the use of this meeting house, and the loan of the Mumma Bible.

“It is the hope of the Brethren that the little white church on the Antietam battlefield may be to our troubled world a symbol of tolerance, love, brotherhood, and service–a witness to the spirit of Him [the Christ] whom we seek to serve” (quote generally attributed to E. Russell Hicks, deceased, a member of Hagerstown Church of the Brethren.)