Mid-Atlantic District Leader Preaches at Antietam’s Dunker Church

Photo by Joel Brumbaugh-Cayford

Both words and actions were evident and obvious at the 43rd annual Brethren Service at the Dunker Meetinghouse, the landmark and centerpiece of the Civil War battlefield at Antietam National Park. The service is held each year on the Sunday closest to the battle, which took place 151 years ago on Sept. 17, 1862.

This year, the service centered on the words that were spoken by many that fateful day in 1862, which also was the theme of the sermon given by Gene Hagenberger, district executive of the Church of the Brethren’s Mid-Atlantic District.

Before any words were spoken, however, several of the worshipers rushed to the aid of a woman who had accidentally driven her car into a ditch just outside the meetinghouse. With Eddie Edmonds, pastor of Moler Avenue Church of the Brethren in Martinsburg, W.Va., and with the aid of several other strong backs, the car was lifted out of the ditch and then driven back onto the road.

In his message, Hagenberger called to mind words spoken at the dedication of the rebuilt meetinghouse in 1862, which seemed to minimize the harshness of the conflict. For example, Hagenberger related the disbelief of one soldier who survived the carnage of the corn field at Antietam, when his commanding officer ordered troops to take to their feet and charge.

Photo by Regina Holmes

Also remembered was the story of Oliver Wendell Holmes–who went on to serve for 30 years as a Supreme Court Justice–and his experience of the battle. Lying wounded on the field, Holmes was asked by his chaplain if he were a Christian. Replying that he was, Holmes was told, “Well, that’s alright, then,” and was left to suffer for quite some time.

There were more stories, about young men and boys who were killed, and even of one loyal dog who was seen by retreating soldiers standing guard over the fallen body of his master. The dog soon fell to a bullet and the two were buried together.

Hagenberger suggested that sometimes silence is sufficient when actions speak louder than any words. He encouraged all of those present, whether in word or action, to witness to the Brethren commitment to peace and service.

In the sermon, and in the prayers lifted up at the service, petitions were raised for peace in Syria and in other troubled places around the world.

Ed Poling, pastor of Hagerstown (Md.) Church of the Brethren, wrote and performed a song about the Brethren and the battle as he has done for several years. In this year’s ballad, Poling described the peaceful stream that flows through nearby fields, representing the waters of baptism and of healing, and foreshadowing God’s reign of peace as described in the book of Revelation.

The Back Porch singers from the Hagerstown congregation also sang a number. Shape note hymns from the 1901 Brethren Hymnal were sung by the congregation, which numbered well over 100 people.

— Frank Ramirez is pastor of Everett (Pa.) Church of the Brethren and was one of the Brethren pastors who helped lead this year’s service at the Dunker Meetinghouse at Antietam.

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