Celebrating the Germantown Church: 300 years of Brethren in the Americas

“We have come this far by faith, hallelujah!” sang members of the Germantown congregation in a worship service that opened a day celebrating 300 years of the Brethren in the Americas.

The celebration on Saturday, July 29, was the culminating day of the 7th Brethren World Assembly.

“Let’s celebrate!” said pastor Barbara Elizabeth Short-Clark, in an affirmation of the faithfulness of the congregation. “Three hundred years of this church being in existence,” she emphasized. “That means you’ve been faithful!”

The worship celebration held in the historic Germantown sanctuary was led by pastor Richard Kyerematen, pastor Short-Clark, and others from the congregation, alongside leaders from the planning team for the assembly. Visiting dignitaries and guests brought greetings in person and onscreen.

Annual Conference moderator Madalyn Metzger and general secretary David Steele represented the Church of the Brethren leadership. “Pastor Richard, and to the congregation, thank you for all your hard work,” Steele said, characterizing the celebration as a homecoming. “The sacredness of being together and coming home, what it means to be family.”

Also representing Church of the Brethren leadership from around the world were Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria president Joel Billi, who brought greetings from the Brethren in Nigeria, and Theoneste Sentabire, who attended from Rwanda Church of the Brethren. Video greetings were shared from the Church of the Brethren in Burundi.

The July 29 worship celebration in the sanctuary of the historic Germantown Church of the Brethren in Philadelphia. Photo by Glenn Riegel

Please pray… For the Germantown congregation as they continue celebrating the 300th anniversary of their church as the “mother church” of the Brethren movement, and as they consider what God may bring to them as they enter the next 300 years of ministry and service in their neighborhood, their city, and the wider world.

Members of the congregation present a 300th anniversary banner. Photo by Glenn Riegel
Germantown pastor Richard Kyerematen (from left) with EYN president Joel Billi and Annual Conference moderator Madalyn Metzger. Photo by Glenn Riegel

Representatives from other Brethren bodies that trace their roots to the Germantown congregation also took the podium to share greetings and congratulations. Politicians who congratulated the congregation on its milestone anniversary included Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenney, who sent a special video message.

Bringing greetings in person was state senator Art Haywood, who noted the congregation’s role in working against gun violence and its involvement in programs reaching out to young men, making connections, and meeting needs in the neighborhood for food and health care. “Your faith is encouraging us,” he said. Over the centuries, he noted, the faith of the Germantown congregation has been “a consistent witness for peace.”

Pastor Kyerematen preaching at the celebration of 300 years at Germantown. Photo by Glenn Riegel

Preaching for the morning service, Kyerematen gave a sermon titled “The Brethren Experiment: Unfinished Business.” He spoke about the significance of the 300th anniversary not just as a celebration of the congregation but of the Brethren movement as a whole and of what God has done and can do through it. It’s about “appreciation for what God has done,” he said.

He thanked the Germantown Trust, which helps care for the church facilities and grounds with a committee including representatives of various Brethren bodies.

He noted as well that he wanted to speak about the congregation as it is today, how it has survived and continues in faith with support and prayer from the wider community including Atlantic Northeast District among others. “This congregation can be used by God to be a blessing to the city,” he said, emphasizing “what we can do to bring healing to this city and to the nation.”

Kyerematen, who is of Ghanaian heritage, raised up the role of Africans in the anniversary, the presence of African Church of the Brethren leaders at the celebration, and his own leadership as the Germantown pastor for 34 years.

“Who could have thought 300 years ago a son of Africa would be pastoring the mother church?” he said, noting that the trajectory of the Brethren movement is moving to Africa as shown in the rapid growth of African Church of the Brethren bodies that now outnumber Brethren in the United States.

Expunge racism, eradicate poverty, and expand the concept of peace

The Germantown pastor posed a three-part challenge to the Brethren movement, and to the Church of the Brethren in particular, to consider what the church will look like in these next 300 years. Expunge racism, eradicate poverty, and expand the concept of peace, he urged.

Adding a fourth point, Keyerematen said, “Exalt the name of Christ…. We will lift up the name of Jesus in Nigeria, we will lift up the name of Jesus in Burundi, we will lift up the name of Jesus in Lancaster… We have to lift up and exalt the name of Jesus because that’s what our ancestors did.”

Events later in the day included opportunities to visit the church’s historic graveyard, where early Brethren leaders are buried, and an opportunity to visit the site of the first Brethren baptisms in the Americas at the nearby Wissahickon Creek.

The baptism site is identified by a historical marker set on a walking path above the creek edge, where the baptisms are thought to have taken place on Christmas Day 1723. The baptisms are considered as the official start of the first Brethren congregation in the Americas. The Germantown congregation has been in continuous existence since Dec. 25, 1723, and continues today as a Church of the Brethren congregation and a predominantly Black church.

The congregation gave a warm welcome and hospitality to the assembly guests, with a lunch cooked and served by church members as well as iced bottled water for the hot day. Unfortunately, some workshops that were planned by congregation members and others were canceled, after the schedule ran over time.

The historical marker at the site of the first Brethren baptisms in the Americas, at Wissahickon Creek in Philadelphia. The baptisms held on Christmas Day 1723 mark the beginning of the Germantown Church as the oldest continuously existing Brethren congregation. Photo by Glenn Riegel

Find out more about Germantown Church of the Brethren at www.gcob1723.com. Click on “300 News Alert” to find information about more anniversary events to be held through 2023. Click on “300 Anniversary Poem” to read a poem by RuNett Ebo, a poet who is a member of the congregation, celebrating the church’s anniversary.


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