The Church of the Brethren is a fascinating Plain church and often misunderstood. Outsiders frequently lump them in with the Amish or confuse them for Mennonites when they actually belong to a completely different and separate religious tradition. They do share similarities in philosophy and plainness with the Amish and Mennonites and, like those two churches, along with the Quakers, the Brethren are one of the traditional “Peace Churches.” Once upon a time, the German Baptists were a relatively monolithic Plain group. The group has split so many different ways, though, that one needs a scorecard and a lot of patience to sort it all out. Here’s a sampling of groups and maybe some helpful links:
Yesterday I was in search of the Old Order German Baptist Brethren, a small group that split off from the main Brethren church in the 1920s over the issue of automobiles. They still use horse and buggies. They have three church districts around Bradford and Covington, Ohio.and as close as they are to where I live, I’ve never visited there. The latter two GB groups on the list above are the only other “horse and buggy” groups in the USA, besides the Old Order Amish and Old Order Mennonites. The churches are very small and I’m trying to find them because I’m doing some research for a project. While prowling the rural roads of western Ohio I ended up discovering a wonderful German Baptist (New Conference) bulk food store called Bushel & A Peck. New conference GBs drive cars and while they dress plainly, the fabric is often more colorful and patterny than more conservative orders.
Bushel & a Peck has an amazing selection of spices, snacks, and mixes. If you’re in Greater Dayton, check them out at 9515 Haber Road in Clayton. Across the street is another German Baptist business, Landes Meats. But these businesses were New Conference German Baptists, not the horse and buggy OOGBs I was seeking. So I headed north on Ohio State Route 721 deep into the countryside around the town of Bradford. I went to the address of a home where I knew one OOGB family lived, but no one answered. I did spot a buggy parked in a barn, next to a John Deere tractor. The OOGB do farm with tractors while the Old Brethren German Baptists do not. And on Bradford-Children’s Home Road, northeast of Greenville I spotted what looked like a German Baptist meetinghouse. I learned later that while it once was, it now serves as a worship house for the Old Brethren (see list above). With all the dead-ends I ran into, I was soon out of time, but not before meeting a German Baptist man who runs a clock-repair business. He gave me the leads I was looking for along with some wonderful background. More about his clock shop in a later post. Next week, I will return this rural patch of Ohio to learn about and meet the OOGBs. Stay tuned!