In my novel The Secret Side of Jaya, she learns a lot about Baptists while living in the Ozarks.
For starters, within their shared identity, they come in all varieties of theological nuance and group practice – and the lines within them can be drawn sharply. And they don’t handle snakes as part of their worship.
Here are a few facts:
- Baptism is reserved for believing “born again” adults and is usually by water immersion only. Jesus is accepted as Lord and Savior.
- Church authority, with few exceptions, is placed in the local congregation, which can voluntarily affiliate with other like-minded fellowships. Beliefs can vary by congregation, historically along Calvinist versus Arminian lines. Far more than I want to get into here, other than say I’m in the Arminian camp.
- The major affiliations in the U.S. are the Southern Baptist Convention, American Baptist Association, National Baptist Convention, National Baptist Convention of America, American Baptist Churches USA, and Baptist Bible Fellowship International. Far from the only ones.
- There are also Independent Baptist churches that refuse to affiliate with others.
- Faith is a matter between God and the individual. Thus, absolute liberty of conscience is essential.
- The Bible is asserted as the only norm of faith and practice. So start flipping pages.
- Baptist membership is roughly 100 million worldwide – half of them in the USA, where they constitute a third of American Protestants, especially in the South.
- They make up more than 40 percent of the population in Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee.
- Forty-five percent of African-Americans identify themselves as Baptists.
- The Lord’s Supper, or communion, is considered symbolic and not necessary for salvation. There is no set calendar for its observance.
Does this make their identity any clearer? We haven’t even touched on some of the key theological language.
The Brethren resemble Mennonites in many ways, including their belief that baptism is for believing adults only, but they have their differences, beginning with the way they baptize. They traditionally do it by trine immersion, and historically that often happened in the dead of winter, once they broke the ice in the stream. Seriously.
Much of my ancestry on my dad’s side were Brethren, as I explain on my Orphan George blog.
Here’s a brief introduction to the faith.
- Alexander Mack (1679-1735) was the leader and first minister of a Pietist community that broke with the three state churches in Germany in 1708. Persecution sent them fleeing to the Netherlands and then, beginning in 1719, to Pennsylvania. Mack arrived with about 30 families ten years later, essentially completing the migration to the New World.
- They often resembled the Amish – and some still do – including the German-speaking identity. Like the Amish, Mennonites, and Quakers, they have upheld a peace testimony that rejects participation in war.
- They also led lives modeled on simplicity and a non-creedal belief, “No creed but the New Testament.”
- They were active on the American frontier and grew in numbers.
- There has often been an identity problem. They were often called Dunkards or Dunkers, for their mode of baptism, which some found offensive, or German Baptist Brethren – but please don’t confuse them with the Baptists or the United Brethren in Christ, which I was raised in, or the Brethren in Christ, an offshoot of the Mennonites. Or the Plymouth Brethren in Garrison Keillor’s past, who broke off from the Anglicans.
- Tensions between conservatives and progressives led in the 1880s to a separation that split off the Old German Baptist Brethren, on one side, and the Brethren Church, on the other, from the central body, now known as the Church of the Brethren.
- The Heifer Project began as a Brethren peace and social justice initiative in the 1950s.
- Denominational polity is through Annual Conference.
- The annual love feast includes foot washing.
- What others call sacraments the Brethren call ordinances. Among them are the laying on of hands and anointing for healing or for consecrating an individual for service.
In my novel Nearly Canaan, Joshua and Jaya settle into a place unlike anything they would have imagined. It’s desert, for one thing, where nearly everything has to be irrigated, for another. Quite simply, it’s a lot like Yakima, in the middle of Washington state. And yes, the state still has gold miners and prospectors.
Here are some significant gold rushes in U.S. history.
- Cabarrus County, North Carolina, 1799
- Sierra Nevada, California, 1848-55
- Colville, Washington, 1855
- Pikes Peak, Colorado, 1859
- Clearwater, Idaho, 1860
- Montana, 1862-69
- Black Hills, South Dakota and Wyoming, 1874-78
- Cripple Creek, Colorado, 1891
- Mount Baker, Washington, 1897-1920s
- Nome, Alaska, 1899-1909
British Columbia could have a Tendrils list of its own. And my family had a mine of its own in Guilford County, North Carolina, in the first half of the 1800s.
The early Quaker movement was heavily influenced by Mennonites via the early General Baptists in England. It’s a complicated story, but today Quakers and Mennonites still share some deep bonds, especially in the witness for peace. And yes, they’re both important in Pennsylvania. In fact, the first Mennonite congregation in America was a joint venture with Quakers in Germantown, then outside Philadelphia.
Here’s some background.
- Mennonites are oldest body of the Anabaptist movement, which rejected infant baptism, insisting instead the sacrament was only for believing adults.
- The denomination is named after Menno Simons (1492-1561), a priest who left the Roman Catholic church in the Netherlands and was persecuted as a heretic.
- Its followers have been heavily persecuted, especially in the early years in Switzerland and Germany. Many were burned at the stake.
- It identifies with an underground church going back to Waldo and the Waldensians.
- They are strong proponents of peace, refusing to participate in military service or to fight in self-defense.
- The Amish split from the Mennonites in 1693. Today some conservative Mennonites resemble the Amish, while others are urban professionals – most fall somewhere between in lifestyles.
- They are known for their four-part a cappella hymn singing, although that’s changing with the youngest generation. Lay ministry and mutual discipleship are common.
- Communion is celebrated as an annual love feast. Any lingering conflicts among the members of the congregation must be reconciled first.
- It’s no longer primarily German-speaking or German descendants, a consequence of active mission work and growth worldwide.
- Anabaptism is seen as the third stream of Protestantism – the others stemming for John Calvin and Martin Luther. Unlike them, it never accepted state sponsorship or endorsement.
Let’s skip past Jesus and Lincoln and King David and Gandhi, Martin Luther King, etc. Go to more regular folks who also had everyday lives.
- Charles Ives, 1874-1954, classical composer and Manhattan insurance executive, an “American original” in both fields. Or even a maverick. Seriously overlooked when it comes to performances and airings.
- Charles Kettering, 1876-1958, American inventor. Second only to Edison in the number of patents.
- Arthur Morgan, 1878-1975, a civil engineer Kettering encouraged on a life of notable public service in flood control and higher education.
- Abigail Adams, 1707-1783, first wife in the second presidency and equal to any of the First Fathers. She really knew how to write a letter.
- Jenny Thompson, 1973-present, big-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer. Despite serious setbacks, including biased judging against her, she was persistent. Better still, she claims Dover as her hometown and works as a pediatrician up the coast in Maine. How can I not think of her every time I swim in the big outdoor pool carrying her name?
- J.S. Bach, 1685-1750, as an example of daily practice and faith.
- John Woolman, 1720-1772, Quaker minister who confronted economic and racial injustice. Many of his critical insights regarding wealth and oppression fit today, too.
- Emelia Bassano Lanier, 1569-1645, apparently the real author of the plays attributed to Shakespeare. I’m buying the argument. The works now take on a fresh vitality.
- Elizabeth Hooten, 1600-1672, the real mother of the Quaker movement and first woman preacher, quite outspoken, no sleight intended for Margaret Fell. She even came to Dover in 1662 and was severely treated by Massachusetts authorities, despite a letter from King Charles II. I wish we had more from her on the record.
- The Theotokos, mother of Jesus, in Eastern Orthodox theology envisioned as something much more than a Virgin Mary. Literally, “the God-bearer.” I mean, she’s addressed as the Mother of God! The implications – and personal interior experience – are mind-boggling for anyone seeking a feminine experience of Judeo-Christian thought, especially when we get back to the everyday life part.
Well, this list has changed over my life!
Who would you name?
In my novel Nearly Canaan, Joshua and Jaya settle into a place unlike anything they would have imagined. It’s desert, for one thing, where nearly everything has to be irrigated, for another. Quite simply, it’s a lot like Yakima, in the middle of Washington state, a place that has some fine rodeos, like the one at Ellensburg, up the canyon, or out in White Swan on the reservation.
This list started out to be the biggest ones, but I’m finding even that can be tricky, depending on the varying measures. And then there are the Best Lists, which laud smaller events like the Reno Rodeo in Nevada and the Pendleton Roundup in eastern Oregon.
So here’s a list anyway. Giddyup!
- Cheyenne Frontier Days, Wyoming
- Calgary Stampede, Alberta, Canada
- National Western Stock Show, Denver
- Ponoka Stampede, Alberta, Canada
- Fort Worth Stock Show, Texas
- La Fiesta de los Vaqueros, Tucson, Arizona
- Williams Lake Stampede, British Columbia, Canada
- Festival Western de St. Tite, Quebec, Canada
- World’s Oldest Rodeo, Prescott, Arizona
- Parker Ranch Fourth of July Rodeo, Hawaii. Oops, not North America but still in the USA.
Ever been to a real rodeo?