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The following terms reflect the culture of the Church of the Brethren, a denomination grounded on the principles of Anabaptism and founded through the Pietist efforts of Alexander Mack, in the summer of 1708 near the small German village of Schwarzenau. This resource is not an exhaustive compilation of all denominational terminology, which might also be garnered from other Brethren works, such as the Brethren Encyclopedia, Brethren Bibliography, European Origins, Brethren in America, Ephrata Cloister, 19th Century Acculturation, Brethren Timeline, Brethren Groups, and Brethren Genealogy. You are encouraged to share your comments, suggestions, or corrections with the Web Administrator.

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Letter D
Delegate: Annual Conference

Congregations are geographically incorporated into one of Twenty-four Districts in the Church of the Brethren. When the Brethren first came to America, their congregations regularly asked for support from each other and exchanged advice through a visiting Elder, who also presided over local council meetings, officiated elections, and determined the validity of questions intended for Annual Meeting (Conference). This circuitous process remained sound until the denomination began growing and expanding across the nation, placing undue burden on the annual gathering. Subscribing to the concept that leaders best understand local matters, Annual Meeting (Conference) delegates granted approval in 1856, for the establishment of Districts that would be able to minister to the specific congregations of their geographical region.

Districts also convene their own annual meeting, usually in the fall of the year, to officially hear congregational concerns, approve financial budgets, listen to reports, elect officers, and refer policy questions on to the next Annual Meeting (Conference) of the denomination. Each District has a Board that is often composed of Commissions such as Ministry, Nurture, Witness, Stewards, and Church Development. The number of staff varies according to the size of the district, the larger having a: District Executive, Associate District Executive, Administrative Assistant, and Receptionist.

Double Mode

Possibly no other issue has caused more discontent among Brethren than how they dressed or the types of clothing worn. In past centuries, psychological skirmishes and emotional scars were felt all the way to Annual Meeting (now Annual Conference), particularly those years from 1909 to 1911. While still in Europe during the 1700’s the Brethren dressed similarly to the decorum of that time, and there was little difference in Colonial America. Official statements on beliefs and ordinances rarely mentioned the manner of dress. Homespun attire was common in the eastern colonies and on the western frontier. Brethren Men generally cropped their hair, wore a beard, and donned the customary broad-brimmed black hat, also worn by other Anabaptist groups. Mustaches were permitted only with a beard. A mustache without a beard was frowned upon because it reminded them of the European Calvary Officers who were noted for brandishing prominently combed long handles of hair. Brethren Women customarily wore ankle length skirts, long sleeves, cape front, with hair in white cap. This and similar dress was described as The Garb, both in a commendatory or sanctimonious tone depending on the interpretation of the observer. Annual Meeting of 1804 urged ministers to encourage parents to avoid worldly apparel that promoted immodesty and sensuality. During the late 1800’s the Plain Garb was even a test of true membership and Christian loyalty in a small number of congregations.

Plain clothing symbolized nonconformity to the world, and invoke thoughts of virtue and humility, whereas the world prided itself with bright colors, luxurious materials, and expensive accouterments. Brethren believed these elements promoted superiority and attention to self instead of submissiveness and denial of self. Plain dress was to reflect inward piety and glorify the attributes of God. In only half a century most Brethren Couples had dispensed with the Garb yet still retained simplicity and virtue in their 1950s fashion. It is simply inescapable that clothing is an outward expression of ones inner demeanor and spiritual convictions.

Dressing up for an event means you have an elevated attitude towards the occasion, be it a wedding or a funeral. Conversely, intentionally dressing down, when more fashionable attire is easily available and expected, sends the opposite message. And, intentionally dressing in clothing that exposes an inordinate amount of bare skin is inviting others into temptations that do not glorify God. “And whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him,” Colossians 3:17.

Dunker, Dunkard

The names tunker, tunkard, dunker, and dunkard have been applied to many Brethren sub-groups because of their common practice of immersing or dunking the baptismal candidate. Although modern Germans principally use the transitive verb tauchen (plunge, immerse) or eintauchen (dive into), the obsolete tunken was the moniker applied to the early Brethren. The later substitution of the letter D for the letter T thus rendering dunken is most probably a New World innovation, which itself, later evolved into dunkard, and also into tunkard. Several native born Americans experienced difficulty understanding the heavy German accent of new arrivals speaking Palatinate and Swabian dialects.

The earliest European Brethren had no distinctive name but commonly referred to themselves as Bräder (Brethren) and occasionally as Taufgesinnten (baptist-minded). Outsiders started calling them Täufer) or Neue Täufer (New Baptists) to distinguish them from older Anabaptists bodies such as the Mennonites and Amish or Swiss Brethren. They were the Schwarzenau Täufer the Schwarzenau Baptists or the Schwarzenau Brethren. They later migrated through the New World using the label German Baptist so as to distinguish themselves from English Baptist groups.

See a full explanation of all Brethren Groups emanating from Germany.
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““For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.””
Philippians 4:9