History lecture explores ancient German Baptist beliefs


Lois Shuman, a member of the Old German Baptist Brethren Church located near County Roads 600 West and 400 South, recently spoke at the Pendleton Historical Museum.

Kenny Humphrey | For the Times Post

By Sue Hughes | For the Times Post

PENDLETON — Residents of South Madison County may remember seeing members of the former German Baptist brethren, dressed in their distinctive traditional clothing, even though they may not be very familiar with the Christian denomination.

Lois Shuman, 69 – who has been a member of the Old German Baptist Brethren, located between Pendleton and Lapel, for more than 50 years – spoke at the Pendleton Museum on February 26. She gave some history of the brothers and answered questions about their beliefs, such as why they dress the way they do and how their church services may differ from others in this area.

Addressing about 30 attendees, Shuman said the Christian religion was first organized in Germany in 1708.

The ruler of Germany at the time was tolerant of new religions, but when a later, less tolerant ruler took over, the German Baptists moved to the Netherlands.

In 1719, the first members brought their religion to the United States. Like followers of many other religions at the time, they settled in Pennsylvania, where William Penn had promised religious freedom, she said.

The former German Baptists are neither Catholic nor Protestant. They are recognized as Anabaptists.

Anabaptists set rules that must be strictly followed by members of their sect, she said. The old German Baptists think the new sects are too progressive in their thinking.

The first group reached Pendleton in 1791.

“There are still descendants of the first families in our congregation today,” Shuman said.

Because religious groups were so scattered across the state, a minister may have an area of ​​30 square miles to cover.

“It doesn’t look like much now, Shuman said, but imagine how bad the roads were in the 1800s.”

About half of the former German Baptists still live in Indiana and Ohio.

After Shuman’s speech, the attendees asked many questions.

She said her religion does not prohibit the use of new technologies like some religions. It has electricity, a microwave and many other modern comforts.

Shuman used a laptop during his presentation.

“We accept modern technology as long as it does not interfere with the Christian life.”

She pointed out that they had no TV, radio or internet. She said “a computer without internet is just a fancy typewriter”.

She uses her “fancy typewriter for her work with IU. Although Shuman has a phone, it’s not a smart phone.

“I can text on my phone, but it’s a lot of work,” Shuman said with a laugh.

Church members do not vote or participate in government.

They are conscientious objectors and they do not testify or defend themselves in court.

Children are encouraged to finish high school, but for the most part they are kept away from university, she said. They think college will make kids question their beliefs.

Church services are different from what others might be used to seeing.

The meetings begin with songs. There are no musical instruments.

“The minister reads the verse and the congregation sings it,” Shuman said.

There could be up to five ministers for each service.

Ministers are appointed for life.

Normally, men and women sit on opposite sides of the church, but this is not a strict rule.

The old German Baptists were called Dunkards and Tunkers. These names were used because they believe in full immersion baptism.

A person can become a member as soon as they reach the age of accountability, usually in their late teens or early twenties.

Children are encouraged to marry within the congregation.

Shuman said he has a 50% to 70% retention rate in their church.

Most women make their own clothes. Shuman said the cape was for modesty.

“When I first joined, I thought the dress was going to be really hot, but I got used to it,” Shuman said.

The men wear plain coats and button-up shirts. Members of the ministry have a beard without a mustache. It is encouraged but not required among members.

Shuman ended his presentation by stating, “Everyone is welcome to visit our church.


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