THE HISTORY OF A
BALDWIN CITY RELIGIOUS INSTITUTION: WILLOW SPRINGS OLD
GERMAN BAPTIST BRETHREN CHURCH
Michael Breeden, Elizabeth Hickert, Nicole Penner, Allison Scahill (2003)
Tabitha Anthony, Alicia Ehlers, Ashley Johnson,
and Nathan Michel (2005)
Dr. George Wiley, Baker University
of early and present church members
(from the Lawrence Journal-World)
- What are the churches of
- Has work on this church's
history already been done? Is there a written history of the church? If yes
to either question, find out more so you don't duplicate someone else's
- Sources for Research.
newsletter “The Vindicator,” old sermons, other documents, and
interviews with members Charles and John Beeghley.
- Notes on the Denomination to Which the Institution
The Old German Baptist faith is an
offshoot of the Church of the Brethren. This faith dates, in America,
back to 1719, when the first members came by boat to the New World. The Church
of the Brethren itself developed out of the Lutheran and Mennonite
Churches in Germany during the late seventeenth century. As the Church of
the Brethren spread west in North America and grew in size, some members
wished to become more modern. Conversely, some members did not want
to become more modern, so a group of fundamentalist Brethren established
the German Baptist faith, which is the group that established Willow
Springs Old German Baptist Brethren.
The Old German Baptist
denomination is not as large as many Christian groups in the United
States. The members do not have a
large hierarchy of officials to answer to but instead look to the elders
for guidance and leadership. In each state where an Old
German Baptist Brethren congregations exist, the state is divided
into districts. Kansas is divided into five districts. In each district an elder is appointed
by the church members to be the leader.
A man always holds this position.
His duty is to answer any questions that are presented in the churches
and oversee the council meetings held in the district. In the state of
Ohio, some of the elders have an extra duty. Ohio is where the church's monthly
newsletter, The Vindicator, is
published. The newsletter allows
members to publish their thoughts, revelations, and artistic
creations. The articles are about
church issues or beliefs and are subject to the approval of a group of
elders called the Vindicator Committee.
Seven elders check each submission to ensure that it is compatible
with the doctrinal beliefs of the Old German Baptist church.
Although the elders help decide many issues in their districts, there is
an annual conference of members in the United States. The conference makes
decisions about doctrine and practices to be followed by all members. This annual conference is held in a
different location each year, coming to Kansas every twelve years because
the state has fewer members than many other states and the conference
preparations are time-consuming.
All church members who are able are expected to come. The conference is held at the same time
every year, during Pentecost. It
runs from Saturday through Tuesday, with the Love Feast on Pentecost and a
council meeting on Tuesday. The
Love Feast consists of foot washing, a meal, and the Bread and the Cup
(Communion). Serious discussions
take place in the council meeting.
Conferences meet outdoors, in tents. Several huge tents are used for council
meetings or fellowship, and others are used for meals. Church members look forward to the
annual conference. They associate
and worship with thousands of other believers.
- How did the
church get started?
The building where the Willow Springs
German Baptist Brethren is located was built in 1883, shortly after the split
in the Church of the Brethren occurred and two years after the original Church
of the Brethren building burned down in 1881, leaving the members without a place of worship for two years. Along with
the new church building, the new Willow Springs District was formed with forty-six
members. The membership of the district today is approximately seventy-five.
Additional information was published in the Lawrence Journal-World in 2001:
Douglas County has long been home for members of
the German Baptist community. It's believed their first organized group met in
1858 in Stephen Studebaker's log house southwest of Pleasant Grove. A meeting
house, the first in Kansas, was built in Pleasant Grove in 1877. In the late
1800s, there was a split in the congregation, and the original German Baptists
became the Old German Baptist Brethren. Their current meeting house, built in
1883, is in Willow Springs township 12 miles southwest
of Lawrence. (Snead).
- Who were the founders?
The names of the
men and women who chartered the church are
Jake Markley Jacob Chrowl
Michael Oswalt Elizabeth Flory
Manuel E. Flory
William Dangler Isaac Flory
Mary Dangler Emeline Flory
Manuel K. Flory
Mrs. Mohler Abe Flory
Joseph Kinney Aaron
*pictured in the Journal-World article (see link above)
- Why did they decide to start a church?
There are two reasons
why Kansas, and Willow Springs in particular, might
have been an enticing location for an Old German Baptist church. During the
white settlement of Kansas Territory in the mid 1800s, many people used the
Santa Fe Trail, which went from Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico Territory. As
settlers ventured west on this trail, they began to form towns along the way.
Willow Springs was one of these towns, a water and
mail stop for travelers on the trail. Near to where the church is now was one
of the first post offices of this area, no longer standing. Many of the people
who settled in Willow Springs belonged to the Church of the Brethren. Brethren
came to Kansas in part because Kansas became a free state, and the denomination
was opposed to slavery.
- Has the church existed in other
buildings than the present one? What were they?
The log home of Stephen Studebaker was the first official meeting
place for the Brethren, a little southwest of Pleasant Grove (Snead).
After that, members erected a meeting house in Pleasant Grove in 1877, and
only six years later, after the first meeting house burned down, they
built their current place of worship in Willow Springs (Snead).
- How Major Historical Events
Have Affected the Institution.
(a) The Civil War. Historical events such as war,
economic crises, and agricultural events are very important to the
understanding of the history of the Willow Springs Old German Baptist
Brethren Church. The Civil War
played a part in the settlement of northeast Kansas by the German Baptists'
denominational ancestors, the Brethren. The phrase “Bleeding
Kansas,” designates the era of conflict between "free
state" forces, who wanted the Kansas Territory to become a non-slave
state, and pro-slavery advocates, often from Missouri, who wanted the
opposite outcome. Some Brethren came to Kansas during this era. Many were
already living in the area southwest of Pleasant Grove during the Civil
War, and more moved to this area once the
free-state faction prevailed, and slavery was illegal in Kansas. Later
Brethren settlers came because they wanted to live in a free state.
Willow Springs members today remember the
Bleeding Kansas era. Charles Beeghley knows
stories that have been passed down from church members who were alive
then. The largest of the conflicts in Kansas occurred in August, 1863,
when pro-slavery leader William Quantrill's
forces raided and burned Lawrence, Kansas. After leaving Lawrence, Quantrill proceeded south toward Baldwin City. The
founding members of the Willow Springs Old German Baptist Brethren, still
connected at that time with the Church of the Brethren, lived on farms
near that area. According to Beeghley, Jacob
Ulrich, the church's pastor and a rumored supporter of the Underground
Railroad, had his farm and home destroyed by Quantrill’s
ruffians. Mr. Ulrich was also the great-grandfather of current member John
Beeghley. Charles Beeghley
said that there were several stories like Mr. Ulrich’s involving Quantrill’s raiders.
Henry Flory, a local Old German Baptist, recalled stories his
grandmother told him in an interview with Lawrence Journal-World senior editor Bill Snead (Snead). Suzanah
Flory was nine when William Clarke Quantrill, a pro-slavery fighter from Missouri, led his men
in a raid against the anti-slavery Brethren. Her father, Jacob Ulrich, was a
minister in the area and a reported friend of the abolitionist John Brown
(Snead). Abraham Rothrock, a neighbor to Ulrich, also
opposed slavery and therefore was also on Quantrill’s
list of enemies (Snead). Henry Flory recalls that Quantrill and his troops left Ulrich’s homestead
while it was still burning, so the family attempted to put out the fire. They
managed to save the house, but not the barn. Rothrock
attempted to stop the raiders when he saw them abusing his wife and daughter,
and ended up being shot and falling “backwards into a cellar”
(Snead). Flory said in the interview, “They say
Rothrock’s sons told their father they were
going to shoot Quantrill, who was passed out from
drunkenness in their barnyard. Their father told them not to do it and said
they’d have it on their conscience the rest of their lives”
(Snead). Their pacifist way of life was evidenced by their reactions to this
In sum, events related to the Civil War did not directly affect the
Willow Springs fellowship, but they did affect individual church members;
“Bleeding Kansas” is a very important time in this community's
(b) Wars in the Twentieth Century.
The German Baptists, though they are exempt from military service, are
still involved in war efforts. Members are encouraged to join service
organizations during times of war, for instance Civilian Public Service during
World War II. Such service involved medical work, firefighting, or cleaning and
cooking. As believers in non-violence, the German Baptists are conscientious
objectors in time of
war. During times of a military draft they have received
deferments and two-year terms of alternative service. Another reason why German
Baptists do not serve in the military is that farming is very important to
their livelihood, and with men away doing military service, there would not be
enough people to tend the farms.
(c) The Dust Bowl.
Kansans whose livelihood was farming suffered greatly during the Dust
Bowl of the 1930s. Charles Beeghley was alive during
the Dust Bowl and reports that the hardships of the time required Willow Springs members to band together more than usual for
survival. The only use for church funds is to help parishioners during hard
times and to maintain the church, so funds were used especially during this
time to aid needy families.
- What people have been
influential in the life of the church over time? (other
than the founders). These people might include a particularly beloved
pastor (or a particularly unpopular one) or a lay leader.
- What controversies has the church experienced?
The largest controversy was the three-way split in the years
1881-82 (Gordon “Groups”). Many German Baptists in America
were beginning to believe that some aspects of the new technologies and
inventions were not necessarily wrong or against the religion. Others
still felt the strong tie to the very reason the church came into being,
which was to escape worldly things and find the way back to God through
simplicity (Gordon “Groups”). The German Baptists already
located near Pleasant Grove, Kansas, opted for the more conservative wing
and chose to break from the church in 1881 and join the newly formed Old
German Baptist Brethren. This choice may not have been as difficult in
this location as in some others, where modernism was more prominent, but
it probably led to debates and strong feelings about which path to follow.
- Sources of the Institution's
Several factors give the Willow Springs Church its identity and
distinguish it from other Baldwin City churches. According to
John Beeghley, German Baptists have a multiple
ministry, and the ministers are not trained in a seminary but chosen from
the congregation. In addition, the ministers receive no pay,
and the church does not take an offering during services, so the ministers
and church must meet expenses some other way. Also, there
is separate seating for men and women. A further difference is the
form of dress that German Baptists wear. Traditionally, women wear prayer
coverings over their hair, and men grow long beards.
The church's moral teachings also give it a distinct identity in Baldwin
City. German Baptists believe that television contributes significantly to
violence, so they do not own televisions or anything geared towards
secular entertainment, including radios, and they avoid carnivals and
fairs. If German Baptists marry and then divorce, they could not
remarry, but if a spouse dies, the living spouse may remarry. If
members remarry after a divorce, they cannot be a part of the church.
Members believe that they are a part of God’s kingdom on earth, not
a kingdom of the world, so they stay out of governmental
affairs. For example, they do not vote and are exempt from jury
duty and military duty. They do not take an active part in
sports. They can play for recreational purposes but do not play
for competition or support college sports. They think that
competition is a distraction from living a life for God. The
children of members do sometimes participate in school sports, but they
may do so because they are not yet members of the church. Upon joining the
church, they would be expected to change their dress and behavior.
A common greeting among the German Baptists, a way of saying hello, is a
kiss. The men will kiss only the men and women will kiss only the
women. Beeghley said this form of
greeting had a biblical reference and that kissing is one of the most
intimate forms of affection. They kiss twice, once on each
cheek, one kiss symbolizing charity and the other peace. Rather than
practicing infant baptism, members believe that when old enough, people
should decide for themselves whether they want to continue their faith in
the German Baptist church. German Baptists do not call their
church a church, but rather a Meeting House. They use the King James
Version of the Bible, and they expect each member to be well versed in
- The Institution's
Mission or Purpose.
The mission of the Willow Springs Old
German Baptist Brethren Church is the spread the word of God to men and
women who seek it. Members of the
church practice a policy that men and women must come in search of
religion. Contrary to evangelical
Christians, the Old German Baptists will not go out and attempt to save
the souls of men and women who may not want salvation. Members of the church believe that if
people come to them seeking religion, then that person must have a sincere
need that religion can fulfill. The
German Baptists believe that evangelism would be an attempt to save the
souls of people who would not sincerely practice religion. So the person seeking religion must take
the first step, and then the members will help to guide him or her in the
The mission statement of the church is “Thus saith
the Lord, stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where
is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your
souls” (Jeremiah 6:16, The
Vindicator). The mission
statement embodies the members' faith.
The paths of old are evident in the modest lives that the they lead.
Members deprive themselves of certain luxuries such as secular
entertainment and some modern technology.
Their modesty is also displayed in the homemade clothing the men
and women wear. This self-denial
stems from the stand that Old German Baptists have taken against
materialism and the ways of the world.
All districts, whether it be in Indiana,
Kansas, or Pennsylvania, practice the same strict guidelines. Another phrase used as guidance in the
church is: “Of the Ancient Order and Self-denying Principles of the
Church, as taught by the Savior and Held forth by the Fathers of our
Fraternity” (Beeghley). The men and women of this church
willingly follow the old guidelines that have been put forth by the
founding fathers of the church.
- How has the church ministered to the Baldwin City
According to Ira DeSpain,
minister to Baker University and resident of Baldwin City, the people of
Willow Springs Old German Baptist Brethren minister to the community, just
in a different way than most would realize. A group of bakers, MMMM
Home-Baked Goodies, bakes, sells, and delivers things like freshly baked
whole-grain bread every Friday. It is operated by four women whose names
all begin with “M,” and who are members of the Willow Springs
church. Also, at the Lawrence,
Kansas, Farmers’ Market every summer, Margaret Clark (one of the
four “M’s”) and her children bring
“semi-free-range” chickens they have raised to sell to the
community, as well ask baked goods (DeSpain). This work may not seem like
ministry, but it marks their presence in the area and sparks questions in
residents’ minds about who these people
are, why they do what they do, and how they survive. Questions lead to
examination, and examination could lead to new members of their small
family of faith. The reminder of the “small-town, homemade,
old-fashioned” way of life creates a desire for simplicity in the
lives of those around the Brethren (DeSpain).
- What contact or involvement has
this church had with other churches in Baldwin City?
- Is the church connected to a judicatory body? (annual conference, archdiocese, etc.) If so, what kind of relations has the
church had with its judicatory body?
the schism of the original Brethren church, the Annual Conference was the
final authority for the denomination (“The Brethren”). In 1881, when the Old German Baptist
Brethren broke away from the original group, they also disassociated
themselves from the Conference in favor of starting their own annual
national meeting. The meeting is
held at various locations every year during Pentecost, and all members of
the church are encouraged to attend.
Besides deep discussions concerning the doctrine of the church, the
four-day event also features worship ceremonies, meals, and the Brethren
version of a Communion celebration.
- What is the church's polity (how does it govern itself,
how do decisions get made)? Are decisions up to the congregation only? Are
Historically, the Brethren church has been a very democratic
organization (“The Brethren”).
The Annual Conferences make decisions democratically. While the more liberal offshoots of the
Brethren church eventually formed a paid ministry, the Old German Baptist
Brethren Church has clung to the old system (“The
Brethren”). While there is
some variance across congregations, most Old German Baptist Brethren
congregations have an unpaid minister elected from within the group. Also, the elders of the church have
special significance, considering that in the past they were called the
“spiritual shepherds” of the church (“The
Brethren”). The minister and
the elders of the church are usually in charge of decision-making.
- What was the toughest thing the church ever went through?
historical event the church had to endure was the split amoung
the Brethren in 1881 (Beeghley). There were
differences over what direction the church was to follow. The result was
tension among members (Beeghley).
are some of the religious organization's successes?
- Are any roles in
the religious organization assigned by sex? Why or why not?
German Baptist churches generally, many roles are assigned by
sex. For example, women are not allowed to be ministers or
elders (Roberson). In this religion, the elders handle many of
the decisions, and the ministers’ opinions are highly
respected. Thus women do not have much of a say in the way things
get done or decided.
way sex plays a role in the church is during Sunday services, where men enter
through the left door while women enter through the right
(Roberson). In addition to that, men and women sit on opposite sides
of the church for services. Traditionally, German Baptist Brethren
greet each other with a kiss of peace. However, kissing is only
allowed if the people are of the same sex. When greeting a person of
the opposite sex, they use a handshake. This tradition is upheld in
most German Baptist Brethren groups (Roberson).
are the demographics of the religious organization? (for instance, size of
membership, average weekly attendance, age range, ethnicity, socioeconomic
profile, education level)
connection or interaction has there been between the organization and Baker
- Is there other
information that doesn’t fit in the categories above?
After the Thirty
Years War in Germany, many Christians were unsatisfied with the existing
denominations: mainly Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and German Reformed (“The
Brethren”). The Pietist movement in Germany suggested that churches had
become “too mechanical” and that religion should be more personal
(“The Brethren”). One
spiritual leader of the time, Alexander Mack, agreed deeply with pietism but
also thought that churches should incorporate adult baptism. In 1708, Mack began re-baptizing believers
The Brethren owe some of their
traits to other Christian groups. Brethren members are
often mistaken for Mennonites or Amish people, with whom they have interacted
over the centuries (“The Brethren”). All these groups place an emphasis on
personal spirituality, a product of their association with the older Anabaptist
faith. Unlike the other two groups,
however, the Brethren do not incorporate creeds into their doctrine, having
“no other creed than the New Testament” (“The
In 1719, a Brethren group arrived in
Pennsylvania (“The Brethren”).
Other church members, including Mack himself, would follow in 1729 and
1733. The Brethren Church has always
done its best to separate itself from the world by refusal to dress as others
do, use many modern technologies, and participate in politics or military
service. The group members were
sometimes harassed by outsiders, who gave them the nickname
“Dunkers” or “Dunkards”
because of their practice of full-immersion baptisms (“The
Brethren”). The group continued to
grow and spread across America. Sometime
during the 1700s, an Annual Conference was established to serve as a law-making
body for the church.
During the 19th century,
as their church continued to expand, many members of the Brethren church became
more liberal in their dress, worship, and spiritual thought (“The
Brethren”). Many others wished to
continue the traditional church practices and lifestyle. This difference in religious philosophy
caused separations within the church. In
1881, the most conservative members of the Brethren formed the Old German
Baptist Brethren, in order to “preserve pure, traditional
‘apostolic Christianity’” (“The Brethren”). Since then the Old German Baptist Brethren
have adhered strictly to the original principles of the faith. Several other splinter churches have formed
from the original Brethren, but they have been more liberal than the Old German
Baptists (“The Brethren”).
As of 1995, there were only 5,277 members of the Old German Baptist
faith, with 52 churches (five of which are in Kansas) and about 250 ministers
(“The Brethren”). The group
has a newspaper published in Ohio, The
Vindicator. Within states containing
more than one congregation of Old German Baptists, districts are
established. Kansas is composed of five
districts. Each district elects an
elder, always a male, to serve as the district’s leader and to preside
over congregational meetings within the district. The leaders of districts in Ohio also edit The Vindicator and ensure that it does
not contain any information that disagrees with church doctrine (“The
Student Researchers' Comments.
The study of the Old German Baptist Brethren was an
educational experience. Although the Willow Springs members are Christian, as
are many other people of this area, most outsiders do not experience their
traditional approach to worship and life. We not only explored the history of
this church but also the fundamental workings of the faith, even today. By welcoming us to their home, John and Anna Beeghley gave us a first-hand experience of the Old German
Baptist Brethren church and helped us to understand how important this
denomination is to the Baldwin City Community.
Charles. Personal interview. 26 April 2005.
Ira. Personal interview. 25 April 2005.
Ronald J. “Brethren
Groups.” January 2005 Church of the
Brethren Network. April 24, 2005. < http://www.cob.net/orgs/groups.htm >.
Ronald J. “Brethren
Timeline.” April 2005 Church of the
Brethren Network. April 24,
2005. < http://www.cob.net/timeline.htm >.
Holly. “Old German Baptist Church Details.” Garstfamily.com April
24, 2005. < http://www.garstfamily.com/ogbb/gb6.html
Bill. “Civil War Memories
Retold.” April 21, 2001. Lawrence
Journal-World. April 24,
2005. < http://www.ljworld.com/section/quantrill/story/63487
Brethren.” Religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu. April
15, 2005. < http://religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu/nrms/brethren.html