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River Brethren

The name used to designate certain Christian bodies originating in 1770, during a revival movement among German settlers in E Pennsylvania. In the 1750s, Mennonite refugees from Switzerland had established their homes near the Susquehanna River. Their religious leaders, Jacob and John Engle, became associated with the revival, and their followers came to be known as the River Brethren, possibly because they were baptized in the Susquehanna upon joining the brotherhood. Several factions of the River Brethren withdrew in the mid-19th cent., including the Yorker Brethren and the United Zion Church, while the main body took the name Brethren in Christ, by which a group of Mennonites is also known. The Brethren practice trine (triple, in allusion to the Trinity) immersion and foot washing, adhere to plain dress, and oppose war, alcohol, tobacco, and worldly pleasures. There were about 11,000 members in the United States and Canada in 1992. They carry out missionary work in Asia and Africa.

About the middle of the 18th century, a few Mennonite families in Switzerland decided to emigrate, in order to escape persecution. They first went to England and in 1851 came to America. Twenty years later differences arose which resulted in the establishment of separate brotherhoods. The brotherhood "down by the river"?the southern part of Lancaster county, Pa.?became particularly strong and the name River Brethren was adopted. John Engle, who had come from Switzerland with them, was the first minister. In faith and practice the River Brethren resemble the Mennonites, and in some respects the Dunkards. The faith was brought to Kansas by emigrants from Pennsylvania in the early '80s and in 1890 there were nine congregations?one each in Brown, Clay, Harvey, Rooks and McPherson counties and four in Dickinson county. The total membership at that time was 588. During the next fifteen years little increase was made, and after the opening of Oklahoma the church lost by emigration to that state. In 1906 the total membership in Kansas was 450.

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