German Baptists gather from across the country for the annual meeting

By Rosanne Bowman

May 31, 2014

LIMA — On June 7 to 10, the Old German Baptist Brethren annual meeting — which is open to the public — will take place at 2164 Beery Road at the farm of Jesse and Melanie King. The last time the annual meeting took place in Lima was 1950.

Every year, members of the Old German Baptist Brethren Church gather from across the country to attend the annual meeting which is always held on Pentecost — which is 50 days after the Feast of First Fruit, or what is more commonly known as Easter Sunday. The expected attendance for this year’s annual meeting is 5,000 to 6,000.

Steve Kingery, presiding elder at Ash Grove Old German Baptist Brethren Church and on both the building and the public relations committees for the annual meeting, said that the biggest crowd will be on Sunday. “We have members coming from Wisconsin, Florida, Montana, New York, Missouri, Kansas, Indiana, Virginia and other places in Ohio,” he said.

The location of the annual meeting changes each year, moving across the country. Next year’s annual meeting will take place in Pennsylvania, followed in successive years by Kansas, Indiana, Ohio and then Virginia and then start over again. “Every once in a while, it will go to California, but we don’t have as many members out there,” said Kingery. “We do that so no one area becomes the head district of the church.”

The purpose of the annual meeting is to answer questions of the local congregations or, as they are referred to, districts. “If we can’t get an answer here, then we send it to annual meeting,” Kingery explained. “We do this to keep unity. We don’t call them laws. We call them applications of principles of Scripture.”

The questions generally revolve around the denomination’s literal translation of the Bible and what that means in daily living. As culture changes, members have to determine how they will interact with those changes. For example, technology has caused many questions in recent years. “We get this from Acts 15 when they met together in Jerusalem to come to an agreement on questions they had,” said Kingery. “We always do our business meeting on Tuesday, so on the Tuesday of the annual meeting, at about 10 a.m., we’ll start our business where we’ll address the queries from each district.”

On June 9, two members called messengers from each district will go to the meeting house and hold a council meeting to elect 12 elders which will make up the standing committee. The standing committee then organizes the business meeting on June 10. Although there are no term limits for elders, they have to be re-elected each year.

Once the business meeting has concluded, the annual meeting is over. Within the day, the entire area will be dismantled and cleaned up. “If we get done with our business early enough,” said Kingery, “they might be planting that field that afternoon.”

Although the set up and tear down of the annual meetings temporary buildings and tents does not take long, the planning for each annual meeting begins well in advance. There were 22 different committees from five different churches that helped in putting together this year’s annual meeting, which they began planning in April 2012.

Forty acres on the King’s farm were planted with grass in 2012 to accommodate council and dining tents, concession tents, restrooms and parking for over 3,000 vehicles. On June 5 and 6, members will prepare the area for the weekend with a tent raising, starting at around 7 a.m. on June 5. Kingery said that the Health and Building Departments were very helpful in securing the various permits needed to put on the annual meeting which included not just building permits, but various food licenses, as well.

Although the main purpose is to answer questions, the annual meeting is also filled with other activities. On June 7 to 9, worship and teaching times will be from 10 a.m. to noon and 2 to 4 p.m. There will also be worship times at 7 a.m. from June 8 to 10. The speakers will vary. “We consider age in office important,” said Kingery. “We also prefer distance, so those in Ohio won’t preach. Those from out of state will take precedence.”

Monday evening there will be a service from 7 to 8:30 p.m. which focuses on the young people. “We will ask some of the younger ones to speak,” said Kingery. “We are expecting approximately 1,000 young people and we’ll try to keep them busy.”

To that end, another 10 acres were prepared for activities like basketball and volleyball. Monday evening after the service, there will be a campfire and hymn singing. “In our district,” said Kingery, “there are more young people than older people. That varies by district, but we have a good percentage of young people.”

A free lunch and dinner prepared by church members will be served in the dining tent every day. The tent accommodates around 800 people and Kingery said that a second round of table servings at the meals is not uncommon. In addition, Grace Community Church will also be manning a concession stand. Hosting families will also be feeding visitors at their homes.

Kingery said he and his wife are expecting around 100 people during meal times. This reflects the denominations tight knit community and focus on hospitality. “She started cooking and putting food up in the freezer a while ago,” he said.

That hospitality does not just extend to meals. Although some members will stay in hotels or at campgrounds, the majority of attendees will be hosted in local members’ homes. “We have a baggage room,” Kingery explained. “Each place that is hosting people has tickets. People who need lodging get a ticket. That way, somebody doesn’t end up with more people than they have room for.”

Originally called Dunkers, the Old German Baptist Brethren Church began in Germany about 300 years ago. At the time, a group of believers were unsatisfied with the state churches in Europe and felt they no longer conformed to Biblical teachings, and so the Old German Baptist Brethren Church had its beginnings.

The denomination believes strongly in a literal interpretation of Scriptures, and feel that the Bible teaches modesty, simplicity and economy. Faith, repentance and then baptism are the steps a person has to take to join their fellowship. Members of the Old German Baptist Brethren Church are often recognized because of their distinct appearance. Women wear dresses with a half cape and bonnets. Men wear hats and beards with no mustache. The reason for their distinct appearance is to draw a line between themselves and the secular world around them.

Deciding where to draw that line is one of the main reasons for the annual meeting to answer the various districts’ questions. “One of our biggest challenges is to serve an unchanging God in a changing world,” said Kingery.

What: Annual Meeting

When: June 7 to 10

Schedule of events:

June 7

10 a.m. to noon: Worship and teaching

2 to 4 p.m.: Worship and teaching

June 8

7 a.m.: Worship and teaching

7:30 a.m.: Breakfast

10 a.m. to noon: Worship and teaching

2 to 3 p.m.: Worship and teaching

5 p.m.: Communion, dining tent

June 9

7 a.m.: Morning worship and teaching

7:30 a.m.: Breakfast

10 a.m. to noon: Worship and teaching

2 to 4 p.m.: Worship and teaching

7 to 8:30 p.m.: Worship and teaching

June 10

7 a.m.: Morning worship and teaching

7:30 a.m.: Breakfast

10 a.m.: Business meeting