Diversities of Gifts

Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. — I CORINTHIANS 12.4

I

MORE than a century ago an Irish priest was appointed rector of St. Mary’s Church, which stood then, as it stands to-day, at the corner of Prince and Vine Streets, one square to the south of King Street. St. James Episcopal Church is situated at the corner of Duke and Orange Streets, an equal distance to the north of King Street. When the appointment of the priest of St. Mary’s was only four years old, the vestry of St. James called to its pulpit a young man who had begun as a lawyer a career which he was destined to end as a bishop. At almost the same time a new minister came to Trinity Lutheran Church, whose lofty spire has overlooked King Street from the south since the concluding decades of the eighteenth century.

They became fast friends. The priest was an ardent Democrat. The Lutheran minister was a Whig. The Episcopal rector regarded parties— ‘faction,’ as George Washington would have expressed it — as the besetting sin of Church and State. In spite of these political differences all three were elected to the school board. When President Zachary Taylor died in office, the board met in the Court House in order to pass resolutions of respect. At the close of the meeting the three friends walked, arm in arm, to Trinity Church in order to take part in a religious service in memory of the dead President. The picture which they presented was never forgotten by those who saw it, and has become for us on King Street a symbol of not the least part of the contribution which America has made to the wisdom and charity of the world.

But indeed the precedents which make for tolerance among us run back much further than a century. A decade before the last of the witches was hanged in Salem the ‘Great Law’ of William Penn had provided that no person who acknowledged one Almighty God to be the creator and ruler of the world, and who professed himself obliged in conscience to live peaceably and justly under the civil government, should in any wise be molested or prejudiced by reason of his conscientious persuasion or practice. Relying on this assurance, several families from the Palatinate, descendants of the distressed Swiss Mennonites, settled on the Pequea Creek, whereupon Penn sent to the Conestoga Indians a present — consisting, somewhat inappropriately, of powder and shot — and a message requiring their friendship to ‘the Palatines, settled near Pequae.’ The Indians made a conciliatory reply, and in the course of a few years the Mennonites were followed by coreligionists of Penn himself; by Amish, called in early days Beardy Men and Hooker Mennonites — the latter because of the hooks and eyes which they still use on their clothes instead of buttons; by Dunkers or Tunkers, with beards as long as those of the Amish, but without the distinguishing hooks and eyes, some of whom settled along the Susquehanna and are on that account known as River Brethren; by Moravians, who founded a congregation of which Count Zinzendorf is reckoned as the first pastor; and by one Conrad Beissel, who lived first as a hermit on the banks of the Cocalico and afterwards founded a monastic society whose members attained such excellence in music as to be publicly rewarded by the King of England and such skill in printing as to be chosen printers of money for the Continental Congress. If to these little-known sectarians, referred to locally by the collective designation of ‘plain people,’ there be added representatives of the usual Protestant denominations and the Catholics who laid the foundations of St. Mary’s, — the women mixing the mortar while the men gathered the stones from the adjoining farms, — it is not hard to credit the statement of an authority on the subject that a pedestrian on King Street may meet representatives of as many as thirty sects during the course of a walk on that thoroughfare.

II

He who would see the plain people of the present generation can make no better beginning than by following King Street to our market house on any market day. The land on which we are standing was set apart in 1730 ‘for the erection of a market within the town’ and has ever since served its appointed purpose, the stalls in the market house being rented annually by the city to the highest bidders at a public auction.

Here is a placid Mennonite housewife who, with the help of her little daughter, is selling vegetables raised on her husband’s farm, and in addition a variety of products of her own handiwork— yellow noodles for ‘schmaltzing’ (baking with bread crumbs) or making soup, pickled pigs’ feet called ‘souse,’ dried apples or ‘schnitz,’ ‘schmierkaes,’ and thick sugar cookies which are known as ‘pepper nuts.’ If the time of the year were near Shrove Tuesday, her wares would also include ‘fasnachts,’ — raised doughnuts without holes, — which are eaten on that feast day.

Being indoors now, she has removed the black bonnet, shaped like a short pokebonnet, in which she came to market, and in so doing has uncovered a small white cap resembling a miniature sunbonnet, the strings of which are tied under her chin. She wears a black garb (it might also be gray, or, indeed, any quiet print) consisting of a waist buttoned close to the neck, but without a collar, and a long full skirt. A cape made of the same material as the dress completes as plain a costume as may well be imagined. It is curious, nevertheless, to observe the universality of the experience that the effort to avoid distinction in dress inevitably defeats its purpose. In a somewhat similar connection the Quakers, in attempting to abolish ritual, have unwittingly created an exceedingly effective ritual out of silence.

The little girl does not wear a garb. She has not yet renounced the world and joined the church — has not ‘come out’ and ‘given herself up,’ as the Mennonites themselves express it. She will make her own decision on that point when she has arrived at years of discretion. Perhaps she will never give herself up, and unless she does so she will continue to dress as her own taste and that of her mother determine. If, in due time, she concludes to take the momentous step, she will appear some morning attired like her mother, and from that day forward the vanity of personal adornment will be a thing of the past.

If her father had come to market it might be possible to tell whether the family belongs to the Old Mennonites, who are the more numerous and the less rigid, or to the New Mennonites, who claim to have returned to an earlier and more excellent standard. Among the former, the wearing of beards is optional; among the latter, beards are considered productive of both pride and envy, and are, consequently, forbidden. A Mennonite with a beard is, therefore, certainly an Old Mennonite, but one without a beard may belong to either of the two branches of the church. Old Mennonites vote at elections and are allowed to hold such public offices as school director and road supervisor, but not to be members of the legislature. Their ministers are expected not to vote. New Mennonites do not vote at all. If one of them becomes a backslider in the eyes of the church, the other members of his own family are not allowed to eat at the same table with him, and his wife withdraws from him.

Old Mennonite ministers are chosen in the following manner. When a vacancy occurs and a new appointment is required, several men go into a small room and receive privately oral nominations to fill the vacancy. After this has been done, an opportunity is given to any nominee to excuse himself from the service. Those who are not excused, if, for instance, six in number, are brought before six Bibles, in one of which a lot has been placed. Each candidate takes up a book, and the one within whose book the lot is found is the chosen minister.

III

Across the aisle of the market a portly Amishman, his hollow-chested wife, and their little son are engaged in selling poultry and potatoes. The rule among the Amish requires that the men shave their upper lips and allow their beards to grow, whence, as already stated, they were formerly known as Beardy Men — a name which went out of use when the wearing of beards became generally fashionable during the period of the Civil War. Our Amishman has kept the rule to the letter, and his beard, which is reddish brown in color, is a full and noble one. Except for the necessary absence of a beard, the little boy is a perfect manikin. His hair, like that of his father, has been cut straight over the forehead and hangs almost to his shoulders, and he wears the characteristic Amish garb consisting of a dark coat and waistcoat fastened with hooks and eyes, long trousers (which are worn without suspenders), and a roundcrowned black felt hat with an extremely wide brim. Though he may not know it, the hooks and eyes on his clothing are symbols of an inherited pacifism, and express the abhorrence which his ancestors felt for the brass buttons which have always played such conspicuous parts in adorning the uniform of a soldier.

The Amish mother, though she too wears a garb, is much less restricted in her choice of colors than her Mennonite neighbor. Her bonnet — which has a long visor hiding her face and a ‘curtain ‘ reaching to her shoulders — and the folded shawl or handkerchief meeting demurely over her breast are black, but her closely fitting dress is a dull magenta and the apron which she wears over it is royal blue. She has selected these colors, not because she mistakenly believes them to be inconspicuous, but because she regards them as ‘unworldly’ — that is, not in general use. Certain shades of green and purple, as well as magenta and royal blue, appear to have been definitely approved by her coreligionists as unworldly colors. The implications of this approval are not altogether unnoticed by the world itself. A merchant on King Street once told me of a customer of his who hesitated about buying a piece of cloth which was otherwise acceptable to her on the ground that the color ‘looked Amish.’ He hastened to assure her that she was mistaken and she completed the purchase.

The Amish love of color is not limited in its expression to the dress of the women. Houses and barns are sometimes gayly painted. A blue gate is said, though perhaps incorrectly, to be a sign that a marriageable daughter is to be found within. Before the days of automobiles every Amish family possessed a wagon covered with yellow oilcloth. These wagons were built without dashboards and usually without whip sockets — the latter being regarded, except among one faction of the Amish, as symbolical of compulsion or force. Some members of the church now drive automobiles, but this practice is strongly disapproved by others.

One becomes a member of the Mennonite Church by conversion, but one is born into the Amish communion. There are less than twenty family names in the entire fellowship, and I have never heard of an Amish convert. On the other hand, instances of voluntary withdrawal from the church are exceedingly rare. The small number of surnames sometimes creates difficulties. A public-school teacher with whom I was acquainted was elected to teach at an ungraded country school having thirty-four pupils, all but two of whom were named Stoltzfus. In order to avoid confusion it becomes necessary to invoke mediæval precedents, and to speak of ‘Hickory John’ and ‘Black Isaac.’ A client of mine prefixed the word ‘Spring’ to his given name because of a large spring which was located on his farm, and invariably signed his name in its revised form to checks and legal documents.

Though in nearly all connections the Amish have been content to accept the views and continue the practices which have been handed down to them, it by no means follows that they are lacking in natural spirit and gayety. Indeed, their young men sometimes display a wildness of behavior which seems altogether out of keeping with the soberness of their appearance. Time out of mind they have had a passionate interest in fast and spirited horses. In spite of a traditional adherence to the Republican Party, which originally resulted from their opinions on the subject of slavery, they voted the Democratic ticket in the presidential election of 1932 because of their deepseated hostility to national prohibition. At wedding parties, called ‘infares,’ the revelry frequently continues all night. On these occasions both young and old join in a game not unlike ‘Hunt the Slipper,’ which is played with what is known as a ‘bloom-sock’ — a handkerchief or towel, twisted and doubled, with the ends tied in a knot. In the course of the game the bloom-sock is passed secretly from hand to hand in order to confuse that one of the players whose obligation it is to find it. As opportunity offers, the other players hit him with the bloomsock. If he is able to seize it, his obligation is discharged and another takes his place.

IV

You may well suppose at first glance that the man in charge of the next market stall is also an Amishman. A second glance, however, will serve to correct your mistake. His shaven upper lip and full beard are suggestive of the Amish practice, but his gray coat of clerical cut is both lighter in color and finer in material than that of any Amishman. Most of all, the large buttons with which his coat is fastened show conclusively that he belongs to some other denomination. As a matter of fact, both beard and garb result from his own choice and are not rendered obligatory by the discipline of his church. He is one of the Dunkers, or, as they prefer to be called, the Brethren. As the commonly accepted name indicates, he believes in ‘dipping’ — that is, in baptism by immersion.

The members of the various ‘plain’ denominations do not greatly differ from one another in theological beliefs. All of them have retained the ordinances of baptism, whether by pouring or immersion, and of the Lord’s Supper. Some of them also practise feetwashing.

An eyewitness of a generation ago1 has described a feet-washing and love feast among the Dunkers. The ceremony was held in the evening and in church, the seats of which were so constructed that, by turning down the backs of some of them, tables could be formed. At the appointed time the presiding bishop rose in his place and read the account of the feet-washing contained in the Gospel according to Saint John. In front of him stood four men, who, at the words ‘laid aside his garments,’ took off their coats, and, at the words ‘took a towel and girded himself,’ put on long white aprons tied around the waist. Two of these men washed feet and two wiped, and, having thus ministered, were ministered to by four others who took their places, and who were in turn replaced until all had taken part. The women, who occupied a separate side of the church, performed the same ordinance for themselves in a similar manner. At its conclusion all present partook of a love feast consisting of soup, bread, butter, and meat, without salt or other condiment. When all had eaten, a young bishop rose at the centre of the main table, shook hands with the sister on his left, and kissed the brother on his right. From brother to brother and from sister to sister the kiss went around the congregation until the last sister, who had no one to kiss, went forward and kissed the first one with whom the bishop had shaken hands, thus completing the chain of unity. This ceremony was followed by communion, which was administered with bread or cakes, unleavened and sweetened, and homemade wine.

But if theological differences among the plain sectarians are slight and unimportant, there are many differences in customs and practices which rest indirectly on theological grounds, and of which the lawyer who maintains an office on King Street is bound to take notice. All of the plain denominations forbid their members to institute legal proceedings under any circumstances whatever, though both Dunkers and Mennonites are permitted, in extremity and by way of last resort, to defend themselves against unjustified suits and to appeal to the police for protection.

The latter permission, which is not accorded to the Amish, is founded upon a passage in the Acts of the Apostles, in which it is narrated that forty Jews entered into a conspiracy to kill Paul. But Paul sent his nephew to the chief captain to inform him of the conspiracy, and the latter put Paul under the charge of soldiers to be brought safe to Felix, the governor. For some reason, however, a Dunker may defend himself in court or ask for protection only once. If the verdict goes against him he may not appeal, and if his request for help is unanswered he may not renew it, but must take the consequences.

The idea of nonresistance is not entirely confined to human relationships. Among the striking peculiarities of a branch of the Dunker fellowship is a strong opposition to the use of lightning rods. ‘If,’ said one of their preachers, ‘God wishes to preserve the building, he can preserve it without the lightning rod. If he does not wish to preserve it, I am willing to submit to the result.’

V

Only a few persons may now be found who claim membership in the monastic society founded by Conrad Beissel. The brothers and sisters wore a habit similar to that of the Capuchins or White Friars and lived in separate houses, sleeping on benches with blocks of wood for pillows and eating with wooden forks from plates made of thin octagonal pieces of poplar board. Even the flagons, goblets, and trays used in the communion service were made of wood. The celibate brothers and sisters met only in religious exercises and at love feasts. Celibacy was recommended, though not enjoined, and no vows with reference to it were taken. The strictest simplicity was practised by all.

On one occasion a brother who had taken the name Onesimus, and who, though designated as prior, was subordinate to Beissel, ordered a bell from Europe without the knowledge of the society, and caused to be placed on it a Latin inscription in which his name was included. When the bell arrived it was duly paid for, but a council was held in order to determine what to do with it. The first decision was to break the bell and bury the pieces in the earth. The next morning, however, Beissel appeared before the council and said he had reflected that, as the brothers were poor, the bell should be pardoned. This was accordingly done, and the bell was sold. For many years the pardoned bell, still bearing the name of the innovating prior who had caused it to be cast, was used to summon worshipers to Trinity Lutheran Church. Afterwards it passed into the hands of one of the fire companies on King Street.

Though Beissel was surpassed, both in education and in native powers of mind, by a number of his monastic associates, he was a first-rate musician and composer. He developed an unusual style of singing, founded on the music of nature as found in the tones of the Æolian harp. The music was set in four, six, and eight parts. All the parts save the bass were led and sung exclusively by women, the men being confined to the bass, which was set in two parts, the high and the low bass. The former, in combination with one of the female parts, is said to have been an excellent imitation of the concert horn, and the latter to have resembled the deep tones of the organ. An early visitor to the monastery reported that the singers scarcely opened their mouths or moved their lips, and added that the effect was to throw the voices up to the ceiling of the chapel, which was not high, so that the tones seemed to be entering from above with almost superhuman softness and devotion.

The commissioners who were sent by the English Government to visit the society after the French and Indian War were so charmed by what they heard that they requested that a copy of the music be sent to the royal family in England. This request was cheerfully complied with. About a year afterwards a box was received, three or four feet long and two or two and a half feet wide, containing a present in return. What the present was is not certainly known — none having seen it but Beissel and one Jaebez, who was then prior and into whose care the box had been consigned. On this occasion Beissel had no afterthoughts. He caused the box and its contents to be buried secretly. From a hint dropped by Jaebez it is supposed that the contents consisted of images of the King and Queen in full costume. Perhaps something may be said in justification of the feeling that it is harder to pardon an image than a bell.

VI

The history of religious differences would appear to show that it is harder to pardon a heretic than either an image or a bell. If so, the views of some of Beissel’s coreligionists must be regarded as exceptional. ‘We deny eternal punishment,’ said one of them. ‘Those souls who become sensible of God’s great goodness and clemency, and acknowledge his lawful authority . . . and that Christ is the only true Son of God, are received into happiness; but those who continue obstinate are kept in darkness until the Great Day, when light will make all happy.’

But a belief in universal regeneration has played no appreciable part in the spirit of tolerance which, from those early and vivid days

When reds and blues were indeed red and blue,

has always manifested itself on King Street. For tolerance, though rooted in the greatest of the divine virtues, is a by-product of democracy and as such must be reckoned as a civil virtue rather than as an ecclesiastical one. It does not depend upon theological views about human regeneration. Still less does it result from that curious modern point of view that one opinion is as good as another, because both may be wrong. The essence of democracy is not equality, but equality before the law. The essence of tolerance is neither faith nor doubt, but a conviction that truth is strong enough to prevail over error and an objective willingness to live and let live. Its practice is summed up for us on King Street in the memory of a priest and two ministers who went arm in arm to a religious ceremony in a Protestant church in order to do honor to the memory of a civil magistrate.

Time out of mind there have been witches who practised their arts on King Street. If we have not hanged them it is not because we have forgotten the direction in which the road to Endor leads, but rather because we have remembered and heeded the counsel of Gamaliel: ‘Refrain from these men and let them alone; for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to naught, but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it.’

  1. Mrs. Phebe Earle Gibbons, whose essay, ‘Pennsylvania Dutch,’ appeared in the Atlantic for October 1869. I have made use of her observations in a number of other places throughout this paper. — AUTHOR