New acquisition: Indian Creek Brethren convertible bench

Written by Forrest Moyer on August 24, 2017

The Mennonite Heritage Center works to tell not only the Mennonite story, but the local Brethren story as well. Recently the MHC received a donation of one of the benches that was used in the Indian Creek Church of the Brethren from 1906 to 1953.

The church benches during this time had an interesting convertible design in order to accommodate love feast, the ritual “agape meal” that was representative of the Last Supper and was observed by the Brethren in combination with communion and feetwashing. On each bench, the back rest could be set in one of three positions, to serve either as a long, narrow table, or as a bench facing in either direction towards the table. This bench is a valuable addition to a collection of artifacts here at the MHC that document the history of the Indian Creek congregation.

The bench is a gift of Renn Sminkey (2016.53.1).

When the meetinghouse was remodeled in 1953, these benches were removed. In the very rare photo below by Pete Macinskas of the last love feast at Indian Creek before remodeling, you can see how the benches functioned in the normal worship space. You may also observe men and women sitting separately, with ordained men on the pulpit. Each table had stacks of bread, plates of beef and bowls of broth. There were no individual plates; this was a communal experience, rather than a meal focused on individual consumption. Each participant would dip the bread into the bowl of broth as it was passed.

Donald Fitzkee described love feast in his book Moving Toward the Mainstream (Good Books, 1995, pp. 256-257): “In their observance of the ordinances, Brethren paid srupulous attention to scriptural detail, with practical considerations taking a backseat to literal obedience. Normally held at midweek, the traditional Brethren love feast was a two-day pageant of preaching, preparation, and re-enacting the events in the upper room. This high, holy event included a morning preaching service, lunch, the afternoon ‘self-examination service,’ the evening love feast, and a second day of preaching and a noon meal. Patterned as closely as possible after the events in the upper room, the hours-long love feast proper included feetwashing, the Lord’s supper, the passing of the holy kiss, and culminated with communion. At the conclusion, communicants ‘sang a song and went out into the night,’ following the example of Jesus’s disciples.”

Here’s a copy with persons identified:

A number of the dishes used for love feast at Indian Creek from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s are preserved at the MHC in the Isaac Clarence Kulp Collection.

Kulp also saved a tin communion cup and the demijohn (wicker-lined jug) used by the Indian Creek deacon to make fermented wine for communion until 1917 (when the use of fermented wine was discontinued), and tin hand washing bowls. Click here to read more about how Kulp came to own these items.