Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Today on the Almanac, we remember another American Utopian community and its eccentric founder.

*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 6th of July 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

Listen. There are no larger story arcs on this show- I don’t plan to talk about certain subjects on certain days, but I admit that my reading might tend to push me in specific directions. So maybe you aren’t surprised that today I have another story about another eccentric immigrant who came to America for religious liberty and founded an equally bizarre religious community- this time in 19th century Pennsylvania.

Johann Conrad Beissel was born in Eberbach in 1690- part of the Palatinate where Christian confessional communities lived with some tension. Beissel initially studied at Halle- thus preparing for the Lutheran ministry at the center of Lutheran pietism and missions. He began an intense personal study of the Bible and the mystic Jakob Boeme, leading him to embrace the Dunker community (Dunkers are related to Baptists).

Interestingly, he put the date of his conversion in 1717 but was not baptized (he was likely baptized as a baby but not yet re-baptized as that was a criminal offense). Beissel settled in Southeast Pennsylvania- a haven for Christians not in the majority denominations. He became an apprentice weaver and met Peter Becker, founder of the Church of the Brethren.

Becker baptized Beissel in 1722 as Friedsam Gottrecht (peaceful and Godly?). But in 1725, Beissel/Gottrecht published a book arguing that the Sabbath was the last day of the week- Saturday, not Sunday (Sunday is the first day of the week). The argument was made erroneously that the church moved from the Sabbath to the Lord’s Day was created by Constantine in the 300s to assuage pagans. This is not the case; historians have established that worship on the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day was expected from the 1st century.

Beissel decided to leave the community and live for a time as a hermit. But he saw this as less productive than living in a community and decided to form the Ephrata Cloister of the Seventh Day Baptists. They would follow a modified version of the monastic rule of the Capuchins- a Medieval Catholic order.

And like those medieval Monastic orders, Beissel and the other Seventh Day Baptists took up printing. They would use the new steam press to make more critical documents and tracts- everything from a prayer book by Johann Arndt to the Saur Bible, a collection of stories about martyrs, and the Turtel Traub, the first hymnal printed in the New World.

Beissel had himself invented a kind of musical notation, printed the first book on harmony in the new World, and wrote over 1,000 hymns. Unfortunately, the ink they used broke down the fibers in the paper, and much of this work has been lost. The Ephrata Community was not completely celibate and thus could exist into the late 19th century- the community and the creation of maintaining and restoring their texts and land have fallen to a Pennsylvania historical community.

Its founder, Johann Conrad Beissel- aka Friedsam Gottrecht, lived there until his death on this the 6th of July in 1768. Born in 1690, he was 78 years old.

The Last Word for today comes from the lectionary for today from Psalm 140:

I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor

and upholds the cause of the needy.

Surely the righteous will praise your name,

and the upright will live in your presence.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 6th of July 2022, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man who once again reminds you that the Pennsylvania Dutch were not Dutch, but “Deutsch,” that is German. He is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who just watched National Treasure 1 and 2 for the first time… holy cow… that’s the most fun I could have on the 4th of July. I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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