York Town Square

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Mother Codorus has long served as leading light in obscure Dunkard Valley

Codorus Church of the Brethren in Dunkard Valley is the mother church for members of that denomination in the York area. Background posts: Potosi, Pa., linked to mining, Northern York strawberry part of Neapolitan county, People of varying religious groups founded York County.

The stats say that the York-area Church of the Brethren has grown from one congregation – Springfield Township’s Codorus church – planted in the fields of a quiet valley 250 years ago to 15 churches in York County today
The figures also show that the number of churches of that Protestant denomination in the county is down by three between 1990 and 2000.
That is probably the reason Codorus and other Brethren groups are trying new things – like this past weekend’s Dunkard Valley Live, a Christian music festival with rap groups and such. Surely, this was the loudest moment in this agricultural valley since the introduction of the gasoline-fired combine.
But here’s the question that is often asked about the Brethren and their Amish and Mennonite cousins: Why aren’t there as many of those groups west of the Susquehanna as there are in Lancaster County? …

Rapper Brian Fritts performs at the Christian music festival Dunkard Valley Live at the Codorus Church of the Brethren ballfield in Springfield Township.
I’ve long looked for a clear answer to that, and here’s the best I can come up with:
Generally, the Bethren and their kin were part of the so-called Radical Reformation. Generally, their Protestant counterparts – the German Reformed, Lutheran, United Methodists and Presbyterians – grew out of the Magisterial Reformation.
Initially, the latter group sought to reform the Roman Catholic church and not reject its teachings outright. The radicals sought to separate themselves completely; in fact, separate themselves from the world. This and resulting doctrinal differences such as adult vs. infant baptism created tension between the reforming groups. (Bethren can be lumped with Anabaptists, which means re-baptizers or those that baptize adults even if they were baptized as infants.)
Did those tensions cause a separation in America with the Susquehanna River as a divider?
And a corollary is that like attracted like. When settlers with Magisterial Reformation backgrounds moved to America, they kept sooner or later moved through Lancaster County to join like-minded settlers in York County.
All this could be argued from a geographical point of view. If scores of pioneers had settled in York County from one region of Germany, then their cousins would seek them out in America. Of course, this takes us back to the original point. Some groups clumped together in Germany because of religious similarities.
A present-day trend that ties all this into a knot is the movement of Amish from Lancaster across the Norman Wood Bridge to York County. They can be close to kin in Lancaster, with kin in York and in York County’s most isolated region where their community and worship is least interrupted.
What we have today are scores of York County churches whose lineage is Reformed, Lutheran, United Methodists and Presbyterian. The county has relatively few churches in the lineage of the plain people – Bethren, Amish and Mennonite. The reverse is true in Lancaster County.
If you want to see how this breaks down, take another look at the stats.
Here’s the skinny on the Codorus congregation, celebrating its 250th anniversary this year from the York Daily Record/Sunday News:

Name: Codorus Church of the Brethren
Founded: 1758
Address: 1129 Dunkard Valley Road in Springfield Township, 428-2374
Web site: www.codoruschurch.org
Pastors: The Revs. Rick Fischl (senior pastor) and Eric Ritenour (associate pastor)
Membership: 335 people
In 1758, Elder Jacob Tanner (Donner) organized a church south of York called the Codorus Church.
Around 1770, Henry Neff took over leadership of the congregation, which had 35 members at the time.
The congregation worshipped in the homes of members until 1872 when they began worshipping in a brick structure along Route 214 east of Loganville.
The Rev. David C. Wilson became the first full-time pastor in 1957. During his pastorate, the growing congregation needed more space. When the Rev. William L. Gould came to Codorus from Lebanon in 1963, he and the congregation took steps toward building.
A plateau was created along the hillside, and a new structure began to rise from the valley in the fall of 1965. The first service of worship in the new church was conducted on Sept. 25, 1966.
Codorus is the mother church of all Brethren work in the York area. York First, Shrewsbury, New Fairview and Pleasant View congregations grew directly from the congregation.
From New Fairview, the church at Yorkana was established. From York First, grew Madison Avenue and York Second Church of the Brethren.
The denomination traces its roots to 1708, celebrating its 300th anniversary this year.
Fischl says the core values of the church are peacemaking, simple living and using the teachings of the New Testament as a basis for Christian behavior in everyday life.
Brethren also emphasize evangelism, heritage, missions, family and spiritual renewal.


*Edited, 3/17/14