Peter Hoover: Radical Anabaptists Today - Part 2

Radical Anabaptists Today: Part 2

A New Church in Snyder County

Many times the Wanners attended meetings with Noah Hoover, David Graber and Enoch Habegger, leaders of a fair-sized group in Snyder County, very earnest, spiritually-minded and eager to bring in converts. Like Harry, most of the people in the merged Hoover-Graber church (formerly united with Titus B. Hoover) had once owned cars and lived contemporary lives. Most of them, with names like Mazelin, Habegger, Graber, Amstutz, Steury, and Schrock, had come from a remarkable group that had lived in Lawrence County, Tennessee, and earlier in Adams County, Indiana.

With roots in Switzerland and still speaking the Emmentaler Swiss dialect, they had called themselves Amish Christians. Over the years they had lost their plain lifestyle, but now (during the 1950s) they had gotten rid of their cars, their electricity, and everything they felt had tied themselves to the world. Their women and girls had stopped cutting their hair and put on head coverings. Their men had grown beards, and everyone wore simple home-made clothing again.

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Because of their attitude of deep repentance and spiritual renewal, the Lord was doing great things among Noah Hoover and David Graber's followers. Members came, day or night, confessing their sins and crying out to God for deliverance. The young people, even the children, had gotten deeply affected. Conversion followed conversion, and some that had previously gotten baptized in an unconverted state now asked for baptism again.

Russian Mennonites from Western Canada, Old Order Mennonites, Amish, and German Baptist people had moved into Snyder County from many localities to become part of the revival. Some from Ontario, Canada (of the emerging Orthodox Mennonite community) had moved in and become influential, both in spiritual renewal and in a practical way. One day when Harry was at Abe Hoovers (a family from Canada, my uncle and aunt), the women were sewing blankets to give to the needy. However, their sewing machine gave them much grief. Finally they went out to call Harry to see if he could fix it. But on re-entering the room, one of the girls exclaimed, "Ach, en Engel (Oh, an angel)!" The rest could still see the curtain waving where he had flown out the window.

The sewing machine, miraculously, was fixed and did not cause trouble again.

In Harry and Grace;s lives, deep repentance, seeking for the Lord, and newfound trust in him, also bore immediate fruit. They started having family devotions and the first Scripture Harry read, making an indelible impression on his children's minds, was "Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand!"

Only one thing, to the Wanners, seemed a bit inconsistent about the renewed church in Snyder County. Noah Hoover and David Graber recognized other churches as also being Christian. When converts, previously baptized on confession of faith, came in from the outside (and many had), Noah and David took them in without rebaptizing them. In contrast, if anyone left to join another church, they would excommunicate them. "How can this be?" Harry wondered. "They recognize the baptism of others, yet they don't recognize others as part of the Church of Christ."

Harry was not the only person to ask this question. The issue of re-baptism, or true baptism (deciding who, if anyone, still had the true baptism, passed on generation after generation from the time of the Apostles) became the biggest challenge of the new church. On one hand, the Amish Christians believed themselves to stand in a direct line of apostolic succession. On the other hand the Lancaster County Mennonites (the Hoovers) believed themselves to have just as good, or better, a claim as if it mattered. In their minds, the issue revolved more around whether a person truly followed Christ after baptism, regardless of who did the baptizing or how.

In 1965, three years after getting themselves rebaptized, the families from Canada, Abe and Sarah Hoover, Daniel Bauman (both of them my uncles) and Josh and Magdalena Bauman moved with around a dozen families, including the Habeggers, Mazelins, Guenthers, Troyers, Schrocks, and the school teacher, Mabel Steury, to establish a radically Christian pure church community at a place called Muddy Pond, Tennessee.

Those that stayed behind in Snyder County, including Harry and Grace Wanner (who never joined the group as members), settled down to a more peaceful existence. For a while.

The Church Re-Born

Two years after the Muddy Pond people left, they humbly sought forgiveness and became reconciled with the church in Snyder County. For the sake of peace, they agreed to drop the "true baptism" issue, and some (David Grabers and John Troyers) moved back to Pennsylvania.

A year later an Amish family, Victor and Esther Stoll, moved into Pennsylvania from Allen County, Indiana. Hoping to find a conservative (horse and buggy driving) but spiritually-minded, evangelistic church community, keeping itself unspotted from the world, they felt a bit let-down by the reunited group under Noah Hoover and David Graber. Their compromise on baptism seemed somewhat less than the best. But in Harry and Grace Wanner, the Stolls found earnest believers with a vision exactly like their own. What a joy for both families to find in one another just what they had been looking for!

The Wanners and Stolls began meeting in their homes. One thing led to the next until in deep conviction, just like Conrad Grebel and Felix Manz,� they baptized one another and started all over again with the Christian Church. First Harry baptized Victor, then Victor baptized him, and they both proceeded with the baptism of Esther and Grace.

Things moved fast.

Eighteen years earlier, in 1951, Victor's father, Albert Stoll (brother to Pete Stoll who settled in Honduras, and uncle to Elmo Stoll of the Christian Community), had moved from Michigan to St. Joe, Arkansas. Attracted by the writings of John W. Martin, a Mennonite writer and printer, who had left Lancaster County, moved to Mexico, joined the Amish, and eventually settled in Arkansas, the Stolls and the Martins had become closely linked, numerous pairs of their sons and daughters marrying one another. Now, after John W. Martin's death from asthma, they had all moved to the Cayo District in British Honduras (Belize). "Pilgrimage Valley," they called their new community.

Victor Stoll's brother Harold, a minister at Pilgrimage Valley, found what he heard from Snyder County of special interest. Like the newly-baptized Stolls and Wanners he had longed for many years to see Christ's great commission, his radical teachings on self-denial, and the joy of salvation through his blood, coming together in totally einfach (simple-living) church community. In view of the general apostasy among modern Anabaptists he had also wondered if it wasn't about time to start altogether from the beginning once more.

Right after they got Harold's encouraging letter, Victor Stoll and Harry Wanner travelled by bus all the way through Mexico (Matamoros and Veracruz) to British Honduras. How utterly unlike Pennsylvania everything appeared! But their joy at finding unity and kindred spirits among a few of the families at Pilgrimage Valley (Harold and Bill Stolls) far outshone any hardships the long trip entailed. More baptisms took place, and the families from Pennsylvania made plans to move as soon as possible.

Please click on the following link to go to Part Three.

S-Secret-of-Strength-new.jpg The Secret Of The Strength
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Peter Hoover. The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you, Christ told his followers. And a few fishermen, a tax collector, and a motley group of believers set out to change the world. In fact, they succeeded.

In 16th century Europe, the Anabaptists preaching in cities by night, on back streets, and in secret corners behind rail fences set out to do the very thing the apostles had done. They, too, turned the world of their day upside down. What was the secret of their strength? In this book, Hoover explains what gave the Anabaptists their incredible spiritual strength.

290 pp. Paper.