BRETHREN-L ArchivesArchiver > BRETHREN > 2005-08 > 1125360303
Subject: Donald F. Durnbaugh, "Dean of Brethren Historians" dies
Date: Mon, 29 Aug 2005 20:05:03 EDT
Donald F. Durnbaugh is remembered as `Dean of Brethren
historians.' -as clipped from the COB Newsline.
Church of the Brethren historian, educator, and church leader
Donald F. Durnbaugh died on Saturday, Aug. 27, at Beth Israel
Hospital in Newark, N.J., at age 77. He and his wife, Hedda, were
returning from a trip to Europe. He lived in James Creek, Pa., and
attended Stone Church of the Brethren in Huntingdon, Pa. He was
born in Detroit, Mich., in 1927. The Durnbaughs have three children
and two grandchildren.
Durnbaugh held a unique position in the Church of the Brethren as
"the dean of Brethren historians," in the words of Dale W. Brown,
a colleague when Durnbaugh taught at Bethany Theological Seminary.
He also was considered a leading authority on the Historic Peace
Churches and American communitarian movements. "Don is
internationally known and widely considered to be the leading
twentieth century historian of the Church of the Brethren and other
Brethren groups that originated in Schwarzenau, Germany, in the
early 18th century," wrote seminary colleague Donald E. Miller in
a 1997 "festschrift" celebrating Durnbaugh's work.
Among his numerous books and articles are "European Origins of the
Brethren: A Source Book on the Beginnings of the Church of the
Brethren in Early Eighteenth-Century Europe" (Brethren Press,
1958), "Brethren in Colonial America: A Source Book on the
Transplantation and Development of the Church of the Brethren in
the Eighteenth Century" (Brethren Press, 1967), "The Believers'
Church: The History and Character of Radical Protestantism"
(Macmillan, 1968), and "Fruit of the Vine: A History of the
Brethren, 1708-1995" (Brethren Press, 1997). Durnbaugh served as
editor-in-chief of the three-volume "Brethren Encyclopedia,"
published in 1983-84. He was working on completing the editing of
the fourth volume that is to be published soon.
Durnbaugh taught at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa., for four
years before he began teaching church history at Bethany
Theological Seminary in 1962. In 1988 he became the J. Omar Good
Distinguished Visiting Professor at Juniata, and in 1989 became the
Carl W. Ziegler Professor of History and Religion at Elizabethtown
(Pa.) College. He held degrees from Manchester College in North
Manchester, Ind.; the University of Michigan; and the University of
Pennsylvania; and studied at Philipps-Universitaet Marburg,
Germany. His many professional associations included affiliation
with the Young Center for the Study of Anabaptist and Pietist
Groups at Elizabethtown, and service as president of the Brethren
Among Durnbaugh's Brethren mentors were Gladdys Muir and M.R.
Zigler. Commissioned by Zigler, he collected a book of documents
entitled "On Earth Peace: Discussions on War/Peace Issues Between
Friends, Mennonites, Brethren, and European Churches 1935-1975"
(Brethren Press, 1978). His biography of Zigler, "Pragmatic
Prophet," was published by Brethren Press in 1989.
Durnbaugh's career as a church leader began with volunteer service
in Europe through the Brethren Service Commission, beginning in
1949. He was in the third unit of Brethren Volunteer Service and
worked with refugees in Austria, later returning to direct the
Brethren Service program there. He met his wife, Hedda, at a peace
seminar in Vienna. It was with her help in translating documents
from the German that Durnbaugh began his study of Brethren history
In 1986 he served in the highest elected position in the Church of
the Brethren as Annual Conference moderator. Other church
leadership positions included a Conference study committee on
church and state, leadership of the Brethren Colleges Abroad
program in Europe 1964-65, membership in the Brethren Historical
Committee and the Germantown Trust, leadership in a
Brethren-Russian Orthodox Exchange in 1971, and service in the
Fraternal Relations Committee. With John Howard Yoder he was a
co-coordinator of Believers' Church conferences that gathered "free
church" traditions in a new configuration.
Most recently, he was a member of the committee planning the
celebration of the 300th anniversary of the Church of the Brethren.
He served a term as chair and was a key leader in contacts with
other Brethren bodies, who held him in high esteem. In recent
years, he and Hedda also led Brethren history tours of Europe.
A memorial service is being planned for a future date.