The Peace Churches and the Great War: A Centennial Reflection

Note that the conference has been consolidated into a two-day event. It will open at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 31, and conclude on Friday, June 1, at 9:00 p.m. The revised schedule includes the previously announced presentations by William Kostlevy, Perry Bush, Carl Strikwerda, and Duane Stoltzfus and Dora Maendel, as well as the interview with Barbara Royer.  

May 31–June 1, 2018

Sponsored by the Young Center and the Center for Global Understanding and Peacemaking (CGUP) at Elizabethtown College, the conference will provide a forum to examine how the peace churches, including the Amish, Brethren, Friends, Hutterites, and Mennonites, as well as other religious traditions responded to World War I.

William Kostlevy, archivist at the Brethren Historical Library and Archives in Elgin, Illinois, will give the opening plenary address. Kostlevy earned his Ph.D. in history from the University of Notre Dame, and has taught at Asbury Theological Seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary, and Tabor College. Kostlevy will explore the religious and historical contexts of the Church of the Brethren and the Mennonite Church at the opening of U.S. involvement in WWI. 

During paper presentations, speakers will discuss various aspects of peace churches members’ responses to WWI and the ways the U.S. government handled the problem of religious conscientious objection to the Great War.

Thursday evening, Jeff Bach will interview Barbara Royer about the letters and diaries her grandfather, Vern Kessler, kept during his experience as a conscientious objector detained at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Kessler, a member of the Old German Baptist Brethren, wrote about his experiences in camp and his interactions with other conscientious objectors. Royer is a member of the Old German Baptist Brethren (New Conference) church and devoted extensive labor to collating the correspondence that her grandfather wrote and received; she published his story in her book A First Class Fighting Man. During the interview, Royer will share insights about her grandfather’s religious views and the work she did to compile all of the sources. (The interview program is free and open to the public.)

Friday morning, Perry Bush, professor of history at Bluffton University and author of Two Kingdoms, Two Loyalties: Mennonite Pacifism in Modern America, will present Mennonites and the Great War.” Friday afternoon, Carl Strikwerda, president of Elizabethtown College, will give a brief presentation on the significance of World War I for Americans. After Strikwerda’s address, conference attendees will have the opportunity to walk through the national touring exhibition Voices of Conscience: Peace Witness in the Great War. Friday evening, Jeff Bach will deliver summary comments, "Reflections on the Great War and the Future of Peacemaking," after which Duane Stoltzfus, professor of communication at Goshen College and author of Pacifists in Chains: The Persecution of Hutterites during the Great War, and Dora Maendel, a teacher at Fairholme Hutterite Colony in Manitoba, will present “On the Front Line of Conscience: An Account of Four Hutterites Imprisoned at Alcatraz.” (This presentation is free and open to the public.) 

Conference schedule

Conference brochure


Register by May 1 to receive the discounted rate of $120 for the full conference. After May 1, the full conference rate is $150. Cost for full-time students and members of Plain communities is $100. Daily rates are also available.

Registration is now closed.


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