The Peace Churches and the Great War: A Centennial Reflection

May 31–June 2, 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.

The opening plenary address will be given by William Kostlevy, archivist at the Brethren Historical Library and Archives in Elgin, Illinois. 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 breakout sessions, 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, 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, present “On the Front Line of Conscience: An Account of Four Hutterites Imprisoned at Alcatraz.” (The evening presentation is free and open to the public.)

The concluding plenary presentation will be given by David Kenley, director of CGUP and a professor in Elizabethtown’s history department. Kenley will survey some of the differing outcomes for the peace churches after WWI.

Paper proposals will be accepted until March 2. See the Call for Papers for details.


Cost for the full conference is $150 if registered by May 1. After May 1, the full conference rate is $170. Cost for full-time students and members of Plain communities is $130. Daily rates are also available.

The registration deadline is May 16.

Registration options: (1) Register online and pay by credit card. (2) Fax your registration form (page 2 of the brochure) and payment information to (717) 361-1443. (3) Mail your registration form and payment to Peace Churches Conference, Young Center, Elizabethtown College, Elizabethtown, PA 17022-2298. 


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