Riverview, New Brunswick
October 3, 2003
It all goes with the influx of Germans, Swiss, and Dutch who fled religious oppression in their homelands. Conrad Beissel was a baker who had a religious awakening and along with so many others, he came to Pennsylvania in 1720. His religion became a driving force in his life and he decided to devote his life to worship, but he had come to believe two things--worship should take place on Saturday and a relationship with God left no room for marital relationships. Apparently, Beissel was extraordinarily charismatic and people joined him on the banks of Cocalico Creek to found a community. The community contained two groups of people--the Solitary, who respected the concept of celibacy and lived communally and the Householders who lived in normal marital relationships on the farms nearby. The economic prosperity of the latter supported the zealousness of the former.
The visitor will be taken, first of all, to the home of Conrad Beissel. It is small, unornamented, and used as a tour focal point rather than a display. It sat between Saron, the Sisters’ House, and Bethania, the Brothers’ House. The sisters’ house is still on site and provides an interesting insight into life at the cloister. Each sister lived in a cell or chamber, sleeping on a board 15 inches wide with a wooden block for a pillow. Food was taken communally in an existence that we today would find harsh.
Next to Saron is the meetinghouse, which is still occasionally used today for worship. Apparently, shortly before we arrived, a love feast was held on the meetinghouse. The church is now called the German Seventh Day Baptist Church--there are still two parishes off site. The love feast is a gathering of worship, but it includes a meal cooked in the historic kitchen off the meetinghouse and the washing of feet.
The site itself isn’t grand. The traveler begins at the Visitor Center where there is a video available and then the tour. The buildings that remain are interesting, but this wasn’t a case of many, many things to see--this is a place of ideas, history, and religion. It was fascinating. Needless to say, celibacy isn’t a great way to build a church, and the last of the Solitary passed away in 1813, leaving the cloister in the care of the Householders. For the rest of the story--how the charter was lost in 1934 and why love feasts are still held here--you’ll have to visit. I’m out of words.
From journal Amish Country: Faster Than a Speeding Buggy