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The Brethren

Down by the river

we gather for baptism

Our faith to God we proclaim

by our dunking in the water

Our austere code of dress

allows our love of God to shine

No jewelry to detract or

announce a bond to humankind

Our true marriage is to the Divine

our home forever will be in Heaven


This poem is to honor the significant number of my ancestors who belonged to the Church of the Brethren.  This group was also known as Friends or Dunkards, because of their ritual of baptism by dunking.  Historically, the Brethren were against slavery and war.  They were tolerant of other groups, but it was easy to be cast out from their own community if they did not follow the strict code of conduct.  Women wore a cap to church that my grandmother told me was called a “dunking cap.”  This one belonged to my grandmother’s grandmother.  It is basically a fine net skull cap.

Dora Cadwallader Milleson's dunking cap

Jewelry was forbidden, including wedding rings.  My great-grandmother did not get a wedding ring until after she and her husband moved away from their families.  She could, however, wear the watch around her neck.

Carl and Anna (Van Dusseldorp) Milleson's wedding picture

Although they left the Church of the Brethren, they remained devoutly religious throughout their lives.

My mother’s family also had a line that were Friends.

Mary Jane (Thomas) and Charles Walker

My mother’s grandmother left the Friends’ church when she married her husband, whose family was Methodist.

12 thoughts on “The Brethren

  1. You have so beautifully depicted the strong ties that people maintained with each other and with their “community” in the past… a lovely ode to such ties indeed! Bravo!!!

    Thank you for sharing this lovely piece with poetry potluck!! It was very reflective and informational too! We do need some traditional/cultural refresher course at times… and this was just perfect!

  2. I love your family tale and the ritual of baptism as you’ve written it.

    I don’t know which enthralled me most, your poem or photos.

    They’re all beautiful!

  3. Beautiful poem, Teresa, and interesting family history. Those photographs are amazing! Your great-grandparents look so sweet and so so young in their wedding photo!

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