What We Do
The Institute actively sponsors and hosts a number of unique enrichment programs and activities. While most of these events take place on or near the Messiah College campus, a number of them involve people from across the United States. All the programs, in some fashion, either encourage scholarly research or public interpretation of important issues in contemporary church life. Among these annual activities are the following:
The Sider Institute is involved in both curricular and co-curricular educational programming, as well as a non-traditional educational program.
The curricular programming focuses primarily on the College’s Peace and Conflict Studies major and minor, offered at Messiah College and administered by the Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS) Committee. A secondary curricular focus is the Wittlinger Scholars Program, begun in 2007. Named for Carlton Wittlinger, a former dean of Messiah College and author of a standard history of the Brethren in Christ (Quest for Piety and Obedience: The Story of the Brethren in Christ, 1978), this program funds student research and provides grants to senior Messiah College students engaged in primary research relating to Anabaptism, Pietism, or Wesleyanism. Each Wittlinger Scholar undertakes an independent study and then gives a public address on his or her focal topic once the research is complete.
The co-curricular programming is extensive and varied. Each fall term first-year Messiah College students participate in the Wittlinger Chapel Series. This program, begun in 2005, offers three chapel presentations introducing new students to the core values of Anabaptism, Pietism, and Wesleyanism. The Sider Institute also sponsors the annual Schrag Lectures, named to honor Martin and Dorothy Schrag, beloved professors of church history and music, respectively, at Messiah College, now retired. Designed especially to benefit the Messiah College community but also open to the public, the Schrag Lectures typically focus on Anabaptist history, theology, or ethics. The third co-curricular component is the Anabaptist Research Paper Competition which encourages students from across the United States and Canada to submit their academic work on some aspect of Anabaptism for cash prizes funded by the Institute. The fourth co-curricular component is the annual Peace Lecture, delivered each year by someone noted for his or her work in non-violence, peace-making, and reconciliation.
The non-traditional educational programming focuses especially on the annual Brethren in Christ Study Conference, held each fall chiefly to benefit pastors and others in the Brethren in Christ Church. Brethren in Christ ministers are required to earn continuing education credits, and this conference is one of a handful of venues that offers that educational opportunity. The Study Conference is also a way to encourage research and scholarship on some aspect of the Brethren in Christ tradition among Messiah College faculty members since most speakers at this conference over the years have been members of that faculty. At the same time, some speakers have been members of the Brethren in Christ Church but faculty members at other academic institutions. In any event, major papers both from this conference and from the Schrag Lectures are published in Brethren in Christ History and Life, an academic journal focused on Brethren in Christ history and culture and edited by E. Morris Sider.
Scholarship and Archives
Not only is the Institute the primary research unit at Messiah College articulating the College’s theological heritage, it is also the only scholarly research organization for the Brethren in Christ Church. In that capacity, it oversees the Brethren in Christ Archives which contains documents and artifacts relating to the church. These artifacts include two rare Forshauer Bibles dated 1531 and 1563, eighty-four linear feet of boxes containing assorted photographs, and over two million documents and personal papers (conservative estimate). The holdings of the Archives offer valuable primary source materials to any scholar interested in American sectarian religious groups and the transitioning of those groups from sect to denomination or, more precisely, from a sectarian mindset to an Evangelical orientation.