- Russell P. Getz
- , revised by Denise A. Seachrist
A communal society of German immigrants located 65 miles from Philadelphia. Ephrata was founded in 1732 under the leadership of Georg Conrad Beissel (1691–1768) on two main religious concepts: celibacy and Sabbatarianism. The religious observances held at Ephrata were similar to those of the Dunkers (the Church of the Brethren): baptism by total immersion three times (trine immersion), feetwashing (a symbolic act of humility performed during communion), and the observance of the love feast (the sharing of a common meal symbolic of Christian fellowship and charity).
The celibate society at Ephrata consisted of a single brotherhood and single sisterhood; however, a third order comprised of married couples known as “householders” met weekly to worship with the cloistered orders. At its height, Ephrata counted about 300 members. The brothers and the sisters occupied separate buildings, lived in tiny rooms, and underwent rigorous discipline. In keeping with the idea of humility and a commitment to the mystical way of life, the buildings at Ephrata contained narrow halls (symbolic of the straight and narrow path) and low doorways, making it necessary for the celibates to bow in humility. The members slept in cells measuring five by ten feet each with a small window, a 15-inch bench for sleeping, and a wooden block for a pillow. The members believed that the more they denied themselves in physical terms, the greater their rewards in spiritual terms. Eventually they became known as German Seventh-Day Baptists....