Title: The Secret Church
Author: Louise A. Vernon
Major Themes: Anabaptists, Germany, Menno Simons
Synopsis: Richard must choose whether to save himself or help others when his cousin Otto’s family are stoned out of Munster for being Anabaptists.
I remember reading Louise Vernon’s books over and over when I was young, and now I get to read them to my own children! I don’t think we had The Secret Church until I was a bit older, so I don’t remember this story as well as some of her others. I was surprised, on this reading, to find that the writing style isn’t quite as good as I remembered it, and there was something mentioned that I didn’t expect at all.
Richard lived with his parents in a small village near the city of Munster. One day, he was shocked to see people being stoned out of the city. They were the Anabaptists—terrible people! They were heretics! He and his friend Trudi saw a boy running away and hiding in the forest, and decided they had to help him, even if he was a heretic. Then, Richard’s cousin Otto showed up at the door, a fugitive. He and his family had been stoned out of Munster with the Anabaptists. What was Richard to do? To make matters worse, Otto’s parents appeared as well, with a new baby. How could they keep the unbaptized baby hidden? And what would happen when Richard’s father joined the Anabaptists and was baptized in the secret church in a clearing in the forest?
Some aspects of this book are valuable. I appreciated the way the dedication of the Anabaptists to God was shown. They were willing to be excommunicated and to lose everything, even to die, for their faith. That was inspiring. On the other hand, the New Birth was never shown. Basically, it seemed like Richard made an intellectual decision to become an Anabaptist. Also, in Chapter 10, when Richard’s father was arrested, some of the other Anabaptists took him by force from his captors. I do know that the Anabaptists in Munster were not nonresistant, but the others were. This distinction was not made in the story. It made it sound like these were typical. The end of the Anabaptists in Munster was not mentioned; I know from other history that they took over city and ended up being beseiged and massacred.
Based on that misrepresentation of Anabaptism, which I hadn’t noticed other times I read the book, I don’t feel like I can recommend it very highly. If you need a story about the Anabaptists, it does have its good points—but beware, because it’s not totally accurate, in my opinion.
WARNING: See main part of review.
Listening Level—Ages 5 – 8, 8 – 12
Reading Independently—Ages 8 – 12, 10 – 12, 12 – 15