Two United Brethren bishops were born on February 1, but nearly 200 years apart. Both were committed to church planting, and both saw the denomination greatly expand during their years in office–domestically for one, internationally for the other.
Christian Newcomer was born on February 1, 1749, the son of Swiss Mennonites. He began preaching in 1777, and soon became associated with United Brethren founders Martin Boehm and William Otterbein. In 1813 he became the third United Brethren bishop, and served until his death in 1830.
Newcomer is credited with leading the expansion of the church beyond Pennsylvania. He even made it to Canada in 1826. He was kind of our Apostle Paul, constantly traveling and organizing churches. Is it estimated that Newcomer traveled 150,000 miles on horseback between ages 46 and 81.
Ray Seilhamer was born February 1, 1938, and served eight years as bishop, 1993-2001. Under his watch, we nearly doubled the number of countries with United Brethren churches.
As World War 2 ended, we added outreaches in Jamaica (1944) and Honduras (1945). We then settled into a pattern of venturing into one new country every decade: Hong Kong in the 1950s, Nicaragua in the 1960s, India in the 1970s, and Macau in the 1980s. It wasn’t an intentional strategy, but just the way it worked out.
Then came the 1990s. No more big gaps. During that decade, beginning in 1993, the year Seilhamer was elected, the seeds were planted for United Brethren ministry in another nine countries: Thailand (1993), Costa Rica (1995), Mexico (1997), Guatemala (1997), Germany (1997), Myanmar (1998), El Salvador (1999), the Philippines (1999), and Haiti (2000).
It was an exciting time. And it was no longer only the United States taking the lead. Hong Kong initiated work in Thailand and Myanmar, Sierra Leoneans spearheaded a church in Germany, and Honduras and Nicaragua initiated expansion into Costa Rica, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
Two men, same birthday, and a very similar legacy.