George and Daisy Fleming

After 93 years, having lived a very full life, Dr. George Fleming passed away on October 29, 1983.

Fleming served as a missionary in Sierra Leone for 20 years, 1912-1932, followed by 25 years as the denomination’s director of missions.

Daisy Fleming passed away in 1976. Former missionaries Russ and Nellie Birdsall invited George to come live in their basement apartment in Huntington, Ind., and he gladly accepted their offer. That’s where he spent his last seven years.

In 1979, at age 89, Fleming took a six-week trip to Sierra Leone. Jerry Datema, who was then Field Secretary in Sierra Leone, recalled, “It was unbelievable to the Mende people that this man, who first arrived in Bonthe 67 year before, was actually coming to visit again. Wherever he went during his visit to Sierra Leone, hundreds and even thousands came to once again see their beloved ‘Pa Fleming.’”

During the last few years of his life, Dr. Fleming became deeply burdened to pray for the pastors of Michigan Conference. He had a list of 24 pastors in the conference. He prayed for them every day, and wrote 6-8 letters a day. Among those pastors was Lester Smith, then at the Maple Hill church in Grandville, Mich. Smith wrote:

“Despite having a congregation of over 100, there had been no conversions there in two years. So I submitted some ‘prospects’ to Dr. Fleming. When he wrote me several weeks later, he said he was looking forward to having the Pruitts enter God’s Kingdom. They were the only names he mentioned from the list I had given him. Sure enough, Ron and Deb were the first conversions we experienced. Dr. Fleming seemed to know when God was going to act on a specific request.”

Russ Birdsall told of going downstairs in the evening to talk to Dr. Fleming. “He’d be sitting there with a Bible on his lap and with a stack of letters from the Michigan pastors. He was going through his prayer time; he did that every night. He’d invite me in and he’d always talk. But then, after I left, I’m sure he continued with his prayer time. He really took that ministry seriously.”

George Fleming ranks among the United Brethren giants of the 1900s, and is remembered as a man who truly walked with God.

The persons who attended the UB History course in Ontario. Bishop Brian Magnus and instructor Bob Bruce are sitting in front, third and fourth respectively from the left.

The United Brethren Church in Canada sponsored the UB History course on October 23-24 at Stanley Park UB church in Kitchener, Ontario. Bishop Brian Magnus and Bob Bruce, pastor of spiritual care at Emmanuel Community Church (Fort Wayne, Ind.), taught the course. Ten new pastors and ministerial candidates took the course, along with three laypersons who audited the course to learn more about their inspiring heritage.

The 1945 General Conference voted to open mission fields in two places during the next four years, in the Caribbean and/or Latin America. We then had mission work in just two places–in Sierra Leone (dating which back to the mid-1800s), and China (begun in the 1920s). There was no United Brethren presence south of the United States.

General Conference didn’t name any specific places–just a resolve to do it, somewhere. But two places were already being considered–the Bahamas and Honduras. We had a contact in the Bahamas, a man with an independent mission work. And the year before, we had been contacted by Rev. James Elliott, who was overseeing several English-speaking churches in northern Honduras and was looking for another organization to assume supervision. George Fleming, our Missions director, had already been corresponding with Elliott.

In August of 1945, as atomic bombs fell on Japan and World War II came to a close, Fleming traveled to Honduras to look over the situation. He was impressed by what he saw. About 100 people attended somewhat of a congregational meeting, during which Fleming told of the UB church and entertained questions. The people were excited about the possibility of an American denomination coming to their aid.

Fleming stayed for ten days, August 15-25, visiting the various stations of Elliott’s work.

The La Ceiba church had about 150 members, all English speakers. The property, which he described as “pretty large for these parts,” was 30 years old and in need of repair. In better shape was the two-story, 52-by-30 foot mission house, which had been built ten years before. The lower level served as the mission school, and Elliott’s family lived in the upper level.

The Puerto Cortes congregation was trying to rebuild its church, which had been flattened by a hurricane in August of 1944. Their one-story mission house now doubled as both a church and a school.

The congregation in the port city of Tela rented a building for their day school and Sunday school, but were in the process of buying property on which to eventually build. This newer work had acquired a good following. However, with no regular pastor, services were held only when Elliott or someone else could make it.

Other places beckoned for ministry. At the inland town of Progresso, a man had started a day school and was trying to organize a Sunday school; he had asked Elliott for help. A lady in Puerto Castilla needed help sustaining a day school and Sunday school. In both cases, Elliott lacked both the money and the people to come to their aid.

Elliott estimated that carrying on the work and expanding it would require $5000–$6000 a year.

“Here is an open door,” Fleming wrote in the denominational Missionary Monthly magazine. “As a committee of one, I have seen enough to convince me that in the face of the Great Commission, and the ‘fields white unto harvest,’ we dare not, as a church, ‘pass by on the other side.’”

After returning to the States, Fleming took a glowing report to the eight men on the United Brethren Parent Board of Missions (at the time, the Women’s Missionary Association was an entirely separate missionary-sending organization). They voted unanimously, 8-0, to launch into Honduras.

The date was October 26, 1945. The United Brethren church had established a foothold in Latin America.

Zebedee Warner

On October 22, 1853, a 20-year-old Virginian named Zebedee Warner was granted a United Brethren preaching license. A man of strong intellect, Warner had considered careers in medicine and law before recognizing that God had an even higher calling for him–the ministry.

In 1858, Warner was part of organizing the Parkersburg Conference in what is now West Virginia (it became a state in 1861). From the start, Warner was considered the leader of Parkersburg Conference.

It was considered perhaps the most rugged territory in the denomination, with rugged mountains, thick forests, and bridgeless streams. One time, after Warner rode toward his log cabin after what was described as “an unusually long absense,” his three children came running to meet him. A kick from Warner’s horse struck the youngest daughter on the head, killing her instantly.

Warner was considered a great speaker who invested himself in recruiting and training young ministers. He was an eloquent and formidable debater, but according to biographer William Weekley, “In the treatment of his opponents, he always manifested a Christian spirit. In this he was an exception.”

Warner also despised alcohol; in 1882, he canvassed the entire state and organized temperance forces in every county.

Warner was a General Conference delegates from 1861-1885, and was influential in moderating the stand against secret societies (which helped lead toward the division of 1889). Warner was also a trustee of Otterbein University, and in 1878 was awarded a Doctor of Divinity degree.

In 1887, Warner accepted a pastorate in Nebraska. He died there a year later.

Dr. George Fleming

Dr. George Fleming was the Mission director when Jamaica Conference was founded in 1944. In 1947, the work expanded beyond Kingston to the city of Mandeville, 60 miles away. In 1951, a new church was dedicated outside of Mandeville in the ara known as Battersea. It was christened Fleming Memorial Church.

The church was torn down in 1979 to make room for a new road, but the government promised to build a new church–and they did. The new Fleming Memorial Church was dedicated on October 18, 1981, by Jerry Datema during his first visit to the island as bishop.

Datema wrote, “When I returned and told Fleming how beautiful it was, I knew he wouldn’t be content until he had seen his beloved church.”

In 1982, Dr. Fleming made a three-week trip to Jamaica, during which he visited a dozen churches, including the church named in his honor. Though 93 years old, he was in good health and preached 13 times.

Dr. Fleming passed away a year later. We’ll talk about his life in ten days.

 

Rev. Ezra Palmer

Rev. Ezra Palmer was born October 15, 1833, in Michigan, but lived in Illinois from age 16 on. He became a United Brethren minister in 1859 and spent 30 years in the ministry. He deserves much credit for the development of what became Rock River Conference.

Ezra was first assigned to the Van Orin circuit in northern Illinois. Since he didn’t own a horse, he walked from one meeting place to another, preaching three times each Sunday, with a 15-mile walk between two of the charges. He would show up–perhaps tired, but never late–after having weathered heat, mud, snow, rain, or whatever else was required.

In 1863, Ezra married Elizabeth Carter, from Iowa. They struggled financially, especially after Ezra seriously injured his back while working in fields to bring in a little extra income.

One time Elizabeth borrowed some bread to make toast for her husband, and went without food for herself. She then found a place of solitude where, on her knees, she poured out her heart to God. As she prayed, a person from the church came by with food. But in addition to food, they needed money. So Elizabeth kept praying. The next day an elderly woman came by. “I have two dollars, and want to give you one.” In that way, God provided both food and money.

Ezra became a well-respected leader in Rock River Conference. William M. Weekley noted his “habitual prayerfulness,” his daily Scripture reading, his “renunciation of everything antagonistic to a holy life,” his love for books, and his unyielding faith. Weekley wrote, “When he spoke, the people believed him….His whole life was sacrificial. He gave himself for others.”

Ezra Palmer passed away in 1885. Elizabeth survived until 1922.

Jacob John Glossbrenner, Bishop 1845-1885.

Maria Glossbrenner died on October 14, 1883. She and her husband, Jacob, had been married for 50 years. For 38 of those years, he was a United Brethren bishop, with two more years to go on what would be his final term.

They had celebrated their 50th anniversary earlier that year, on February 14, 1883. Maria grew up in Churchville, Va. Her father, Christian Shuey, kept his home open to traveling preachers. Jacob Glossbrenner, as a young itinerant preacher, frequently stayed there as he made the rounds of his scattered churches.

Bishop Glossbrenner used the 50th anniversary celebration to speak about four covenants he had made during his lifetime. He described them as four “marriages.” Here are excerpts as captured by historian A. W. Drury:

“My first solemn covenant was when I embraced Christ. Then I consented to live for Him and to die for Him. From Him I have not been separated. At 18, I embraced religion, and have no cause to regret it.

“The second covenant was when I became a member of the church. I have not felt like leaving the church. The church has been faithful to me. It is better to hold on to this covenant.

“The third marriage was when I took the vows of a Christian minister–when I consecrated myself to Christ fully. The church has branches. I joined with the United Brethren in Christ as a minister. The Church was then small. It was then weak. The Church has treated me well. In the church let me live; in the church let me labor; in the church let me suffer, if need be; in the church let me die, and stand at last with the white-robed throng of the church triumphant.

“The fourth union was marriage, the anniversary of which we today celebrate. It has not been broken these 50 years. These years have been spent in love and confidence. There are not many so favored.”

The Glossbrenners had six children; one died in infancy, but five daughters grew to adulthood. Three daughters married Lutheran ministers, and one died a year after marrying Rev. D. K. Flickinger, a future bishop and missionary to Sierra Leone.

During their latter years, both Jacob and Maria were very ill. At one point, they occupied sick beds in rooms across the hall from each other. A. W. Drury wrote, “Their spirits were so bound to each other that it seemed if one should be taken, the other could not be restrained from going also. It was uncertain which would be taken first.”

Turned out to be Maria. Bishop Glossbrenner’s health returned somewhat, and he continued in ministry to a limited extent until his death on January 7, 1887.

Lizzy Kolar and Matt Asher (right) with the water packing equipment now installed at Mattru Hospital.

Matthew Asher has been serving at Mattru Hospital since February 2017. He left his engineering job to become the lead engineer for the solar and water projects at Mattru Hospital. The Sola Wata Water Packaging Center was launched in July, becoming the area’s first center for treating, packaging, and distributing water.

In September, Matt was joined by Lizzy Kolar, a fellow graduate of West Virginia University’s Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources. Kolar, a mechanical engineer, is taking a three-month sabbatical from her job with General Electric to work on the business side of the water project–marketing strategies, data management, employee training, work procedures, etc. She will also help Matt install the solar-energy system at Mattru.

Here is a good article about Matt and Lizzy, published by their alma mater.

Rev. J. C. Bright

The Bright family, with connections to British statesmen and church leaders, emigrated to America in the mid-1700s. One Bright family settled in central Ohio (which became a state in 1803). There, J. C. (John Collins) Bright was born on October 13, 1818. He would become a pioneer in United Brethren missions. He could even be considered the Father of UB Missions.

Bright became a United Brethren minister in 1841, at age 23. He continued as an itinerant preacher for 12 years, holding revivals and organizing new churches.

In 1852, Bright chaired a committee for Sandusky Conference which focused on world evangelization. The conference adopted this resolution:

“The time has fully come when the United Brethren Church should unite her whole strength in a missionary society which shall include not only the home, but the frontier and foreign fields.”

This action prompted the 1853 General Conference to create the Home, Frontier, and Foreign Missionary Society. Bright served the next four years as General Secretary of this new organization–basically, as our first Missions director. He wrote that they intended to stir up “young men and women to consecrate themselves to missionary work” in a task which he described as “the conquest of the whole world for the Redeemer.”

Bright’s impassioned writing and eloquent speaking moved people to come alongside in taking the Gospel not only to the Wild Wild West, but to other countries. During those four years, missions were started in a number of states and territories–Nebraska, Minnesota, Missouri, Kansas, Oregon, Tennessee–as well as in Canada and in Sierra Leone.

But after four years of pushing himself relentlessly, Bright suffered a nervous breakdown. After recovering his health in a Cleveland sanitarium and spending some time in secular work, he finally returned to ministry in 1865. Bright became pastor of a struggling, 25-member UB church in Galion, Ohio. He would spend hours each day in prayer, asking God to bless the work. In December 1865, he began a series of meetings which continued into February, and which saw 200 people become Christians and 160 of them join the church.

Bright proved to be a pioneer in another area: church music. At the time, many United Brethren staunchly opposed using instruments and choirs in church. But Bright, noting that people liked music, bought an organ for the church and organized a choir. William Weekley says this was the first United Brethren church in the denomination to use instruments during church services.

Weekley wrote, “Mr. Bright was a prophet. Some thought him to be a dreamer, but his dreams were simply visions of the things which, in the course of years, became realities….Few men of the Church have performed a more lasting and greater work than he.”

In March 1866, Bright suffered a second nervous breakdown. His health plummeted, and he passed away on August 6.

On October 11, 1871, Union Biblical Seminary opened in Dayton, Ohio. It was the first United Brethren seminary.

During our early years, people often became ministers very quickly–converted one month, out preaching the next month, and within a year, given a ministerial license and assigned to a circuit of churches. We had no colleges. In fact, formal education for ministers was often frowned upon. Folks didn’t want future ministers going to “priest factories” for several years and having all spiritual zeal sucked out of them.

Instead, education occurred informally. Biographies of bishops and leading ministers from those days depict avid self-learners who were constantly reading and studying. Veteran ministers would shepherd younger ministers along, loaning them dog-eared books to read on horseback and by firelight.

The 1845 General Conference encouraged the opening of colleges, and the first, Otterbein University, opened two years later. That conference also required that candidates for the ministry commit themselves to diligent study about the Bible. This led, inevitably, to expectations that ministers receive formal training.

The 1869 General Conference decided we needed our own seminary. Milton Wright, then a 41-year-old minister still eight years away from being elected bishop, advanced a motion which called for launching a Bible institute. Two years later, Union Biblical Seminary opened with 11 students taking classes in the basement of a new UB church in Dayton, Ohio. In 1873, the seminary began admitting women.

By 1889, 282 people had attended the seminary. That year, General Conference approved the ordination of women. The first woman to be ordained was an 1887 graduate of Union Biblical Seminary.

In 1879, the seminary moved into a new building located on five acres of donated land. When our group split off in 1889, the seminary stayed with the other group. The school was renamed Bonebrake Theological Seminary in 1909.