Pastor Alimamy Sesay (left) and Adama Thorlie, representatives to the 2017 General Conference in Chambersburg, Pa.

Pastor Alimamy Sesay (left) and Adama Thorlie, representatives to the 2017 General Conference in Chambersburg, Pa.

In 2006, Germany joined the ranks of countries with United Brethren churches. It represented a full circle of sorts.

William Otterbein, one of our founders, came to America as a missionary from Germany, and the early United Brethren were mostly German-speaking people. When we began venturing into foreign missions in the mid-1800s, we started with Sierra Leone in 1855. But a lot of German delegates lobbied for their home country, and the 1869 General Conference consented. In October 1869—we moved quickly back then—Rev. and Mrs. C. Bischoff of Zanesville, Ohio, sailed for Europe to begin ministering in Bavaria.

By the spring of 1870, the Bischoffs reported that 72 persons had joined the church.
In 1879, a German mission district was organized with six missionaries, 235 members, and 34 preaching points. All of which stayed with the “other” United Brethren group after we split off in 1889.

Our group eventually made it back to Germany. However, we took a very unusual route, going through that original mission field, Sierra Leone.

On July 27, 1997, an independent church started in Berlin with eleven members from Catholic, Methodist, Pentecostal, and United Brethren backgrounds. The church targeted the many African immigrants in Berlin, especially those who had fled the civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

In November 2000, the congregation began worshiping at the Magdalene church in Neukölln, a borough in the southeastern part of Berlin in what was once the American sector. Forty percent of Neukölln’s residents were foreign-born, the largest constituencies being Turkish, Arab, and Kurdish, with a much smaller number of people of African background.

The growing congregation recognized the need for a pastor. Along came a Sierra Leonean named Peter Sorie Mansaray, who became the pastor in November 2003. He had just completed two years of theological studies at the Academy of Missions at the University of Hamburg.

After nine years of existence the church, which consisted mostly of United Brethren immigrants from Sierra Leone, felt led to become part of the worldwide United Brethren in Christ Church. So in September 2006, Pastor Mansaray flew to Africa to attend the annual meeting of Sierra Leone Conference. He presented their desire, and the conference accepted the Berlin church as a mission district of Sierra Leone Conference.

“This meant that we had given up our independence, accepted the doctrines and teachings of the United Brethren, and were now directly answerable to the Bishop of the Sierra Leone Conference,” stated the website.

In July 2007, Bishop Billy Simbo of Sierra Leone traveled to Germany to lead the culminating service of the church’s tenth anniversary.

According to the church’s website, “The UBC Berlin is an English-speaking community. However, we are moving in the direction of having bilingual services due to an increase of and desire of opening our church to German natives.” Most members of the church had lived in Germany for over ten years and knew the German language well. Their children, having been born in Germany, spoke perfect German and English, and sometimes the African tribal language of their parents.

Earlier this month, Germany was represented for the first time at General Conference, the international gathering. The current pastor, Alimamy Sesay, and a lay woman named Adama Thorlie, a Sierra Leonean who has been with the church since it started, attended the US National Conference July 12-15 and then the General Conference on July 16-17 in Chambersburg, Pa.

The business session of the 2017 US National Conference

The business session of the 2017 US National Conference

During the business session on Thursday, the delegates discussed six proposals from the Human Sexuality Task Force. It was a civil discussion characterized by a great deal of unity regarding the proposals. There were efforts to improve the proposals, but nobody spoke against any of them.

All six proposals affected the “Family Standards” chapter of the Discipline–either brand new statements, or revisions to existing statements. The Discipline for 2017-2019 is now available. You can view it online or download it as a PDF file.

The proposals included:

  • A new statement on Singleness, which values singles and their place in the local church.
  • A revision to our Marriage statement which adds a few things and affirms changes made in 2015.
  • A total revision of the Illicit Sexual Relations statement which, rather than list sinful sexual practices, describes why certain practices violate Scripture.
  • A new statement on Sex and Gender Distinctions, which is designed to apply to sexuality-related issues as they arise in society, and includes ten points under the heading “Transgender Persons.”
  • Another new statement, The Local Church and Human Sexuality, which presents grace-filled guidance for churches in these areas.
  • An expanded statement on Pornography (the existing statement was written before the internet as we know it).

There was just one minor amendment–to “The Local Church and Human Sexuality,” in the second sentence of 127.4.

As proposed:
4. All persons need opportunity for safety and authenticity. It is hypocritical to judge the sins of others while failing to acknowledge our own. Therefore, a congregation should focus on….

As amended:
4. All persons need opportunity for safety and authenticity. As redeemed persons, we are called to humbly address sin and seek reconciliation and redemption when it occurs, whether in our lives or in the lives of others. Therefore, a congregation should focus on….

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All for Christ, a new two-volume denominational history, has been published in conjunction with the 250th anniversary of the United Brethren Church. It focuses on the years 1981-2017; a previous history, Trials and Triumphs, went up to 1981. However, All for Christ goes back to our beginning to cover our entire history with a variety of subjects–women in ministry, alcohol, pastoral assignments, merger opportunities, higher education, war/peace, and others.

All for Christ gives the complete history of nearly every United Brethren mission field. There are also biographical chapters on a number of United Brethren leaders who passed away during the 1981-2017 period–George Fleming, Duane Reahm, DeWitt Baker, Jerry Datema, George Weaver, Clarence Kopp, Raymond Waldfogel, Clyde Meadows, and others.

All for Christ was written by Steve Dennie, the United Brethren Communications director. Both volumes were published in June 2017. They are available for purchase on Amazon at $14.95 each. Or, you can order from the United Brethren national office for $12.95 each, plus $6.50 shipping. Or order both volumes for $25 (plus $6.50 shipping). Email Jane Seely or call her toll-free at: 888-622-3019.

The Women’s Missionary Association organized in 1872 and became a vital part of our denomination’s missions outreach. Over the years, the WMA started new mission fields, commissioned and supported a number of missionaries, and raised millions of dollars for missions.

Times have changed. Only a few United Brethren churches still have a women’s missions group. The trend is for everyone—men, women, and children–to work together through a local church missions commission or something similar.

As of 2017, the organization, now called Women’s Missionary Fellowship, will end as an official denominational ministry. A video was shown on Friday night of the US National Conference to honor and celebrate the enormous contributions made by the Women’s Missionary Association over the past 145 years. You can view it here.

Rhodes Grove Camp (Chambersburg, Pa.) is hosting a training seminar, “Preparing for an Active Shooter,” on August 14.

Date: Monday evening, August 14.
Time: 5:00 – 9:15 pm.
Location: Rhodes Grove Camp & Conference Center, 7693 Browns Mill Road, Chambersburg, PA 17202

This seminar is geared to equip your congregation to proactively respond to an active shooter event. This program is appropriate for your security teams, your trustee and facility committees, and anyone who would like to be equipped to respond most appropriately to an active shooter incident. The seminar is being facilitated by the Capozzi Group.

Detail can be found here.

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Huntington University offers UB pastors and lay leaders graduate work at half-price:

  • Pastoral Leadership
  • Global Youth Ministry
  • Counseling Credential (12-hours)

Why Huntington University?

  • Shared mission and theological perspective with the UB denomination.
  • Online programs allow you the flexibility to continue serving in your local church.
  • Ministry programs may assist with ordination requirements.
  • Counseling Credential will enhance your ministry in your local congregation.
  • Ministry credits will be $200 per credit hour for fall 2017 and spring 2018.
  • An entire ministry program can be completed for less than $7,500.

Pastor Leadership Courses

  • Personal Spiritual Formation
  • Hermeneutics
  • Thinking Logically
  • Ministry Leadership
  • Pastoral Counseling
  • Homiletics
  • Theology of the Church
  • Worship
  • Qualitative Ethnographic Research
  • Christian Education

Global Youth Ministry Courses

  • Personal Spiritual Formation
  • Multi-Cultural Partnerships
  • Thinking Logically
  • Ministry Leadership
  • Pastoral Counseling
  • Foundations of Youth Ministry
  • Contextual Issues in Youth Ministry
  • Adolescent Development & Culture
  • Qualitative & Ethnographic Research
  • Intergenerational Youth Ministry

Clarence and Erma Carlson and children.

Clarence and Erma Carlson and children.

Erma Burton grew up in a United Brethren pastor’s home, the daughter of Rev. and Mrs. James Burton. While attending Huntington College, she dated a guy named Clarence Carlson. He had started at HC in 1924, but the next spring dropped out and headed to Sierra Leone as a missionary.

Despite the separation, the relationship continued. Clarence and Erma became engaged in 1927, while he was still in Sierra Leone. But it turned out to be a long engagement.

Carlson returned to the States in 1928 and continued his interrupted studies at Huntington College, while also pastoring College Park UB church. But in 1931, education again got trumped by needs in Africa—in this case, a replacement for the departing field superintendent, George Fleming. Carlson was ordained on September 27, 1931, and shortly thereafter left for Africa.

Meanwhile, Erma had graduated from Huntington College. During a special service at College Park church, she was among five students who committed themselves to fulltime missionary service and and who would eventually serve in Sierra Leone: Martha Anna Bard, Mary (Bergdall) Huntley and Leslie Huntley, Emma Hyer, and Charles Saufley. Martha Bard and Clarence Carlson actually traveled together to Sierra Leone in October 1931.

Erma spent four years teaching school. Then the Board of Missions sent out an urgent appeal: they needed a woman missionary to become principal of the Minnie Mull School for Girls in Bonthe, Sierra Leone. Erma applied and was accepted.

Erma arrived in Sierra Leone on June 25, 1932. Clarence met her at the dock in Freetown. The next day, June 26, they were married there in Freetown (a minister from the “liberal” United Brethren church performed the ceremony). Carlson hired an African goldsmith to fashion her wedding band from a five-dollar gold piece which he had saved just for that purpose. After honeymooning for a few days in Freetown, they traveled to Bonthe to begin their assignments as a married couple.

Clarence and Erma served together for two terms—he as field superintendent, she as principal at Minnie Mull (Martha Bard was a teacher there). A daughter was born during their furlough in 1935. Back in Africa, a son was born, but Erma became ill and they were forced to return to the States early, in 1938.

We’ll continue their story on August 4.

John Jacob Glossbrenner, Bishop 1845-1885.

John Jacob Glossbrenner, Bishop 1845-1885.

John Jacob Glossbrenner was born on July 24, 1812, a few months after the death of Bishop Martin Boehm. He was raised Lutheran, became a Christian at age 17 under the preaching of a Methodist Episcopal minister, and joined the United Brethren church in 1830, the year of Bishop Christian Newcomer’s death.

Glossbrenner was among the church’s second generation of leaders—the Builders, who followed the Founders. Other Builders included Bishops William Hanby, Jonathan Weaver, Lewis Davis, and David Edwards. Glossbrenner would serve 40 years as a bishop, longer than anyone before or since. Historians sometimes describe him as a “model bishop.”

From 1831-1845, Glossbrenner served circuits in Virginia and Maryland. Five men helped buy him his first horse. On February 14, 1833, he married Maria Shuey (yes, they celebrated Valentines Day back then). They were married 51 years and gave birth to six children; one died in infancy, but five daughters grew to adulthood and married.

Glossbrenner was elected as a presiding elder (like a district superintendent) at age 22. Biographer Henry Adams Thompson wrote that, because Glossbrenner started in leadership so young, “Those not acquainted with him began to think of him as much older than he really was.” He was a delegate to General Conference in 1837 and 1841, and in 1845 was elected to the first of ten terms as bishop. All three bishops were rookies that year. Glossbrenner, at age 32, was the youngest.

Glossbrenner remained in Virginia—the South—during the Civil War. He sometimes was asked to preach to rebel soldiers, and though folks expected him to side with the North, he prudently avoided anything partisan. Another UB minister, after Confederate troops were driven out of his area, publicly prayed that they would be defeated. When the South recaptured that territory, he was forced to flee. Henry Adams Thompson wrote, “Mr. Glossbrenner would make no such mistakes as that. He was careful and discrete and had the confidence of both sides.”

Throughout Glossbrenner’s tenure as bishop, only ministers were allowed at General Conference. He became a strong advocate for lay representation—not just at General Conference, but at all other levels. He argued from Scripture and church history that laypersons had long been part of governing bodies. He wrote in the denominational paper, “What do the laity lack to justify their exclusion from our councils? Is it a want of piety, intelligence, or a want of loyalty to the church? Emphatically, no.”

The self-educated Glossbrenner, who as a young minister bought books whenever he had the money, also championed higher education for ministers. Since there were no United Brethren colleges, UBs were attending colleges of other denominations…and not coming back. He described this as “grievous neglect” of the persons God had entrusted to us. He wrote, “The loss of so many cultivated minds and pious hearts is irreparable….We cannot spare our sons to others. We cannot innocently neglect to train them for ourselves.”

Glossbrenner was described in many positive ways. Even-tempered. Calm. Dignified. Kind. Persistent in what he believed to be right. Not easily irritated. Modest. Unassuming. Didn’t seek attention or compliments. Wouldn’t disparage other people. Thompson added:

  • His sermons were “sound, systematic, and aimed at the conscience and heart of the hearer” in a “plain, simple style.”
  • “He sought to win men more by the proclamation of the love side of the Gospel, than by awakening them with its terrors.”
  • “He had a warm interest in the welfare of his itinerant brethren. Their troubles were his troubles, and their success his glory.”
  • In leading meetings, “He was skillful in preventing trouble, as well as in meeting it properly when it came.”

The title “bishop emeritus” was originally created for Glossbrenner. Maria passed away in 1884, and his own declining health made it clear that this would be his last term. The 1885 General Conference debated giving him a complimentary role on the board of bishops, perhaps as “bishop-at-large.” They settled on the emeritus title, which gave him “all the honors and privileges” of the office. He passed away on January 7, 1887.

There were an estimated 25,000 United Brethren when Glossbrenner entered the ministry, and about 250,000 when he died. Bishop Jonathan Weaver, speaking at Glossbrenner’s funeral, remarked:

He grew up with the growth of the church and was always to be found in the front rank of every advance made by the church….Bishop Glossbrenner was always ready for everything that would add potency to the church that he loved so well. If he erred along any of these lines, it was because he loved the church more than his reputation. The one great question with him seemed to be, “Is it right?”

In 1992, two American missionary families served in Macau: the Luke and Audrey Fetters family, and the Jeff and Joan Sherlock family. For several years, the Macau missionaries had been asking the Board of Missions for more teachers, but always got the same response: great idea, but no money.

The Sherlocks were planning to leave the field at the end of 1992. Jeff, a finance and business guy, raised the idea of replacing his family of five with several singles. Three single missionaries would cost just a little bit more than it cost to send the Sherlock family. Bishop Jerry Datema presented the idea to the March 1992 meeting of the Board of Missions. They not only approved the idea at that meeting, but appointed two single women.

On July 23, 1992, Rhonda Fleming (now Mudge) and an unnamed Huntington College classmate, both of whom had graduated in May 1992, arrived in Macau. Jeff Dice, a 1992 HC grad, joined them in February 1993 and served through 1995.

In Macau, various opportunities had been available, but they lacked the staff to pursue them. Not anymore. They launched an English Language Program at a second church planting site, which became the Living Word church. They expanded their role at the large Pui Ching Middle School. And they began teaching conversational English every week at high schools in Zhuhai, right across the border from Macau. Luke had done some teaching in Zhuhai, and saw it as an opportunity to reestablish the United Brethren witness in China which ended in 1952.

Benjamin Hanby

Benjamin Hanby

Jolly Old Saint Nicholas.
Up on the House Top
Darling Nelly Gray
Who is He in Yonder Stall

Those are among the 80 songs written by Banjamin Hanby, an ordained United Brethren minister, and the son of UB bishop William Hanby.

Benjamin Hanby was born on July 22, 1833. At age 16, he enrolled in our first college, Otterbein University. He was also involved, with his father, in helping fugitive slaves escape to Canada along the Underground Railroad.

“Darling Nelly Gray,” written in 1856 when Hanby was just 23 years old, became a huge hit across the Northern states, and helped rally sentiment against slavery. It tells the story of a Kentucky slave whose sweetheart was sold to slave-owners in Georgia.

One night I went to see her, but “She’s gone!” the neighbors say.
The white man bound her with his chain;
They have taken her to Georgia for to wear her life away,
As she toils in the cotton and the cane.

Oh! my poor Nelly Gray, they have taken you away,
And I’ll never see my darling any more;
I’m sitting by the river and I’m weeping all the day.
For you’ve gone from the old Kentucky shore.

“Darling Nelly Gray” was based on the true story of Joseph Selby, a runaway slave from Kentucky who stayed in the Hanby home when Benjamin was just nine years old. Selby, on his way to Canada, showed up at the Hanby home with pneumonia, and died there…but not until after having told the story of his “Darling Nelly Gray.”

Benjamin Hanby became an ordained UB minister and pastored a church in New Paris, Ohio. But that was short-lived. He left the ministry to run a singing school in New Paris. In 1865, after his two Christmas songs were published, he moved to Chicago to work with a music publisher. But he died there two years later, at age 34. Makes you wonder how many other memorable songs he might have written.