shuck-daniel300The 1869 General Conference convened on May 20, three weeks after the death of missionary Oliver Hadley. The previous General Conference met in Iowa, the farthest West they had ever gone. Now they swung clear back to the eastern side of the denomination, meeting in Lebanon, Pa.

Hadley’s death created quite a stir. We now had no missionaries in Sierra Leone.After over a decade of work, and at much cost, only a few people had been converted. People began suggesting that we pull out completely and spend the money elsewhere.

Daniel Flickinger, director of our mission organization, was sympathetic. He wrote that, under the circumstances, “I shall not oppose stoutly the abandonment of Africa.” The Board shared his feelings. One member was adamant that we continue, but others felt the money could be better spent on the numerous other opportunities.

The Mission board recommended that we, at least temporarily, entrust our work in Sierra Leone to the American Missionary Association or some other group. It sparked a spirited debate on the General Conference floor, with a lot of sentiment toward getting out.

Then Bishop Daniel Shuck (right) spoke at length. He mentioned how other denominations were “planting their standard on foreign soil.” He continued:

When we pass the resolution of the committee, Ichobod [the glory has departed] will be justly written upon our banner in the missionary cause, and the very lifeblood of our whole missionary operations will measurably cease to flow. I say, let this matter go with a way wide open to the Board. Let it say to the Church, “The Way is open,” and I believe the money and the men will come. It seems to me that the very death of that devoted missionary is the life of the foreign missionary enterprise in this Church. We have but too few who are willing to die in the cause.

Shuck’s speech carried the day. The delegates instructed the Mission board to “keep the door wide open.”

Joseph and Mary Gomer walked through that door, arriving in Sierra Leone in January 1871. The work almost immediately took off. Later that year, they were joined by Mrs. Mahala Hadley, who now experienced the spiritual harvest for which her husband had given his life.

Thank you, Bishop Shuck.

The meeting at Praise Point UB church in Willshire, Ohio, on June 17, 2017.

The meeting at Praise Point UB church in Willshire, Ohio, on June 17, 2017.

L-r: Bishop Todd Fetters, task force chairperson Luke Fetters, and task force member Mark Vincenti.

L-r: Bishop Todd Fetters, task force chairperson Luke Fetters, and task force member Mark Vincenti.

Rocky Spear, chairman of the Nominating Committee, rode his Harley down from Woodland, Mich., to speak to the Ohio group.

Rocky Spear, chairman of the Nominating Committee, rode his Harley down from Woodland, Mich., to speak to the Ohio group.

About 62 people attended the Regional Meeting held May 17 at Praise Point UB church in Willshire, Ohio. It followed the same basic format as the meeting Monday in Sunfield, Mich. Attendees spent much time interacting over the proposals from the Human Sexuality Task Force.

Two more meetings will be held: May 22 in Chambersburg, Pa., and May 23 in Lancaster, Ohio. People are asked to sign up using the online form.

June Brown through the years. Below:June with Eleanore Datema at the 2009 US National Conference in Huron, Ohio.

June Brown through the years. Below:June with fellow missionary Eleanore Datema (right) at the 2009 US National Conference in Huron, Ohio.

During Commencement exercises on May 18, 1993, Huntington University recognized June Brown with the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. The citation began, “June L. Brown has built a life of excellence everywhere she has invested her talent and energy. In education, in service to country, and in missions, she has always held to the highest standards in her personal life and professional endeavors.”

June Brown grew up in Pennsylvania; her home church was King Street UB church in Chambersburg, Pa. She accepted Christ at age eight, and at age 15 sensed God calling her to the mission field. She enrolled at Huntington University in 1948, but left to spend four years in the Women’s Air Force. While stationed in San Antonio, Texas, she taught math and science classes, and played on the base softball and basketball teams, both of which won the Women’s Air Force World Championship.

June returned to Huntington University in 1954, graduated in 1956, and became a public schoolteacher in Rockford, Ill. But the call to missions remained. In 1957, she began 35 years as a United Brethren missionary in Sierra Leone.

June’s missionary service included six years as a teacher at Centennial Secondary School, followed by 29 years at Bumpe High School, where she taught math and Bible. She also served stints as boarding home manager, bookstore clerk and acting principal, and could ably step in when the school needed an electrician, plumber, or diesel mechanic. She was renowned for her skill as a hunter.

During her furlough in 1966, June returned to Huntington College to teaching physical education and coach basketball, volleyball, and tennis. Then it was back to Africa.

In 1985, June took on the role of Director of Missionary Affairs, in addition to her regular duties in education. She remained in Sierra Leone until 1992, when all missionaries were evacuated from the country because of a military coup. She took the opportunity to retire from missionary service.

Beginning around 1973, Edward Morlai, the Sierra Leone Conference director of Church Services, worked with June Brown in the Bumpe office. He was a big fan, but by no means the only fan. He testified, “She is not a stranger; she is one of us, and we like her. She is readily accepted, not only in our church, but in our culture. We bring many problems to her, and she helps us a lot. She knows what to do at what particular time. Anywhere you go, people know Miss Brown.”

When Mr. Morlai visited the United States in 1985, he told June Brown, “Now I know what you’re giving up to come to Sierra Leone.”

June didn’t view it that way. “When I come home on furlough, I almost feel guilty being here. Everything I touch and feel and eat, everything reminds me of what I don’t have over there, and what they don’t have—and probably won’t get for years to come, no matter how hard they strive for it….I’m not giving up anything. It’s a call, a desire to do the Lord’s work.”

Mr. Morlai smiled. “I don’t think she has convinced me. It took love to leave a church like King Street and go to Sierra Leone, and stay all those years. It is a big sacrifice for her. It takes a lot of love.”

June Brown now lives in her own house in Chambersburg, and is well cared for by friends, family, and the King Street congregation.

Historian A. W. Drury wrote of the early United Brethren leaders, “They had not started out to reform the world, but to help to save it.” But by the time General Conference ended on May 17, 1821, we had waded deep into the waters of social action.

The delegates took strong stands against two evils in society: slavery, and alcohol. In both cases, they were ahead of their time.

Regarding slavery, there were people who would use the Bible to claim slavery was a divine institution. On the other side were abolitionists, who viewed slavery as evil and wanted to see it vanquished. The United Brethren church was firmly abolitionist, and never waivered from that.

The 1821 General Conference passed a lengthy resolution which began, “Resolved, That no slavery, in whatever form it may exist, and in no sense of the word, shall be permitted or tolerated in our Church.”

The resolution said any UB members who held slaves couldn’t continue as members, and laid out some conditions for freeing the slaves. In the years ahead, additional statements made out stand increasingly tough. We took a stand and pursued it relentlessly.

UB historian John Lawrence wrote, “On no subject have the United Brethren in Christ preserved a cleaner record than on the subject of slavery.” He said other church groups had moderated their anti-slavery stands during the first couple decades of the 1800s, probably because they had churches in both the North and South. But, he said, “The United Brethren in Christ have firmly, and almost alone, maintained theirs.”

A statement against slavery remained in our Discipline until 1945, when we replaced it with a statement on “Human Relations.” Our Constitution still has a statement against any kind of “involuntary servitude.”

Regarding alcohol: the 1821 General Conference prohibited UB members from operating a distillery, and instructed preachers to “labor against the evils of intemperance.” To that point, wrote John Lawrence, only one other ecclesiastical group had taken action against alcohol—a Unitarian group, in 1811, which had little influence beyond New England.

In 1826, five years after we took a stand, the American Temperance Society formed and other evangelical denominations entered the fray. We, wrote Lawrence with mixed metaphors, “were among the pioneers in the temperance movement, and have always fought in the advanced columns.”

The 1841 General Conference adopted a statement requiring that all UB members—both ministers and laypersons—totally abstain from drinking alcohol. That remained the Law of UB Land until 2005, when we said laypersons could drink alcohol.

About 55 people attended the regional meeting on May 15 in Sunfield, Mich.

About 55 people attended the regional meeting on May 15 in Sunfield, Mich.

Bishop Todd Fetters at the Sunfield regional meeting.

Bishop Todd Fetters at the Sunfield regional meeting.

L-r: Task force members Joni Michaud, Luke Fetters, and Mark Vincenti.

L-r: Task force members Joni Michaud, Luke Fetters, and Mark Vincenti.

About 55 people gathered on May 15 at Sunfield UB church in Sunfield, Mich. It was the first of four regional meetings being held as a prelude to this summer’s US National Conference. Most of the people at Sunfield came from UB churches in Michigan, but there were a few from Indiana and Ohio.

Bishop Todd Fetters shared some information about the US National Conference and its significance as our 250th anniversary.

Rocky Spear, chairperson of the Nominating Committee, shared the National Conference ballot for bishop and Executive Leadership Team.

Most of the meeting was devoted to the report of the Human Sexuality Task Force. Three members were present: Luke Fetters (chair), Joni Michaud, and Mark Vincenti. After an introduction of the report by Luke Fetters, the task force members answered questions from the attendees.

The next regional meeting will be held Wednesday, May 17, at Praise Point UB church in Willshire, Ohio. Next week, regional meetings will be held May 22 at Rhodes Grove Camp (Chambersburg, Pa.) and on May 23 at Lancaster UB church (Lancaster, Ohio). These meetings will follow the same format as the Sunfield meeting. Bishop Fetters, Luke Fetters, and Mark Vincenti will attend all three. Sign up here.

On May 16, 1994, the Board of Missions unanimously passed a resolution calling for the withdrawal of all missionaries in Sierra Leone by the end of 1994. Wrote Missions director Kyle McQuillen, “This is not a temporary move. It is a final withdrawal of missionary personnel.”

Sierra Leone’s descent into anarchy had dominated the March board meeting. Rebel activity kept rising, and missionaries with other groups had been killed. Although 9 of the 14 board members had served in Sierra Leone, they raised serious questions about our long-term role there.

Two months later, the board gathered in Huntington, Ind., for an emergency session. They spent hours wrestling with their options before making the decision to pull out. Our churches and other ministries, including Mattru Hospital, would continue, but under national leadership.

During the next seven months, UB missionaries trickled out of the country–the Welch family and nurse Neita Dey in May, the Tom Datema family in August, Tom Hastie in October. Nadine Hoekman, a nurse at Mattru, chose to remain in Sierra Leone as an independent missionary; she signed documents releasing the United Brethren from responsibility for her welfare.

Bishop Ray Seilhamer and Kyle McQuillen traveled to Sierra Leone in December 1994 to attend Sierra Leone Conference. When they left on December 13, they took with them the last three UB missionaries: nurse Sara Banter, and Phil and Carol Fiedler.

And thus ended the era of United Brethren missionary involvement in Sierra Leone. But only for 13 years.

On May 15, 1829, General Conference began in Fairfield County, Ohio. Before adjourning on May 19, they had taken a strong stand against Freemasonry–a somewhat signature stand for our denomination.

William Morgan, who claimed to have been a Master Mason, wrote an expose book about the Freemasons. That violated his pledge, as a Freemason, to not reveal the inner workings of the society. Before the book was published, Morgan disappeared. The predominant view is that he was abducted and thrown overboard into the Niagara River.

That happened in 1826. The resulting outrage sparked an anti-Mason movement across the country. John Quincy Adams and Millard Fillmore were among those who supported the Anti-Mason Party. (Nevertheless, Andrew Jackson, a Mason, was elected in 1829.)

You could say that the 1829 General Conference was just climbing aboard society’s anti-masonry bandwagon. But it started earlier with us. In 1826, the Miami Conference (Ohio) urged members to discontinue their lodge membership. In 1827, the Eastern Conference (Pennsylvania mostly) decreed that any members who became Masons “thereby lock themselves out of the conference and the church.”

The 1829 General Conference entered the fray by passing this resolution: “In no way or manner nor in any sense of the word shall Freemasonry be approved or tolerated in our church; and that should any of our church members, who may now be a Freemason, continue to attend their lodges, or as a Freemason attend and take part in their processions; or if he joins the Freemasons, such member, by such an act, excludes himself from membership in our church.”

That was shortened in 1833, and shortened again when this statement made the Constitution in 1841: “There shall be no connection with secret combinations.” That extended the prohibition beyond Freemasonry to other secret orders, like the Oddfellows. And it remains in our Constitution to this day.

Bottom line: if you are a Mason, you can’t also be a United Brethren member. The Masonic lodge promises salvation apart from Jesus Christ, and that’s not something we can make room for.

buddylabor300On May 14, 1988, John Buddy Labor graduated from Huntington College with a degree in Business. He was from Bumpe, Sierra Leone. His father, John Labor, was principal of Bumpe High school and a longtime leader in Sierra Leone Conference.

Buddy was born in Huntington on January 30, 1964, when his father was a student at Huntington College. The next day, in the same hospital, Tom Datema was born. They would be friends in Sierra Leone, and teammates at Huntington College.

Buddy Labor was, few people would dispute, HC’s best-ever soccer player. His number 10 jersey was retired on February 23, 1988, even before he graduated. A four-time all-American from 1984-87, Buddy held many HC soccer records: most goals scored in a game (4), most goals scored in a season (28), most goals scored in a career (100), most assists in a career (32), most points in a career (232), and most points in a game (10). He was the team MVP all four years.

The various collegiate athletic organizations recognized him.

  • NAIA. All-district team all four years, honorable mention All-America 1984-85, second-team All-America 1986, and first-team All-America 1987.
  • NCCAA. All-America from 1984-87, during which he ranked among the top ten goal scorers all four years.
  • NCAA District III. All-District 1984-87. The 1986 team placed fourth nationally in the NCCAA.

Buddy Labor was inducted into the Huntington University Hall of Fame on December 1, 2001. He now lives in Atlanta and is a sales account manager for NexTraq.

On May 13, 1889–Day Four of General Conference–Bishop Milton Wright (right) and 14 other delegates walked out. They’d had enough. Time to start a new denomination.

General Conference was being held in York, Pa., and everyone figured there would be fireworks. For years, the “Liberals” and “Radicals” (us) had been fighting over the future of the church, and the Liberals had the votes. They were using the 1889 General Conference to make some huge changes:

  • Adopt a new Confession of Faith.
  • Allow laypersons to be delegates to General Conference (until then, ministers were running the show).
  • Soften the stand against Freemasonry.
  • Adopt a new Constitution.

The Constitution couldn’t be changed unless two-thirds of all United Brethren members–not just those voting–approved the change. That made it practically impossible to change the Constitution. And the Constitution said–no changing the Confession of Faith, no lay delegates, and no connection with secret societies (read: Freemasonry).

The Liberals, since they had the votes, basically decided to just ignore the Constitution. They made the changes they wanted to make, and the conference ended with a new Constitution and new Confession of Faith.

But before these votes were taken, Bishop Milton Wright and his supporters left in protest. We don’t know if they stormed out, or just quietly existed. Whatever the case, their departure was noticed and mourned, but it made no difference.

Wright & Co. gathered at the Park Opera House in York, where they reconvened as the “true” United Brethren in Christ Church. They argued that the Liberals had withdrawn and formed a brand new denomination with a new Constitution and bylaws. The Liberals had 250,000 members and the Radicals had about 15,000 members, so it’s a stretch to say THEY withdrew from us. But that was Milton Wright’s story, and he stuck to it.

There in the Park Opera House, the delegates re-elected Wright as bishop and elected three rookie bishops.

The whole thing was messy and sad. But today’s United Brethren church–which this year is celebrating its 250th anniversary–is descended from that small group of protesters. Otherwise, like the descendents of those other 250,000, we’d all be United Methodists.