31 Dec The United Brethren Decade in Review
Everyone’s publishing “decade in review” lists–best movies, best sports plays, most significant news stories, ground-breaking new products, top scandals, etc.
How would we recap the decade for the United Brethren church? Here are ten UB highlights of the decade, in roughly chronological order.
2001 General Conference. This was a historic conference. We adopted a true international structure, with 7 autonomous national conferences joined together by the Confession of Faith and an international constitution. Huntington, Ind., stopped being the United Brethren “world” headquarters, and became just the US headquarters. No longer does United Brethrenism revolve around the United States. Colonialism: RIP.
Open Theism. A whole lot of turbulence arose around Dr. John Sanders, a professor at Huntington University who was a leading proponent of what is called Open Theism. United Brethren theology clashed, hard, with academic freedom. Both church and college came under criticism from the broader evangelical community. In the end, an exit strategy was worked out for Dr. Sanders, and both church and college began mending the wounds.
Joining the Missionary Church. In early 2003, the UB Executive Leadership Team voted to pursue merging our denomination into the Missionary Church, a like-minded, larger denomination based in Fort Wayne, Ind. As leadership pushed this initiative, a group called UB Hope arose to rally people against it. Ultimately, UB members voted it down in a referendum, 56%-44%. This set the stage for lots of soul-searching about why we exist and the adoption of a whole new structure.
2005 US National Conference. With the Missionary Church initiative shot down, this was the conference of, “So what do we do now?” We did plenty.
- We threw out the regional annual conference structure, replacing it with a cluster system.
- We approved a Covenant, which churches would need to sign every two years.
- We approved having one national conference every two years.
- We cut our camps loose, to become independent entities.
- We gave a lot more authority to the bishop, including the power to choose all of his staff and the leadership team members.
- We approved letting every church send voting delegates to the National Conference, and giving all national conference ministers a vote, increasing the size from around 50 to…well, hundreds.
- And we elected Ron Ramsey as bishop to make it all happen. He brought aboard Pat Jones to help.
2007 US National Conference. Bishop Ron Ramsey pulled out all the stops for this first-of-its-kind national conference, to which every church could send delegates. Over 900 people came to Saw Mill Creek in Huron, Ohio. We went all-out with decorations, music, signage, printed materials, and speakers surrounding the theme “Xtreme Makeover.” People went away amazed that we, United Brethren, could do a conference with so much quality and energy. A high standard was set.
Leadership changes. We’ve gone through multiple leadership transitions in two key positions: bishop, and Global Ministries director. Bishop Ray Seilhamer and Kyle McQuillen concluded their eight-year run in 2001. In the 8 years that followed, we elected 3 more bishops: Paul Hirschy (2001), Ron Ramsey (2005), and Phil Whipple (2009). Gary Dilley became Global Ministries director in 2001, working with our international fields to consolidate the rapid expansion of the 1990s. Then Jeff Bleijerveld took over in 2008. All have left, or are leaving, their own positive imprint on our church.
US Losses. During the early part of the decade, a lot of good things were happening in California, particularly among our Hispanic churches. But in 2005, all but two of those churches–one Hispanic, one Anglo–pulled out to form their own group, called United Believers in Christ. Then that lone Hispanic church, with over 500 people, left to join the Missionary Church. The Otterbein UB church in Wayneseboro, Pa., then our 4th largest church, pulled out just before the 2005 conference. A number of other small churches have left or closed. In both Arizona and California, only one church remains (one Hispanic, one Anglo). The US ended the decade with about 40 fewer churches and about 1700 fewer attenders.
International Gains. Honduras has set the pace for growth throughout the decade, growing from 60 to nearly 100 churches. In 2005, we added 2 more national conferences: Mexico and the Philippines. Guatemala is poised to become the first new national conference of the next decade. Honduras and Nicaragua continue planting new churches in Costa Rica and El Salvador. Exciting things happen all the time in India. Our Sierra Leone churches, with some US help, are rebuilding after a terrible war. Any evaluation of United Brethrenism must stretch far beyond the US.
Clusters. In 2005, Ron Ramsey and Pat Jones organized all of our churches and ministers into about 35 small-group clusters, and appointed leaders for each cluster. The clusters average 5-7 churches, along with their pastor(s). Has it been successful? Mostly. There are strong clusters, weak clusters, and plenty in between. The cluster system seems to have been well accepted, but is still a work in progress.
Miscellaneous changes. Early in the decade, we began requiring all missionaries to raise their own support–a big change, which has proven effective. Huntington College became Huntington University. Churches are now assessed a mere 3.5% of their income, compared to around 10% (or more) before 2005. We moved strongly into internet communications, and away from print media. And we lost some UB heroes: DeWitt Baker, Archie Cameron, Clarence Kopp, Guillermo Martinez, Harold Wust.
Now you tell me–what have I forgotten?