Lydia Sexton was born April 12, 1799. As a young woman, the daughter of a Baptist minister, she felt called to preach, but didn’t think Scripture permitted it. She even held her tongue in public gatherings. Twice her church offered to grant her a quarterly conference license, and twice she refused. She didn’t think it was proper for a woman to preach.

However, the sense of calling persisted. For ten years she wrestled with it. Lydia finally concluded that she was neglecting a call which Scripture did, indeed, permit. With the consent of her church leadership, she began preaching on occasion, and in 1851, her church licensed her. Lydia preached frequently. She told of one occasion when she prayed for one convert, and ended up seeing 14 people at the altar.

Lydia finally, in 1859, sought an annual conference license, but Bishop David Edwards nixed it. He cited a General Conference resolution passed two years before which forbid women to be licensed to preach. According to Lydia Sexton’s autobiography, he gave a dominos explanation–licensing could lead to ordination, which opened the door to being a bishop, and General Conference felt that “the teachings of the Bible forbid women ruling in the church of God–but to be in subjection.”

However, there was wiggle room. Bishop Edwards wasn’t personally opposed to women preaching–only to licensing them. He suggested that a letter of recommendation wouldn’t violate Scripture or the UB rules. So the conference unanimously adopted a letter of recommendation which said, “We, the members of the Upper Wabash Annual Conference of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, do hereby recommend her to the churches as a useful helper in the work of Christ.”

And thus, Lydia Sexton became a trailblazer. She lived long enough to see the denomination pass a rule, in 1889, which forbid discriminating against women in granting ministerial credentials.

Lydia enjoyed a long and fruitful ministry. One minister wrote, after hearing her speak, “She is a warm-hearted speaker and a great revivalist. Great has been the fruit of her labor. She has taken hundreds of souls into the church.” She passed away in 1894 at age 96.

Here are two quotes from Lydia’s autobiography:

“I know with what doubt many will receive these statements as to the call to the ministry; and their skepticism is based upon what they construe as the teachings of the Bible. But I learned that ever since God has had a people, he has occasionally had a place where women could render effectual service.”

“I never preached at a place without having the satisfaction to learn that they desired me to return. I mention this only as a matter of encouragement to some of my sisters who feel that they have a call to the ministry. Do your whole duty, and look to God for help.”

In 1978, two UB missionaries in Sierra Leone, Shirley Fretz and nurse Beverly Glover, were involved in an auto accident in which an African man was killed. Manslaughter charges were filed against Shirley and the driver. The ensuing legal ordeal dragged on for nearly a year.

Finally, on April 9, 1979, all charges were dismissed. Shirley left the country a week later, but returned in September 1979. She served a total of 18 years in Sierra Leone, from 1967 to 1985.

L-r: Lloyd and Eula Eby, Oneta Sewell, Erma Funk, Bernadine Hoffman.

L-r: Lloyd and Eula Eby, Oneta Sewell, Erma Funk, Bernadine Hoffman.

On April 9, 1944, five United Brethren missionaries met at the train station in Fort Wayne, Ind. All were headed to Africa in the midst of World War II. In Europe, American forces were battling through Italy–Anzio, Monte Casino–while allied bombers struck German assets throughout the continent. Russians had the German army in retreat across a wide front. US foces were advancing across the Pacific, island by bloody island, and the Japanese were being pushed out of Burma. D-Day was two months away…as was the arrival of these five travelers in Sierra Leone.

It was a low-point for our mission work in Sierra Leone. Dr. Leslie Huntley and nurse Emma Hyer had both left the country and were now in the US military, forcing the Gbangbaia dispensary to close. Only a couple missionaries remained. But now, reinforcements were on the way, including persons who could serve in every aspect of the mission–leadership, education, medicine.

Lloyd and Eula Eby were the only veterans, but had now been gone from Sierra Leone for 18 years. Joining them were three young women, all first-term missionaries who, nobody knew at the time, would spend many years in Sierra Leone. Erma Funk, an ordained minister and bishop’s daughter, would stay for three terms, mostly in Bonthe with the Minnie Mull school. Oneta Sewell, a nurse from Ohio, would give three terms at the Gbangbaia dispensary and Mattru Hospital. Bernadine Hoffman would spend an incredible 39 years in Sierra Leone.

The five missionaries traveled by train to Miami, and Pan American Airlines flew them the rest of the way. They left Miami on April 14. Three days later, after a bunch of stops—Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Trinidad, British Guyana (now Guyana), and Dutch Guiana (now Suriname)—they arrived in Belem, a city in northern Brazil. Their destination was Natal, located on the eastern tip of Brazil which jutted into the Atlantic Ocean. From there, they would fly to Africa.

Pan Am could only take three of the travelers on to Natal, so the three single women left on April 19 and arrived the next day; the Ebys joined them several days later.

We’ll resume their story on April 20, and tell about the six weeks they spent in Natal, and their fortuitous encounter with a young Naval officer named Lt. DeWitt Baker.

Bishop William Hanby

Bishop William Hanby


William Hanby was born in western Pennsylvania on April 8, 1808. For a period of over 20 years, Hanby–quite illegally–helped a whole bunch of fugitive slaves evade capture and escape to frreedom. He also found time to be bishop for four years, edit the denominational paper for 12 years, and help start the first United Brethren college.

A childhood experience probably sensitized Hanby to the plight of slaves. At age 16, he decided to become a saddler–a person who made and repaired saddles and harnesses. To learn the trade, he signed a legal contract to become an indentured servant to Jacob Good. The guy turned out to be a cruel, abusive scoundrel. One time, according to biographer Henry Adams Thompson, young William almost died under Good’s punishment.

Three years into the five-year contract, William had had enough. Late one night in 1828, he escaped out a second-story window and headed for Ohio, traveling by night lest he be caught by his wrathful master, who had repeatedly promised to “follow me to hell.” Pennsylvania law made Hanby no better than a runaway slave.

In Zanesville, Ohio, a godly family took him in. He became a Christian, and began plying his trade as a saddler (which he plied for most of his life). But he knew he needed to make things right with Jacob Good. Hanby traveled to Pennsylvania with all the money he had saved, settled things with Good, and returned to Ohio–broke, but happy.

That same year, 1830, Hanby sensed God calling him into the ministry. The United Brethren church licensed him to preach in April 1831, and two years later he was assigned to a circuit of 28 appointments. It took him four weeks to travel the 170-mile route. But he wasn’t a pastor for very long.

From 1837-1845, Hanby was editor of the denominational paper, The Religious Telescope, working out of Circleville, Ohio. As editor, he wrote strongly against slavery. He also practiced what he preached.

Hanby actively helped fugitive slaves coming up from Ohio and other Southern states–even though such aid was illegal in Ohio, punishable by heavy fines and imprisonment. He and a local merchant named Doddridge established a station on the underground railroad. Many times, Hanby would be called away late at night to assist runaway slaves, often sheltering them in his barn and saddlery shop, or helping them continue on toward Canada.

One time, Doddridge showed up at midnight saying he was hiding five slaves, and their pursuers were close behind. Hanby helped transport the slaves to another home, where they were buried under hay. The pursuers searched that home, and even walked over the hay, but left without finding the fugitives. One of those slaves later made five more trips into the South to bring back his mother, then his wife, and then some of his children. All, with Hanby’s help, reached freedom in Canada.

It was risky, dangerous stuff for Hanby, and you can question the idea of a denominational official intentionally breaking the law. But he argued, “We may be bound by a man-made law, but we are more bound by a Lord-given conscience.” Perhaps he was molded by his own experience of virtual slavery, and the abuse and injustice he had suffered under his own white master, Jacob Good.

William Hanby served 1845-1849 as bishop, spent the next four years again editing the magazine, and in 1853 became a cofounder of Otterbein University, which is where he focused the rest of his life. Otterbein University became known as a stop along the Underground Railroad. University president (and future bishop) Lewis Davis was also involved in aiding and sheltering fugitive slaves.

So was son Benjamin Hanby. In 1856, Benjamin wrote the song “Darling Nelly Gray” from the point of view of a Kentucky slave whose sweetheart has been sold to new masters in Georgia. It was based on an actual slave, Joseph Selby, who died at the Hanby home while trying to reach Canada. William raised money to try to free the woman. (Benjamin also wrote the Christmas songs “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas” and “Up on the Housetop.”)

Today, the Hanby House at Otterbein University commemorates the courageous humanitarian actions of this United Brethren bishop. A historical marker hails him as a “Freedom Crusader.”



William Floyd was among the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence. His nephew, Mathias, and his family were among the early pioneers to Indiana, moving from Virginia in 1826 and settling southeast of Indianapolis. Matthias and Jemima had eleven children. The tenth, whom they named Halleck, was born April 7, 1839.

Halleck Floyd would serve 16 years as a United Brethren bishop, 1889-1905.

Halleck grew up Methodist, but in 1856 entered Hartsville College, a nearby United Brethren schoo. He cited the UB stands against slavery and secret societies as reasons he decided to become United Brethren. He got married the next year, a marriage that would last 52 years, and began pastoring circuits of churches.

Floyd is described in a lot of good ways. Amiable, approachable, a good conversationalist. Strong in his convictions. Quick to help people in need. A natural leader. In great demand as a preacher. A gifted writer. A gentle spirit. A good chairman, who could get a lot of business done without appearing to be rushed. Gracious and courteous. He had a great concern for the plight of American Indians.

Floyd spent some time in the Indiana legislature. An amendment to the Indiana constitution would prohibit alcohol statewide. It was headed to defeat until Floyd delivered a powerful speech in favor of the ban; the next day, the amendment passed.

Floyd became involved with Milton Wright in publishing The Christian Conservator, a periodical designed to counter the liberal views of the official denominational paper, The Religious Telescope. Floyd is credited with coming up with the name “Christian Conservator.”

At the divisive 1889 General Conference, Floyd was among the delegates who walked out with Milton Wright and began meeting elsewhere as the real United Brethren church. He was one of the four bishops elected to lead the United Brethren Church as it basically started over.

Around 1897, controversy arose around the publishing house, and it continued for eight years, with Milton Wright pushing the issue hard. Floyd and Bishop Horace Barnaby, both of whom had been elected in 1889, ended up at odds with Wright over the mess. Wright’s machinations at the 1905 General Conference resulted in Floyd and Barnaby not getting re-elected.

Though retired as bishop, Floyd continued serving in ministry as long as he was physically able. He passed away on November 16, 1917.

The Jerry Datema family moved to Jamaica in 1964, after having served in Sierra Leone 1957-1963. Datema (right) became field superintendent, following founder James O’Sullivan.

In 1966, Jamaica Conference decided to begin work in the capital city of Kingston. They bought two lots in the new Washington Gardens area.

Mrs. Violet Brown, along with her children and mother, lived a couple blocks from the future church. She was originally from the New Gardens UB church, and was eager to have a United Brethren church in her neighborhood. She offered her home. The Datemas set up folding chairs in the carport and began holding services on December 6, 1966. After 13 weeks, attendance hit 87.

Meanwhile, construction was underway. The new church was dedicated on April 7, 1968. It was called Faith United Brethren Church. The congregation hadn’t yet bought furniture, but the church was filled and spirits were high.

Also participating, but not happy about it, was a Rastifarian man who lived next door. He banged a metal pipe against the fence to disrupt the service…and continued harassing the congregation for the next 25 years.

Nevertheless, the Washington Gardens church continued to grow and thrive, with a large constituency of educated and professional people. In 1985, Washington Gardens ranked as the fifth largest church in the denomination, worldwide, with an average attendance of 360.

The Datemas left Jamaica at the end of May 1968, and a couple months later were back in Sierra Leone. It had been a very productive stay.

(See all “On This Day” posts.)

Francis Asbury (left) and Henry Boehm

Francis Asbury (left) and Henry Boehm

Henry Boehm, a son of Martin Boehm, was a traveling companion of Methodist bishop Francis Asbury. It was 1812, and the two ministers were holding meetings in Leesburg, Va. Asbury had a premonition of some kind. Before the meeting ended, he told Henry, “Get the horses ready. As soon as the conference adjourns, we must go to your father’s house.”

Henry reminded Asbury of other appointments on their schedule, but Asbury was insistent. They need to go to Lancaster, Pa., immediately.

It was a 100-mile trip. About a mile from Martin Boehm’s homestead, they heard the news: Bishop Boehm had passed away on March 23.

On April 5, 1812, a memorial service was held for Martin Boehm. A large crowd assembled in Boehm’s Chapel, which Martin had built on his own property.

Asbury preached to a large crowd, using the text, “Behold an Israelite indeed in whom there is no guile.” He mentioned all the roles Boehm filled–patriarch, father, neighbor, friend, companion. But, he said, “The prominent feature of his character was goodness. You felt that he was good.”

Asbury then called on Henry Boehm to speak.

Henry stood at the pulpit–the same pulpit where he had often heard his father speak, in the church that bore his father’s name. Many people were weeping. He saw his elderly mother and numerous relatives. Looking out the window, he could see the new grave in which his father had been laid.

Henry was overcome with emotion. His eyes filled with tears, and all he could say was, “Let silence speak.”

Lloyd and Eula Eby, 1933

Lloyd and Eula Eby, 1933

At age 17, Lloyd Eby became a Christian during a Salvation Army street meeting in Ontario. He later joined what is now the Stanley Park United Brethren church in Kitchener. In 1913, at age 22, he married Lizzie Thornton, who was born in London but moved to Canada as a child. Lloyd and Lizzie had met as teenagers at the Salvation Army.

Lloyd and Lizzie moved to Toronto, where they started three churches. Most men were fighting the Great War, so the churches ministered mostly to women and children. But when the men returned, they too filled the pews.

In 1918, Lizzie died in childbirth, along with their infant child.

Eula Sherk, an outgoing young woman from the Sherkston UB church, was doing mission work in Toronto. A relationship developed, and Eula and Lloyd were married April 5, 1920.

Lloyd and Eula enjoyed 49 years together–years of diverse ministry which included three missionary terms  in Sierra Leone, planting six churches in the Detroit area, and eight years in the bishopric. They retired in Fort Wayne, Ind. Lloyd passed away in 1969, Eula in 1988. (Read more about them in the March 2 post.)

burkey_edmundEdmund Carleton Burkey, 96, passed away on April 3, 2017, in Adrian, Mich. He was a United Brethren minister for 29 years.

Ed and his wife, Jean, were married in 1942, and he entered North Baptist Theological Seminary that fall. He graduated from Monmouth College (Monmouth, Ill.) in 1951, and later earned a Masters in Theology from Winona Lake School of Theology (Winona Lake, Ind.).

In 1944, Burkey began his preaching ministry at the United Brethren church in Van Orin, Ill. He also served the community as a school teacher and principal.

In 1951, he became pastor of College Park Church in Huntington, Ind. During his 15-year tenure, College Park went through two major building programs, including construction of the current sanctuary.

In June of 1966, Burkey became pastor of First UB Church in Adrian, Mich. Within a year, a building program was inaugurated and the new facility was dedicated in 1969 as Trenton Hills United Brethren Church.

Burkey served the United Brethren Church in many capacities, including as senior superintendent of North Ohio Conference. In 1973, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Huntington College.

In 1979, Burkey became pastor of the Fellowship Bible Church in Adrian, and served there until retiring in 1993. His wife, Jean, preceded him in death.

The funeral will be held 11 a.m. Thursday, April 6, 2017, at Wagley Funeral Home in Adrian, Mich. Dr. Kent Maxwell will officiate. There will be visitation 9-11 a.m. prior to the funeral service.

The family suggests memorial contributions be made to The Fellowship Bible Church or The Hospice of Lenawee Home.


Milton Wright, United Brethren bishop and father to the Wright Brothers, died on April 3, 1917. He was 89 years old. Wright was a controversial, somewhat polarizing figure. But this is certain: without Milton Wright, there would be no United Brethren Church today.

In 1889, some controversial decisions prompted Wright and 15,000 sympathizers to leave the quarter-million-strong United Brethren denomination. The other group went through a couple mergers and, in 1967, was absorbed into the Methodist church. But thanks to Milton Wright, the United Brethren name, and its legacy, endures.

Those 15,000 people lost their church properties and had to start from scratch. Under Wright’s leadership, they rebuilt–new church buildings, a publishing house, a college and headquarters in Huntington, Ind. Then, in 1905, less than two years after sons Orville and Wilbur had become world famous at Kitty Hawk, Milton stepped down as bishop and entered retirement.

Milton had buried his wife, Susanna, in 1889. Wilbur died in 1912 of typhoid fever. In 1914, Milton left the home in Dayton, Ohio, where he had lived for 40 years, and moved into Orville’s new Hawthorn Hill mansion in Dayton.

On April 2, 1917, Milton read the evening paper, did some writing at his desk, talked to daughter Katherine for a while, and went to bed. The next morning, he didn’t come down for breakfast. They found him in his bed, as if asleep.

In 1910, Orville ask his father, then 81, if he wanted to take a ride in an airplane. Milton did. The flight lasted just under seven minutes, and flew up to 350 feet. Milton reportedly said only two words to Orville during the flight: “Higher, higher.”