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.

Jerry and Eleanore Datema and two oldest sons.

Jerry and Eleanore Datema and two oldest sons.

On July 16, 1957, Jerry and Eleanore Datema began their first term as missionaries in Sierra Leone.

Jerry Datema was born December 15, 1924, in Dutton, Mich., near Grand Rapids. He was the fifth of eight children in a close family. He became a Christian at the Dutton UB church in 1947.

At age 20, in 1950, Datema felt the Lord pointing him toward missionary service. No family member, and nobody from his home church, had ever been a missionary. But as he read Scripture and pondered the future, missions always rose to the surface. He wrote in the September 1993 issue of Missions Impact, “After struggling unsuccessfully to convince the Lord He was making a horrible mistake, I surrendered to His will.”

In September 1951, Datema left the family farm and enrolled in Moody Bible Institute in downtown Chicago. There, he met a Minnesotan named Eleanore. They were married in 1954 and would raise four sons. They set up house in Dutton, where Jerry pastored his home church for three years…but always with his eyes set on missions.

On the same day in June 1957, Jerry Datema was both ordained and commissioned as a missionary. He wrote, “The greatest thrill of my life was that day in 1957 when I knew I was doing the perfect will of God in serving Him on foreign soil. Nothing in my life has ever been as fulfilling.”

A few weeks later, he and Eleanore and two sons arrived in Sierra Leone—he to work at Bumpe Bible Institute, Eleanore, a nurse, to run a medical dispensary. After two terms in Sierra Leone, they served 1964-1968 in Jamaica. Then it was back to Sierra Leone until 1971, when the Datemas began five years pastoring the Maple Hill UB church (now Homefront) in Grandville, Mich. Then, in 1976, it was back to Sierra Leone—this time as Field Secretary, the highest position on the field.

About six weeks before the 1981 General Conference, Datema was contacted by Bishop C. Ray Miller about letting his name appear on the ballot for bishop. He agreed, and a few days after General Conference, was notified of his election.

“We weren’t excited about leaving Sierra Leone,” he said in an interview published in the United Brethren magazine. “Missionary work was extremely fulfilling. I could bury myself in the work in one country, Sierra Leone, and understand it very well. When I became bishop, that suddenly changed. There were a few years when I felt frustrated, because I didn’t understand the cultures of all of these different countries….But that changed over time. And as I became involved with the overseas fields, I became excited about each one.”

Much happened during Datema’s twelve years as Overseas Bishop. Sierra Leone was nationalized many years earlier than expected. We pioneered new work in Macau, and expanded our ministries in India and other countries. We began supporting missionaries with a number of other organizations—in Japan, New Guinea, Greece, the Philippines, Austria, Kenya, Columbia, Russia, and elsewhere. The faith-promise emphasis helped the missions budget pass the $1 million mark for the first time. He dealt with the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, and helped prepare the Hong Kong church for the 1997 transition to Mainland China. And as he left office, he could only watch as his beloved Sierra Leone descended into war.

We’ll resume Jerry Datema’s story on September 15.

Josiah K. Alwood

Josiah K. Alwood

Josiah K. Alwood was born July 15, 1828, in Cadiz, Ohio. He went on to become a United Brethren minister, and was the father of Olin Alwood, who was a bishop 1905-1921.

In 1879, Alwood wrote the hymn “The Unclouded Day.” Olin Alwood wrote about it in the March 12, 1924, issue of the denominational publication, The Christian Conservator.

At the time, the Alwood family lived in Morenci, Mich. J. K. Alwood had spent the day in an extended discussion with a Seventh Day Adventist minister in the village of Spring Hill, Ohio. Their debate lasted late into the night (Alwood felt he won), and it was around midnight when he climbed atop his horse for the eight-mile ride back to Morenci.

As he entered Morenci, Alwood saw what his son described simply as “a rainbow by moonlight.” J. K.’s description was more elaborate, the scene seared into his memory. “I saw a rainbow which was caused by the rays of the moon streaming against a shower of rain falling from a dark, dense cloud a short distance beyond the northwestern limits of our sleeping Morenci. The moon was low in the cloudless southeastern sky. It was a new sight to me; and you can scarcely imagine the feeling of solemn joy which came over me as I gazed upon the lovely segment of the bow of promise smiling on our quiet town.”

As that description showed, Alwood had a strong poetic streak. The next morning, he awoke with the start of a song in his head. He spent the next two days composing the four verses. Olin, who was just a child then, wrote:

“The extent of his ability as a musician was to drum a tune by ear with one finger on the very modest Estey organ the home afforded. This he proceeded to do to provide an air for his song. Soon we heard him singing some new strange strains and words as new. A new song had been made.”

Some time later, an old acquaintance named J. F. Kinsey, who was a vocal music teacher, asked J. K. Alwood if he had any music to suggest. Josiah sang his song, and Kinsey asked for permission to arrange the hymn for publication.

Olin Alwood said they never received any money for the song, and there was even an attempt to discredit his father’s authorship. “But I well remember seeing him write the words and then drum out the tune on the organ. We at home were the first who ever heard it sung.”

Bishop Milton Wright wrote of Josiah Alwood upon his death in 1909, “Always stood for the right as he saw it. Always interesting in his preaching, but as often quite peculiar, for he was like no one else.”

O they tell me of a home far beyond the skies,
O they tell me of a home far away;
O they tell me of a home where no storm clouds rise,
O they tell me of an unclouded day.

On July 14, 1991, Paul Baker held his last service as pastor of the denomination’s largest church, King Street UB in Chambersburg, Pa. In so doing, he concluded 30 years as the church’s pastor, and 36 years of pastoral ministry in the UB church—a career during which he gave leadership at nearly all levels of the denomination and in many aspects of the broader Christian community.

Paul Baker had gravitas—an imposing figure, a commanding presence, a deep, authoritative voice. He exercised strong leadership in Pennsylvania Conference and in many other capacities.

The youngest of five children, Paul Baker grew up on a farm in the Chambersburg area. He became a Christian at age 13 during services at Mt. Pleasant UB in Chambersburg, and received his call to the ministry there at age 18. He graduated from Huntington College in 1955 and returned to Chambersburg to become associate pastor of King Street, serving in that position for two years under Clyde W. Meadows. At the same time, he entered Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, Pa., from which he graduated in 1963 with a Master of Divinity.

In 1957, Baker left King Street to become pastor of Otterbein UB in Greencastle, Pa. He remained there until 1961, when General Conference elected Dr. Meadows as bishop. So Meadows, who spent 33 years at King Street, was followed by a man who would stay 30 years.

Baker’s work extended far beyond the church. He had served as a conference superintendent beginning in 1967 and as senior superintendent since 1977. He had been a member of the denominational General Board continuously since 1967, and on its executive committee starting in 1981.

Baker joined the Huntington College Board of Trustees in 1970, and in 1979 received the “Distinguished Alumni Citation.” The college awarded him an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree in 1980.

Baker served on the board of the National Association of Evangelicals for ten years. And there were many other leadership roles—with Rhodes Grove Camp, the Salvation Army, Piney Mountain Home, the local ministerial association, YMCA, Kiwanis, and other groups.

Pat Jones was assigned as senior pastor of King Street effective August 1, 1991. Jones had just completed three years as pastor of Devonshire Memorial Church in Harrisburg, Pa. That same month, Dr. Baker assumed a new role with a local funeral home.

On January 14, 2001, King Street dedicated a 24,100 square-foot addition. It was primarily a gymnasium, which could seat over 500 people in the weekly contemporary worship service. They named it the Baker Center.

Bishop Todd Fetters leading the Business session of the US National Conference.

Bishop Todd Fetters leading the Business session of the US National Conference.

A standing ovation as Todd Fetters is elected bishop of the US National Conference during the July 13 business meeting.

A standing ovation as Todd Fetters is elected bishop of the US National Conference during the July 13 business meeting.

Todd H. Fetters was elected to a four-year term, 2017-2021, as Bishop of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, USA. He was elected by unanimous ballot during the Business session of the US National Conference, meeting Thursday morning, July 13, in Lancaster, Pa.

Bishop Fetters’ ministerial career began in 1988 with seven years at Lake View UB church in Camden, Mich., followed by 18 years as senior pastor of Devonshire UB church in Harrisburg, Pa. He came to the National Office in 2013 as Director of National Ministries.

Four persons were elected to the Executive Leadership Team for 2017-2021.

  • Ty Bates, a layperson from Bethel UB church (Elmore, Ohio).
  • Matt McConnell, a layperson from Banner of Christ (Byron Center, Mich.).
  • Gary Dilley, pastor of College Park UB church (Huntington, Ind.).
  • Dennis Sites, pastor of Jerusalem Chapel (Churchville, Va.).

They join four persons elected in 2015 to four-year terms. These eight persons will then appoint four more persons to two-year terms.

The business session began at 8:45 am. There were a couple presentations, plus reports from Interim Bishop Todd Fetters and the various directors (UB Global, Higher Education, Communications, National Ministries, Finance, and Ministerial Licensing). Then came elections.

The delegates then tackled six proposals from the Human Sexuality Task Force, which began its work in early 2016. All six of their proposals passed, with only one or two amendments. They can be viewed here. They included:

  • New statements on Singleness, Sex and Gender Distinctions, and the Local Church and Human Sexuality.
  • Revisions to our existing statements on Marriage, Illicit Sexual Relations, and Pornography.

The meeting adjourned at 11:45.

Emmett and Shirley Cox and children.

Emmett and Shirley Cox and children.

Emmett D. Cox, 89, passed away July 10, 2015, just a few days before the US National Conference began.

Emmett Cox grew up in the Garnett UB church in Garnett, Kansas, and was converted in 1943. Shirley was the daughter of Rev. and Mrs. Glenn Betterly, who were serving the North Bruce UB church in Port Elgin, Ontario, when Shirley headed off to Huntington College. Emmett and Shirley met at HC and were married on August 14, 1948. They both graduated from Huntington College in 1951. Shirley had a degree in Education. Emmett went on to graduate from the HC seminary.

Emmett and Shirley were missionaries in Sierra Leone over a 20-year period beginning in 1957. During those years Emmett served as a high school principal, business manager, general superintendent, primary school secretary, and field secretary. Shirley also kept busy with various roles over the years, including matron of the Minnie Mull girls’ home and teacher at Centennial Secondary School.

In 1969, Emmett received a Masters in Missions from the Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. That year, General Conference elected him to oversee our worldwide mission work as the denomination’s General Secretary of Missions. That ended in 1973, when General Conference decided to give that responsibility to Bishop Duane Reahm, the first person to hold the role which would become known as the “overseas bishop.”

Emmett and Shirley then pastored churches for the next 30 years.

  • 1976-1984: Victory UB church (Burbank, Calif.).
  • 1984-1985: First UB church (Lake Havasu City, Ariz.).
  • 1985-1992: Willshire UB church (Willshire, Ohio).
  • 1992-2003: Six Mile Church, a non-UB congregation in Bluffton, Ind.

In retirement, Emmett and Shirley also served short-term as volunteers in Myanmar. They had four children: son Douglas, daughters Diane and Darlene, and foster son Billy Simbo, from Sierra Leone.

Bishop William Brown

Bishop William Brown

Michael Brown immigrated from Alsace, located in eastern France on the German border, and settled in the Tulpehocken Valley near Lebanon, Pa. He was considered one of the early converts of the revival movement started by Martin Boehm and William Otterbein.

As he lay dying, Michael, surrounded by family, “exhorted till the place became as the very gate of heaven.” When he finally died, the patriarch’s hand was resting upon the head of a seven-year-old grandson named William.

“From that hour,” wrote biographer Henry Adams Thompson, “the child’s heart was drawn towards God and heaven.”

William Brown, born July 9, 1796, was raised in a Christian home. He said his own conversion occurred at age 16 during a barn meeting in Carlisle, Pa. He recalled, “I was happy day and night for months. Often, after all had retired at night, I would walk out, look up into the starry heavens, and think of Jesus and heaven until, before I was aware of it, I would be running with outstretched arms, praying to Jesus to give me wings to fly home to glory.”

Brown became a licensed United Brethren minister in 1816. For the next eight years, he frequently traveled with Bishop Christian Newcomer, who often referred to Brown in his journal. Upon reaching an appointment, typically Newcomer would preach, and then Brown would preach (Brown was apparently no warm-up act). Brown was known to preach in both German and English.

In 1819, Brown began two years on the Virginia Circuit, which consisted of 30 appointments. It took him four weeks, and 300 miles of travel on horseback, to cover them all.

Brown was a member of the 1821 General Conference which took our first stand against alcohol. He played a key role. One minister offered a resolution saying, “No preacher shall be allowed to carry on a distillery.” Brown proposed replacing “preacher” with “member,” convinced that what was good for preachers was good for everyone. After much debate, the conference settled on, “Neither preacher nor lay member shall be allowed to carry on a distillery.”

In 1833, Brown was among the six Pennsylvania Conference delegates to General Conference, which met south of Columbus, Ohio. The number of bishops was increased from two to three. Brown and Samuel Heistand were elected as rookie bishops, joining Henry Kumler, Sr., who had been serving alone for three years following the death of Christian Newcomer.

William Brown served just four years as bishop. In 1838, he moved to Benton County, Indiana, located on the Illinois border near Lafayette. His father had apparently moved there some years before. Brown covered several circuits, was presiding elder for that area, and according to Thompson, “was preaching more or less all the time.”

Bishop William Brown died May 11, 1868, at age 71, from congestion of the liver. He viewed funeral sermons as improper, and didn’t want one at his own funeral. So there was none.