On This Day in UB History: September 25 (The Church Begins)

Happy birthday to the Church of the United Brethren in Christ! The denomination was officially birthed on September 25, 1800.

William Otterbein and Martin Boehm met in 1767 at Long’s Barn in Lancaster, Pa., and began working together in a loose revival movement. That continued for 33 years. A “denomination” was taking shape, but it took everyone a while to realize it.

In 1789, Boehm and Otterbein, along with five other ministers, met to coordinate their work a bit more closely and adopt a common set of doctrinal beliefs. They met again two years later.

Then came that historic meeting on September 25, 1800. It was held in Frederick, Md., at the home of Peter Kemp, which was somewhat of a waystation for traveling preachers. Fourteen ministers attended, and another 17 ministers were listed as absent. They took three significant actions.

1. They chose a name—the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. They added “in Christ” to distinguish from the Moravians, who had adopted the name Unitas Fratrum (United Brethren). According to historian Henry Spayth, it was mainly a legal issue. On property deeds, bequests, and other official documents, they wanted to avoid any confusion about which United Brethren church was intended.

2. They unanimously elected Otterbein and Boehm as the first bishops, with the apparent understanding they would serve four-year terms. Spayth said Otterbein had been unofficially functioning as the movement’s leader.

3. They decided to meet every year.

Thus was born a new denomination. At the time, all other denominations were transplanted from Europe — Lutherans, Methodists, Reformed. We were the first denomination stamped “Made in America.”

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