On This Day in UB History: November 8 (Bishop Joseph Hoffman)

Joseph Hoffman, bishop 1821-1825

Joseph Hoffman, our 6th bishop, passed away at age 76 on November 8, 1856. He was there at the beginning, growing up in the United Brethren church long before it officially organized as a denomination. He was licensed as a United Brethren minister in 1803, at age 23, and became a traveling preacher in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. He could preach in both German and English.

Biographer Henry Adams Thompson described Hoffman this way: about six feet tall, one good eye (a tree branch took out the other), thin hair, strong and vigorous. “His countenance was expressive, and the whole man seemed to speak to you. He had a strong voice, which without being strained could be heard a mile. His enunciation was clear and full.”

Hoffman was a bit out of step with his times, or visionary—or both—when it came to the minister’s role. Back then, as Thompson explained in “Our Bishops,” ministers were expected to preach without compensation on Sunday, and then ply their trade the rest of the week (most ministers were farmers). The belief was that only a person truly called by the Holy Spirit would do this for free. If ministers were paid fulltime, the role would attract persons who were in it for the money, not because they were called by God.

Hoffman didn’t see it that way. He felt that if God called you to preach, that’s what you should do fulltime. Those who preached the Gospel should live off the Gospel. In that way, he was somewhat of a reformer.

Hoffman was one of the three men ordained by William Otterbein in 1813, shortly before Otterbein’s death. The next year, he became pastor of the church in Baltimore which Otterbein had pastored for 39 years. He was 34 years old at the time, in his prime, but remained there just three years. In 1817, the Hoffman family moved to central Ohio, just southeast of Columbus—sparsely populated pioneer territory. His resume and experience immediately placed him in leadership among the United Brethren located there. His home remained there for the rest of his life.

Andrew Zeller, also from Ohio, had been elected bishop in 1817, but poor health kept him from continuing in office. Instead, in 1821, Joseph Hoffman was elected bishop. Although he served only until 1825, he made the most of it, traveling extensively. He spent a summer preaching in Canada, and later spent a winter in New York City, where he preached in many prominent churches.

Hoffman’s first wife died, and he remarried. Altogether, he fathered eleven children. Five of his eight sons became United Brethren ministers.

On November 8, 1856, a new church was being dedicated near Lewisburg, Ohio. People were excited that Bishop Hoffman would be there to preach the first sermon. But he never made it. He died that morning before even leaving home.

1 Comment
  • Rick Churder
    Posted at 00:20h, 25 March

    My name is Rick Churder. I live in Kansas City, Missouri. I was born on October 16, 1954 in Long Beach, California, located in Los Angeles County.

    The following is the trace of my mother’s family line which I believe to be relevant to this present article on UBCentral-United Brethren News. This trace is the result of God’s grace upon my oldest child, my daughter, Jessica Joy (Churder) Roemer, as she set about the task of searching out our family tree of ancestors—the identity of my biological father in particular.

    She started out by using Ancestry.com and their files. This progressed to taking advantage of their DNA program. The next step we needed to take is where I saw God’s Providence and provision manifest. While having lunch with a friend of hers, Jessica told her friend about her search of our family history. After she finished her story, her friend became aware of not only her search, but the stymied position she had come to at that point—no funds to pay for the professional help she needed to pin down the identity of my biological father. It was then, to Jessica’s amazement, that her friend informed Jessica she would be providing the funds to bring in the professionals she had actually used in her own very recent search of her family history. That’s when she was informed by these “pros” that we needed to bring in 23andme.com and combine the use of their DNA program with Ancestry’s DNA tool to confirm what the “pros” were discovering at that time. A life-changing season of blessing to be sure.

    There can be no doubt in my mind that it was God’s provision under His Providential hand that she was able to uncover my biological father’s identity, resulting, as well, in the identity of three half-siblings and their mother.

    Now, for my mother’s family line…

    My mother was Mary Mildred Bruce (1916–1993). Mary’s mother was Fayetta Mildred Bruce (1897–1981). Fayetta’s mother was May Hoffman (1881-1926). May’s father was John Edward Hoffman (1844-1919). John’s father was Henry M. Hoffman (1811-1884). Henry’s father was Joseph Hoffman (1780-1856). Joseph’s father was Johann G. Hoffmann. Johann’s father was Johann M. Hoffmann.

    Beginning early in my youth and on into my twenties, I would find myself in the company of my mother, Mary, and my grandmother, Fayetta, as they discussed the history/stories passed down from our family—those of my grandmother in particular. Her precious Leslie, my grandfather, passed away in 1927. On a few of these occasions, they spoke of a “circuit rider who was in our family line,” and that he ministered “somewhere back in the Midwest and the Northeast of the country.” That was my introduction to that term and its meaning. I distinctly recall having a very real sense of wonder and mystery come over me the first time, and any other time, I heard about this mysterious man from our distant past. My grandmother knew nothing more about him, at least as far as I was aware. By the time my daughter, Jessica, had put these particular pieces of our puzzle together, and I had become aware of this Hoffman(n)’s line of history, I could only surmise that “our circuit rider” and Joseph Hoffman were likely the same man.

    Thank you for your time. I hope you find this note to be helpful. God’s blessings to you.

    Rick churder

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