James Hott

Only one part of the United Brethren denomination was located in the Confederacy: Virginia Conference, which included the states of Virginia and Maryland. The conference’s churches were divided, since Maryland was part of the Union and Virginia lay in the South.

According to Anthony Blair, three UB ministers in Virginia were arrested for not pledging loyalty to the Confederacy, and Bishop Jacob Markwood scooted out of Virginia with a reward on his head.

James Hott was born in Virginia on November 15, 1844. Both parents had been United Brethren since their youth, his father was a UB minister, and the extended family included six ministers. So it’s not surprising that James became a Christian at age 13 and immediately sensed God’s call to the ministry. He was licensed to preach at age 17, and the next year, in 1862, joined Virginia Conference.

By then, the Civil War had started. His first assignment included churches on both sides of the lines, and during the course of the war, those lines changed about 20 times. One day the area would be swarming with Union troops, the next with Confederates.

Confederate conscription officers frequently arrested Hott, seeing only an able-bodied young man. But the Confederacy exempted ministers from military service, so once he proved that he was a minister, they always let him go.

Nevertheless, it was a harrowing three years. He could hear canon and musket fire, close or distant, and regularly approached pickett posts with soldiers — sometimes Blue, sometimes Gray — leveling rifles at him. Opportunistic marauders took advantage of anyone they encountered. But he weathered the war years well. He even crossed into Maryland in 1864 to be ordained, and a couple months later got married.

Hott continued pastoring until 1873, when he began nearly 30 years in denominational positions. He was editor of the denominational paper, The Religious Telescope, from 1877-1889, and was then elected bishop of the “liberal” United Brethren church, taking the place of Milton Wright, who had departed in the division of 1889. Bishop James Hott died in 1902, a year into his fourth term as bishop.

Ruby Crum, RN

Ruby Crum, RN, passed away November 15, 1971, in Sierra Leone.

Ruby was a member of the UB church in Peoria, Ill. She went to Sierra Leone in 1967 to become a nurse at Mattru Hospital. During her second term, as she prepared to return to the States, she contracted infectious hepatitis and pulmonary edema. Dr. Sylvester Pratt and the other nurses gave her every medicine and treatment they could, but were unable to save her.

Harold Mason, bishop 1921-1925

Harold Mason was born on November 9, 1888, in Kunkle, Ohio. When elected bishop in 1921 at age 32, he was the second-youngest bishop ever elected (Jacob John Glossbrenner was four months younger when elected in 1845). Mason served just four years as bishop, and spent the rest of his life in academia, including seven years as president of Huntington College—arguably, saving the college.

The information which follows is from the chapter about Harold Mason in “United Brethren Bishops, 1889-1997.” The chapter was written by Mason’s oldest son, Robert.

Harold’s father ran a general store until 1892, when he became a United Brethren minister. So Harold mostly grew up as a preacher’s kid. In 1904, at age 15, Harold entered the Central College (now Huntington University) Academy to finish high school, and in 1907 graduated with a bachelor’s degree.

North Ohio Conference assigned him to what was called the Ransom Circuit in rural Hillsdale County, Mich. Harold met a girl named Alta, who would become his wife. However, he resigned in defeat during that first year–it’s unclear what happened, even to Robert—and took a teaching job at a Free Methodist school near Rochester, New York. In that community, he experienced healing. He moved back to Michigan and married Alta on December 25, 1909.

They both taught in public schools until 1911, when Harold sensed God pulling him back into the ministry. He served the UB church in Adrian, Mich., and then the Etna Avenue congregation in Huntington, Ind. Then, in 1913, he was given a plum assignment—the UB church in Blissfield, Mich., one of the conference’s most prominent congregations. During the next five years, the church grew and completed building projects. Sons Robert and Wendell were born there. It was a good situation.

In 1918, the conference moved him (back then, they didn’t ask if you wanted to move) to the small congregation in Montpelier, Ohio. There, again, the church prospered under his leadership, and people across the denomination noticed.

In 1921, Harold Mason was elected bishop, largely on the basis of eight years as a successful pastor (he hadn’t taken the usual paths of being a conference superintendent or denominational official). He was assigned to the Pacific district. Making the rounds of his churches in Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and California required a journey of up to 6000 miles, most of it by train. But in year three, he moved the family to Ann Arbor, Mich., cut back his church traveling, and enrolled in graduate school at the University of Michigan. He graduated in 1924 with a Masters in English and Philosophy, headed west to conduct his annual conferences, and in the fall began teaching philosophy at Adrian College. When his term as bishop ended in 1925, he became Academic Dean at Adrian College. He was obviously drawn to higher education.

Harold Mason during his latter years at Asbury.

Mason was superintendent of schools in Blissfield, Mich., 1929-1932. Then he was asked to become president of Huntington College. The school was on the verge of closing in those early days of the Depression. Mason agreed to come (at half the salary he was getting in Blissfield), and he kept the college alive for the next seven years.

In 1939, Mason left to pastor the flagship Free Methodist church in Winona Lake, Ind., while also pursuing a doctorate at Indiana University. In 1943, he began five years as Professor of Christian Education at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary (Chicago, Ill.). He finished his career in 1961 after 12 years as Professor and Chairman of the Department of Christian Education at Asbury Theological Seminary (Wilmore, Kent.).

It was an interesting life. Professionally, he gave about 20 years to the United Brethren denomination, and about 30 years to non-UB educational work. He died on June 2, 1964, in Winona Lake, Ind.

Moy Ling and family.

Oliver A. Howard — renowned Civil War general (Bull Run, Antietam, Gettysburg, Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, Atlanta), Medal of Honor winner, head of the post-war Freedman’s Bureau, advocate for freed slaves, founder of Howard University—was born on November 8, 1830. The West Point grad became popularly known as “the Christian general” because his decisions were strongly influenced by his faith.

General Oliver Howard lost his right arm in an early Civil War battle.

He was never United Brethren. Probably never attended a UB church. So why is he included here? Read on.

After negotiating the surrender of Apache chief Cochise in 1872, Howard was sent to the Northwest in 1874 to subdue the Nez Perce Indians.

Howard’s daughter lived in Portland, and a young Chinese immigrant named Moy Ling was attached to the family in some way, probably as a worker. General Howard talked about Moy Ling in his autobiography.

“I had not been in the city of Portland long before the active people in the different churches combined to form a union mission with a view to doing something for the Chinamen, who had already come in large numbers to that part of the Pacific Coast.

“In my family, there was a young Chinaman of slender build, very dignified, and apparently independent. His name was Moy Yu Ling. One day I gave him a Bible printed in Chinese. He read it quietly without remark, but soon he joined the mission, became deeply interested, and united with one of the churches, and for over 25 years has been a consistent Christian and a local missionary to his own people in Portland.

“A little later, he opened up a store filled with Chinese goods of various descriptions. As a merchant and as a Christian teacher, for he continued in both capacities, he has been remarkably successful. His children speak good English, and we always say when we meet them: ‘What a beautiful family!’ The last time I was in Portland, every child remembered me, took me by the hand, and called me by name.”

By 1882, the school Moy Ling had begun in 1876 was more than he could handle. The United Brethren church agreed to assume ownership. That served as our bridge to opening ministry in China—twice, as it turned out.

Moy Ling’s school stayed with the “liberal” branch after the division of 1889. When they gave up the school in 1898, our group took charge. Twenty years later, Moy Ling’s contacts led us to Dr. Y. T. Chiu, and we again launched ministry in Canton, China—a ministry which later led us to Hong Kong…and Macau…and Myanmar…and Thailand.

And it all started with a Civil War general giving a Bible to a Chinese immigrant.

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.

Dr. Sylvester and Dorothy Pratt with their first child, Melody.

In 1946, the Missions board decided to open a full-fledged hospital in Mattru Jong, Sierra Leone. It would replace the medical dispensary which had operated in Gbangbaia since 1914. A hospital, of course, would require a doctor. They figured that would be Dr. Leslie Huntley, who had served eight years at Gbangbaia in the 1930s. But that didn’t happen. Instead, for about ten years, the Mattru Hospital was run by a team of dedicated nurses.

Construction on the hospital began in 1949, and nurse Oneta Sewell opened a dispensary at Mattru that year. Throughout the 1950s, the mission tried to recruit a doctor, but in vain. Nevertheless, the work at Mattru Hospital expanded under the leadership of nurses, who also started a nursing school to train Sierra Leoneans.

In 1957, field superintendent Marion Burkett learned about Dr. Alvin French, who worked with another denomination but was being sent home early after just one year on the field. He invited French to complete his term at Mattru Hospital. and French agreed.

In May 1957, Alvin and Barbara French and their two children settled in Mattru. The news spread rapidly: the mission hospital had a doctor! Turns out French was more than a doctor—he was also a preacher, having pastored a church for two years while in medical school. The Methodist pastor’s son began leading the morning devotions for hospital staff, and presented the Gospel to patients through an interpreter.

Dr. French and his family served just two years–two very good years. And that was enough. In 1959, Dr. Sylvester Pratt was ready to take over.

Pratt, a Sierra Leonean, had worked as a nurse during the 1940s at government hospitals in Bonthe, Bo, and Freetown. Wanting to become a medical doctor, he left for the States and, in 1957, graduated from the Indiana University medical school. He interned in Dayton, Ohio, went to England to take a course in tropical medicine, and finally returned to his homeland.

In November 1959, Dr. Pratt went to Freetown for a weekend, supposedly on business. Supposedly. He returned with a new bride—Dorothy, who was then head nurse of a government hospital in Freetown. They were married on November 4 in Dorothy’s church, a Methodist church, with UB missionaries Russ and Nellie Birdsall present. Sylvester and Dorothy served together at Mattru for 14 years, and along the way had four children.

When Pratt arrived, Mattru Hospital was a 15-bed cement block facility without electricity or plumbing. In the years ahead, he expanded it to 34 beds. An 18-bed pediatric unit was added in 1966, a maternity ward in 1970, plus x-ray and laboratory facilities. Whereas Dr. French had done only a few minor surgeries, Pratt set up an operating room and the hospital was soon swamped with patients in need of surgery, many of whom had to be turned away.

Skilled Sierra Leoneans joined the medical team, along with a continuing string of nurses and other medical practitioners from North America. Mission director George Fleming wrote of Dr. Pratt, “He did not tolerate anything inferior, whether it were drugs, techniques, or just lack of facilities. He had a captivating personality, and that caused people to want to do the job and do it right, though it might be quite difficult. He was stern with the patients, but could joke with them and make them laugh.”

Sick babies often arrived with charms around the neck, waist, wrists, and ankles. Before Pratt would treat them, he insisted that the charms be removed. Fleming wrote, “There was one thing he wanted them to get straight—that God was the doctor at the hospital, and he [Pratt] was only God’s instrument.”

Sylvester Pratt returned to the States in 1973 and became senior medical officer for General Motors. He died of cardiac arrest on May 4, 1989, while attending a medical conference in Boston. At the time of his death, his oldest child, Melody, was a physician in Philadelphia, and two more children were enrolled in medical school. Dorothy Pratt passed away in 2008.

Bishop Daniel Shuck

Daniel Shuck, bishop 1861-1869, died on November 2, 1900. He was 73 years old. During his lengthy service as a United Brethren minister, he served in several states, and deserves considerable credit for rescuing our ministries in California and Sierra Leone.

“He has never made any particular form of church work a specialty,” wrote biographer Henry Adams Thompson. Over the years, in addition to pastoring churches, he helped advance UB ministeres in publishing, higher education, and missions. He became a member of the denominational Missions board when it started in 1853, and was among those who encouraged us to begin work in West Africa.

Shuck’s father, a Kentucky native, was a modest farmer with a firm faith, a man who diligently studied the Bible. He moved his family just across the Ohio River into Corydon County, Indiana. Daniel was born there on January 16, 1827, the fifth of 14 children, seven of them step-siblings (Daniel’s mother, who had been converted by a United Brethren evangelist, died when he was very young). He grew up in a Christian home, in a religious community, with regular visits from several clergy uncles. This kept him on the straight and narrow path, with the early conviction that he would become a minister. He placed his conversion at age 14, when (like Martin Boehm) he was working in a field.

Young Daniel was licensed as a United Brethren minister in 1844, at age 17. His first assignment required a journey of 200 miles to cover the 28 appointments, which he visited every four weeks. In 1845, he planned to enter the State University of Indiana, and even purchased textbooks. However, the bishop and other ministers talked him out of it (back then, Christian folks looked down on college education, thinking it sapped the zeal from young ministers). So he accepted a circuit of churches, on which he would be the junior minister. However, when the senior minister learned of his desire to attend college, he released him to pursue that dream. Thus, Daniel Shuck ended up attending college for one year, focusing on courses which would help as a minister of the Gospel.

While in college, ministers from another denomination tried to lure him away with promises of a good church and financial security. He told them, “If you think a horse and buggy, fine clothes, and a good living are enough to buy me, you’ve misjudged me. I’m not on the market.”

Daniel and Harret Shuck were married in 1847. They never had their own children, but they took in many other children in what was described as “a kind of orphan’s home.” Harriet often traveled with her husband, a true partner in ministry. He led devotions every morning in their home, and she led devotions at night. Early in their marriage, they resolved to not go into debt for living expenses, and to not keep a tab with local merchants.

After ten years of pastoring circuits in Indiana and Kentucky, the Shuck ventured West. In 1858 he became a missionary to Missouri. UBs, with their anti-slavery stance, were not welcomed–and, in fact, sometimes found themselves in danger–in Missouri, and were eventually forced to abandon their work in the southern part of the state. But Shuck was accustomed to such opposition, having pastored a circuit in southern Kentucky. Next came assignments on the west coast–in Washington, Oregon, and California.

The 1861 General Conference elected him as bishop of the Pacific District. He was a mere 34 years old. The Civil War had just started; a dozen of his fellow Indiana ministers had volunteered for the Union army, and he felt he should remain in the East, in case he was drafted. However, when he learned that the work in California was on the verge of falling apart after the tragic death of their leader, Israel Sloane, Shuck and his wife boarded a steamer in New York, crossed to the Pacific through Panama, and arrived in San Francisco 35 days later, in March 1864. From March through August, he criss-crossed central California, preaching and rallying the demoralized UBs. When they held their annual meeting in October, people who had predicted the end of UB work in California now felt hopeful about the future.

The Shucks also visited Oregon. On the way back to California, they encountered two robbers who shoved a cocked revolver into the bishop’s face and demanded all of his money. He was tied up while Harriet was searched. All of their money and some of their possessions were seized, but they were unharmed.

Shuck was re-elected bishop in 1865. During that second term, he organized Walla Walla Conference in Washington. In Oregon, Philomath College was founded in 1865, and when the Oregon churches held their campmeeting in 1868, over 2500 people attended the Sunday service.

The tombstone for Daniel and Harriet Shuck. (Click to enlarge)

The 1869 General Conference seriously considered ending our involvement in Sierra Leone. But Shuck gave a compelling speech on the conference floor, urging us to stay…and it turned the tide. We stayed.

When the 1885 General Conference established a commission to change the UB Constitution and Confession of Faith, Shuck saw it as a great blunder which could divide the denomination. But when Bishop Milton Wright led our group away, Shuck was not among them.

Daniel and Harriet spent their latter years, from at least 1889 on, in California, serving various charges in the San Joaquin Valley. In 1897, they celebrated their 50th anniversary. He passed away in 1900, and Harriet followed in 1907. They were buried in Woodbridge, Calif.

 

 

George and Daisy Fleming

After 93 years, having lived a very full life, Dr. George Fleming passed away on October 29, 1983.

Fleming served as a missionary in Sierra Leone for 20 years, 1912-1932, followed by 25 years as the denomination’s director of missions.

Daisy Fleming passed away in 1976. Former missionaries Russ and Nellie Birdsall invited George to come live in their basement apartment in Huntington, Ind., and he gladly accepted their offer. That’s where he spent his last seven years.

In 1979, at age 89, Fleming took a six-week trip to Sierra Leone. Jerry Datema, who was then Field Secretary in Sierra Leone, recalled, “It was unbelievable to the Mende people that this man, who first arrived in Bonthe 67 year before, was actually coming to visit again. Wherever he went during his visit to Sierra Leone, hundreds and even thousands came to once again see their beloved ‘Pa Fleming.’”

During the last few years of his life, Dr. Fleming became deeply burdened to pray for the pastors of Michigan Conference. He had a list of 24 pastors in the conference. He prayed for them every day, and wrote 6-8 letters a day. Among those pastors was Lester Smith, then at the Maple Hill church in Grandville, Mich. Smith wrote:

“Despite having a congregation of over 100, there had been no conversions there in two years. So I submitted some ‘prospects’ to Dr. Fleming. When he wrote me several weeks later, he said he was looking forward to having the Pruitts enter God’s Kingdom. They were the only names he mentioned from the list I had given him. Sure enough, Ron and Deb were the first conversions we experienced. Dr. Fleming seemed to know when God was going to act on a specific request.”

Russ Birdsall told of going downstairs in the evening to talk to Dr. Fleming. “He’d be sitting there with a Bible on his lap and with a stack of letters from the Michigan pastors. He was going through his prayer time; he did that every night. He’d invite me in and he’d always talk. But then, after I left, I’m sure he continued with his prayer time. He really took that ministry seriously.”

George Fleming ranks among the United Brethren giants of the 1900s, and is remembered as a man who truly walked with God.

The 1945 General Conference voted to open mission fields in two places during the next four years, in the Caribbean and/or Latin America. We then had mission work in just two places–in Sierra Leone (dating which back to the mid-1800s), and China (begun in the 1920s). There was no United Brethren presence south of the United States.

General Conference didn’t name any specific places–just a resolve to do it, somewhere. But two places were already being considered–the Bahamas and Honduras. We had a contact in the Bahamas, a man with an independent mission work. And the year before, we had been contacted by Rev. James Elliott, who was overseeing several English-speaking churches in northern Honduras and was looking for another organization to assume supervision. George Fleming, our Missions director, had already been corresponding with Elliott.

In August of 1945, as atomic bombs fell on Japan and World War II came to a close, Fleming traveled to Honduras to look over the situation. He was impressed by what he saw. About 100 people attended somewhat of a congregational meeting, during which Fleming told of the UB church and entertained questions. The people were excited about the possibility of an American denomination coming to their aid.

Fleming stayed for ten days, August 15-25, visiting the various stations of Elliott’s work.

The La Ceiba church had about 150 members, all English speakers. The property, which he described as “pretty large for these parts,” was 30 years old and in need of repair. In better shape was the two-story, 52-by-30 foot mission house, which had been built ten years before. The lower level served as the mission school, and Elliott’s family lived in the upper level.

The Puerto Cortes congregation was trying to rebuild its church, which had been flattened by a hurricane in August of 1944. Their one-story mission house now doubled as both a church and a school.

The congregation in the port city of Tela rented a building for their day school and Sunday school, but were in the process of buying property on which to eventually build. This newer work had acquired a good following. However, with no regular pastor, services were held only when Elliott or someone else could make it.

Other places beckoned for ministry. At the inland town of Progresso, a man had started a day school and was trying to organize a Sunday school; he had asked Elliott for help. A lady in Puerto Castilla needed help sustaining a day school and Sunday school. In both cases, Elliott lacked both the money and the people to come to their aid.

Elliott estimated that carrying on the work and expanding it would require $5000–$6000 a year.

“Here is an open door,” Fleming wrote in the denominational Missionary Monthly magazine. “As a committee of one, I have seen enough to convince me that in the face of the Great Commission, and the ‘fields white unto harvest,’ we dare not, as a church, ‘pass by on the other side.’”

After returning to the States, Fleming took a glowing report to the eight men on the United Brethren Parent Board of Missions (at the time, the Women’s Missionary Association was an entirely separate missionary-sending organization). They voted unanimously, 8-0, to launch into Honduras.

The date was October 26, 1945. The United Brethren church had established a foothold in Latin America.

Zebedee Warner

On October 22, 1853, a 20-year-old Virginian named Zebedee Warner was granted a United Brethren preaching license. A man of strong intellect, Warner had considered careers in medicine and law before recognizing that God had an even higher calling for him–the ministry.

In 1858, Warner was part of organizing the Parkersburg Conference in what is now West Virginia (it became a state in 1861). From the start, Warner was considered the leader of Parkersburg Conference.

It was considered perhaps the most rugged territory in the denomination, with rugged mountains, thick forests, and bridgeless streams. One time, after Warner rode toward his log cabin after what was described as “an unusually long absense,” his three children came running to meet him. A kick from Warner’s horse struck the youngest daughter on the head, killing her instantly.

Warner was considered a great speaker who invested himself in recruiting and training young ministers. He was an eloquent and formidable debater, but according to biographer William Weekley, “In the treatment of his opponents, he always manifested a Christian spirit. In this he was an exception.”

Warner also despised alcohol; in 1882, he canvassed the entire state and organized temperance forces in every county.

Warner was a General Conference delegates from 1861-1885, and was influential in moderating the stand against secret societies (which helped lead toward the division of 1889). Warner was also a trustee of Otterbein University, and in 1878 was awarded a Doctor of Divinity degree.

In 1887, Warner accepted a pastorate in Nebraska. He died there a year later.