On October 11, 1871, Union Biblical Seminary opened in Dayton, Ohio. It was the first United Brethren seminary.

During our early years, people often became ministers very quickly–converted one month, out preaching the next month, and within a year, given a ministerial license and assigned to a circuit of churches. We had no colleges. In fact, formal education for ministers was often frowned upon. Folks didn’t want future ministers going to “priest factories” for several years and having all spiritual zeal sucked out of them.

Instead, education occurred informally. Biographies of bishops and leading ministers from those days depict avid self-learners who were constantly reading and studying. Veteran ministers would shepherd younger ministers along, loaning them dog-eared books to read on horseback and by firelight.

The 1845 General Conference encouraged the opening of colleges, and the first, Otterbein University, opened two years later. That conference also required that candidates for the ministry commit themselves to diligent study about the Bible. This led, inevitably, to expectations that ministers receive formal training.

The 1869 General Conference decided we needed our own seminary. Milton Wright, then a 41-year-old minister still eight years away from being elected bishop, advanced a motion which called for launching a Bible institute. Two years later, Union Biblical Seminary opened with 11 students taking classes in the basement of a new UB church in Dayton, Ohio. In 1873, the seminary began admitting women.

By 1889, 282 people had attended the seminary. That year, General Conference approved the ordination of women. The first woman to be ordained was an 1887 graduate of Union Biblical Seminary.

In 1879, the seminary moved into a new building located on five acres of donated land. When our group split off in 1889, the seminary stayed with the other group. The school was renamed Bonebrake Theological Seminary in 1909.

Bishop Corydon Wood

On October 10, 1924, Bishop Corydon Wood passed away…in Jackson State Prison, where he had been incarcerated for over a year. It’s a sad story.

Corydon L. Wood was one of the three new bishops elected in 1905. He had been a United Brethren minister in Michigan since 1878, and was among the 14 delegates to the 1889 General Conference who walked out with Milton Wright.

In United Brethren Bishops from 1889-1997, Kevin Cherry described Wood as a “paradoxical bishop.” He was gifted in many ways — preacher, writer, parliamentarian — and became a strong advocate for many causes: pastors’ salaries, missions, Huntington College, evangelistic meetings. Bishop Clyde Meadow recalled the support and generosity he received from Wood as a ministerial student.

But Bishop Wood wrestled with some inner demons.

While presiding at White River Annual Conference (Indiana) in 1920, Bishop Wood was asked to leave the conference immediately. He had been accused of immoral acts involving young boys. He went to the house where he was staying and found his packed bags sitting on the porch. The next month, Wood’s home conference, North Michigan, suspended him for a year. Conference records said he had “confessed his faults along the line of complaints made” and had asked forgiveness. The word “faults,” of course, is a serious understatement.

Today, it seems incredible that the Church would deal internally with this criminal offense But that was a different time in American society.

In 1923, Corydon Wood was arrested for molesting boys in a park and given a sentence of up to five years for crimes against five boys who had come under his influence. A newspaper reported that if he hadn’t been arrested, he might have been lynched.

Wood entered Jackson State prison on July 24, 1923, and died there 15 months later at age 72.

Bishop Jacob Markwood

Jacob Markwood, age 16, was converted on October 9, 1832, during a revival meeting (probably Methodist). He struggled with the decision for three days, and finally found what he described as “inexpressible peace in Christ.”

Markwood and his twin brother, Conrad, were the youngest of eight children. They grew in Virginia, mostly poor, but they all turned out well. Jacob attended school, and proved to be very bright and intellectually curious. Books were his constant companion. Even while working at the loom in the woolen factory owned by his older brothers, a book was always nearby.

He became a United Brethren member in 1836, was licensed to preach a year later, and in 1838 joined Virginia Annual Conference. He remained a pastor in Virginia for nearly 25 years. Historian John Lawrence wrote, “He is never happier than when in his saddle climbing over the hills and mountains on the way to a quarterly meeting.”

Markwood was elected bishop in 1861, a month after the start of the Civil War. Though a Virginian, born and raised, he stood solidly behind the Union. Someone–a UB church member, it was suspected–reported him to Confederate officials, and he fled north with a $1000 bounty for his arrest. His responsibilities during the war years included overseeing far-flung UB work in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and other points West.

Markwood was fairly short, thin, and wiry, and was full of nervous energy. He was also known to be hotheaded and fearless, pouring down on people with what A. W. Drury described as “fiery eloquence, scathing denunciation, and relentless logic.” He never wrote out his sermons, and used only basic notes, if any. He preferred to study thoroughly, and then preach extemporaneously from what he had learned.

During one campmeeting, when some folks came onto the grounds to sell liquor, trinkets, and other items, he took a hatchet to their stands. Another time, when someone interrupted him while he was preaching, he scowled, “Sit down, you tadpole of hell!”

But he was also known to be very generous, giving away his last cent, and even his clothes, to needy preachers and the poor. Several times, he distributed to poor people all the money collected for his own support, and then borrowed money to continue his journey to wherever he was going next. Biographer Henry Adams Thomps that as a traveling pastor, “It was his custom to alway remember the servants at homes where he stopped over night.” This being Virginia, the “servants” were probably slaves.

Markwood served eight years as bishop, but experienced considerable pain during that second term. People said he was constantly on the go, and just wore himself out. He and his wife Arbeline, married in 1837, never had children. Bishop Markwood died on January 22, 1873, at the home of his father-in-law in Luray, Va. He was just 57 years old. Arbeline died in 1886.

The United Brethren National Office will discontinue its Marketing operation as of December 31, 2017. The Winter quarter will be the last quarter that the National Office will process orders for Sunday school curriculum. If you have a standing order, you will need to find a different source for your Spring quarter materials.

You can order most of your materials directly from manufacturers. Jane Seely (right), our Church Resources Manager, has sent customers a list of suppliers along with contact information.

You will still be able to order United Brethren materials–books, mugs, shirts, etc.–by calling the National Office toll-free: 888-622-3019.

For many decades, the Marketing department has ordered and shipped Sunday school materials to United Brethren churches every quarter. UB churches and pastors have also been able to order books, VBS materials, and other literature.

In the past, this department not only covered its budget but was a source of income. But times have changed. The internet, declines in Sunday school, free online resourcing, vendor-direct sales, and other factors have cut into sales. It became clear that it was time to discontinue this service.

Bishop Todd Fetters writes, “Jane Seely will leave the national office on December 22. She will be busy these next few months closing out the Sunday school literature shipping-and-receiving that we have provided to our churches for well over 50 years. I am grateful for Jane’s service to the United Brethren in Christ and to the broader evangelical church.”

In June 1985, Rev. Peter Lee, superintendent of Hong Kong Conference, and Pastor Samuel Ng came to the United States for General Conference. They used the trip to visit Hong Kong people then living in New York, Rhode Island, Boston, Toronto, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

After returning to Hong Kong, Peter Lee sent Bishop Jerry Datema a letter proposing that we start a Chinese church in New York City. He said the majority of UBs emigrating from Hong Kong were settling in New York City, where jobs were easier to find and where most already had relatives. In addition, C. C. Au Yeung, a former Hong Kong superintendent, was willing to be the founding pastor.

Bishop Clarence Kopp, Jr., traveled to Queens in August 1985 to meet with former Hong Kong members. They were enthusiastic about starting a church. They decided to begin holding services in October in the Au Yeung apartment. They even chose a name: the Church of the United Brethren in Christ in New York City.

The first service was held October 6, 1985. In January 1987, they began renting the second floor of a building in the Manhattan Chinatown. The services were held entirely in Cantonese, and they targeted first-generation immigrants from Hong Kong. Since people came so far, they shared lunch before returning to their homes in various parts of the city. The membership reached 19 during the first half of 1987. Most were professional people—a postal worker, bank official, social worker, librarian, businessman, seminary student, engineer.

Willy Ng, a native of Hong Kong who had found Christ while attending a secular university in Toronto, became the pastor in January 1989. By 1992, the congregation had grown to nearly 70 people. About 80% of them lived in Chinatown, the rest of them within an hour’s commute.

In May 1992, they purchased a six-story building in Chinatown. Ng left in 1997 to plant a church in Queens, and Rev. Au Yeung died in 2004. Soon thereafter, the struggling congregation decided to withdraw from the denomination.

Old Otterbein Church in the heart of Baltimore, Md.

On October 5, 1842, Pastor Jacob Erb showed up at his church in Baltimore and found the doors locked. They apparently remained locked for four years. The congregation found other places to meet.

This was the church William Otterbein pastored for nearly 40 years, 1774-1813, and which is now called Old Otterbein Church. The church’s website says, “Old Otterbein Church is the mother church of the United Brethren in Christ and the oldest church edifice in continuous use in the city of Baltimore.”

Old Otterbein Church was a German Reformed congregation when Otterbein took over, but they always had a tenuous relationship with that denomination. Some historians say the congregation essentially withdrew from the German Reformed denomination. After Otterbein’s death, the congregation asked the United Brethren church to provide pastors. They were, for all intents and purposes, a United Brethren church.

In 1840, several persons filed suit to bring the congregation under the authority of the German Reformed denomination. The court ruled against the petitioners in what Henry Spayth described as “strong and decided terms.” But they tried again two years later–with more success, but with the same (failed) result.

Jacob Erb

Jacob Erb (right) became the pastor in 1841, while also serving as bishop. The grandson of a Swiss immigrant, Erb had become a United Brethren member in 1820, at age 16, and was licensed to preach three years later. He was elected bishop in 1837 and continued serving until 1845.

Pastor/Bishop Erb found it necessary to expel some members–one for adultery, one for “untruth,” and others for “creating disorder in the church.” This prompted some other members to resign from their positions in the church. These persons, with help from a German Reformed minister (who, one Sunday, forced his way into the church’s pulpit), filed suit with the same goal as before–to bring the church under German Reformed authority.

The suit dragged on for four years, with the Old Otterbein congregation locked out of its own church building. The plaintiffs were in no hurry for the suit to be settled. They hoped the congregation would eventually give up and disperse. But Erb held them together, holding services wherever they could and managing the high legal costs.

Finally, in 1846, a judge ruled in favor of the United Brethren Church. Erb’s congregation once again took control of their building on Wednesday, November 18. Members thoroughly cleaned the dormant building in preparation for Sunday, when the church bells once again rang to summon people for worship. That was, apparently, the last attempt to wrest control away from the United Brethren Church.

Jacob Erb remained pastor until 1848, and then became bishop for another four years, 1849-1853. He passed away in 1883. Old Otterbein Church stayed with the “liberals” after the division of 1889, and is now a United Methodist church.

On October 4, 2013, Dr. Sherilyn Emberton was inaugurated as president of Huntington University. She was the first woman president in the school’s history. The installation was conducted by Ms. Kelly Savage, chairperson of the HU Board of Trustees since 2010–the first woman to chair the board.

The United Brethren denomination has always taken a progressive approach toward women. When our first college opened in 1847–Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio–it was co-educational, with men and women taking the same courses (some colleges back then thought women weren’t intellectually capable of handling the same courses that men took). Of the first 81 students at Otterbein, 29 were women. Women also served on the faculty.

The United Brethren Church opened dozens of other colleges in the years ahead. Since the denominational division in 1889, our group has had just three other colleges–in Oregon (College of Philomath), Washington (Edwards College), and southern Indiana (Hartsville). Interestingly, the College of Philomath had a female president for four years–Sarah Keezel, who served 1890-1894. She took over after her husband James, who had been president for three years, was killed after falling from scaffolding during construction of a new building.

Those other college all closed by 1913. Since then, Huntington University has been the only United Brethren college.

There have been 13 different presidents since the Huntington University opened (as Central College) in 1897. Until 1965, all of them were United Brethren ministers–including three bishops. Fermin Hoskins served one year (1911-1912) during his 24-year tenure as bishop. Clarence Mummart served twice–once before he became bishop (1912-1915) and once after he was bishop (1925-1932).

Dr. Elmer Becker was the last minister to serve as president. Dr. E. DeWitt Baker, in 1965, started a string of laypersons chosen to lead Huntington University; all subsequent presidents have been laypersons. He was also the first president elected while living in a different country (he was a UB missionary in Sierra Leone).

Dr. Eugene Habecker may have been the first non-UB chosen to lead Huntington University. However, he was brought aboard in 1979 as executive vice president–sort of a “president-in-waiting” role. By the time he became president in 1981, he was a member of College Park UB church in Huntington.

So, when Dr. G. Blair Dowden became president in 1991, he was the first non-UB to actually serve as president (until he, too, joined College Park church).

Dr. Sherilyn Emberton was chosen as president on April 26, 2013, and began serving in that role on June 1. She was born in Texas, and completed all of her education at Texas universities–Stephen F. Austin and Texas A&M. Under her leadership, Huntington University started its first doctoral program (which was already in process) and its first campus in another state (Arizona).

Until October 2, 1813, the only ordained United Brethren minister was Bishop William Otterbein, who had been ordained in 1749 as a German Reformed minister in Germany. The early UB ministers were classified as “full ministers,” “preachers,” and “exhorters.” Christian Newcomer had been elected in May 1813 as a bishop, taking the place of Martin Boehm, who had passed away the year before. However, Newcomer was not ordained; he was merely a “full minister.”

At the time, we had two conferences–the Original or Eastern conference in Pennsylvania and neighboring states, and Miami Conference in western Ohio. In August 1813, Miami Conference sent a letter to Bishop Otterbein asking him to ordain one or more ministers, who could then ordain others. The letter reached Otterbein in late September. At that point, Otterbein was near death–and, in fact, would pass away six weeks later.

At the same time, “full minister” Joseph Hoffman was concerned when he heard about Otterbein’s ill health. He traveled 90 miles to Christian Newcomer’s home, and asked him if it would be appropriate to request that Otterbein ordain them. Newcomer wasn’t concerned about getting ordained, but he saw merit in the idea. The two men traveled together to Baltimore to see Otterbein.

Otterbein told them about the letter he had recently received from Miami Conference. He told them he had always considered himself unworthy to conduct ordinations, but now saw the necessity for doing so “before I shall be removed.”

The next day, various leaders from the Baltimore congregation gathered in Otterbein’s home for the ordination service. Newcomer and Hoffman were joined by Frederick Shaffer, who had become a Christian years before during Otterbein’s ministry in Lancaster, Pa., and was now apparently serving at Otterbein’s church.

The infirm Otterbein was helped into a chair, from which he addressed the three men (cautioning them to not be too quick to ordain others). He prayed, and then was helped to his feet so he could lay his hands on the three men and ordain them to the ministry. Otterbein was assisted by William Ryland, an esteemed Methodist minister who, in 1820, became chaplain of the US Senate.

Frederick Shaffer died in 1814; he briefly filled the pulpit after Otterbein’s death.

Joseph Hoffman succeeded Otterbein as pastor of what is now called “Old Otterbein Church” in Baltimore. In 1817, he gave up city life to minister in pioneer settlements in western Ohio, starting churches in numerous places and playing an important role in the UB church’s westward expansion.

Christian Newcomer served as a bishop until his death in 1830. In 1815, Newcomer ordained a minister named Christian Crum, and then assisted Crum in ordaining seven other ministers. One of those seven, Andrew Zeller, was elected bishop in 1817 and served alongside Newcomer for four years. Zeller, in poor health, was succeeded in 1821 by Joseph Hoffman, who served until 1825.

Nearly all ordained United Brethren ministers are part of a chain which started with Otterbein and continued through Newcomer and Hoffman, and from them spread to include thousands of other ministers through the years.

Archie Cameron (right), a missionary pioneer with the United Brethren church, passed away on September 29, 2005. He was He was 87 years old. His death occurred at the hospital in La Ceiba, Honduras. Archie had lived in Honduras since 1952, and had led the work there up through 1985.

For much of the year, Archie had been battling physical problems, including an enlarged heart and kidney ailments. Roger Reeck, a son-in-law living in La Ceiba, said Archie was spending several days a month in the hospital. He had gone into the hospital on Wednesday, September 28, and this time he didn’t leave.

Archie was buried in La Ceiba next to his wife, Maisy, who passed away April 23, 2003.

Archie is credited with starting the Spanish-speaking United Brethren work in Honduras. That story was told in the July 31 post.

Virgil Hull

As the United Brethren denomination celebrates its 250th anniversary, we are looking back at events throughout our history. Links to all “On This Day” posts can be found here.

On September 27, 1987, Friendly Church in Fort Myers, Fla., held its first service. It was yet another Florida church planted by Rev. Virgil Hull. The service was held in a rented Seventh Day Adventist gymnasium with no air conditioning and terrible acoustics. Hull jokingly described it as “the dumbest thing I ever did.” By the time the church formally organized in May 1988, they were running over 60 people.

We didn’t have any churches in Florida until February 1964, when Virgil Hull moved from Ohio and started First UB in the Daytona Beach area. By June, First UB was averaging in the 60s. That fall, when attendance reached 89, the congregation relocated to a building with a seating capacity of about 150. Within two months, attendance reached 148. Property was purchased and dedicated in February 1966. That spring, attendance topped 180.

During Hull’s 23 years as pastor of First UB, they mothered a church in Port Orange, which was named Faith UB. Other UB churches arose–in Bradenton, Orlando, Lake Brantley.

On May 3, 1987, Virgil Hull preached his last sermon as senior pastor of First UB. He had decided to return to fulltime church planting, his first love. In the years ahead, he started several more churches in a flurry of activity.

Hull moved to Fort Myers, about 175 miles from Daytona Beach, where he already had a Bible study going with about ten people; he’d been driving there every Thursday afternoon, and returning to Daytona early the next morning.

While Friendly Church was taking root, Hull was also starting churches in several other areas. Family Community Church in the suburb of Lehigh Acres held its first service on Easter Sunday evening in 1988, using an American Legion Hall which reeked of cigarette smoke and liquor. Two years later, in April 1990, Fellowship UB began meeting in Clearwater. Hull had also developed contacts in Naples, Haines City, and LaBelle. He did a four-week Bible study in LaBelle with an average of 14 people.

Hull compared himself to a missionary. His plan was only to get the churches started. Other pastors would fill the pulpits once a work was established, freeing him to start other churches.

Virgil Hull soon retired, and those churches eventually died out. But for a few years, we saw someone with the evangelical passion and church planting spirit of our church’s early founders.