Martin Boehm and William Otterbein were elected bishops in 1800, when the denomination officially organized. The understanding was that these were four-year terms, which meant they would hold a new election in 1804.

However, only five people showed up for the 1804 meeting. There was some kind of epidemic going on, probably yellow fever or cholera. Boehm was there, but not Otterbein. So the election was put off until 1805. Thus, Boehm and Otterbein started out serving five-year terms.

The 1805 conference began on May 29, 1805. Both Boehm, 80, and Otterbein, 79, were among the 21 ministers who attended, and they were re-elected as bishops.

That was the last conference Otterbein attended, though he continued as bishop until 1813. Boehm attended most years up through 1811, presiding alone. When neither bishop attended, Christian Newcomer and George Geeting presided.

There doesn’t seem to be any record of Boehm and Otterbein being re-elected in 1809. Nevertheless, we have traditionally held that Boehm and Otterbein served as bishops until their deaths in 1812 and 1813 respectively (both at age 87).

William Davis was born in 1812 and grew up in southern Indiana, which was untamed frontier back then. Raised in a very religious home, Davis gave his life to Christ at age 16. He preached his first sermon one week after turning 17, and was given a circuit of churches. For a while, he traveled to his churches on foot. When that became too difficult, he hired himself out at $8 a month until he could buy a horse and saddle.

On May 26, 1830, proudly sitting atop his new horse, William Davis headed south to Harrison County, on the Kentucky border, to attend the first session of the Indiana Annual Conference. He was received as a minister and was assigned to the Tanner’s Creek circuit. Two years later, when the Wabash Conference was organized, he was elected as the presiding elder (like a superintendent). Though Davis was only 22 years old, historian John Lawrence said Davis had “the prudence, the foresight, and firmness” of someone much older.

In 1846, Davis reflected on his 16 years as an itinerant minister.

“My time has been spent chiefly on the frontiers, among poor people. If I could lead some of my rich brethren along the Indian trails, or more dimly-beaten paths, to the cabins in the woods, and introduce them to meanly-clad parents, surrounded by almost naked children, and let them worship and mingle their prayers, songs, and tears around the same altar, they too would love those poor brethren….I do love the poor pioneer brethren in their cabins, and sympathize with the missionary who breaks to them, at great personal sacrifices, the bread of life.”

Lawrence said of Davis, “No one, perhaps, has ever heard a hasty or ill-advised remark from his lips. He speaks slowly and distinctly, and often eloquently.”

“Stephen Lillibridge did more, perhaps, than any other man of his day to extend the cause in the Sandusky Conference,” wrote UB historian John Lawrence. Lillibridge started many new churches and won hundreds of people to Christ. Unfortunately, his ministry lasted just eight years. He died at age 28.

Lawrence wrote, “Mr. Lillibridge was all that could have been desired as a Christian and as an evangelist.”

Lillibridge was born in 1815 and, at age 18, became a United Brethren minister in the Black Swamp territory of northern Ohio. Lawrence said the Black Swamp was “a dreadful country for an itinerant minister,” a wilderness both physically and morally. Lillibridge was always poor–he received less than $100 during his eight years of ministry–and lacked suitable winter clothes, but he never complained.

In 1843, Lillibridge appeared at Sandusky annual conference in feeble health, yet he accepted a new circuit. Four weeks later, on May 25, 1843, he died, leaving behind a young wife.

Henry Spayth wrote of Lillibridge, “To go where as yet the brethren had no name nor home, and where Christ was seldom preached by any ministry and still less known, was his peculiar call.”

zeller300On May 25, 1839, Bishop Andrew Zeller, 84, passed away at his home near Germantown, Ohio. At the time, the Miami Conference, which consisted mostly of churches in Ohio, was holding its annual meeting in Germantown, near Dayton.

It seemed clear that death was approaching. One visitor asked Zeller if he thought his last hour had come.

Zeller replied with a look of pleasure, “I hope so.”

He then crossed his arms and, in the words of UB historian John Lawrence, “calmly fell asleep in Jesus.”

Andrew Zeller was born in eastern Pennsylvania in 1755, and was married in 1779; he and Catherine would have nine children. Catherine died in 1822, but he remarried five years later.

We don’t know much about Zeller. He became a Christian in 1790 and, at some point, entered the ministry. Traveling preachers often stopped at his home; Christian Newcomer’s journal makes a number of references to staying at the Zeller home and holding services there.

Around 1806, Zeller bought several hundred acres for a farm in what was then considered the “far west”–Germantown, Ohio. He started a United Brethren church on his farm–the first UB church west of the Alleghenies.

In 1810, Christian Newcomer came to organize the Miami Conference (named after the Miami Valley of western Ohio). It was only the second United Brethren conference to form. Zeller was listed among the ministers.

When did Zeller become a bishop? Some UB historians say he was elected bishop at the 1815 General Conference, which Zeller attended. Others say it was 1817. It seems strange that General Conference would have left Christian Newcomer to serve as the only bishop until 1817, since we’d always had two bishops. However, at the time of the 1815 General Conference, Zeller wasn’t even an ordained minister. Two weeks after the conference, when the Miami Annual Conference met, Bishop Newcomer ordained a minister named Christian Crum, and then assisted Crum in ordaining seven other ministers–one of whom was Andrew Zeller.

It is also recorded that Zeller was “ordained” as a bishop in 1817. That’s a practice that didn’t last long. Joseph Hoffman was similarly ordained as a bishop in 1821, but we then discontinued the practice. It was decided that when you’re ordained to the ministry, you’re ordained for whatever form that ministry takes–whether as a circuit-riding preacher, superintendent, or bishop. A second ordination was meaningless and unnecessary.

Zeller was considered to be a plain and modest speaker. But it was said of him, “His life was a sermon.” Henry Spaythe, a contemporary of Zeller, wrote of him:

“What a contrast between what men call great preachers and those God approves. One hears the echo of applause; the other is followed by a train of happy souls bound to meet him in heaven.”

patti-stone300On May 24, 1988, missionary nurse Patti Stone arrived at the Harbour Hospital and Institute for Tropical Medicine in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The UB Mission in Sierra Leone had chartered a specially-equipped medi-vac Lear Jet from Munich, Germany. Patti was comatose. She received the best possible care from specialists, but didn’t respond to any treatment.

The next day, May 25, Patti passed away. She was 25 years old. Cause of death was determined to be Fulminant Hepatitis A, a disease which progresses very rapidly and is nearly always fatal in adults.

On September 2, 1981, Bishop Clarence Kopp had a unique encounter at a restaurant in Huntington, Ind. He met a man he had nudged toward the Lord 20 years before, when he was pastoring Prescott Avenue UB church in Dayton, Ohio. Now that man was bringing his daughter, Patti Stone, to Huntington College.

Patti completed her nursing degree at Marion College, and in May 1987 arrived as a missionary at Mattru Hospital. One of her classmates at Marion College, Michelle Becker, was already serving at Mattru.

“Patti was a go-getter, a fantastic nurse,” said Michelle. “If someone else couldn’t get an IV inserted, Patti often could. She was confident and courageous. She wasn’t afraid to try new procedures. When anything exciting was happening, Patti wanted to be present. When a job needed to be done, Patti was there to help.

“Patti had a real gift for learning the Mende language, and a keen desire to do so. She worked hard at learning the new vocabulary and intonations of the Mende language. Because she loved the people and their language, the nationals came to love her.”

Patti served a year at Mattru Hospital. Then, during the week of May 15, 1988, she fell ill and began showing symptoms of hepatitis. Dr. Ron Baker called Bishop Jerry Datema on Sunday, May 22, strongly urging that Patti be evacuated. But her condition kept deteriorating. On Monday morning, she slipped into a coma.

On Monday, Dr. Dan Metzger flew with Patti to Freetown aboard the Sierra Leone president’s private helicopter. A specially equipped medi-vac Lear Jet, chartered from Germany, arrived at 4:05 Tuesday morning, and left a little over an hour later with Patti and Anne Spores, wife of UB Business Manager Darrel Spores. All was done that could have been done. But Patti never emerged from the coma.

Jane Baker, wife of Dr. Ron Baker, wrote a moving tribute to Patti Stone about her year in Sierra Leone.

“There’s a big gap at the hospital with you gone. You were an excellent nurse, conscientious and compassionate. You were hard working, known for going the extra mile….We miss the sound of your laughter drifting here and there. We miss seeing you buzz around on your Honda 100, helmet on, in a hurry to go down to the local market, or to a Mende lesson….

“We remember you as a unique and very special young woman. You were always on the go, constantly thinking up creative ways to improve things at the hospital, asking hard questions, bursting with ideas and goals…and life! We remember you as a free spirit, not bound by the way things have always been done. We remember you as an unusually devoted daughter, often speaking of your mom, writing her, making tapes to her, and excitedly planning a trip to Europe with her this summer. We remember you as someone who loved God deeply. We knew you were striving to know him better, wanting to grow deeper in your faith, not content with easy answers.”

Jane also wrote about Patti’s special relationship with her adopted village, Karleh, where she spent a great deal of time. She loved village life, and the village people loved her.

“You loved the Africans, and they knew it. You respected them. You had an insatiable eagerness to learn about them and their culture. You didn’t ask missionaries about cultural things…you asked the Africans. No wonder you learned so much in your short time in Sierra Leone….

“You and the villagers became bonded; you became their daughter–Aminata Karleh. Only you and they know all the love and learning and laughter that flowed between you during your frequent visits there. At the special memorial service that the villagers held for you, the small group of believers spoke lovingly, with tear-filled eyes, of how you had encouraged them. We’re convinced we will see friends from Karleh in Heaven because you loved them to Jesus.”

Owen Gordon (left) and Clarence Kopp.

Owen Gordon (left) and Clarence Kopp.

Over the years, many United Brethren from Jamaica moved to New York City, and requests were made to start a Jamaican UB church in the Big Apple. In 1985, the Board of Missions agreed to explore the idea.

On May 23, 1987, Bishop Clarence Kopp and Owen Gordon met in New York City with about 50 United Brethren people from Jamaica, many of them from the Battersea UB church. They met in the Bronx, where most of them now lived. Others came from Queens, Brooklyn, Pelham, Mt. Vernon, and Long Island.

Gordon, who had pastored in Jamaica for 16 years, knew nearly everyone at that meeting and had baptized 15 of them. He reported that 46 people at the meeting committed themselves to help start a new church, and that they were quite enthusiastic about it.

It was decided to send Jamaican pastors on a rotating basis. First up: Owen and Francis Gordon, who arrived in April 1988 and stayed for three months. They were followed by Donald Dacres, who stayed through the rest of 1988. Basil Dunkley arrived at Christmas to replace Dacres.

The congregation remained small until 1992, when Simon White, another minister from Jamaica, became pastor. The church became firmly established under his ministry, which continued until 1998.

Linton Thomas, who held an annual conference license in Jamaica Conference, became the pastor in April 1998. The next year, First United Brethren Church in the Bronx was accepted into Mid-Atlantic Conference, and Thomas transferred his ministerial credentials from Jamaica Conference. Thomas remains pastor of this congregation, which averages about 100 people in attendance.

May 22, 1799, seems to have been a disappointing day for Martin Boehm (left) and Christian Newcomer (right). They were holding a two-day meeting at the home of Andrew Zeller, who would go on to become a bishop, serving 1817-1821.

Newcomer frequently wrote about the “power” of Boehm’s preaching.

  • “Father Boehm spoke with great zeal and power.”
  • “The power of the Lord came down.”
  • “…extraordinary power; every heart present was touched and tendered.”
  • “Father Boehm preached this forenoon with great power and effect.”

Newcomer’s journal entry for May 22, 1799, says, “A great multitude of people had assembled; Brother Boehm spoke with uncommon power.” They then served communion to everyone.

But on this day, there was apparently power, but no “effect,” no hearts that were “touched and tendered” as was usually the case.

Instead, Newcomer wrote, “All did not seem to make any great impression on the hearts of the people. May God have mercy on them.”

Well, every evangelist occasionally faces audiences like that. Newcomer and Boehm just proceeded on to the next town.

shuck-daniel300The 1869 General Conference convened on May 20, three weeks after the death of missionary Oliver Hadley. The previous General Conference met in Iowa, the farthest West they had ever gone. Now they swung clear back to the eastern side of the denomination, meeting in Lebanon, Pa.

Hadley’s death created quite a stir. We now had no missionaries in Sierra Leone.After over a decade of work, and at much cost, only a few people had been converted. People began suggesting that we pull out completely and spend the money elsewhere.

Daniel Flickinger, director of our mission organization, was sympathetic. He wrote that, under the circumstances, “I shall not oppose stoutly the abandonment of Africa.” The Board shared his feelings. One member was adamant that we continue, but others felt the money could be better spent on the numerous other opportunities.

The Mission board recommended that we, at least temporarily, entrust our work in Sierra Leone to the American Missionary Association or some other group. It sparked a spirited debate on the General Conference floor, with a lot of sentiment toward getting out.

Then Bishop Daniel Shuck (right) spoke at length. He mentioned how other denominations were “planting their standard on foreign soil.” He continued:

When we pass the resolution of the committee, Ichobod [the glory has departed] will be justly written upon our banner in the missionary cause, and the very lifeblood of our whole missionary operations will measurably cease to flow. I say, let this matter go with a way wide open to the Board. Let it say to the Church, “The Way is open,” and I believe the money and the men will come. It seems to me that the very death of that devoted missionary is the life of the foreign missionary enterprise in this Church. We have but too few who are willing to die in the cause.

Shuck’s speech carried the day. The delegates instructed the Mission board to “keep the door wide open.”

Joseph and Mary Gomer walked through that door, arriving in Sierra Leone in January 1871. The work almost immediately took off. Later that year, they were joined by Mrs. Mahala Hadley, who now experienced the spiritual harvest for which her husband had given his life.

Thank you, Bishop Shuck.

June Brown through the years. Below:June with Eleanore Datema at the 2009 US National Conference in Huron, Ohio.

June Brown through the years. Below:June with fellow missionary Eleanore Datema (right) at the 2009 US National Conference in Huron, Ohio.

During Commencement exercises on May 18, 1993, Huntington University recognized June Brown with the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. The citation began, “June L. Brown has built a life of excellence everywhere she has invested her talent and energy. In education, in service to country, and in missions, she has always held to the highest standards in her personal life and professional endeavors.”

June Brown grew up in Pennsylvania; her home church was King Street UB church in Chambersburg, Pa. She accepted Christ at age eight, and at age 15 sensed God calling her to the mission field. She enrolled at Huntington University in 1948, but left to spend four years in the Women’s Air Force. While stationed in San Antonio, Texas, she taught math and science classes, and played on the base softball and basketball teams, both of which won the Women’s Air Force World Championship.

June returned to Huntington University in 1954, graduated in 1956, and became a public schoolteacher in Rockford, Ill. But the call to missions remained. In 1957, she began 35 years as a United Brethren missionary in Sierra Leone.

June’s missionary service included six years as a teacher at Centennial Secondary School, followed by 29 years at Bumpe High School, where she taught math and Bible. She also served stints as boarding home manager, bookstore clerk and acting principal, and could ably step in when the school needed an electrician, plumber, or diesel mechanic. She was renowned for her skill as a hunter.

During her furlough in 1966, June returned to Huntington College to teaching physical education and coach basketball, volleyball, and tennis. Then it was back to Africa.

In 1985, June took on the role of Director of Missionary Affairs, in addition to her regular duties in education. She remained in Sierra Leone until 1992, when all missionaries were evacuated from the country because of a military coup. She took the opportunity to retire from missionary service.

Beginning around 1973, Edward Morlai, the Sierra Leone Conference director of Church Services, worked with June Brown in the Bumpe office. He was a big fan, but by no means the only fan. He testified, “She is not a stranger; she is one of us, and we like her. She is readily accepted, not only in our church, but in our culture. We bring many problems to her, and she helps us a lot. She knows what to do at what particular time. Anywhere you go, people know Miss Brown.”

When Mr. Morlai visited the United States in 1985, he told June Brown, “Now I know what you’re giving up to come to Sierra Leone.”

June didn’t view it that way. “When I come home on furlough, I almost feel guilty being here. Everything I touch and feel and eat, everything reminds me of what I don’t have over there, and what they don’t have—and probably won’t get for years to come, no matter how hard they strive for it….I’m not giving up anything. It’s a call, a desire to do the Lord’s work.”

Mr. Morlai smiled. “I don’t think she has convinced me. It took love to leave a church like King Street and go to Sierra Leone, and stay all those years. It is a big sacrifice for her. It takes a lot of love.”

June Brown now lives in her own house in Chambersburg, and is well cared for by friends, family, and the King Street congregation.

Historian A. W. Drury wrote of the early United Brethren leaders, “They had not started out to reform the world, but to help to save it.” But by the time General Conference ended on May 17, 1821, we had waded deep into the waters of social action.

The delegates took strong stands against two evils in society: slavery, and alcohol. In both cases, they were ahead of their time.

Regarding slavery, there were people who would use the Bible to claim slavery was a divine institution. On the other side were abolitionists, who viewed slavery as evil and wanted to see it vanquished. The United Brethren church was firmly abolitionist, and never waivered from that.

The 1821 General Conference passed a lengthy resolution which began, “Resolved, That no slavery, in whatever form it may exist, and in no sense of the word, shall be permitted or tolerated in our Church.”

The resolution said any UB members who held slaves couldn’t continue as members, and laid out some conditions for freeing the slaves. In the years ahead, additional statements made out stand increasingly tough. We took a stand and pursued it relentlessly.

UB historian John Lawrence wrote, “On no subject have the United Brethren in Christ preserved a cleaner record than on the subject of slavery.” He said other church groups had moderated their anti-slavery stands during the first couple decades of the 1800s, probably because they had churches in both the North and South. But, he said, “The United Brethren in Christ have firmly, and almost alone, maintained theirs.”

A statement against slavery remained in our Discipline until 1945, when we replaced it with a statement on “Human Relations.” Our Constitution still has a statement against any kind of “involuntary servitude.”

Regarding alcohol: the 1821 General Conference prohibited UB members from operating a distillery, and instructed preachers to “labor against the evils of intemperance.” To that point, wrote John Lawrence, only one other ecclesiastical group had taken action against alcohol—a Unitarian group, in 1811, which had little influence beyond New England.

In 1826, five years after we took a stand, the American Temperance Society formed and other evangelical denominations entered the fray. We, wrote Lawrence with mixed metaphors, “were among the pioneers in the temperance movement, and have always fought in the advanced columns.”

The 1841 General Conference adopted a statement requiring that all UB members—both ministers and laypersons—totally abstain from drinking alcohol. That remained the Law of UB Land until 2005, when we said laypersons could drink alcohol.