On May 16, 1994, the Board of Missions unanimously passed a resolution calling for the withdrawal of all missionaries in Sierra Leone by the end of 1994. Wrote Missions director Kyle McQuillen, “This is not a temporary move. It is a final withdrawal of missionary personnel.”

Sierra Leone’s descent into anarchy had dominated the March board meeting. Rebel activity kept rising, and missionaries with other groups had been killed. Although 9 of the 14 board members had served in Sierra Leone, they raised serious questions about our long-term role there.

Two months later, the board gathered in Huntington, Ind., for an emergency session. They spent hours wrestling with their options before making the decision to pull out. Our churches and other ministries, including Mattru Hospital, would continue, but under national leadership.

During the next seven months, UB missionaries trickled out of the country–the Welch family and nurse Neita Dey in May, the Tom Datema family in August, Tom Hastie in October. Nadine Hoekman, a nurse at Mattru, chose to remain in Sierra Leone as an independent missionary; she signed documents releasing the United Brethren from responsibility for her welfare.

Bishop Ray Seilhamer and Kyle McQuillen traveled to Sierra Leone in December 1994 to attend Sierra Leone Conference. When they left on December 13, they took with them the last three UB missionaries: nurse Sara Banter, and Phil and Carol Fiedler.

And thus ended the era of United Brethren missionary involvement in Sierra Leone. But only for 13 years.

On May 15, 1829, General Conference began in Fairfield County, Ohio. Before adjourning on May 19, they had taken a strong stand against Freemasonry–a somewhat signature stand for our denomination.

William Morgan, who claimed to have been a Master Mason, wrote an expose book about the Freemasons. That violated his pledge, as a Freemason, to not reveal the inner workings of the society. Before the book was published, Morgan disappeared. The predominant view is that he was abducted and thrown overboard into the Niagara River.

That happened in 1826. The resulting outrage sparked an anti-Mason movement across the country. John Quincy Adams and Millard Fillmore were among those who supported the Anti-Mason Party. (Nevertheless, Andrew Jackson, a Mason, was elected in 1829.)

You could say that the 1829 General Conference was just climbing aboard society’s anti-masonry bandwagon. But it started earlier with us. In 1826, the Miami Conference (Ohio) urged members to discontinue their lodge membership. In 1827, the Eastern Conference (Pennsylvania mostly) decreed that any members who became Masons “thereby lock themselves out of the conference and the church.”

The 1829 General Conference entered the fray by passing this resolution: “In no way or manner nor in any sense of the word shall Freemasonry be approved or tolerated in our church; and that should any of our church members, who may now be a Freemason, continue to attend their lodges, or as a Freemason attend and take part in their processions; or if he joins the Freemasons, such member, by such an act, excludes himself from membership in our church.”

That was shortened in 1833, and shortened again when this statement made the Constitution in 1841: “There shall be no connection with secret combinations.” That extended the prohibition beyond Freemasonry to other secret orders, like the Oddfellows. And it remains in our Constitution to this day.

Bottom line: if you are a Mason, you can’t also be a United Brethren member. The Masonic lodge promises salvation apart from Jesus Christ, and that’s not something we can make room for.

buddylabor300On May 14, 1988, John Buddy Labor graduated from Huntington College with a degree in Business. He was from Bumpe, Sierra Leone. His father, John Labor, was principal of Bumpe High school and a longtime leader in Sierra Leone Conference.

Buddy was born in Huntington on January 30, 1964, when his father was a student at Huntington College. The next day, in the same hospital, Tom Datema was born. They would be friends in Sierra Leone, and teammates at Huntington College.

Buddy Labor was, few people would dispute, HC’s best-ever soccer player. His number 10 jersey was retired on February 23, 1988, even before he graduated. A four-time all-American from 1984-87, Buddy held many HC soccer records: most goals scored in a game (4), most goals scored in a season (28), most goals scored in a career (100), most assists in a career (32), most points in a career (232), and most points in a game (10). He was the team MVP all four years.

The various collegiate athletic organizations recognized him.

  • NAIA. All-district team all four years, honorable mention All-America 1984-85, second-team All-America 1986, and first-team All-America 1987.
  • NCCAA. All-America from 1984-87, during which he ranked among the top ten goal scorers all four years.
  • NCAA District III. All-District 1984-87. The 1986 team placed fourth nationally in the NCCAA.

Buddy Labor was inducted into the Huntington University Hall of Fame on December 1, 2001. He now lives in Atlanta and is a sales account manager for NexTraq.

On May 13, 1889–Day Four of General Conference–Bishop Milton Wright (right) and 14 other delegates walked out. They’d had enough. Time to start a new denomination.

General Conference was being held in York, Pa., and everyone figured there would be fireworks. For years, the “Liberals” and “Radicals” (us) had been fighting over the future of the church, and the Liberals had the votes. They were using the 1889 General Conference to make some huge changes:

  • Adopt a new Confession of Faith.
  • Allow laypersons to be delegates to General Conference (until then, ministers were running the show).
  • Soften the stand against Freemasonry.
  • Adopt a new Constitution.

The Constitution couldn’t be changed unless two-thirds of all United Brethren members–not just those voting–approved the change. That made it practically impossible to change the Constitution. And the Constitution said–no changing the Confession of Faith, no lay delegates, and no connection with secret societies (read: Freemasonry).

The Liberals, since they had the votes, basically decided to just ignore the Constitution. They made the changes they wanted to make, and the conference ended with a new Constitution and new Confession of Faith.

But before these votes were taken, Bishop Milton Wright and his supporters left in protest. We don’t know if they stormed out, or just quietly existed. Whatever the case, their departure was noticed and mourned, but it made no difference.

Wright & Co. gathered at the Park Opera House in York, where they reconvened as the “true” United Brethren in Christ Church. They argued that the Liberals had withdrawn and formed a brand new denomination with a new Constitution and bylaws. The Liberals had 250,000 members and the Radicals had about 15,000 members, so it’s a stretch to say THEY withdrew from us. But that was Milton Wright’s story, and he stuck to it.

There in the Park Opera House, the delegates re-elected Wright as bishop and elected three rookie bishops.

The whole thing was messy and sad. But today’s United Brethren church–which this year is celebrating its 250th anniversary–is descended from that small group of protesters. Otherwise, like the descendents of those other 250,000, we’d all be United Methodists.

glossbrenner-nobg-300The entire Civil War occurred between the General Conferences of 1861 and 1865.

Almost all UB members in Virginia opposed slavery, but were basically cut off from the rest of the denomination. When the war started, some UBs suggested going independent and forming a southern United Brethren church.

However, Bishop Jacob John Glossbrenner (right) decided to stay in Virginia throughout the war, and he was the glue. The Maryland and Virginia churches, part of the same conference, held separate annual conferences for the duration. Glossbrenner was allowed to pass through the battle lines to hold conference for the Maryland churches and then return to Virginia.

The 1865 General Conference met May 11, 1865, in Iowa. By that time, the war had been over for a month. However, on May 10, Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, was finally captured in Georgia. When this news reached the conference, there was much rejoicing and they broke out in the “Doxology.”

Bishop Glossbrenner was there. Some ministers initially treated him coldly, suspicious of his decision to spend the war in Confederate territory. But after hearing Glossbrenner’s story, delegates passed a resolution commending his heroic leadership of the Virginia churches during the war.

The Civil War, which United Brethren people generally viewed as a just war to end a great evil, prompted us to reconsider our 1849 statement which emphasized pacifism. The 1865 General Conference, while still opposing aggressive warfare, added, “We believe it to be entirely consistent with the spirit of Christianity to bear arms when called upon to do so by the properly constituted authorities of our government for its preservation and defense.”

By 1865, Glossbrenner had already served 20 years as bishop. He continued another 20 years. His 40 years as bishop is longer than any other bishop, ever. He died two years after leaving office, possibly of stomach cancer.

longsbarn-boehm-otterbein600

This year, 2017, the United Brethren Church celebrates its 250th anniversary. But May 10 is the exact day. On that day in 1767, our founders, Martin Boehm and William Otterbein, met in a barn in Lancaster, Pa. It was Pentecost Sunday.

“Great Meetings” dated back to the 1720s. They were usually independent religious gatherings, not connected to any particular group, and they were typically held at farms over a period of two or three days. Word would go out about an upcoming meeting—time, place, etc. People would pack up enough clothes and food to last a few days, travel however many miles they needed to travel, and bunk in homes, barns, tents, or crude shelters built just for the event. The host would stockpile food and maybe slaughter a few hogs, sheep, or even a cow. And let’s not forget the horses, who needed grain.

Various preachers would show up, gather a crowd, and let loose to everyone in hearing range. Several might be preaching at the same time on different parts of the farm—one in the barn, one under the big oak tree, one from the farmhouse porch. People from rural areas who maybe didn’t have regular access to a minister were able to sit under meaty preaching, and the fellowship was good. Probably the eating, too. Whole communities would find the Holy Spirit descending in power and changing everything.

Isaac Long, along with his brothers John and Benjamin, were among Martin Boehm’s converts among the Mennonites. All three were successful farmers. Isaac often accompanied Boehm to Great Meetings. In 1767, Isaac offered to host a Great Meeting at the barn his family had built 13 years before six miles northeast of Lancaster. How about May 10?

William Otterbein was then pastoring in York, Pa. He traveled the 30 miles to Lancaster. A minister from Virginia was preaching to an overflow crowd in the orchard. But Otterbein decided to go into the barn to hear Martin Boehm preach.

Boehm told about his conversion experience. As he plowed his fields, he knelt at the end of each row to pray, and the word “Lost! Lost!” continually hovered over him. Finally, halfway through a row, he broke. Falling to his knees, Boehm cried out, “Lord save, I am lost!” The words of Luke 19:10 immediately came to him, “I am come to seek and save that which is lost.” Joy poured through him. He ran to the house and told his wife what had happened.

The story clearly paralleled a life-changing experience Otterbein had had 22 years before when pastoring a church right there in Lancaster. He realized, “This man and I believe and have experienced the same things!”

Otterbein couldn’t contain himself. When Boehm finished preaching, Otterbein embraced him and exclaimed, “Wir sind Bruder!” We are brethren!

And thus began a lifelong friendship, and a new movement. A movement that became the Church of the United Brethren in Christ.

On May 9, 1929, General Conference began at the King Street United Brethren church in Chambersburg, Pa. Beginning in 1949, General Conference would always be held in Huntington, Ind. (up through 2005). But before that, they moved around, like we do now for the US National Conference.

The previous year, 1928, King Street got a new pastor, a young fellow named Clyde Meadows (right). He would remain King Street’s pastor for 33 years, until being elected bishop in 1961. In one way or another, a Meadows was represented at General Conference for most of the 1900s.

Clyde’s father, a UB minister, attended the 1917 General Conference as a delegate from Virginia. It was held that year in Kitchener, Ontario — the only time General Conference was held outside of the United States (until 2010).

Clyde attended the next two General Conferences as part of a Huntington College quartet that provided special music — the 1921 conference in Messick, Ind., and 1925 conference in Adrian, Mich. He then was host pastor of the 1929 General Conference.

Meadows loved telling the story of what happened in 1933. Pennsylvania Conference elected him as a delegate to the conference held in Hillsdale, Mich. However, the rules said you had to be a member of your conference for three years, and he fell two months short. “Consequently, they more or less threw me out,” he wrote in his autobiography. “I could attend the sessions, eat with the delegates, and stay in the dormitory, but I couldn’t vote or speak.”

From 1937-1961, Meadows was a legitimate delegate from Pennsylvania Conference. He chaired the 1965 and 1969 General Conferences as bishop, and from 1973-1993 was, again, an elected delegate from Pennsylvania Conference. In those later years, he was always called upon to make the motion to adjourn. He then attended the 1997 General Conference; as Bishop Emeritus, he had advisory status. Clyde Meadows passed away two years later, at age 98.

In 1929, we had 20 conferences, 19 of which sent delegates to King Street for General Conference. That seemed to be a high water mark. Conferences soon began a series of mergers, until in 1981, we were down to 11 conferences. As an example, the Auglaize and Scioto conferences in Ohio merged to form Auglaize-Scioto Conference, and in 1973 they merged with Indiana’s White River conference to form Central Conference.

hanby-william300Bishop William Hanby passed away on May 7, 1880. It was written, “He was a master of the secret of growing old gracefully. No one ever heard him complain that the former times were better.” His last words: “I’m in the midst of glory.”

Hanby was elected bishop in 1845-1849. He had been editor of the denominational publication for eight years, and much preferred that role. As bishop, he was regularly gone several months at a time, riding alone and frequently afflicted with vertigo. He didn’t want the burden of constant traveling–not with a wife, nine children (eight of his own, one adopted), and feeble parents at home.

To his relief, the 1849 General Conference again elected him as editor of The Religious Telescope.

Hanby supplemented his meager church salary by running a saddlery business, a trade he learned as a teen. When the occasional plague was going around, he would use his own money to buy medicine and personally dispense it among poor people. He kept a poor widow’s woodpile stocked.

The April 8 post told about his work in sheltering fugitive slaves. Hanby was said to be “a firm believer in the equality of the sexes, and never more delighted than when his daughters showed themselves the intellectual equals of their brothers.”

It was written, “He possessed a very tender conscience, was slow to give offense, and when overtaken in a fault, could not rest until he had said, ‘Forgive me, I was wrong,’ even if the injured one was the smallest child.”

Hanby’s last years were difficult. Three of his four sons died, as did his wife of 49 years. He suffered serious illness, and reportedly lost all of his property. But he never gave in to bitterness, and was cared for by his remaining children.

Interestingly, the Hanby name died out. Two sons only had daughters. The only son who had a son was Benjamin, but that grandson married late in life and had no children.

musgrave-walter300Bishop Walter Musgrave passed away on May 6, 1950, in Huntington, Ind. He served 24 years as bishop, 1925-1949. Only three other bishops served longer than that. He was most know for his energetic, dynamic preaching.

Musgrave grew up on a farm near Stockport, Ohio, and at age 19 became a Christian in a Methodist church. He received a Methodist ministerial license, but three years later transferred to the United Brethren church. In 1903 he was assigned to a church near the West Virginia border. He promptly began starting a church in a nearby community–where, as it turned out, he met his future spouse. They were married February 6, 1904, and in November had their first child.

For nearly 20 years, Musgrave pastored various UB churches in southern Ohio, in what was then Scioto Conference. Then, in 1921, General Conference chose him to spearhead an ambitious renewal campaign called the Otterbein Forward Movement. He threw himself into it, but the campaign fell short of its goals. Regardless, the 1925 General Conference elected him as bishop.

Dr. M. I. Burkholder, who led the Huntington College seminary for 30 years, described Musgrave as “a dynamo in the pulpit.” Bishop Clarence Kopp, Jr., wrote, “He was probably one of the most animated and energetic of the old-fashion-style preachers. He would literally rush from one side of the pulpit to the other.”

He would pace back and forth, peering into the audience, talking rapidly while employing his signature gestures (like pointing his index finger while keeping one eye closed). His face would grow red, causing some people to fear he might be on the verge of having a stroke.

One time, Bishop A. M. Johnson, concerned for Musgrave’s health, suggested he scale back the energy and vigor he put into his preaching. Musgrave responded, “Well, I believe this!” He couldn’t do any less.

At Musgrave’s funeral, Dr. M. I. Burkholder quoted him as saying, “I don’t know what the Lord has for me on this earth, but whatever it is, He has all of me.”

Bishop David Edwards (1849-1876)

David Edwards, Bishop 1849-1876

On May 5, 1816, David Edwards was born in Wales. He would become one of our longest-serving bishops–27 years, 1849-1876–and one of the most influential. During that time, he played a role in starting our first college, a seminary, our missionary society, and our denominational publication and publishing house. A fellow bishop remarked, “I have looked upon Bishop Edwards on every side. He is the best man this Church has ever yet had. It has never seen his like; it will be years before it finds his equal.”

Edwards’ family came to America when he was five years old, lived two years in Baltimore, and in 1823 moved into Ohio. He was converted at age 18 in a United Brethren meeting, and a year later, in 1835, he was licensed to preach. They didn’t dilly dally back then.

Edwards was assigned to the Brush Creek circuit, which included 28 appointments spread over five counties; he traveled 360 miles making one round. For the next several years, he was assigned to a different circuit each year. In 1839 he married Lucretia Hibbard, whose father was both a lawyer and a United Brethren minister; her brother was also a UB minister, and a sister married a UB minister.

Like many ministers back then, Edwards had very little formal education but was an avid self-learner, constantly reading on horseback and wherever he found to stop for the night. He began to be noticed as a young preacher of tremendous potential, described as studious, a powerful preacher, prudent, methodical, and fearless.

The 1845 General Conference elected him as editor of The Religious Telescope, the denominational publication. During the next four years, he put the Telescope on solid financial footing, and took it from semi-monthly to weekly. As editor, he strongly defended the church’s stands against slavery, alcohol, and Freemasonry.

Edwards was also a zealous advocate of entire sanctification; holiness of heart and life became a central theme throughout the rest of his ministry. Wrote biographer Henry Adams Thompson doubted that anyone else could explain entire sanctification “more clearly, more profoundly, and in a way less liable to objection.” He said many other “best minds in the church” embraced the doctrine.

Historian John Lawrence said Edwards tended to come across as “unnecessarily rigid” because of his stern adherence to his convictions, and that the “set of his teeth” seemed to say, “You can neither coax nor drive me from what I believe to be right.”

In 1849, at age 33, Edwards was elected bishop, and continued in that role until age 60. During his last term, he suffered much from illness–cancer, probably, which advanced quickly and painfully. He died June 6, 1876, with one year left in his seventh term.

Thompson wrote, “However much good men may have differed with him in their views, none doubted the purity of his motives or the uprightness of his character. As a preacher he had few, if any, superiors in the church….He knew how to live and walk by faith….He would not only urge the ministry to try to do more and better work for the Master, but he led them by precept and example in the doing of it.”