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.

Rev. John W. Fulkerson

When Minnesota became a US Territory in 1849, the population stood at about 6100. Ten years later (with statehood coming in 1858), the population had mushroomed to 172,000. They no doubt included many United Brethren from the eastern states.

On September 26, 1856, 34-year-old Rev. John W. Fulkerson, along with his wife Delilah and seven-year-old son Cleveland, boarded a steamship in Muscatine, Iowa, and headed up the Mississippi River. Our mission board, formed in 1853, was called the Home, Frontier, and Foreign Missionary Society. Minnesota was the Frontier, and the Fulkersons had been appointed as missionaries.

John Fulkerson was born in Virginia on January 16, 1822. He became a minister in Virginia Conference at age 21 and was ordained two years later, in 1845. He served 13 years as an itinerant minister in the conference’s Maryland district, and then the Mission Board came calling.

In Dakota, Minnesota, the Fulkersons were met by Rev. Edmund Clow, the first United Brethren minister in Minnesota. Clow, from Rock River Conference in northern Illinois, had gone to Minnesota in 1854 and organized churches. He was no doubt eager for reinforcements.

The Fulkersons loaded their belongings into two wagons and headed 50 miles west to Eyota, where John preached his first service in Minnesota. The family settled a few miles further west in what became Rochester, and never left. At the time, it was little more than a stagecoach stop between St. Paul and Dubuque, Iowa. In 1863, Dr. William Mayo came to examine Civil War draftees. He stuck around, and today’s Mayo Clinic bears his name.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s go back to 1856.

On December 2 of that first year, snow began falling for 36 hours straight, covering the ground five feet deep. Welcome to Minnesota. A teacher was then living with the Fulkersons. When the storm started, he immediately sent his pupils home. One girl got lost and died in the storm; her body was found a month later.

Being a traveling preacher in Minnesota was tough. The territory was sparsely populated. Most settlers lived in scattered log cabins and partly-buried sod houses, and barely managed to eke out a living and feed themselves. Fulkerson rode for days across dismal, storm-swept prairies, and often slept on the ground (he encountered a Jesuit priest who said he had slept 14 nights in a row in the open air). The people had little money to compensate a preacher; it was a struggle even to find grain to feed Fulkerson’s horse.

Then there were the Sioux. In August 1862, the Dakota War erupted after Sioux Indians, upset about repeated treaty violations and other very legitimate grievances, went on the warpath, killing an estimated 800 people. As the conflict started, Fulkerson went into one small community and organized a group of 13 people into a United Brethren church. Before Fulkerson reached home, Sioux had swept in and massacred 21 people there.

Minnesota Conference was organized on August 5, 1857, by Bishop Lewis Davis. The stats showed four preachers (Clow, Fulkerson, and two others), 34 places of ministry, and 247 members. John Fulkerson was elected presiding elder (like conference superintendent). He remained active in ministry until his death in 1910. His wife, Delilah, died six months later.

Toward the end, Fulkerson said in a message:

“I am jealous for God’s truth. The more of the Bible we have woven into our lives, the richer our experience, the more successful our labors, and the brighter our hope of heaven. If I had my life to live over, I should spend it in the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. The name is richer and sweeter to me now than ever before.”

Happy birthday to the Church of the United Brethren in Christ! The denomination was officially birthed on September 25, 1800.

William Otterbein and Martin Boehm met in 1767 at Long’s Barn in Lancaster, Pa., and began working together in a loose revival movement. That continued for 33 years. A “denomination” was taking shape, but it took everyone a while to realize it.

In 1789, Boehm and Otterbein, along with five other ministers, met to coordinate their work a bit more closely and adopt a common set of doctrinal beliefs. They met again two years later.

Then came that historic meeting on September 25, 1800. It was held in Frederick, Md., at the home of Peter Kemp, which was somewhat of a waystation for traveling preachers. Fourteen ministers attended, and another 17 ministers were listed as absent. They took three significant actions.

1. They chose a name—the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. They added “in Christ” to distinguish from the Moravians, who had adopted the name Unitas Fratrum (United Brethren). According to historian Henry Spayth, it was mainly a legal issue. On property deeds, bequests, and other official documents, they wanted to avoid any confusion about which United Brethren church was intended.

2. They unanimously elected Otterbein and Boehm as the first bishops, with the apparent understanding they would serve four-year terms. Spayth said Otterbein had been unofficially functioning as the movement’s leader.

3. They decided to meet every year.

Thus was born a new denomination. At the time, all other denominations were transplanted from Europe — Lutherans, Methodists, Reformed. We were the first denomination stamped “Made in America.”

Clyde W. Meadows (right) served simultaneously as a United Brethren bishop and as president of the World’s Christian Endeavor Union. The latter role took him to Europe in September 1963. At a rally in Hamburg, Germany, he told the 1000 attendees that he would be traveling on to Sierra Leone. They insisted on taking an offering to send with him. It came to 300 German Marks.

Meadows landed in Freetown on September 24, 1963, and delivered the money to UB missionary Bernadine Hoffman, who worked in the Christian education department.

The money was used to bring 400 young people from across the country to Mattru for the first national Christian Endeavor convention, held February 22, 1964. It happened in conjunction with the annual meeting of Sierra Leone Conference, which Bishop Meadows chaired.

About 500 people attended that Saturday night service, and 22 people came forward to accept Christ as Savior. Then, on Sunday evening, 75 more came to the altar. Bishop Meadows wrote, “We were completely overwhelmed. All the ministers were engaged as counselors.”

Today we’ll take a look at two United Brethren ministers you’ve never heard of. Both were born on September 23—one in 1814, the other in 1822. Both extended UB work into new areas, and left behind many converts and churches.

Stephen Lee

Stephen Lee was born in Canada on September 23, 1814. He moved to Ohio in 1835 and taught school until becoming a United Brethren minister in 1848. He was then 34 years old, married with four children. His circuit was large and required that he be gone for weeks at a time.

One day as Lee prepared to leave on a two-week journey, his wife told him there was no food in the house. But she told him, “It is your duty to preach. God will provide.” So he embarked on his journey. Later that day, a woman came to their home with a sack of flour and a basket filled with potatoes, meat, sugar, tea, and other items. It wasn’t the last time God would provide when their own resources were exhausted.

After one year, Sandusky Conference appointed Lee to start a new mission in Michigan, where no United Brethren work existed. The family moved to Michigan at the end of 1848, and Lee set about organizing churches and exploring the territory in search of pockets of people. He encountered a lot of opposition—an attempt to kill him with a crude bomb, arsenic poured into the family well, his barn set on fire. His infant son died the first year, his beloved daughter Emma the second year. His horse died during one extended trip, and he found himself among strangers with no means to buy another horse (but one was provided). But the work continued, and revival meetings saw many sinners come to know the Lord.

After 16 years of ministry in Michigan, Stephen Lee’s health broke down. In 1865, the family moved to Westerville, Ohio, and later to Elmwood, Ill., where he passed away on January 11, 1874.

Walton Clayton Smith

Walton Clayton Smith was born in Virginia, but his family moved to western Indiana, near the Illinois border, when he was 12. He became a United Brethren minister, and is credited with playing an important role in extending the church in western Indiana and southern Illinois.

Sometimes his circuit of churches was so large, that it took 300 miles to complete one round. One year, he traveled over 4000 miles on horseback, preached over 300 sermons, and received 125 persons into the church. He was tenacious in keeping his appointments. One person remarked that Smith “has waded more mud and breasted more storms, hunting for money and sinners, than any other man in the denomination.” He represented his conference at General Conference eight times between 1857 and 1897.

William M. Weekley wrote, “Mr. Smith’s chief characteristics were utter and absolute consecration of himself to his work, and intense perseverance and honesty of purpose in that work.…He was not considered a great preacher, but he was regarded as a great man with a great personal influence. His eloquence was the eloquence of character rather than speech…The memory that is left to us is of a man whose character was as noble as his faith was unfailing and his labors tireless.”