The persons who attended the UB History course in Ontario. Bishop Brian Magnus and instructor Bob Bruce are sitting in front, third and fourth respectively from the left.

The United Brethren Church in Canada sponsored the UB History course on October 23-24 at Stanley Park UB church in Kitchener, Ontario. Bishop Brian Magnus and Bob Bruce, pastor of spiritual care at Emmanuel Community Church (Fort Wayne, Ind.), taught the course. Ten new pastors and ministerial candidates took the course, along with three laypersons who audited the course to learn more about their inspiring heritage.

UB Global has scheduled an IGNITE conferences in late October.

Date: Saturday, October 28, 2017
Location: College Park UB church, 1945 College Avenue, Huntington, IN 46750

IGNITE is a one-day missions conference conducted by UB GLOBAL that will inform, inspire and help you integrate missional principles and resources into your outreach efforts in your neighborhood and among the nations. The day will include worship, updates and a variety of workshops covering topics relevant to ministry in your context.

The conference begins at 9 a.m. and continues until 4:30 p.m. The $15 cost includes lunch.

For more information and to register, go to ubglobal.org/ignite, or call us at 1-888-622-3019.

An event called “UB Connected” will be held November 5-6, 2017, at Rhodes Grove Camp in Chambersburg, Pa. It is sponsored by the United Brethren Association.

The event begins at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Novemer 5, with a missions presentation by UB Global Dirctor Jeff Bleijerveld and Sierra Leone Bishop John Pessima. A business meeting will be held at 6 p.m., and Bishop Todd Fetters will speak at 7 p.m.

Bishop Emeritus Ray Seilhamer and Rev. Joe Abu will speak on Monday morning. The event concludes with a noon meal.

There is no cost to attend sessions. However, there are fees for meals and lodging.

You can register here.

Seated (l-r): Benulda Saenz (Honduras), Jana (undisclosed), Karis Vong (Macau), Moses Somah (Liberia), Winston Smith (Jamaica), Adama Thorlie (Germany), Miriam (undisclosed). Standing (l-r): Gonzola Alas (Honduras), Moises Saenz (Honduras), Matthew Robertshaw (Canada), Justin Marva (Sierra Leone), Kin Keung Yiu (Hong Kong), Carol Chan (Hong Kong), Isaac Nugent (Jamaica), Alimamy Sesay (Germany), Brian Magnus (Canada), Jeff Bleijerveld (US), Todd Fetters (US), John Pessima (Sierra Leone), Juan Pavon (Nicaragua).

Seated (l-r): Benulda Saenz (Honduras), Jana (undisclosed), Karis Vong (Macau), Moses Somah (Liberia), Winston Smith (Jamaica), Adama Thorlie (Germany), Miriam (undisclosed). Standing (l-r): Gonzola Alas (Honduras), Moises Saenz (Honduras), Matthew Robertshaw (Canada), Justin Marva (Sierra Leone), Kin Keung Yiu (Hong Kong), Carol Chan (Hong Kong), Isaac Nugent (Jamaica), Alimamy Sesay (Germany), Brian Magnus (Canada), Jeff Bleijerveld (US), Todd Fetters (US), John Pessima (Sierra Leone), Juan Pavon (Nicaragua).

Karis Vong and Jennifer Blandin report on behalf of Macau.

Karis Vong and Jennifer Blandin report on behalf of Macau.

The 52nd General Conference, our international governing body, met July 16-17 at King Street Church in Chambersburg, Pa. Their last meeting was in May 2013 in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. The 1925 General Conference was also held in Kitchener.

Each of the ten national conferences could send two delegates. There were also representatives from several mission districts. Families from United Brethren churches in the Chambersburg/Greencastle area hosted the international delegates overnight. These persons attended:

National Conference Delegates

  • Sierra Leone: John Pessima (bishop) and Justin Marva.
  • Canada: Brian Magnus (bishop) and Matthew Robertshaw, the missions commission chair.
  • Nicaragua: Juan Pavon, general superintendent.
  • Honduras: Gonzalo Alas (bishop), and Moises Saenz (his wife, Benulda Saenz, who is also a minister in Honduras Conference, came as interpreter).
  • Hong Kong: Kin Keung Yiu (superintendent) and Carol Chan, missions director.
  • Jamaica: Isaac Nugent (bishop) and former bishop Winston Smith.
  • United States: Todd Fetters (bishop) and Jeff Bleijerveld, director of UB Global.

Three national conferences were not represented: Mexico, the Philippines, and Guatemala.

Mission Districts

  • Germany: Alimamy Sesay (pastor) and Adama Thorlie.
  • Liberia: Moses Somah (resident bishop).
  • Macau: Karis Vong, pastor of Living Water church in Macau.
  • Representatives from two undisclosed countries.

These mission districts were not represented: Haiti, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Thailand.

General Conference is scheduled to meet every three years. The last meeting was in 2013. A meeting was planned for 2016 in Jamaica, but it had to be postponed. They decided to wait until 2017, and tack General Conference onto the end of the US National Conference. That way, the General Conference delegates could participate in the 250th anniversary of the denomination.

The 2001 General Conference adopted a truly international structure. Before that, with no separate meeting of the US National Conference, the US business and international business were mixed together. Starting in 2005, the General Conference has been a mostly relational meeting, during which United Brethren international leaders share the victories and challenges they face and their outreach and missionary endeavors. Each of the national leaders are prayed over by all of the other UB leaders.

The General Conference also serves as the international “membership committee” to oversee all of the national conferences and mission districts. National conferences report any changes to their national documents, structure, and stands on social and moral issues. This important role helps keep all of our conferences on track. Mission districts are also shepherded through the process of becoming national conferences.

Carol Chan (left) and Superintendent Kin Keung Yiu of Hong Kong Conference.

Carol Chan (left) and Superintendent Kin Keung Yiu of Hong Kong Conference.

Adama Thorlie (left) and Alimamy Sesay of the German mission district. This is the first General Conference at which Germany has been represented.

Adama Thorlie (left) and Alimamy Sesay of the German mission district. This is the first General Conference at which Germany has been represented.

Germany and Liberia

For the first time, General Conference had representatives from Germany and Liberia. Both are mission districts of Sierra Leone Conference.

In 1997, an independent church started in Berlin, Germany. The church targeted the many African immigrants in Berlin, especially persons who had fled the fighting in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Peter Sorie Mansaray, a Sierra Leonean, became the first pastor in 2003. In 2006, the congregation felt led to affiliate with Sierra Leone Conference. The church’s website now says the church is “directly answerable to the Bishop of the Sierra Leone Conference.”

The delegates to General Conference were the current pastor, Alimamy Sesay, and Adama Thorlie, a lay woman who has been part of the church since it started; she is a social worker in Berlin, and has lived half of her life in Sierra Leone and half in Germany.

Around 2011, Sierra Leone Conference began a relationship with a group of nine churches in Liberia. These churches trace back to 1981, when they split from another group and adopted the name “Church of the United Brethren in Christ International.”

Conference and mission district leaders reported on their work. Clockwise from upper left: John Pessima, bishop of Sierra Leone Conference; Gonzalo Alas, bishop of Honduras Conference; Alimamy Sesay, pastor of the UB church in Berlin, Germany; and Isaac Nugent, bishop of Jamaica Conference.

Conference and mission district leaders reported on their work. Clockwise from upper left: John Pessima, bishop of Sierra Leone Conference; Gonzalo Alas, bishop of Honduras Conference; Alimamy Sesay, pastor of the UB church in Berlin, Germany; and Isaac Nugent, bishop of Jamaica Conference.

After each report, Brian Magnus stood with the delegate as prayer was offered for that country. Left: with Bishop Todd Fetters of the United States. Right: with Moses Somah of Liberia.

After each report, Brian Magnus stood with the delegate as prayer was offered for that country. Left: with Bishop Todd Fetters of the United States. Right: with Moses Somah of Liberia.

The Meeting Itself

The General Conference meeting began at 2 pm on Sunday, July 16, and concluded around 6 pm on Monday. Brian Magnus, Bishop of the United Brethren Church in Canada, led the meeting. Most of the time consisted of reports from the various national groups.

They went alphabetically through the national conferences, starting with Canada. Each conference took about 20 minutes to discuss their ministries, challenges, prayer needs, and other matters. After Bishop John Pessima gave his report for Sierra Leone Conference, they started hearing reports from the mission districts and advisory guests–nine reports, from China to Thailand.

After each report, the delegates stood while somebody led in prayer for that country.

On Monday afternoon, Mike Dittman, director of National Ministries for the US National Conference, led a session during which the representatives broke into groups of three or four persons to pray for each other. In several of the groups, United Brethren from three different continents joined hands as they prayed for each other.

Removal of the Philippines National Conference

In 2005, we accepted two new national conferences: Mexico, and the Philippines. Both consisted of a group of churches which wanted to affiliate with us. They became the eighth and ninth national conferences. In 2010, Guatemala was added as the tenth.

Very quickly, concerns arose about the Philippines. They were not following through on commitments made regarding governing documents and elections. They have not sent representatives to any General Conference since 2005, and for many years now, have not responded to any communications.

Brian Magnus and Jeff Bleijerveld went to the Philippines in late 2011 for about a week. They did pastoral training, taught about UB history and doctrine, and talked to leadership about developing proper documents and a constitution. In 2012, we engaged the services of Steve Read of Action Ministries International; he grew up in the Philippines and has served all of his ministry years there. He met with Philippine leaders once or twice, but they did not  follow through.

Letters were sent prior to the 2013 General Conference, but without response. The 2013 General Conference voted to suspend the membership of the Philippines. Letters and emails were subsequently sent, with warnings that if we didn’t hear from them, they would be removed as a national conference. Again, no response.

“We’ve heard nothing from them, at all, for many years,” said Brian Magnus, chairman of the International Executive Committee.

The only item of business before the 2017 General Conference involved a recommendation to remove the Philippines from membership in the Church of the United Brethren in Christ International. Brian Magnus explained the situation: “They have not had any elections, ever, as far as we know. They don’t have proper documents in place. They are legally registered with their country, but as far as a proper constitution and structural documents, we’ve never seen them.”

The churches of the Philippines have a website and a Facebook page. But in 2015, they removed all reference to the United Brethren church. Said Bishop Isaac Nugent of Jamaica, “It seems that they have already taken action to disassociate themselves from us.”

Magnus agreed. “We would be formalizing what they’ve already decided to do.”

Bishop John Pessima of Sierra Leone made the motion to remove the Philippines from membership in the Church of the United Brethren in Christ International. It passed unanimously.

So now we have nine national conferences. However, several mission districts–El Salvador (5 churches), Liberia (9 churches) and Haiti (19 churches)–are looking at organizing as national conferences in the near future.

The delegates split into groups for a time of prayer on Monday afternoon. In most of the groups, three different continents were represented.

The delegates split into groups for a time of prayer on Monday afternoon. In most of the groups, three different continents were represented.

International Executive Committee Meeting

The General Conference has an executive committee, which is made up of the highest leader (usually bishop or general superintendent) of each national conference. They elect a chairperson and secretary, and decide on General Conference dates and locations. They also conduct any business between General Conferences.

The chairman of the International Executive Committee chairs the next General Conference. Bishop Brian Magnus of Canada was elected as the chairperson of the IEC at it’s very first meeting in 2002, and was re-elected to a fifth term on July 17 when the IEC met after the close of the 52nd General Conference.

Bishop Isaac Nugent of Jamaica offered to host the next General Conference in the winter/spring of 2020.

L-r: Matthew Robertshaw (Canada), Juan Pavon (Nicaragua), and Gonzalo Alas, Benulda Saenz, and Moises Saenz (Honduras).

L-r: Matthew Robertshaw (Canada), Juan Pavon (Nicaragua), and Gonzalo Alas, Benulda Saens, and Moises Saens (Honduras).

The business session of the 2017 US National Conference

The business session of the 2017 US National Conference

During the business session on Thursday, the delegates discussed six proposals from the Human Sexuality Task Force. It was a civil discussion characterized by a great deal of unity regarding the proposals. There were efforts to improve the proposals, but nobody spoke against any of them.

All six proposals affected the “Family Standards” chapter of the Discipline–either brand new statements, or revisions to existing statements. The Discipline for 2017-2019 is now available. You can view it online or download it as a PDF file.

The proposals included:

  • A new statement on Singleness, which values singles and their place in the local church.
  • A revision to our Marriage statement which adds a few things and affirms changes made in 2015.
  • A total revision of the Illicit Sexual Relations statement which, rather than list sinful sexual practices, describes why certain practices violate Scripture.
  • A new statement on Sex and Gender Distinctions, which is designed to apply to sexuality-related issues as they arise in society, and includes ten points under the heading “Transgender Persons.”
  • Another new statement, The Local Church and Human Sexuality, which presents grace-filled guidance for churches in these areas.
  • An expanded statement on Pornography (the existing statement was written before the internet as we know it).

There was just one minor amendment–to “The Local Church and Human Sexuality,” in the second sentence of 127.4.

As proposed:
4. All persons need opportunity for safety and authenticity. It is hypocritical to judge the sins of others while failing to acknowledge our own. Therefore, a congregation should focus on….

As amended:
4. All persons need opportunity for safety and authenticity. As redeemed persons, we are called to humbly address sin and seek reconciliation and redemption when it occurs, whether in our lives or in the lives of others. Therefore, a congregation should focus on….

The Women’s Missionary Association organized in 1872 and became a vital part of our denomination’s missions outreach. Over the years, the WMA started new mission fields, commissioned and supported a number of missionaries, and raised millions of dollars for missions.

Times have changed. Only a few United Brethren churches still have a women’s missions group. The trend is for everyone—men, women, and children–to work together through a local church missions commission or something similar.

As of 2017, the organization, now called Women’s Missionary Fellowship, will end as an official denominational ministry. A video was shown on Friday night of the US National Conference to honor and celebrate the enormous contributions made by the Women’s Missionary Association over the past 145 years. You can view it here.

Rhodes Grove Camp (Chambersburg, Pa.) is hosting a training seminar, “Preparing for an Active Shooter,” on August 14.

Date: Monday evening, August 14.
Time: 5:00 – 9:15 pm.
Location: Rhodes Grove Camp & Conference Center, 7693 Browns Mill Road, Chambersburg, PA 17202

This seminar is geared to equip your congregation to proactively respond to an active shooter event. This program is appropriate for your security teams, your trustee and facility committees, and anyone who would like to be equipped to respond most appropriately to an active shooter incident. The seminar is being facilitated by the Capozzi Group.

Detail can be found here.

Bishop Todd Fetters leading the Business session of the US National Conference.

Bishop Todd Fetters leading the Business session of the US National Conference.

A standing ovation as Todd Fetters is elected bishop of the US National Conference during the July 13 business meeting.

A standing ovation as Todd Fetters is elected bishop of the US National Conference during the July 13 business meeting.

Todd H. Fetters was elected to a four-year term, 2017-2021, as Bishop of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, USA. He was elected by unanimous ballot during the Business session of the US National Conference, meeting Thursday morning, July 13, in Lancaster, Pa.

Bishop Fetters’ ministerial career began in 1988 with seven years at Lake View UB church in Camden, Mich., followed by 18 years as senior pastor of Devonshire UB church in Harrisburg, Pa. He came to the National Office in 2013 as Director of National Ministries.

Four persons were elected to the Executive Leadership Team for 2017-2021.

  • Ty Bates, a layperson from Bethel UB church (Elmore, Ohio).
  • Matt McConnell, a layperson from Banner of Christ (Byron Center, Mich.).
  • Gary Dilley, pastor of College Park UB church (Huntington, Ind.).
  • Dennis Sites, pastor of Jerusalem Chapel (Churchville, Va.).

They join four persons elected in 2015 to four-year terms. These eight persons will then appoint four more persons to two-year terms.

The business session began at 8:45 am. There were a couple presentations, plus reports from Interim Bishop Todd Fetters and the various directors (UB Global, Higher Education, Communications, National Ministries, Finance, and Ministerial Licensing). Then came elections.

The delegates then tackled six proposals from the Human Sexuality Task Force, which began its work in early 2016. All six of their proposals passed, with only one or two amendments. They can be viewed here. They included:

  • New statements on Singleness, Sex and Gender Distinctions, and the Local Church and Human Sexuality.
  • Revisions to our existing statements on Marriage, Illicit Sexual Relations, and Pornography.

The meeting adjourned at 11:45.

A number of persons from our international fields will attend the US National Conference next week. This is their 250th anniversary, too. Delegates from Guatemala and Costa Rica, and one delegate from Nicaragua, were unable to get visas to the United States. However, all of these persons will attend.

National Conference Delegates

Sierra Leone: John Pessima (bishop) and Jolly Lavalie.
Canada: Brian Magnus (bishop) and Matt Robertshaw.
Nicaragua: Juan Pavon, general superintendent.
Honduras: Gonzalo Alas (bishop), and Moises and Benulda Saens.
Hong Kong: Kin Keung Yiu (superintendent) and Carol Chan.
Jamaica: Isaac Nugent (bishop) and Winston Smith.
United States: Todd Fetters and Jeff Bleijerveld.

Mission Districts

Germany: Alimamy Sesay and Adama Thorlie.
Haiti: Oliam Richard.
Liberia: Moses Somah.
India: Miriam Prabhakar.
China: Jana Hoobler.
Macau: Karis Vong.

The US National Conference concludes on Saturday, July 15. The international delegates, along with several persons from the United States, will then go to Chambersburg, Pa., for the General Conference meeting. King Street UB church will host the General Conference meeting on Sunday and Monday. The last General Conference was held in 2013 in Ontario.