Rev. J. C. Bright

The Bright family, with connections to British statesmen and church leaders, emigrated to America in the mid-1700s. One Bright family settled in central Ohio (which became a state in 1803). There, J. C. (John Collins) Bright was born on October 13, 1818. He would become a pioneer in United Brethren missions. He could even be considered the Father of UB Missions.

Bright became a United Brethren minister in 1841, at age 23. He continued as an itinerant preacher for 12 years, holding revivals and organizing new churches.

In 1852, Bright chaired a committee for Sandusky Conference which focused on world evangelization. The conference adopted this resolution:

“The time has fully come when the United Brethren Church should unite her whole strength in a missionary society which shall include not only the home, but the frontier and foreign fields.”

This action prompted the 1853 General Conference to create the Home, Frontier, and Foreign Missionary Society. Bright served the next four years as General Secretary of this new organization–basically, as our first Missions director. He wrote that they intended to stir up “young men and women to consecrate themselves to missionary work” in a task which he described as “the conquest of the whole world for the Redeemer.”

Bright’s impassioned writing and eloquent speaking moved people to come alongside in taking the Gospel not only to the Wild Wild West, but to other countries. During those four years, missions were started in a number of states and territories–Nebraska, Minnesota, Missouri, Kansas, Oregon, Tennessee–as well as in Canada and in Sierra Leone.

But after four years of pushing himself relentlessly, Bright suffered a nervous breakdown. After recovering his health in a Cleveland sanitarium and spending some time in secular work, he finally returned to ministry in 1865. Bright became pastor of a struggling, 25-member UB church in Galion, Ohio. He would spend hours each day in prayer, asking God to bless the work. In December 1865, he began a series of meetings which continued into February, and which saw 200 people become Christians and 160 of them join the church.

Bright proved to be a pioneer in another area: church music. At the time, many United Brethren staunchly opposed using instruments and choirs in church. But Bright, noting that people liked music, bought an organ for the church and organized a choir. William Weekley says this was the first United Brethren church in the denomination to use instruments during church services.

Weekley wrote, “Mr. Bright was a prophet. Some thought him to be a dreamer, but his dreams were simply visions of the things which, in the course of years, became realities….Few men of the Church have performed a more lasting and greater work than he.”

In March 1866, Bright suffered a second nervous breakdown. His health plummeted, and he passed away on August 6.

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.

Bishop John Pessima at the CCSL Camp.

L-r: Revs. Sorie Kamanda, Josephine Bankola, John Pessima, and Joseph Farma.

Bishop John Pessima at the CCSL Camp.

Jeff Bleijerveld, Director of UB Global

On August 14, catastrophic floods and mudslides hit Freetown, Sierra Leone. We’re grateful for all who responded to our call for assistance. UB Global received $18,692.75 from churches and individuals.

Initially, the government put the death toll at 450. Reverend Bishop Emeritus Arnold Temple, who leads a Methodist church near Regent, said the country is now mourning well over 1,000 victims, some of whom may never be found.

Bishop John Pessima sent these photos from the site where the Church Council of Sierra Leone, a network of Christian churches and relief partners, set up temporary camp from which supplies are being distributed.

Rev. Mrs. Josephine Bankola, Rev. Joseph Farma, and Rev. Sorie Kamanda have been representing the United Brethren at the camp. Rev. Kamanda is there every day while the other two pastors are there three days a week to provide psycho-social care and counseling to the many survivors.

Continue to pray for their efforts and the resettlement of hundreds of families.

L-r: Jim Pryor, Josh and Julie McKeown, Gary VanderVeen, Jason Garwood, John Authenreith, David Dakin, Andrew Atkins.

Pastoral Changes

  • John Brainard was named senior pastor of Richfield Road UB church (Flint, Mich.), effective July 1, 2017. He had been senior pastor of Living Word UB church (Columbus, Ohio) since 2006. Jim Pryor concluded ten years as pastor of Richfield Road in March 2017.
  • Josh McKeown was appointed senior pastor of Faith UB (Port Orange, Fla.), effective August 23, 2017. He had been on staff at First UB church in nearby Holly Hill, Fla. Gary VanderVeen, who had pastored Faith UB since 2006, is now a Church of God pastor in Clare, Mich.
  • Jason Garwood resigned as pastor of Colwood UB church (Caro, Mich.) effective September 13, 2017.
  • John Authenreith has been named senior pastor at Cochranton Community Church (Cochranton, Pa.), effective November 1, 2017. He takes the place of Steve Clulow, who will retire effective October 29, 2017, after 24 years as pastor at Cochranton. Authenreith has been worship pastor at Mainstreet Church (Walbridge, Ohio) since 2006 and was ordained in 2015.

Ordinations
Bishop Todd Fetters ordained nine persons during the closing service of National Conference on July 15. Those persons were Jeff Dice, David Grove, Jason Haupert, Stuart Johns, Matt Kennedy, Gener Lascase, Brent Liechty, and John Shadle. That was previously reported here.

Bishop Fetters has also conducted these ordinations.

  • June 4. David Dakin, associate pastor of Jerusalem Chapel (Churchville, Va.).
  • August 20. Andrew Atkins, senior pastor since 2002 of Monticello UB (Spencerville, Ohio).

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).