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Church of the United Brethren in Christ

The Church of the United Brethren in Christ is an evangelical Christian group based in Huntington, Indiana.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Faith and Practice
3 Status
4 Other
5 External links
6 References


Though not organized until 1800, the roots of the church reach back to 1767. In May of that year, a Great Meeting (part of an interdenominational revival movement) was held at a barn belonging to Isaac Long in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Martin Boehm (1725-1812), a Mennonite preacher, spoke of his becoming a Christian through crying out to God while plowing in the field. William Otterbein (1726-1813), a Reformed pastor at York, Pennsylvania, left his seat, embraced Boehm and said to him, "Wir sind bruder (we are brethren)". The followers of Boehm and Otterbein formed a loose movement for many years. It spread to include German-speaking churches in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, and Ohio. In 1800, they began a yearly conference. Thirteen ministers attended the first conference at the home of Peter Kemp in Frederick, Maryland. At that conference in 1800, they adopted a name, the United Brethren in Christ, and elected Boehm and Otterbein as bishops of the conference. The United Brethren Church claims this organization in 1800 as the first denomination to actually begin in the United States. A Confession of Faith was adopted in 1815 (similar to one written by Otterbein in 1789), and it has remained the statement of church doctrine to the present. In 1841, they adopted a Constitution. It has remained mostly intact, being changed only a few times.

The United Brethren took a strong stand against slavery, beginning around 1820. After 1837, slave owners were no longer allowed to remain as members of the United Brethren Church. In 1853, the Home, Frontier, and Foreign Missionary Society was organized. Expansion occurred into the western United States, but the church's stance against slavery limited expansion to the south. By 1889, the United Brethren had grown to over 200,000 members with six bishops. In that same year they experienced a division. Denominational leaders desired to make three changes: to give local conferences proportional representation at the General Conference; to allow laymen to serve as delegates to General Conference; and to allow United Brethren members to hold membership in secret societies. The denominational leadership made these changes, but the minority felt the changes violated the Constitution because they were not made by the majority vote of all United Brethren members. One of the bishops, Milton Wright, disagreed with the actions of the majority. Bishop Wright and other conference delegates left the meeting and resumed the session elsewhere. They believed that the other delegates had violated the Constitution (and, in effect, withdrawn from the denomination), and deemed themselves to be the true United Brethren Church.

Until 1946 two groups operated under the name Church of the United Brethren in Christ. In 1946, the larger "United Brethren" church merged with the Evangelical Association to form the Evangelical United Brethren Church. That body in turn merged with the Methodist Church in 1968 to form the United Methodist Church. The present United Brethren Church is descended from the minority who organized under the leadership of Bishop Milton Wright. They eventually adopted two of the changes that led to the division of 1889 - local conferences have proportional representation at General Conference, and half of the delegates are laypersons. They believe they adopted them constitutionally. In 1897, denominational headquarters, a college and a publishing house were established in Huntington, Indiana.

William Otterbein retained a connection with the Reformed Church, pastoring a Reformed Church in Baltimore, Maryland from 1774 until his death in 1813. Martin Boehm was excluded by the Mennonites in 1775. He joined the Methodist Church in 1802, while remaining bishop of the United Brethren until his death in 1812. Francis Asbury, bishop of the Methodist Church in America, spoke at the memorial services of both of these United Brethren bishops. Otterbein had assisted in Asbury's ordination.

Faith and Practice

The Church of the United Brethren in Christ is a conservative Trinitarian body of Christians that hold the deity, humanity, and atonement of Jesus Christ; that the Bible, in both the Old & New Testaments, is the inspired Word of God; and that salvation is through faith, repentance and following after Christ. The church holds two ordinances: baptism and the Lord's supper. The church takes a neutral position on the observance of feet washing, stating, "the example of washing feet is left to the judgment of every one to practice or not...".


A General Conference meets every four years. It is the highest governing body of the church. The national conference of each country elects its own highest official. These national conference officials make up an international Executive Committee. The Executive Committee meets annually to take care of business between sessions of the General Conference. The Huntington College (formed in 1897 as Central College) is affiliated with the United Brethren Church. Connect is an official four-page newsletter of the church.

The total number of United Brethren churches is 600, with a membership of 47,300. In 2000, membership in the United States was 24,603 in 253 congregations. The majority of United Brethren churches are located in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. Outside the United States, there are churches in Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, India, Jamaica, Macau, Mexico, Nicaragua, Sierra Leone, and Thailand.

On October 14, 2003 the Executive Leadership Team of the United Brethren Church voted to pursue joining with the Missionary Church. The merger is tentatively scheduled to occur in 2005.


Francis Scott Key, who wrote The Star Spangled Banner, was a Sunday school teacher for the United Brethren. Orville and Wilbur Wright, who invented the airplane, were the sons of United Brethren bishop Milton Wright.

The United Christian Church was created by members that withdrew from the Church of the United Brethren around the middle of the 19th century.

External links