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History of U.B. Churches in Harrisonburg-Staunton Region December 26, 2013

I. HISTORY OF UNITED BRETHREN TO 1946

The most recent general reference is J. Bruce Behney and Paul H. Eller, The History of the
Evangelical United Brethren Church (edited by Kenneth W. Krueger), Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1979
[Behney 1979].

A. UNITED BRETHREN
1. United Brethren as a Denomination1

It has often been stated, and correctly so, that the United Brethren in Christ was the first
American born church. The Evangelical branch was very similar in methods and beliefs at the time
when it was founded.

Phillip William Otterbein was born in Dillenburg, Germany, in June 1726. He was ordained in
1749, the year he finished his course of study in theology. Otterbein had deep convictions about
preaching the truth in an earnest and sincere way. His preaching was not accepted among his Reformed
brethren of Germany, so with the encouragement of his mother, he sailed for the New World in 1752 to
preach the gospel. His first pastorate here was in the German Reformed Church at Lancaster, Pa., the
second largest Reformed Church in America at the time. He served there 6 years, and took other
pastorates at Tulpehocken, Frederick, York, and Baltimore.

While serving in York, he attended a “great meeting” (revival) held in Issac Long’s barn near
Lancaster. There he heard Martin Boehm, a Mennonite preacher, preach a stirring sermon emphasizing
the same spiritual note that Otterbein had been stressing. When the sermon was finished, Otterbein
hurried to Boehm, and as they shook hands, Otterbein exclaimed “WE ARE BRETHREN!” These
words grew in significance as these two men worked together in the next few years.

In 1774 Otterbein went to Baltimore to become pastor of a church that had withdrawn from the
Reformed Church to become an independent organization. Otterbein served this church until his death,
almost 40 years later. Also in 1774, a series of meetings or conferences began of ministers who
associated the same beliefs and ideas as Otterbein. They called themselves the “United Ministers.” As
these ministers became more uncomfortable in their own denominations, they had a desire to form a new
fellowship of their own. In 1800 near Frederick, Md., a conference was held with 14 ministers present.
They adopted the name, “The United Brethren in Christ,” and elected Otterbein and Boehm bishops.
The first General Conference was in 1815, which adopted a Confession of Faith and a Discipline. Other

1 Taken from a sketch written by Rev. William E. Wolfe in “The History of Cherry Grove EUB Church,” 1955, pp. 3-5.

I.A.1 History of United Brethren 1
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