United Brethren

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Church of the United Brethren in Christ


The two founders of the United Brethren denomination, Martin Boehm and William Otterbein, met at a "great meeting" in a barn in Lancaster, Penn., in 1767. Boehm was a Mennonite preacher, and Otterbein was a German Reformed pastor at the time.

United Brethren was loosely organized for 30 or years or among German-Americans in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, and Ohio. Then in 1800, 13 United Brethren ministers gathered for their first "general conference." They adopted the name of Church of the United Brethren in Christ, and they elected Boehm and Otterbein as bishops.

At first United Brethren preachers, many of them unpaid men who did other work full time, traveled circuits to preach the Gospel and organize churches. A "lay leader" would be in charge when the preacher wasn't present. Church meetings would be held in private homes until churches were built. Eventually preachers became full time but still did farming or other work on the side to supplement their modest pay.

The church expanded westward, sending a missionary wagon train from Iowa to Oregon in 1853, and by 1889 had more than 200,000 members. However, at that time the church split over a disagreement about changing its constitution.

Bishop Milton Wright (father of the Wilbur and Orville Wright) and a small group of followers who wanted to leave the constitution unchanged left the larger group. They continue as the United Brethren Church. Its headquarters and college were established in Huntington, Ind., in 1897. Much of its growth since then has been outside the United States.


History of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, by Henry G. Spayth and William Hanby, 1851
Read online or download free.

History of the Mission of the United Brethren among the Indians in North America, by George Henry Loskiel, 1794 (written in German and translated)
More about the Indians than the United Brethren. Google eBook. Read free online.

State histories

United Brethren history in West Virginia

United Brethren history in Kansas
GenWeb archives transcription from Kansas: A cyclopedia of state history, published 1912.

United Brethren in Indiana

United Brethren, Evangelical United Brethren, and United Methodist

Both the main group and Wright's group used the same name, Church of the United Brethren in Christ, from the time of the split in 1889 to 1946. They were distinguished from each other by calling Wright's group "the radicals" and the other "the liberals." If you are researching ancestor who were members of the United Brethren during that time, you will need to know which group they followed or research the archives of both of the modern churches they eventually became.

In 1946 "the liberals" formed the Evangelical United Brethren Church with the Evangelical Association. In 1968, they merged with the Methodist church, forming the United Methodist Church.

Keeping the original name, the "radicals" have grown since Wright's time to nearly 500 churches in 18 countries. Only 40 percent of them are in the United States.

The Church of the United Brethren has never been associated with the Church of the Brethren.


To determine which of the following might have the records you are searching for, see the explanation above on how and when the church split into United Brethren and United Methodist.

United Brethren Historical Center Archives at Huntington University (has online search)

United Methodist Archives and History Center (has online search)


Church of the United Brethren in Christ, USA History