United Missionary Church
United Missionary Church, the name chosen 3 November 1947, by the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church. At this same time the Pennsylvania Conference withdrew from the main body continuing the former name for itself. Before this withdrawal the church had a total membership of 13,313. Of this number, 4,136 withdrew, leaving 9,177, distributed in seven district conferences as Ontario 2,293, Indiana 2,077, Michigan 2,003, Ohio 1,073, Nebraska 788, Canadian Northwest 513, and Washington 430. In 1955 the total membership of the group was 10,233, in 188 organized congregations and 18 additional "appointments," with ordained ministers. The total value of church property was $5,072,000, and annual per capita giving was $142.07. For the history of the group before 1947 see Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church.
The government of the United Missionary Church functioned on three levels, namely, the general conference which met annually representing the entire denomination, the annual conference which represented a limited area, and the local conference which represented only one congregation. The local conference carried on the work of the local congregation by which it is constituted, and made recommendations to the annual conference. Its presiding officer was the District Superintendent. The membership of the Annual Conference was made up of "all ordained ministers in good standing, and one lay delegate from each field or local congregation Probationers who have been assigned work, either by the Annual Conference or by the District Superintendent, are also members of this body. This body appoints pastors, devises means and methods of promoting the general welfare of the church within given areas, and is responsible to the General Conference. The members of the General Conference are the District Superintendents, Editor, Agent of the Bethel Publishing Company, one delegate from every three hundred members and an additional one in case the fraction is two hundred or more." This conference made rules relative to changes in discipline, procedure of organizations directly responsible to it, and delegates authority to proper personnel, viz., the editor, the agent of the Bethel Publishing Company, and other special representatives. At the general conference session held in Kitchener, Ontario, in 1955 certain changes were made in the government and program of the church. The term of members which had been four years was shortened to three years, and provisions were made for the election of a General Superintendent with a term of three years. Kenneth Geiger was elected as the first incumbent of this office.
The headquarters office of the church was at Elkhart, Indiana. In Elkhart was also the Bethel Publishing Co., which had been the denominational publishing agency since 1920. The Gospel banner was the denominational organ.
The term of appointment to a pastorate was one year; this could be extended each year by the stationing committee composed of the delegates and the district superintendent.
"Sunday Schools were not general among Mennonites in the days of the organization of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church, but began early to be looked upon as an important factor in advancing the Lord's work" (Huffman, 50). Now they became a definite part of the whole church organization.
"One of the earliest innovations Mennonite practice was the institution of the camp meeting" (Huffman, 148). The first one was held in Fetter's Grove, Elkhart County, Indiana, beginning July 30, 1880. These meetings became permanent fixtures in the denomination, at least one a year being held by each conference.
For a number of years little was done in this area but in the 1940s and 1950s this aspect of the work developed at a rapid pace. The orders from the general conference were:
"Since the future of the church depends upon the conversion of the rising generation and the enlisting and establishing of these young people in the work of the Lord and the service of the church, young people's work shall be promoted in every church and wherever practicable the work shall be organized. Each conference shall draw up its own plan of organization and give proper supervision to the work" (Discipline 1954). Every conference had a youth director or similar officer. The youth work was not as yet integrated with the general conference program.
The earliest missionary from the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church was Eusebius Hershey, who in 1880 heard the call to foreign service and gave up his life in Liberia, East Africa. Others have heard the call and the fields of China, Africa, India, French Indo-China, Turkey, Palestine, and South America saw United Missionary Church workers. The United Missionary Society, organized in 1920 for the purpose of integrating the work of the whole church in the missionary effort, became an official part of the general conference program. Also the Nigeria and India conferences were given full status in the general conference setup, and were represented at the general conference sessions. The missionary effort grew until in 1955 the church had some 99 missionaries working either under its own or other boards. It supported 17 mission stations, operated 7 day schools, 5 Bible schools, and one teacher training school, 12 medical dispensaries, and one 60-bed hospital. The foreign work sponsored 71 church organizations, supervised 90 national workers, and published a paper, The missionary banner.
The United Missionary Church published as its official organ the Gospel banner. This was a weekly paper with a departmentalized setup. The editor is elected by the general conference for a term of three years. Besides the Gospel banner the church publishes the Bethel series of Sunday-school literature and a missionary paper, the Missionary banner. In the 1950s general conference created a board of publications, giving it power to enlarge this aspect of the work by installing printing equipment in the headquarters building which houses the Bethel Publishing Company.
The U.M.C. general conference of 1882 entertained a resolution presented by the Ontario group. It read as follows: "We recommend to the General Conference that there be a course of reading adopted for the ministry" (Huffman, 214). From this meager beginning the church followed the challenge through various Bible school, correspondence school, and evening class efforts, until by 1955 there are three established schools in the seven conferences. The Canadian Northwest Conference operated Mountain View Bible School in Didsbury, Alberta. At Kitchener, Ontario, the Ontario Conference had Emanuel Bible College; and the Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, and Ohio conferences together supported Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana, as a four-year coeducational, liberal a arts college.
Faith and Practice
The United Missionary Church had a definite, evangelical theology of Arminian and Wesleyan character which is officially set forth in Doctrines and discipline of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church (1951). In addition to the standard evangelical doctrines it taught entire sanctification as a second work of grace after justification and regeneration, but also growth in grace and the possibility of sin and restoration after justification. As to ordinances, baptism was by immersion only; open communion was practiced, also washing of the saints' feet. Nonresistance, nonconformity in dress, and the laying aside of needless indulgences were also a part of the teaching. The premillennial position in eschatology was held. In general the church was much influenced by the Wesleyan type of church polity, doctrinal emphasis, and piety. It belonged to the National Association of Evangelicals.
In 1969 the United Missionary Church merged with the Missionary Church Association to form the Missionary Church. This body continued until 1987 when the Canadian district and U.S. districts became independent denominations. The resulting Missionary Church of Canada merged in 1993 with the Evangelical Church of Canada to form the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada, with Eastern and Western districts. -- Edris Lovina Neil
Doctrine and Discipline of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church. Elkhart, IN, 1951.
Gospel Banner containing various reports from year to year.
Huffman, Jasper A. History of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church. New Carlisle, Ohio, 1920.
Lageer, Eileen. Merging Streams: Story of the Missionary Church. Elkhart, IN: Bethel Pub. Co., 1979.
Storms, E. R. History of the United Missionary Church. Elkhart, IN, 1958.
The Test of Time, 75th Anniversary of the Indiana Conference. Elkhart, IN, 1953.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 774-776. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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