United Brethren In Christ, a Protestant church, frequently confounded with the Moravians, with whom, however, they have no ecclesiastical connection. They arose among the Germans in Pennsylvania about 1760. In 1752 Philip William Otterbein, a missionary of the German Reformed church, sent out to America by the synod of Holland, began to preach in Lancaster, Pa., but, soon becoming convinced that he was not himself converted, rested not until he experienced what he regarded as the new birth. This new experience led him to institute meetings during the week for prayer and religious conference, and he also held in various places outside of his pastoral charge what were called "great meetings." To one of these, held at Isaac Long's in Lancaster co., all persons who had experienced a change of heart, without respect to their ecclesiastical relations, were especially invited. A large assembly, in which Lutherans, Reformed, Mennonites, Dunkers, Amish, and Moravians were represented, convened; and among the number was found Martin Boehm, a Mennonite preacher, who had also some time before obtained what he deemed the new life. At the conclusion of a remarkably effective sermon by Boehm, Otterbein arose, embraced him, and exclaimed, "We are brethren!" This was the origin of the name of the new church.
Otterbein and Boehm labored together for more than 50 years, and as the calls for preaching became numerous, laymen selected from the converts were licensed to preach. These laborers at first held conferences at the great meetings; but when this became impracticable, annual conferences were appointed, where preachers were licensed, examined, disciplined, and directed in their labors. (See Otterbeist, Philip William.) The first annual conference met in 1800, the first general conference in 1815. In 1875 this denomination had 43 annual conferences, 4,010 organized churches, 1,967 ministers, and 136,076 members. It has at Dayton, Ohio, an extensive printing establishment, where several periodicals and a variety of books are issued in English and German. The aggregate circulation of the periodicals published by this church, in July, 1874, was 181,500 copies. At the quadrennial meeting of the general conference in 1873, the receipts of the book concern during the preceding four years were reported at $322,370, the expenditures at $318,628, and the excess of assets over liabilities at $96,525. In 1875 the church owned ten institutions of learning, viz.: Lebanon Valley college, Annville, Pa.; Otterbein university, Westerville, O.; the Union Biblical seminary, Dayton, O.; Hartsville university, Hartsville, Ind.; Green Hill seminary, Poolsville, Ind.; Roanoke seminary, Roanoke, Ind.; Westfield college, Westfield, Ill.; Western college, Western, Iowa; Lane university, Lecompton, Kansas; and Philomath college, Philomath, Oregon. The United Brethren in Christ are Arminian in theology, and supply their churches with preaching on the itinerant plan.
They have quarterly, annual, and general conferences. The highest ecclesiastical body is the general conference, which meets every four years. Until 1873 it consisted exclusively of clerical delegates; but in that year it adopted the principle of lay delegation, and the church ratified it when it was submitted to a general vote. It elects bishops (in 1873, four) for a term of four years, and assigns to each a district No slaveholder, no adhering member of any secret combination, and no manufacturer, seller, or drinker of intoxicating liquors can be a member of the church. They regard a change of heart as indispensable to membership. Baptism is administered by either sprinkling, pouring, or immersion, each member being permitted to exercise his own judgment in regard to the mode; infants are baptized when it is desired. Open communion is practised. Until about 1825 the United Brethren in Christ confined their labors almost exclusively to persons speaking German, but most of the communicants now speak English. Being one of the most outspoken anti-slavery churches, they had before the civil war hardly any congregations in the southern states; since then they have established several there. In some of the western states this church is among the largest denominations.