11 Highland Ave., Newtonville, MA 02460
The oldest of the several Swedenborgian churches in America is the General Convention, formed in 1817 at Baltimore, Maryland. A call was issued by the Philadelphia Society to the 17 societies then in existence, and plans were laid for regulating ordination and missionary work west of the Allegheny Mountains. The convention is governed by its executive council, an executive committee elected by ministers and delegates, but local affairs are in the hands of the congregations. The convention meets annually. Any member may attend and speak, but only ministers and delegates may vote.
The doctrine of the convention follows Emanuel Swedenborg’s writings on the Bible and Christian doctrine. Convention members believe in the Trinity, but not of distinct individuals, and teach that the words and even the letters of the Bible were inspired by God but are not necessarily infallible in every respect. Most important, the Bible contains a spiritual sense. God came to earth to overcome the demonic powers dominating the human race. Salvation is open to all who cooperate with God with faith, love, and a life of uses. When a person dies, that person passes into the spiritual world and ultimately into either heaven or hell, depending on the spiritual character acquired on earth. Both baptism and the Lord’s Supper are administered. Worship, formerly liturgical, now varies considerably from congregation to congregation. Chants are no longer used extensively.
The convention elects a president and other officers and oversees a board of trustees. Foreign work is supported in Europe, Japan, Guyana, and Canada. In 1966 the convention joined the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.
In 2001 there were 1,895 members worldwide, of which 1,601 members reside in the United States and 294 in Canada.
Swedenborgian House of Studies, Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, California.
Our Daily Bread. • The Messenger.
General Convention of the New Jerusalem. www.swedenborgiancommunity.org/content.cfm?id=2038.
Zacharias, Paul. Insights into the Beyond. New York: Swedenborg Publishing Association, n.d.
1725 Huntingdon Rd., PO Box 7, Bryn Athyn, PA 19009
The Lord’s New Church Which Is Nova Hierosolyma was formally established in 1937 when some members of the General Church of the New Jerusalem came to a new understanding of the writings of Emanual Swedenborg (1688–1772). In 1929 articles by New Church priests and lay persons began to appear in the Dutch periodical De Hemelsche Leer (The Celestial Doctrine), arguing that the writings of Swedenborg were like the Bible, both in being authoritative (divine revelation) and in having an internal sense. A primary task of believers was to come to an understanding of the internal sense (or inner meaning) of Swedenborg’s writings in order that their spiritual development of regeneration might be facilitated. Thus viewed, the doctrine of the New Church is seen to be from the Lord, not from humans. A corollary to that position is the belief that as understanding deepens and the church follows the Lord, there can be growth and development of these ideas to eternity. When the General Church rejected that doctrinal position, a split occurred, and the Lord’s New Church was formed.
Societies of the church soon were formed in various countries around the world. In the United States, Rev. Theodore Pitcairn was the main exponent. His efforts led to the formation of two congregations, in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, and in Yonkers, New York (the latter closed after the death of its pastor). The church operates a theological school to train men for the priesthood. The Swedenborg Association, the church’s publication division, publishes books and a quarterly journal.
In 1997 there were three North American congregations, in Charleston, South Carolina, Asheville, North Carolina, and Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania. There are also individual members are scattered around North America, unattached to a congregation. Additional congregations can be found in Holland, Japan, Sweden, the Ukraine, and South Africa.
Arcana: Inner Dimensions of Spirituality. • Stella Matutin (South Africa). • Varldarnas Mote (Sweden).
The Lord’s New Church Which Is Nova Hierosolyma. www.thelordsnewchurch.com/.
Handbook of the Lord’s New Church Which Is Nova Hierosolyma. Bryn Athyn, PA: Lord’s New Church Which Is Nova Hierosolyma, 1985.
Pitcairn, Theodore. The Bible, or Word of God, Uncovered and Explained. Bryn Athyn, PA: Lord’s New Church Which Is Nova Hierosolyma, 1964.
———. The Book Sealed with Seven Seals. Bryn Athyn, PA: Cathedral Book Room, 1927.
———. My Lord and My God. New York: Exposition Press, 1967.
———. The Seven Days of Creation. Bryn Athyn, PA: Lord’s Church Which Is Nova
PO Box 743, Bryn Athyn, PA 19009
In 1836 Rev. Richard de Charms, a pastor in Cincinnati, began a magazine, the Precursor, to agitate for what he considered true New Church principles. He protested the adoption of an episcopal form of government. In 1838 the General Convention of the New Jerusalem adopted a rule that required all societies to organize under the same rules of order. This rule led to schism. De Charms, then pastor of the New Church in Philadelphia, pulled his church out of the General Convention and, in 1840, led in the founding of the Central Convention. In part, the cause of the schism was a growing conflict between Boston and Philadelphia: The Boston church had proposed a theory of the General Convention as spiritual mother, to which all owed allegiance. Because New England votes (primarily Bostonian votes) controlled the General Convention, the theory was interpreted as an attempt by the New Englanders to run the church. The Philadelphia Society also was moving toward the view that the works of Swedenborg were the only authority of the new dispensation, and contained no contradiction or untruth. This was a view opposed by many General Convention members.
The General Convention reacted to the growth of the Central Convention by loosening its rules. The rules of order were declared merely recommendations; closed communication was rejected; a new system of equitable representation was established; and the assumption of any spiritual authority by the General Convention was renounced. The Central Convention was formally dissolved in 1852, but some of its key ideas led eventually to the foundation of a new group within the General Convention—the Academy Movement.
In 1859 William Benade, a younger contemporary of de Charms, proposed the formation of an academy as an inner circle of scholars devoted to the study of Swedenborg, to propagate the belief in divine origins and the training of young men for the priesthood. Most members of the General Convention were opposed to the idea of “priesthood,”even though it was contained in Swedenborg’s writings. The academy was begun on an informal basis in 1874. To carry the movement, a periodical, Words for the New Church, was begun. A theological school and children’s day schools were proposed. The academy students were pulled together in Philadelphia.
Benade, unlike his elder sponsor, was an advocate of episcopal authority, and in 1882 he became bishop of the General Church of Philadelphia, the reorganized Philadelphia Association with its seven societies. Others soon joined. Tension developed between the General Church of Philadelphia and the General Convention with which it associated. In 1890 the General Church of Philadelphia made the final break with the General Convention. The General Church of Philadelphia is now called the General Church of the New Jerusalem, a name often shortened to General Church.
Polity of the General Church is episcopal; only the bishop has the power to ordain. The executive bishop is elected at the general assembly and is assisted by a council of the clergy and the directors of the corporation (laymen). A director of General Church religious lessons oversees production of church school course material on New Church themes. There is also an active book-publishing program. Affiliated congregations are found in Canada, England, New Zealand, Australia, Denmark, Sweden, Ghana, Japan, Korea, Holland, South Africa, and Brazil.
In 1997 the church reported 3,036 members, 36 congregations, and 47 ministers in the United States. There were 412 members in four congregations served by 5 ministers in Canada, and an additional 1,032 members worldwide.
Bryn Athyn College of the New Church, Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania.
Academy of the New Church Theological School, Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania.
New Church Life. • Bishop’s Newsletter. • General Church Around the World. • New Church Vineyard. • New Church Connection. • New Church Life. • General Church Outreach.
The New Church/General Church of the New Jerusalem. www.newchurch.org.
De Charms, George. The Distinctiveness of the New Church. Bryn Athyn, PA: Academy
Book Room, 1962.
———. The Holy Supper. Bryn Athyn, PA: General Church Publication Committee, 1961.
The General Church of the New Jerusalem, A Handbook of General Information. Bryn Athyn, PA: General Church Publication Committee, 1965.
Liturgy and Hymnal. Bryn Athyn, PA: General Church of the New Jerusalem, 1966.
What the Writings Testify Concerning Themselves. Bryn Athyn, PA: General Church Publication Committee, 1961.