Officially styled Church of the United Brethren in Christ (Old Constitution), a minority group that seceded from the larger United Brethren Church in 1889, when it modified its ban against membership in secret societies. The parent body, United Brethren Church, had merged in 1946 with the Evangelical Church to form the evangelical united brethren Church (Eub), which in turn merged in 1968 with the Methodist Church to form the united methodist church.
The United Brethren movement began with the evangelistic efforts of Philip William otterbein (1726–1813) and Martin boehm (1725–1813). Working
among the German settlers in Pennsylvania, they preached an Arminian theology and episcopal church polity almost identical with that of Methodism (see arminianism). Had the Methodist bishops been willing to accept the German-speaking congregations, the work of Otterbein and Boehm would not have resulted in a separate denomination. The United Brethren Church revealed traces also of the Lutheran, Mennonite, Dunkard, and Reformed heritages of its early leaders. The church's constitution of 1841 forbade affiliation with such societies as Freemasonry. In 1889 it was proposed that it apply this ban only to those secret societies "which infringe upon the rights of those outside their organization and whose principles and practices are injurious to the Christian character of their members." The dissenters understood this to mean toleration of membership in lodges and fraternities.
The United Brethren in Christ (Old Constitution) follow the same theology as the Methodist Churches. They are pacifists and must forswear alcohol, tobacco, and membership in lodges. Both men and women may be ordained to the ministry. The general conference of the church meets every four years and is composed of ministers, presiding elders, general church officials, and bishops.
Bibliography: f. s. mead, s. s. hill, and c. d. atwood, eds., Handbook of Denominations in the United States, 11th ed (Nashville 2001).
[w. j. whalen]