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General Church of the New Jerusalem

General Church of the New Jerusalem

The General Church of the New Jerusalem is the largest of the several churches in North America that have grown out of the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772). Its origins can be traced ultimately to the 1838 decree adopted by the General Convention of the New Jerusalem requiring all member societies to organize under the same rule of order. Rev. George De Charms, then pastor of the society in Philadelphia and editor of an influential magazine, the Precursor, rejected the new rule, which he saw as a move by the Boston headquarters church to set itself up as the mother church of the convention and require all societies to acknowledge its primacy. De Charms and his congregation left the convention, and in 1840 he founded the Central Convention, which emphasized the writings of Swedenborg.

In reaction, the General Convention changed its rules. It loosened its control over the societies, adopted a structure granting more equitable representation from the societies, and renounced any spiritual authority inherent in the Boston headquarters. With his basic objection now resolved, De Charms dissolved the Central Convention in 1852 and his Philadelphia church and rejoined the General Convention.

The independent impulse of the Central Convention was preserved, however, by William Benade, a young pastor who like De Charmsstressed the authority of Swedenborg's writings. In 1859 he proposed the formation of an academy of scholars to study Swedenborg's writings and to train young men for the priesthood. The idea of a priesthood was plainly stated in Swedenborg's writings, but the General Convention never implemented it as many did not like the idea of priests.

Benade formed the academy in 1874 and started a periodical, Words for the New Church. Over the years it developed a unique stance within the convention, with controversy centering on its liberal view of sexuality and its stance against temperance. A break between the academy and the convention occurred in stages beginning with the formation of a school in Philadelphia. In 1882 Benade became a bishop of the church in Philadelphia, which included seven societies. Other societies favorable to Benade's views associated themselves with the Philadelphia church. The final break came in 1890, and those affiliated with the academy reorganized as the General Church of the New Jerusalem.

The church is headed by its bishops and a general assembly who elect the national church officers. Affiliated congregations are found in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, South Africa, and Brazil. In the 1980s there were 2,618 members and 31 congregations in North America and an additional 1,157 members worldwide. Headquarters are located in suburban Philadelphia in the small community at Box 743, 1100 Cathedral Rd., Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania 19009. Website: http://www.newchurch.org.

Sources:

De Charms, George. The Distinctiveness of the New Church. Bryn Athyn, Pa.: Academy Book Room, 1962.

The General Church of the New Jerusalem: A Handbook of General Information. Bryn Athyn, Pa.: General Church Publication Committee, 1965.

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