Reedley and Religion: The United Brethren Church

Aug 28, 2010 | Contributors, Hometown History, Jim Bulls, Reedley News

by Jim Bulls

In the year 1888, with a hiss of steam and the blast of a locomotive whistle, the Southern Pacific Railroad crossed the Kings River onto the vast wheat lands of the T.L. Reed ranch. Reed deeded half interest of a town site to the railroad and the building boom began. The first hotel went up at 11th & G Streets (above Dr. Dixon’s office), the first blacksmith’s shop was built on the corner of 10th & G Streets (Chase Bank), and the first livery stable was on 11th & E (Kings River Unocal). Soon to follow was the Southern Pacific depot and then the Reed warehouse was moved from Traver. The first church steeple to grace Reedley’s skyline, against the majestic Sierras, was the United Brethren Church built at 10th and F Streets in 1889.

church history

United Brethren Church and congregation, c. 1890 (corner of 10th & F Streets)

The United Brethren Church is the only church in colonial times not to have ties to a mother church back in Europe. A great revival movement swept across Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, and multiple congregations came together to worship. On the day of Pentecost in 1767, one Phillip William Otterbein, a member of the German Reformed Church, witnessed a sermon by a Mennonite layman, Martin Boehm. He was so impressed that, as soon as Boehm finished his sermon, Otterbein grabbed him in a hug and shouted “Wir sind bruder!!” (We are brethren!!)

As America spread westward across the continent, so did the United Brethren Church. At their annual conference in 1889 (the same year Reedley’s church was built), there was a major argument as to changes in the church constitution which resulted in Bishop Milton Wright (the father of Orville and Wilbur) leaving the conference along with his followers to find another meeting hall. As the conference split so did the church, resulting in the United Brethren Church in Christ and the Evangelical United Brethren Church.

Little is recorded in the Reedley Exponent about the demise of the United Brethren Church. Was its demise due to the split in the larger church? What effect, if any, did the two resulting churches have on its future? We only know that their congregation lasted less than three years then Reedley’s United Brethren closed its doors.

Jim Bulls is a contributor to our Hometown History section, being a charter member of the Reedley Historical Society; he also restores vintage cars.

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