History of Old Otterbein


Old Otterbein Church is the mother church of the United Brethren in Christ and the oldest church edifice in continuous use in the city of Baltimore.

In 1771, a German Evangelical Reformed Church was organized and a temporary chapel erected to house the congregation. (On June 22, 1772, pastor Benedict Schwope lent the chapel to Joseph Pilmore as a place to organize the Lovely Lane Meeting House congregation.)


Schwope and Francis Asbury persuaded Philip William Otterbein (1726-1813) to accept the pastorate in 1774. Otterbein had come from Germany in 1751 as a missionary to German colonists in Pennsylvania. The Baltimore pastorate was his fifth, and he stayed for the rest of his life, a thirty-nine year pastorate.

Otterbein had a close relationship with Francis Asbury; in 1784 he assisted in Asbury's ordination at the Christmas Conference which founded the Methodist Episcopal Church.


Asbury preached at Otterbein's church many times, and on March 24, 1814, some months after Otterbein's death, Asbury wrote the following in his journal: "Forty years have I known the retiring modesty of this man of God; towering majestic above his fellows in learning, wisdom, and grace, yet seeking to be known only of God and the people of God; he had been sixty years a minister, fifty years a converted one."

Otterbein's evangelical preaching and his increasingly Wesleyan theology led to conflicts with the Reformed Church. An entry from Francis Asbury's journal for June 4, 1786 is evidence of Otterbein's growing interest in the Methodist movement: "I called on Mr. Otterbein: we had some free conversation on the necessity of forming a church among the Dutch [Germans], holding conferences, the order of its government."

Otterbein and Martin Boehm helped found the United Brethren in Christ in 1800, and Otterbein's church in Baltimore became the cradle of the new denomination.

The present church structure was erected in 1785 and the 1811 parsonage stands nearby. Philip William Otterbein is buried in the churchyard and a monument was placed over his grave in 1913. The interior of the church has been remodeled at various times, but the sanctuary remains the oldest in continuous use in Baltimore and the only extant eighteenth century church in the city.

The United Methodist Church (UMC) was formed in 1968 as a result of a merger between the Evangelical United Brethren and the Methodist Church which were themselves the results of mergers. The Methodist Church was formed in 1939 as the result of a merger of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and the Methodist Protestant Church.


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