By Fred Koenig
In Missouri the formation of the United Methodist Church wasn’t too significant for most Methodists, but it was more life-changing for the clergy of the Evangelical United Brethren who were about to become United Methodist.
Rev. George Moore’s father worked for S.S. Kresge, the store that preceded K-Mart. This led many family moves.
“When we came to a new town we would find a church, and sometimes it would be Methodists, and sometimes Evangelical,” Moore said.
Moore was part of the Evangelical Church before it merged with the United Brethren in 1946. He was then part of the Evangelical United Brethren Church when it merged with the Methodist in 1968.
“I was a member of three different denominations, even though I never changed churches,” he said.
Moore was ordained in the Kansas Conference, although he was never appointed in Kansas. He first served in Oregon, Missouri and then in Falls City, Nebraska. He was serving Calvary Evangelical United Brethren Church in Raytown when the Methodist merger happened in 1968.
“I was given the choice of going back to the Kansas Conference for reappointment or staying in Missouri, and I chose to stay in Missouri,” he said.
He was in favor of the merger.
“I felt the Methodists were more erudite (than the EUB), but that probably varied between congregations, and may have just been my perception,” he said.
Moore noted that the Evangelical and United Brethren churches both had Germanic backgrounds, while the Methodist had an English background. The EUB and Methodists had similar theology and polity.
“The old saw was that Methodist bishops were elected for life, and United Brethren bishops were elected every four years until they died, so it comes out about the same,” Moore said.
Moore recalls during his time at the EUB church at 16th and Locust in St. Joseph, there were a few other EUB churches about – one on the south end of town, one at Cosby and one at Clair.
“I think it was largely beneficial for us to merge. The Methodists had the size whereas here the EUB churches were widely scattered,” Moore said. “After the merger we had more pastoral fellowship. Districts were much stronger.” The EUB made its mark, though. Some well-known United Methodist bishops, like Reuben Job, came from the EUB. Moore attended North Central College in Naperville, IL, an EUB college. He said the community also had two very strong EUB churches, and he believes those church had role in shaping Naperville into a prosperous community.
Rev. Dorsey Levell grew up in the Mt. Zion United Brethren Church in Sheridan County. He attended York College, a United Brethren College in York, Nebraska. He was a pastor in Adrian, then went to United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, a seminary of the Church of United Brethren in Christ. Then he was appointed by the EUB to start a church in Springfield in 1960. He had his first building up in 1961. He grew the church to be one of the largest EUB churches in Missouri – but there weren’t many to compare it to; it had about 125 members. He felt he needed a bigger network, so he got to work on creating his own.
“When you are a little church, and you’re the only one of your kind around, you’ve got no options. You’ve got to be cooperative,” Levell said.
He spent a year in training at the U.S. Medical Center in Springfield, a federal psychiatric prison, to have chaplaincy as an option. He noticed the charismatic movement going strong and wondered if he might be a gifted healer. But as he studied the gifts of the spirit, he hit upon one that is often overlooked: administration.
“The Holy Spirit hit me and said ‘Administration is your gift, so get on with it’,” Levell said. He went to work building the Council of Churches in Springfield.
“I was making a bed for myself, because I didn’t think the union (with the Methodists) would go through, and I didn’t see too much future in the EUB church. It was too small to operate in the modern world.”
The year of the merger he became the executive director of The Springfield Council of Churches. The organization grew to become one of the largest organizations of that nature in the country, with 125 employees, 17 projects, two halfway-houses, and numerous programs to assist people living in poverty. Levell was director for 30 years, until his retirement in 1998.