Urbana Society of the New Church


The New Church is a body of Christians holding to the religious doctrines set forth in the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, a learned and pious Swede who lived from 1688 to 1772. The distinguishing features of the faith of this denomination are the following I. That the Lord Jesus Christ, instead of being one of three Divine Personages, is Himself the one and only God, and that the Divine Trinity is not a trinity of persons, but of divine attributes; the Father being the term used in Scripture to denote the Divine Love ; the Son, the Divine Wisdom or Word, and the Holy Spirit, the Divine Proceeding or Operation, and that this trinity resides in the Lord Jesus Christ like the trinity of soul, body and operation in man. II. That the Bible or Word of God is Divine truth, revealed to man in a three distinct planes of meaning, there being within or beneath the literal sense a spiritual and a celestial sense, and that these different senses are connected by a divine law of correspondence, according to which each thing in nature corresponds to something in mind, all nature being but a reflection of a mental or spiritual world, and the whole natural or literal sense of the Bible being but an outward symbol or parable of the inner meaning, which relates entirely to the soul of man and its world. III. That to redeem the world, God came into the world and took upon himself a human nature, and made it divine, even the Lord Jesus Christ, and that in so doing he combated and subdued the powers of hell, and released mankind from their spiritual bondage, and made it possible for man to freely choose the way of life, and thus to be saved by living a life according to the commandments; and that in this divine humanity He is ever nigh to aid and succor all who trust and pray to Him. IV. That we are immortal spirits clothed with natural bodies, which at death we shall leave forever. We shall then enter the spiritual world in a real human form and substantial spiritual body, and shall be judged by our life on earth ; if it has been good, we shall live forever as angels in heaven; but if evil, we shall seek an abode with those who are wickedlike ourselves. V. That the second coming of the Lord is a coming "not in person but in spirit," by revealing the "spiritual or inner sense" of His holy Word, whereby He has commenced a new outpouring of light and of love through His church into the minds of men; that this spiritual sense of the Bible constitutes the doctrines of the new and lasting Christianity promised to the church under the figure of the holy city, New Jerusalem, seen by John the Revelator, descending out of heaven from God (Rev., xxi) (hence the New Church is often called the " Church of the New Jerusalem ") ; and, finally, that the way to the attainment of this spiritual sense is found in the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, a human instrument divinely raised up as were the sacred writers of old-for the communicating of a new dispensation of divine truth to the world.

The history of the society of the New Church (sometimes called "Swedenborgian ") in Urbana, is of peculiar interest, from the fact that it can be traced back very distinctly and directly to the very origin of the New Church in America, as will appear from the following facts of personal history

In the year 1784, Mr. James Glen came from London, England, to Philadelphia, bringing some volumes of Swedenborg's works with him, and he lectured in that city on the subject of the New Church, being the first avowed advocate of these doctrines in America. Leaving this country, he left behind him a number of these volumes, which afterward fell into the hands of Mr. Francis Bailey, of Philadelphia, a printer, who, with his wife and a Miss Hettie Barclay, became warm recipients of the doctrines. Mr. Bailey issued from the press the first volume of the New Church writings printed in America, and Miss Barclay was instrumental in forming a New Church Society in Bedford Penn., where she went to reside with her brother, in 1789. Some time prior to 1826, Mr. Thomas Gwynne came with his family to reside in Urbana. He was formerly of Cumberland, Md.; had there married Jane Murdoch. whose brother, Robert S. Murdoch, also came to Urbana to live, engaging with Mr. Gwynne in business. The brothers, John and William M. Murdoch, also subsequently came to live in Urbana. Mr. Gwynne was a New Church man, " having received the doctrines through Mr. Josiah Espy, of Bedford, Penn.," where, as we have seen, a New Church Society had grown up as the result of the interest and zeal of Miss Hettie Barclay. A nephew of Miss. Hettie Barclay, Mr. Josiah Barclay, became the husband of Isabella Murdoch, a sister of John, Robert and William M. Murdoch, who also came to reside in Urbana, and another sister, Miss Maria Murdoch, was the wife of Josiah Espy, who subsequently resided in Columbus, Ohio, the father of Mr. Henry P. Espy, of Urbana. In 1826, Mr. John H. James came to Urbana from Cincinnati, and took up his residence in Urbana. His wife, Mrs. Abby James, was a daughter of Mr. Francis Bailey, of Philadelphia, mentioned above. Mrs. James' three sisters, Margaret, Lydia and Ellen Bailey, subsequently, from the year 1833, made their home with Mrs. James, in Urbana, and formed a conspicuous part of the little group of believers in those early days of the New Church in Urbana. In May, 1828, John Murdoch and his sister, Mrs. Isabella Barclay, came here to reside, and added to the number. In 1835, Mr. David Gwynne and family returned for permanent residence here. Mr. Richard R. McNemar, a receiver of the doctrines, had also settled here in 1833. The little circle of believers in the " Heavenly Doctrines of the New Jerusalem " were visited by ministers and missionaries of the New Church from time to time. The Rev. M. M. Carll visited them in 1831; Alexander Kinmont in 1836 and 1838; the Rev. T. O. Prescott (Miller) in 1813 to 1845; the Rev. Sabin Hough in 1847, and the Rev. James P. Stuart in 1848 and 1849. At this time the subject of establishing in Urbana a New Church College was set on foot, and for this purpose a meeting was called and the following persons came together, constituting the first assembly of New Church men in Urbana for purposes of cooperation in organizing the work of the church. There were present the Rev. James P. Stuart, of Twenty Mile Stand, Hamilton County; Milo G. Williams, Amos C. Richards and David Pruden, of Dayton; John Murdoch and William M. Murdoch, of Springfield; the Rev. Sabin Hough, of Columbus ; Richard S. Canby, of Logan County, and the Rev. George Field, of Detroit, Mich.

On November 8; 1850, the society of the New Church in Urbana was organized, and an act of the Assembly of Ohio incorporating the society was passed March 20, 1851. A constitution was adopted on December 28, 1351, and on January, 1352, the first Board of Trustees was elected, as follows : Messrs. John H. James, David Gwynne and William M. Murdoch. Mr. Milo G. Williams was elected Secretary. A resolution was passed looking to the purchasing of a building lot. The incorporators were Milo G. Williams, James P. Stuart, William M. Murdoch, David Gwynne, John H. James, Edward U. Blake, Thomas Al. Gwynne and John Murdoch. Mr. Amos A. Richards had also brought his family to reside here, from Dayton. These families constituting the New Church community, were in the habit of meeting from house to house on Sunday evenings, and holding a simple service of divine worship, consisting of a chapter from the Word, a passage of Scripture chanted, the Lord's Prayer repeated, and a sermon selected from some New Church writer. In 1852, the number was increased by the families of Dr. Hamilton Ring and Dr. Joseph Howells. In 1855, a lot was purchased by the society on the corner of what are now South Main and Reynolds streets, and a plain structure of wood, 30X50 feet, known as the New Church Hall, was erected thereon, and was first opened for service on January 5, 1856, the Rev. James P. Stuart conducting the worship, and Mr. Willard G. Day, a student in Urbana University, delivering a lecture on the " History and Character of the Word."

On May 14, 1856, the Rev. James P. Stuart was duly elected Pastor of the society, which office he held for two years, resigning in 1853. From that time, the society has elected no Pastor, but has co-operated with th e Urbana Univer sity in the support of public worship and preaching for the united benefit of the college and the society. the Professors of the college frequently being ministers of the church or students for the ministry, and officiating in the pulpit as part of their regular duty. The worship was conducted by Mr. John C. Ager in 1859. Rev. J. C. Eaton officiated regularly for this society and the New Church society in Bellefuntaine in the year 1860 ; Mr. George Nelson Smith was leader in 1861, Mr. Charles Hardon and the Rev. A. J. Bartels in 1862 and 1863. In 1864, Mr. Charles Harden was ordained, and entered into an engagement as minister of the society for the years 1864 and 1865. The Rev. J. M. Miller made monthly visits to the church in 1866, and the Rev. E. A. Beaman in 1867. The Rev. George Nelson Smith, having been ordained into the ministry, served the society and college as minister in the years 1868 and 1869. Mr. Milo G. Williams frequently officiated as leader in worship in the absence of a minister, and for many years served as Superintendent of the Sunday school of the society. In the year 1870, the Rev. Frank Sewall, having been elected by the Board of Trustees President of the university, removed with his family to Urbana, and assumed the pastoral charge of the college and congregation, the society stipulating to contribute a stated sum toward the current expenses of the college. The Rev. Mr. Sewall still remains in this charge.

The total number of names enrolled on the list of members up to the present writing (1880) is 140. The present number of resident communicant members is about forty, and the general attendance at divine worship is from eighty to one hundred. There have been in all, since the foundation of the society, one hundred and twenty-seven persons baptized, infants and adults, of which number fifty-six have been baptized by the present minister, the Rev. Frank Sewall.

In the year 1879, the society voted to give into possession of the Trustees of Urbana University its house of worship, to be removed to the rear of the church lot and converted into a building for a school for girls and primary school, to be under the direction of the Trustees of the university, at the same time giving to the university a perpetual lease of the rear part of the lot required for the purposes of the school. This was done in consideration of a sum being raised sufficient to warrant the beginning of a new house of worship to be erected on the site of the former one. The required sum being raised, in the spring of 1880 the society released its former building, which was thereupon removed and converted into the school building as above described, and, on July 1, the work of cutting and laying the stone of the new church edifice was commenced. The corner-stone of the church was solemnly laid with prayer and benediction, and a declaration of the faith of the New Church, the Rev. Frank Sewall officiating, on the 30th of July, 1830. The church is constructed entirely of Springfield limestone, from the quarry of Mr. A. Holcomb, the architect of the building being the Rev. Frank Sewall ; the master builder, Mr. Thomas Allison, and the toaster mason, Mr. Laury. The new school building, being completed for the uses of the girls' and primary school of Urbana University, was formally opened and dedicated with religious services by the Rev. Frank Sewall on Sunday, September 12, 1880.

The following is the Declaration of Faith subscribed to by members of the Urbana Society of the New Church:

I. That God is one in essence and in person ; that, from love toward men, he assumed humanity, and glorified it; and that He thus became God with us, the Saviour and Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

II. That the word is divine truth proceeding from the Lord; that it is adapted to all the states of angels and of men, and that thus it is the divine medium by which men and angels are conjoined with the Lord.

III. That the Lord alone is the source of genuine life, the precepts of which are the Ten Commandments; that these precepts are to be obeyed by man as of himself, with the acknowledgment that the power and the will to do so are of the LORD ALONE, and thus that men are regenerated and saved by the Lord by means of a life according to His precepts.

Source- History of Champaign County, Urbana, Twp Beers 1881

Templates in Time