Evangelical Association an ecclesiastical body which took its rise in the year 1800, in the eastern part of Pennsylvania, and resulted from an organization into classes and congregations of the disciples of Reverend Jacob Albright, a native of Eastern Pennsylvania, who, being impressed by the general decline of religious life, and the corruption of doctrines and morals that prevailed in the German churches in that portion of country, undertook, about 1790, to work a reform among them. The effect of his first labors encouraged him to travel through a great part of the country at his own expense, preaching the Gospel as he had opportunity in churches, schools, private houses, on public roads, etc. Although he commenced his labors without any ulterior design of forming a distinct ecclesiastical organization, yet he son found it necessary to unite his converts, scattered over several counties, into small societies for mutual support and sympathy. At a meeting called for the purpose of consulting upon the best measures to be adopted for the furtherance of a cause in which they all felt a deep interest, the assembly, without regard to the teachings of High-Churchism respecting a valid ministry, unanimously elected and ordained Mr. Albright as their pastor or bishop, authorizing him to exercise all the functions of the ministerial office over them, and declared the Bible to be their rule of faith and practice. This organization, incomplete at first, was soon after considerably improved by the adoption of a creed and rules for Church government. In course of time, as laborers increased and the society spread, annual conferences were held; and in 1816, sixteen years after the first organization of the Church, a general conference was held, for the first time, in Union County, Pennsylvania, which consisted of all the elders in the ministry. Since 1843 a general conference, composed of delegates elected by the annual conferences from among their elders, has held quadrennial sessions. For the first thirty years of its existence the society struggled against violent opposition; but during its later years it has made rapid progress, so that it now (1888) comprises 14 annual conferences, and 1123 itinerant and 634 local preachers, whose field of labor extends over the Northern, Western, and Pacific states, and into Canada and Europe.. The membership approximates 139,000, all adults; the number of churches is 1836 and parsonages 2572, valued together at $4,872,500; Sunday-schools 2348, and scholars 162,837; catechetical classes, exclusive of those connected with Sunday-schools, 341, with 3559 catechumefins. In the year 1838 a missionary society was formed, which has up to this time supported about 600 home missions, most of which are now self-supporting stations, circuits, or even conferences. At present this society supports 542 missions in America and Europe. For a number of years it has been gathering funds for heathen missions,, and has entered Japan with success. There is also a Sunday-school and tract society in operation, publishing Sunday-school books and religious tracts. A charitable society was founded in the year 1835, which has received funds amounting to a considerable sum, by bequests, the interest of which is annually applied to the support of the widows and orphans of poor itinerant preachers. There are also church-
building societies established in several conferences. The Northwestern College, a flourishing institution of learning located at Naperville, Illinois, has been founded, and is supported by the Western conferences of the Church, and an endowment is being collected which now amounts to $100,000. Several seminaries are also patronized by the Church. An orphan institution, favorably located at Flat Rock, Ohio, has been founded within a few years, and is in successful operation. A prosperous publishing-house at Cleveland, Ohio, issues four periodicals: one, its German organ, Der Christliche Botschafter, a large weekly, and the oldest German religious paper published in America; another, its English organ, The Evagelical Messenger, also a weekly; and the third and fourth, Der Christicche Kinderfreund, and the Sunday-school Messenger, are monthly juvenile papers, intended chiefly for Sunday-schools. The weekly papers have together a circulation of 25,000, and the juveniles 30,000. Perhaps no other religious denomination in America is better organized and disciplined for work than the Evangelical Association. In doctrine and theology this Church is Arminian; with regard to sanctification, Wesleyan; but generally holds the essential doctrines of the Gospel as they are held in common by the evangelical churches of the land, with all of whom it aims to cultivate a fraternal spirits The ministry is divided into two orders, deacons and elders; and, faithful to the principles and examples of their founder, they practice itinerancy. The highest permanent order is the eldership; for, although the society has its bishops (elected by General Conference) and presiding elders (elected by the individual conferences), yet these, to be continued, must be reelected every four years; and if not re-elected they hold no higher rank or privilege than an elder. The General Conference meets every four years, and constitutes the highest legislative and judicial authority recognized in the Church; then come the annual and quarterly conferences, whose transactions are mostly of an executive and practical nature for the promotion of the work. In its mode of worship and usages the Evangelical Association is Methodistic; and preaching, originally in German, is now largely in English (R.Y.)
The denomination is at present greatly divided. In October 1891, two rival general conferences were held, one in Indianapolis, the other in Philadelphia, each of which elected different bishops and other officers. This led to protracted litigation, which has not yet been fully settled.
The following statistics are gathered from the United States census of 1890, but do not include the conferences in Canada, Germany, Switzerland, and Japan.