General Church of the New Jerusalem
The General Church of the New Jerusalem is the largest of
the several churches in North America that have grown out of
the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). Its origins
can be traced ultimately to the 1838 decree adopted by the
General Convention of the New Jerusalem requiring all member
societies to organize under the same rule of order. Rev.
George De Charms, then pastor of the society in Philadelphia
and editor of an influential magazine, the Precursor, rejected
the new rule, which he saw as a move by the Boston headquarters
church to set itself up as the mother church of the convention
and require all societies to acknowledge its primacy. De
Charms and his congregation left the convention, and in 1840
he founded the Central Convention, which emphasized the
writings of Swedenborg.
In reaction, the General Convention changed its rules. It
loosened its control over the societies, adopted a structure
granting more equitable representation from the societies, and
renounced any spiritual authority inherent in the Boston headquarters.
With his basic objection now resolved, De Charms dissolved
the Central Convention in 1852 and his Philadelphia
church and rejoined the General Convention.
The independent impulse of the Central Convention was
preserved, however, by William Benade, a young pastor who—
like De Charms—stressed the authority of Swedenborg’s writings.
In 1859 he proposed the formation of an academy of
scholars to study Swedenborg’s writings and to train young men
for the priesthood. The idea of a priesthood was plainly stated
in Swedenborg’s writings, but the General Convention never
implemented it as many did not like the idea of priests.
Benade formed the academy in 1874 and started a periodical,
Words for the New Church. Over the years it developed a
unique stance within the convention, with controversy centering
on its liberal view of sexuality and its stance against temperance.
A break between the academy and the convention occurred
in stages beginning with the formation of a school in
Philadelphia. In 1882 Benade became a bishop of the church
in Philadelphia, which included seven societies. Other societies
favorable to Benade’s views associated themselves with the Philadelphia
church. The final break came in 1890, and those affiliated
with the academy reorganized as the General Church of
the New Jerusalem.
The church is headed by its bishops and a general assembly
who elect the national church officers. Affiliated congregations
are found in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, South Africa,
and Brazil. In the 1980s there were 2,618 members and 31 congregations
in North America and an additional 1,157 members
worldwide. Headquarters are located in suburban Philadelphia
in the small community at Box 743, 1100 Cathedral Rd., Bryn
Athyn, Pennsylvania 19009. Website http
De Charms, George. The Distinctiveness of the New Church.
Bryn Athyn, Pa. Academy Book Room, 1962.
The General Church of the New Jerusalem A Handbook of General
Information. Bryn Athyn, Pa. General Church Publication
Committee, 1965.