Michigan—On the 150th anniversary of the first general Seventh-day Adventist camp meeting, the Wright Church held a special celebration, Sept. 7–8, to commemorate this historic event.
Steeped in a rich history, the Wright Church is one of the oldest continuous Adventist congregations (since 1858) and a church in which Ellen White and other pioneers preached, lived and worked. It was behind this church building that the first general Seventh-day Adventist camp meeting took place 150 years ago in September of 1868.
The commemorative weekend and its preparations were led by God’s guiding hand. He blessed despite unfortunate circumstances. The Friday night presenter, Jim Nix, director of the Ellen G. White Estate, flew in from abroad and, due to an aircraft problem, got there literally just in time for his presentation. With his “Songs of Zion” program, he took the congregation on a journey with stories of the life of Ellen White and the singing of her favorite hymns. The evening ended with the hopeful thought that one day God’s faithful will be in the presence of Jesus, singing with the angels to His glory.
Another challenge was the Sabbath program. The original presenter had to cancel due to sickness just three days before the event. After surrendering this situation before God in prayer as a united church family, God stepped in and provided just the right speaker for three presentations on the Sabbath. Kevin Burton, Andrews Theological Seminary graduate, PhD student of Florida State University and expert on the detailed stories of the pioneers, agreed, despite the short notice, to heed the “Macedonian call” and fly up to Michigan to present for the weekend celebrations.
In his first session, Burton took the audience on a fascinating and somewhat unknown journey of Adventist history. He shared the challenges Ellen and James White went through as many members distrusted their judgment and integrity in the mid- to late 1860s. He showed how gossip, slander, pride, abuse of authority, worldliness, lack of respect and love amongst leaders and members led to the need of holding this first general camp meeting in Wright. At that meeting, revival, confession and reconciliation took place, resulting in 60 baptisms and 300 recommitments to Christ.
Burton also shared the unbelievable story of the “Battle Creek purge” of 1870 in which J.N. Andrews and J.H. Waggoner were given the authority to disfellowship 98 percent of the 300-member Battle Creek Church, including Uriah Smith and other prominent leaders, based on a mixture of gut feeling, wrong understanding of perfection and N. Richmond’s false accusations.
Finally, in the last session, Burton spoke on the leadership crisis of the 1870s in which G.I. Butler proposed to give the GC president a Moses-like authority. His stance, even though theologically incorrect, caused a certain unity after the turmoil of the previous years and led to a brief refocus on mission in 1874. This resulted in the opening of Battle Creek College, J.N. Andrews leaving as the young denomination’s first missionary to Europe, and the founding of Pacific Press. Yet Butler’s leadership proposal was opposed by James and Ellen White and was adjusted at the 1877 GC session by giving the church body, not just one man, a God-given authority. This GC session brought reconciliation and true unity in Christ to the Church.
The weekend’s celebration, which included beautiful music by Testify, Dr. Eric Umali and Tim Rasmussen, and Sisters 4 the Savior, as well as a wonderful potluck, ended with a shared solemn yet joyful understanding of our need to learn from history, to embrace Christ and His leadership style of humility and love as we move forward in God’s mission.
All presentations were recorded and are available in audio and video format on www.wrightsda.com
Jonathan Walter, pastor of the Wright and Grand Haven churches
Photo credit: Melissa Brower