Illinois Conference President John Grys (front right) and historian Michael Campbell (front left), Peoria Pastor Matt Lucio, with Susan Palmer who oversees the Jenks collection at Aurora University. 

October 20, 2022

Unearthing Adventist History

I had been wanting to visit Aurora University, just outside of Chicago, for years. I was planning on driving up there to do research in March of 2020, but alas… COVID.

Finally, on Monday, September 19, I traveled to Chicago to meet up with the Director for the North American Division Archives, Statistics & Research Dr. Michael W. Campbell and acting Illinois Conference President John Grys to see the Jenks Memorial Collection at Aurora University. The Jenks Collection contains a trove of “adventual” materials, including William Miller’s correspondence. Discovered in a letter trunk, many of these letters chronicle the challenges Miller had in the wake of the Great Disappointment. As various preachers rose to provide an explanation for why Jesus didn’t come on October 22, 1844, Miller sided with a preacher named Apollos Hale because he approved of “anything which will prove Christ near, and the nearer the better.” (1)

The highlight of the Jenks collection is the broadside of Ellen Harmon’s (soon to be White) first vision (“To the Little Remnant Scattered Abroad”) which James White printed on April 6, 1846. Otis Nichols, one of first supporters of James and Ellen White, sent William Miller a copy of her vision, asking him to “lay aside prejudice and suspend judgment” until he had a chance to read it carefully. Nichols vouched for Ellen, claiming to have seen her in vision and that “it was unlike any thing [sic] I have seen or read of since the days of the Apostles.” (2)  


The Jenks Collection is more than William Miller, of course. I was fascinated by their collection of tracts and how many of them were written to refute Seventh-day Adventism. The close borders between the Advent Christians who descended from Miller and Himes and the Seventh-day Adventists meant that disaffected Adventists often went to the other side, and vice-versa. 

With the library closing, Elder Grys, Dr. Campbell, and I were forced to retreat in regret, wishing we had more time with this wonderful collection. 

On Tuesday, Dr. Campbell and I found ourselves in Janesville, Wisconsin, where we headed to the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference offices. Pulling into the parking lot, we found Kevin Burton, director for the Center of Adventist Research at Andrews University, in his native pose–that is, pacing with a book. 

The three of us met with Nicholas Kersten, Director of Education and History for the SDBs. Nicholas was a fountain of facts, and I deeply appreciate his tour through their history. Down in the vault, we were able to hold an extremely rare copy of Theophilus Brabourne’s A Defence of that most Ancient, and Sacred ordinance of God’s, the Sabbath Day, first published in 1631 (though the copy we held was the more recent second edition, published in 1632)! (3)

A little time for going through the archives yielded some fruits. Michael Campbell found a letter written by Sarah Lindsey. In the letter, Lindsey explained that a deacon in her Baptist church in Ulysses, Pennsylvania, began to have questions about the seventh-day sabbath in the autumn of 1844. He invited a local Seventh Day Baptist preacher to visit the church and explain it. Thirty members accepted the Sabbath and formed a Seventh Day Baptist congregation. Lindsey herself, of course, would later become the first licensed female minister in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. 


After I tried the renowned Wisconsin cheese curds at lunch, the four of us sat down to record a profound and hilarious episode, jointly posted at the Adventist Pilgrimage and Adventist History Extra podcasts. Nicholas, Kevin, Michael and myself had a fantastic time discussing the intersections between Seventh Day Baptist and Seventh-day Adventist history, from the well-known story of Rachel Oaks introducing the sabbath (in a roundabout way) to Joseph Bates to the times when SDAs and SDBs sent delegates to each others’ general conference sessions. If I might say so, the episode is well worth your time!  

The trips to Aurora and Janesville were about more than research interests. They were about building and maintaining good relationships with those who manage historical archives that overlap with our own history. Susan Palmer (Aurora University) and Nicholas Kerstan (Seventh Day Baptist general conference) were both helpful hosts with a deep interest in our shared histories.

I can't wait to go back and spend more than a few hours in research. (If only I could persuade my wife that doing research in their archives is a good use of our vacation time.) My friends, we have a treasure of history in this Union! 


Matt Lucio pastors the Peoria Church and is host of the “Adventist History Podcast.”