To commemorate the quarter-century milestone as well as AHM’s evangelistic and nurturing contributions to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, congregations in five states—Michigan, Florida, Oregon, California, and Maine—have hosted heritage weekend events. The final program is scheduled for May in Takoma Park, Maryland.*
AHM owns several historic Adventist sites: the Joseph Bates boyhood home in Fairhaven, Massachusetts; the Hiram Edson farm, theological birthplace of the Adventist Church, in Port Gibson, New York; the William Miller farm, birthplace of the Advent movement in North America, located near Whitehall, New York; and Historic Adventist Village, organizational birthplace of the Adventist Church, in Battle Creek, Michigan.
The historic sites do not lack visitors. During the past 25 years, an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 Adventists from every world division of the church have visited an AHM site. An additional 10,000 to 15,000 non-Adventists and former Adventists have also toured at least one location, often attracted by road signs advertising the sites.
“The historic sites are pieces of our history that our church members can experience for themselves,” says AHM president Thomas Neslund. “AHM reaffirms our faith and gives us clarity, something that is really being sought right now.”
Volunteer tour guides introduce site visitors to various Adventist beliefs. Pastors of all persuasions visit, some accompanied by their parishioners. Other visitors include lay members, teachers, chaplains, new member groups, and church administrators. Also, the North American Division held its 2004 Year-end Meeting in Battle Creek so church leaders could experience the inspiration that results from visiting Historic Adventist Village.
Youth groups, such as Pathfinders as well as non-Adventist and Adventist school groups ranging from elementary to university students, also visit the sites.
“It is essential for our youth to understand our unique Adventist heritage—where we have come from as a church,” says Larry Blackmer, associate director of Education for the North American Division. “Adventist Heritage Ministry helps us accomplish that mission.”
For the past five years the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, Michigan, has opened each school year by encouraging students and faculty to participate in Seminary Sabbath in the Village to remind them of the unique prophetic nature of their calling as Adventist ministers of the gospel.
And a growing number of both new converts and former Adventists trace their decision to join or rejoin the church to their visit to one or more AHM sites.
AHM originated with Garth “Duff” Stoltz, an Adventist lay member living in Battle Creek. Stoltz decided rather than watch one more historic Adventist landmark torn down—a condemned house that used to belong to Deacon John and Betsey White, the parents of James White—he would attempt to preserve it.
“I was giving a tour one day of James and Ellen White’s former home when I looked across the street and noticed a red sign on the door of the Deacon John home,” Stoltz says. “It was a notice that the house was being condemned. I thought, Not another historic building being demolished. Before long they all will be gone. They have to do something about this. Then I realized that ‘they’ was me.”
Stoltz began a personal campaign to save the condemned building, which ended with his contacting the White Estate Research Center director at Loma Linda University, who solicited a donation to purchase the historic home.
Much more important than saving the building, however, was the concept of preserving and sharing the unique Adventist story. Soon after, other individuals joined Stoltz and the White Estate employee in forming Adventist Heritage Ministry. This organization is now affiliated with the Ellen G. White Estate Board of Trustees, which serves as its constituency. Almost all of AHM’s staff and board members are volunteers, and the majority of its annual budget is donor-based, though several church entities also assist the organization financially.
The worldwide growth in Adventist Church membership makes the need for the AHM organization even more essential. The historic sites—these few tangible evidences of God’s leading in the early days of the Advent movement—help members remember the church’s prophetic mission and message. And a new generation of visitors is also learning about the sacrifices and commitments of Adventist pioneers and the unique truths that caused them to found the Adventist Church.
It is a moving experience to see Adventist pastors and teachers, with tears rolling down their cheeks, recommit their lives in service to God during a communion service in the William Miller Chapel at the close of a New England heritage tour. Or talk to a church member who feels a stronger connection to his or her church roots after a visit to Historic Adventist Village.
“I have repeatedly heard and seen individuals in the upstairs bedroom of Mrs. White’s former home in Battle Creek stand there and weep,” Neslund says. “I ask them, ‘Why are you crying?’ And the answer is always the same. ‘It’s because of the little lady who sat here and wrote the book The Great Controversy that I’m a member of the Adventist Church today.’ ”
Many of the 2,200 Adventists who gathered in 1994 at the Miller farm for the one-hundred fiftieth anniversary of October 22, 1844—what’s often referred to as the Great Disappointment—later reported that the blessing they received that weekend as one of the highpoints of their Adventist experience. And many youth have first made decisions for Christ or decided to spend their lives in service working for the church because of a visit to an AHM site.
No dollar value can ever be placed upon such life-changing experiences.
*For more information about AHM or the Takoma Park, Maryland, event, write to Adventist Heritage Ministry, P.O. Box 1414, Battle Creek, Michigan 49016; phone: 269-965-3000; go to www.adventistheritage.org; or email: [email protected].