The Spencerville Seventh-day Adventist Church, located in Silver Spring, Maryland, recently conducted a worship service focused on the dedication of the church’s teachers for the 2022-2023 school year. Prior to a dedicatory prayer, senior pastor Chad Stuart reminded both the congregation and the school staff of their combined efforts through nearly eight decades to support Adventist education. This is just one example of the deep commitment to Adventist education exhibited by so many local Adventist congregations that support schools. Elements of the oral style has been retained.—Editors
The Spencerville Seventh-day Adventist Church began because of the evangelistic efforts of a sister church about 13 miles away. This congregation was officially established in December 1941. Two of the founding members, also responsible for the door-to-door evangelism, were Dores Robinson and his wife, Ella, the oldest granddaughter of Ellen White. This might be the reason that this newly founded church paid close attention to Ellen White’s counsel that churches open a school even if there were only six children of school age.
“In some countries parents are compelled by law to send their children to school. In these countries, in localities where there is a church, schools should be established if there are no more than six children to attend. Work as if you were working for your life to save the children from being drowned in the polluting, corrupting influences of the world.”*
“She said six children—we have seven—we should start a school,” was the conclusion of the congregation (the charter members of the congregation are pictured above in 1941). So, in 1943, almost 80 years ago, a one-room school was established.
The Spencerville Church at that time was meeting in a hastily built structure assembled from wood taken from deconstructed cabins at a conference camp. They affectionately called the building the “Tabernacle.” A room at the back of the structure formerly used for the Dorcas Society (Community Services today), was converted into a one-room classroom.
And thus, a Well Committee was formed—to explore how to dig a well for water. A Stove Committee was tasked to find a stove to heat the classroom. Clearly, this proves this church has always loved Adventist education and committees!
Digging the well cost $250. Members donated the stove and chimney. Ella Mae Robinson and her husband donated the first book to the school—a dictionary. Another man donated a broom and a dustpan, and another member donated soap, demonstrating the different focus of needs back then.
They hired their first teacher for $90 a month. With key items and a teacher in place, the school opened with seven students in five grades. Subjects were the usual reading, writing, and arithmetic, but also included gardening, canning, baking bread, weaving rugs, and learning how to clean a house.
By 1946, there were 20 students, so a second teacher was hired, but both taught in the same classroom.
The two teachers didn’t own a car and thus had no transportation to and from the school. Elder Dores Robinson would go each morning to pick the ladies up, drive them to the school, and then head down to the General Conference headquarters in Takoma Park where he worked in the Ellen G. White Estate. Then in the afternoon he’d return to pick the ladies up and drive them back to their homes. That was 12 miles in one direction to take them to school; then turning around and driving an additional 12 miles in the opposite direction to work—and doing it twice each day. In that day and age—well, maybe even now more so in today’s traffic—that was a big commitment, day after day.
In 1947, the church was still meeting in the Tabernacle, already five years longer than intended. The congregation decided to take the money they had been saving to build a church and instead build a two-room school. This was the first of many times when the school’s facilities or physical needs were put ahead of the needs of the church. We are a long way from 1943 or 1947, but I’m happy to report that our commitment remains the same.
This year at Spencerville Adventist Academy, we don’t have seven students or 20, but 402 students enrolled! And from 1943 until today, providing Adventist education at Spencerville Academy is still the largest line item on the church budget. Rather than the church providing $900 a year in 1943 or $1,800 in 1946 for teacher’s salaries, according to the Chesapeake Conference, nearly $900,000--based on the Spencerville Seventh-day Adventist Church’s tithe—is allocated for the salaries of our teachers. This is why all our pastors and our teachers are expected to pay tithe through Spencerville Church. If they didn’t do so, it would hurt their own employment.
That’s why we ask the families receiving the Spencerville constituent rate to pay their tithes through Spencerville Church—to continue to provide for the teachers who love and educate their children 10 of 12 months each year.
But let me tell you about a shift that has occurred from that day 80 years ago until now. For much of this church’s history we have been a church with a school. But now we are an “academy church.” Some of you hear that and get worried about that description. You have a picture in your mind of what an academy church is, and you wonder if I’m going to start preaching in skinny jeans and a tight T-shirt—not something either you or I want to see!
But for much of our history—Spencerville Academy was maintained and sometimes sustained by the money and sacrifice of this church. Financially it still is. But when this church family built the new school in 2011, there was a shift. For the first 69 years of this church’s history, our membership grew at a steady rate. Since that building opened, our membership rate of growth per year has doubled.
In the first 69 years, our tithe grew to about $2,000,000 annually. At the end of 2021, our tithe had reached more than $4,000,000 annually. Our academy is still financially sustained by this congregation, but this congregation is what it is because of our academy.
We are an academy church. What that means is that every member of Spencerville Church, no matter if they have kids enrolled or not, is to look upon our school as their school. Every member should be praying for our school. Every member should be considering how they can minister to our school. We have a qualified member who no longer has children at Spencerville Academy but several times a year phones a teacher and says, “Take a personal day. I’ll cover your classes.”
I think about the senior members in our congregation who don’t have kids or grandkids attending there but who attend the sporting events or the drama productions just to support our school.
I think about a teacher and member of this church who no longer works at our school, This last week, however, on the first day of school, she was there serving as an aide in one of the classrooms because her school hadn’t yet started for the new year.
Twelve times during the next nine months, this platform will be filled with our young people providing music and leading us in worship. Those Sabbaths will be some of our highest Sabbaths. Spencerville Church family, we are an academy church! Let us love and support our school as such.
Spencerville Academy team, this is the church that for 80 years has invested in your place of ministry and will continue to do so. Just as we as a church have invested in you, we need you to likewise invest in this church. We want to see you here regularly. We want you involved in ministry here consistently, just as every pastor and many of our members are involved at Spencerville Academy weekly.
We are one family and one community. The vision of this church has not changed. We will work as if we are working for our own lives to save our children!
Chad Stuart is the senior pastor of the Spencerville Seventh-day Adventist Church in Silver Spring, Maryland.
*Ellen G. White,Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p. 199.