San Antonio, the host of this year’s General Conference session, is a culturally colorful city with a storied past.
The Spanish explored the region in the late 1600s and again in 1709. The city began with the San Antonio de Béxar presidio and the villa of San Fernando de Béxar, founded in 1718 and 1731, respectively. Five Spanish missions sprouted up along the San Antonio River shortly after 1718. By 1795 all five missions had become secularized, with some becoming military barracks. You are likely familiar with the most famous of them—San Antonio de Valero mission, otherwise known as the Alamo.
San Antonio was the site of 13 days of battle during the Texas Revolution, culminating on March 6, 1836. When Mexican forces were eventually routed a month later, Bexar County was organized, with San Antonio as its seat.
By 1860 San Antonio was, for a time, the largest town in Texas, beating out coastal Galveston. Interestingly, German immigration accounted for this, and German speakers outnumbered Hispanics and Anglos until after 1877. At one point, street signs were written in German, Spanish, and English.
After the Civil War in the United States, San Antonio boomed from cattle, mercantile operations, and military outposts, climbing to the largest town in the state again in 1900. Though the city didn’t grow beyond its original Spanish land charter until 1940, this was Texas, after all—land was plenty, and it continued to blossom.
By the close of the nineteenth century, San Antonio had become a prime location for retirement, with its climate, amenities, and cultural flavor. Today the city is home to several military, medical, and research facilities, and counts tourism as one of its most vital industries.
There is much to experience in this place in addition to the happenings in the Convention Center and Dome, so be sure to explore its famed River Walk, shops, restaurants, gardens, and historical attractions as often as you get the chance.
Information gleaned from
No place in Texas is as firmly a part of the American imagination as San Antonio. The heroic stand taken by hopelessly outnumbered Texan revolutionaries against a well-equipped Mexican Army has become an icon of American tenacity. Interestingly, it would take the Adventist church some of that same grim persistence to stake out a thriving outpost in town.
Six months after moving to San Antonio in 1893, literature evangelist R. W. Robertson had established a beachhead of sorts: a group of 21 meeting regularly on the Sabbath.
While San Antonio was by then already a popular winter retreat, Adventist efforts were only beginning to extend beyond north Texas. As a hub of the railroad system, San Antonio was a forced stop for many literature evangelists and church leaders traveling elsewhere. These stops gave passersby a chance to become familiar with the town and help the tiny Adventist company in it. In 1900 a church of seven members was organized, and soon after, young pastor E. L. Neff and his wife were sent to San Antonio to solidify the Adventist presence in town.
For a few years the church faced persistent attrition caused by moving families, backsliders, and death. However, reinforced by Bible worker Bertha Taylor, their efforts finally seemed to outweigh any membership loss, and by 1905 a modest congregation was firmly in place.
By the time the South Texas Conference was organized in 1911 with a constituency of 168, San Antonio had one of the leading churches in that jurisdiction, although members did not have their own building until 1916. A school opened in 1918. All the same, the city continued to prove a tough field for evangelistic efforts.
In the case of Hispanics and African Americans, the work was hampered by lack of resources and difficulties in reaching populations under the peonage system that had largely replaced slavery. Nonetheless, both Spanish-speaking and African American congregations slowly developed and had their own buildings by the early 1920s.
It was not until after the end of World War II that Adventism in San Antonio really took off. In 1946 Texas Conference licensed missionary Thelma Flanagan remarked: “San Antonio, the place where Satan tried especially hard to prohibit the work, is the magazine haven.” That year literature evangelists saturated the city. With nearly prophetic voice, Flanagan added, “Some day we believe there will be a rich harvest of souls as a result.”
Four years later, after a 12-week evangelistic series led by
Our Times editor Stanley Harris, 100 people joined the church. Membership was further boosted by Adventist conscientious objectors training at the Medical Field Service School established in the Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston. In 1954 the future Laurel Heights church and an adjacent servicemen’s center were inaugurated.
Over the course of the next quarter century, that church seeded five other congregations and built a new junior academy. Today San Antonio is home to 22 Adventist congregations, including four new plants, that represent the multicultural makeup of the Texas Conference.
Texas Revolution folk hero James Bowie once wrote, “The salvation of Texas depends in great measure on keeping Bejar [archaic spelling for Béxar, the county where San Antonio is located] out of the hands of the enemy.” Taken out of their original context, those words could very well signal what God will accomplish through this session of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in San Antonio.
Alfredo Vergel is the public services and special collections librarian, as well as Ellen White Research Center director, for Southwestern Adventist University in Keene, Texas.