December 24, 2014

A Special Christmas for Oldest Adventist Church in Europe

By CORRADO COZZI, Inter-European Division, and ANDREW MC CHESNEY, Adventist Review

A small wooden house in Switzerland celebrates a remarkable anniversary this Christmas—128 years since it was dedicated to God as the first Adventist house of worship in Europe at a service led by Ellen G. White.

Even more significant, perhaps, is the fact that this Christmas will be the first that the building in the small French-speaking town of Tramelan actually belongs to the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Bruno Vertallier, president of the church’s Inter-European Division, signed a contract to purchase the building at Grande Rue 171b in August of this year.

“We believe that this church is part of Adventist history, and therefore it was important for us to get it back,” Vertallier said at the time.

The church was constructed by the Roth family, who joined the Adventist Church as the result of evangelism work conducted in Tramelan by Michael Belina Czechowski, an independent Adventist missionary.

The church, which cost 3,300 Swiss francs to build, was dedicated on Sabbath, December 25, 1886. White, who was in Switzerland on other business, gave the first sermon from its pulpit and spoke from 1 Kings 8:54-61, a passage that describes King Solomon blessing people gathered for the dedication of Israel’s first Temple.

“We hope that the Lord will so bless your work that this house will prove too small for you,” White said.

The church members, who met Sabbaths in the 645-square-foot (60-square-meter) main room of the small building, appeared to have risen to the challenge. A member of the Roth family, Gustave, wrote in Revue Adventiste in 1937: “Tramelan was the cradle of the Adventist reform in Europe. Our small church became a training school for workers who eventually spread throughout the world.” (Revue Adventiste is a French-language publication that shares the same name as the Adventist Review but works independently of the U.S.-based magazine.)

In addition to being the first Adventist church in Europe, Tramelan organized the first Adventist camp meeting on the continent.

Although consecrated as a church, the building never belonged to the Adventist Church itself. The Roths later left Tramelan and sold the building to a family of another faith. Local Adventists moved to a larger building in 1968.

But by that time worries were growing about what would happen to the building. In 1967 Arthur L. White, secretary of the Ellen G. White Estate and Ellen White’s grandson, wrote in Review and Herald: “Soon another house of worship in Tramelan will replace the neat little chapel in the garden, which has served well for more than eight decades. Although the title of the building is not held by the conference, it is to be hoped that this landmark of the work of Seventh-day Adventists in Europe may be preserved.”

Vertallier said the acquisition of the building would help ensure that future generations could catch a glimpse of Adventist history. “We hope it will inspire our young people to recognize and acknowledge the history and the sacrifice of these pioneers who invested in that humble chapel, starting to preach the everlasting gospel,” he said. “I invite church members to consider paying a visit to Tramelan and to enjoy fellowship in the spirit of the pioneers.”

Through the years many Adventist tourists have visited the building, and the Swiss government has recognized it as a historical landmark, preventing it from being demolished.

René Frauchiger, who blogs about the Tramelan church and perhaps knows more about it than anyone else today, is delighted that the building now belongs to the Adventist Church.

“In memory of my great-grandparents, Léon and Rosine Borle-Delaprès, who were among the first baptized Adventists in Switzerland, and of my grandfather, Emil Frauchiger-Borle, who was a pioneering missionary in Turkey and the Balkans, today it is a great joy to see this first chapel finally belong to our church,” Frauchiger said.