April 12, 2015

An Adventist Vice President Who Fought Darkness on His Knees

Updated April 12 at 10:45 a.m. ET

, news editor, Adventist Review

Francis Wernick, a former General Conference vice president who died on Sabbath at the age of 95, long remembered how he discovered peace on his knees in a motel room after a disquieting doctrinal discussion with church leaders.

Wernick, who family and friends said showed a deep trust in God during his lifelong career in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, found that trust put to the test during his 1975-1985 stint as a general vice president of the General Conference, the administrative body of the world church.

He was asked to travel to California to help arbitrate a discussion between local church leaders and Walter T. Rea, author of The White Lie, a book that accused Adventist Church cofounder Ellen G. White of plagiarism.

“My dad met with them, and the meeting was full of darkness as these individuals expressed their doubts about what we believe as a church,” said Wernick’s son, Robert.

“Later in his motel room, my dad felt an oppressive blackness filling the room as his mind recalled the doubts and arguments expressed that evening. He could began to feel a chilling effect on him and his faith,” he said.

Wernick finally got on his knees and asked God to deliver him from the cloud of darkness and doubt.

“He knelt down by his bed and poured out his heart to God,” said Nancy Wilson, who is married to General Conference president Ted N.C. Wilson and has been a friend of the Wernick family for the past 23 years.

“I don't remember how long he said that he struggled with the Lord, but eventually He gave him peace and a lasting confidence in His word,” she said. “When he got up from his knees, he never had a moment of doubt again.”

Robert Wernick said the peace filled his father instantly.

“Suddenly the darkness was lifted and cast out of the room and replaced with a peace that brought calm,” he said. “My dad never forgot this experience.”

The allegations raised by Rea have been discredited by the Adventist Church. Rea faded into relative obscurity and died last year — on Sabbath morning, Aug. 30, 2014 — at the age of 92.

Francis and Mary Sue Wernick posing with their children, Robert, Brenda, center, and Carolyn, at Robert Wernick's home in Ooltewah, Tennessee, in November 2014. All photos courtesy of the Wernick family

“A Solid Leader in God’s Church”

Wernick died peacefully after a lengthy illness at 2 a.m. Sabbath, April 11, at the home of his son in Ooltewah, Tennessee, near Southern Adventist University, Robert Wernick said Sunday.

Wernick gained a reputation as a kind, gentle spiritual leader and good listener in 43 years of church service that began with a bang when he got married and graduated from Union College on the same day in 1942 and immediately moved to North Dakota to pastor a church. A story about how he was preparing his wife, Mary Sue, for his death appeared in the Adventist Review in February. The couple would have celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary next month.

Read “After 72 Years of Marriage, a Church Leader Prepares Wife for His Death”

“Elder Francis Wernick was a wonderfully solid and reliable leader in God’s church,” General Conference president Ted N.C. Wilson told the Adventist Review. “He took his role as a spiritual leader very seriously, and he loved the Lord and His work.”

“It was such a privilege to associate with him as a leader on whatever level he served because you knew he simply wanted the best for God’s remnant church,” Wilson said. “Soon we will see him when Jesus returns — something Elder Wernick lived for and looked forward to. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”

Taking a Joyride to a GC Session

Francis Warren Wernick, a life-long Seventh-day Adventist, was born on Jan. 24, 1920, in Lake City, Iowa, to parents Irving and Olive Wernick. One of four boys, he was the last surviving member of his family.

He had an integrity that was visible to others early in life. In 1941, a year before his graduation from college, he traveled to the General Conference session in San Francisco in a car that he had agreed to drive from Detroit, Michigan, to Los Angeles, California, on behalf of a car dealer.

“He took several friends with him, and they had a good time,” said his eldest child, Brenda Flemmer. “Instead of driving directly to Los Angeles, he turned off the odometer in the car and with friends drove to San Francisco for the GC session.”

Wernick took the car to Los Angeles after the General Conference session, a major Adventist Church business meeting held every five years. But his conscience bothered him, and he later wrote to the car dealer in Detroit to apologize for what he had done, Flemmer said.

“This was dad,” she said. “He had a strong moral compass that was with him his whole life.”

After North Dakota, Wernick served as a pastor in churches in Pennsylvania and Ohio before accepting an invitation to become president of the Adventist Church’s East Pennsylvania Conference in 1958. He later served as president of the Ohio and Oregon conferences and president of the Lake Union Conference before being elected General Conference vice president, a position he held until his retirement in 1985.

A memorial service will be held in early June in the Collegdale church, where Wernick was a member. Wernick is survived by his wife, Mary Sue, 95; three children, Brenda Flemmer of Burtonsville, Maryland; Robert Wernick of Ooltewah, Tennessee; and Carolyn Jimenez of Ooltewah, Tennessee; seven grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Winning Souls to the End

In retirement, Wernick remained active in soul-winning and church work, serving as head elder, head deacon, and Sabbath school teacher at the Triadelphia Adventist Church in the Washington D.C. area, said William Fagal, associate director at the Ellen G. White Estate, where Wernick served as a life trustee. When Fagal moved to the area, he began attending the Triadephia church after Wernick showed up at his front door with a basket of homegrown vegetables and an invitation.

Wernick taught the Sabbath school class less frequently as he grew older, but Fagal said he remembered one particular Sabbath when Wernick was in his late 80s and a non-church member showed up for the first time.

“I watched a transformation come over Elder Wernick,” he said. “His voice grew stronger, and the passion was there. The years were melting away. Presenting the gospel message was what he was born to do, and he rose to the occasion.

“I was amazed and thrilled to see it happen,” he said. “He was a genuine Christian and a servant-leader, someone worth emulating.”