August 28, 2014

Church Buys Oldest Adventist Church in Europe

, communication director
for the Inter-European Division, with
additional reporting by , news editor, Adventist Review

The Seventh-day
Adventist Church has acquired ownership of the first Adventist church building
in Europe: a 19th-century wooden house in Switzerland whose inaugural
worship services were led by church co-founder Ellen G. White in 1886.

Bruno Vertallier,
president of the church’s Inter-European Division, signed the contract to
purchase the building at Grande Rue 171b in the small French-speaking town of
Tramelan, located about 40 miles (65 kilometers) northwest of Berne.

<strong>ROTH FAMILY:</strong> A family portrait of the Roths, who financed the Tramelan church. Photo credit: Tramelan Archive

“We believe that this
church is part of Adventist history, and therefore it was important for us to
get it back,” Vertallier said after signing the agreement on Aug. 18.

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 ($3,560) to
build at the time, was dedicated to God on Sabbath,
Dec. 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

“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.

<strong>INSIDE THE CHURCH:</strong> The worship hall, measuring 645 square feet (60 square meters), where Adventist Church co-founder Ellen G. White gave the first sermon on Sabbath, Dec. 25, 1886. Photo credit: Tramelan Archive

Preservation Worries

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 non-Adventist family. Local Adventists
moved to 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, 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, the
division president, 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

Over 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.

Why Buy the Building?

European church
leaders acknowledged that some people might object to the purchase, arguing
that the church does not need a shrine or that it is making a mistake in
spending money on a small building with little practical use.

“However, the purpose
of this decision is not to worship objects but to provide inspiration and
encouragement associated with humble beginnings, a place where history was
made: the first Adventist European chapel,” the Inter-European Division said in
a news article about the purchase on its Web site.

“This often occurs in the Unites States, by preserving and sometimes purchasing
historical buildings associated with the beginnings of the Adventist Church,”
it said. “This former little chapel in Tramelan represents the first Adventist
church building on this side of the Atlantic. It is surely worth preserving,
and an appropriate use for it will certainly be found.”

The division noted that
the Israelites also kept simple reminders of past blessings and events, such as
12 stones that they took from the middle of the Jordan River after they crossed
over on the way to Canaan. Joshua 4:6, 7 reads: “In the future, when your
children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the
Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When they
crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were at a standstill. These stones
are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever” (Joshua 4:6, 7, NIV).

“Would a building
like the former chapel of Tramelan not have a similar function — a memorial —
since a lot of history is associated with it?” the news article said.

<strong>THE CHURCH TODAY:</strong> Bruno Vertallier, president of the church’s Inter-European Division, said the acquisition of building would help ensure that future generations could catch a glimpse of Adventist history. Photo credit: Tramelan Archive

Purchase Cheers Church's Cheerleader

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.

He and his wife,
Liliane, do not live near Tramelan, but they assisted the previous private
owners in caring for the building in recent years, and they give tours to
curious Adventists. Contact information for arranging a tour can be found on Frauchiger’s

“I am glad that my
wife and I could help keep history alive,” Frauchiger said. “We are sure that
this historical landmark will remind us of the hope that the first Adventists
had in those early days.”

Related links

René Frauchiger’s blog on the Tramelan church

More about Tramelan’s history in Archives Adventistes (in

More about Michael
Belina Czechowski from Adventist Review: “J.N. Andrews Was First Adventist Missionary? Think Again”