LIMA — “For two days in the week, Saturday and Sunday, Battle Creek, Mich., is the funniest town on earth,” the Detroit News correspondent assured readers in 1892. One part of the city bustled on a Saturday afternoon, he wrote, while the other was quiet. On Sunday, the scene was reversed.
In the latter part of the 19th and early years of the 20th centuries, Battle Creek was home to a burgeoning breakfast cereal industry and to the Battle Creek Sanitarium, a spa based on health principles advocated by the Seventh Day Adventist Church.
The Seventh Day Adventist Church, which was formally organized in Battle Creek in 1863, promoted healthy living and believed in the imminent second coming (advent) of Jesus Christ. They also hewed to one idea which set them apart from other Protestant denominations and made for schizophrenic weekends in Battle Creek.
“There is no more doubt in their minds that Saturday is the Sabbath than that fire will burn,” the Detroit newspaper correspondent wrote in a story reprinted under the headline “An Odd Community” in the March 16, 1892, edition of the Lima Daily Times. “An Adventist will stop in the middle of a good meal and let his dinner get cold while he gives you proof strong as holy writ that he is right and all dissenters are wrong.”
For all that, the writer continued, “He is a peaceable fellow, and if you don’t trouble him, he will leave you alone. He is as industrious and orderly as a Puritan, and he has no sort of use for the frivolities of the world. To him life is indeed real and earnest, and while he may in some way feel responsible for the spiritual welfare of his brother, yet he seems also to feel that he will preach a more eloquent sermon by a daily walk of rectitude than by the most flowery and persistent of harangues.”
By the time the Detroit correspondent went to have a look at Battle Creek, the Seventh Day Adventist Church had put down roots in Allen County. According to the church’s web site, the Adventist message was first preached in this area in 1886 at Elgin, a village northwest of Spencerville. Around 1890, laymen from Lakeview arrived to help the Elgin group organize evangelistic meetings at the corner of East Elm Street and South Central Avenue.
The success of the evangelistic meetings in gaining followers led to more regular gatherings. On Aug. 30, 1895, the Lima Times-Democrat, reported the “Society of the Seventh Day Adventists will hold their regular Sabbath services on Saturday at 2:30, sun time, in the W.C.T.U. (Women’s Christian Temperance Union) hall on East Kibby Street. All are cordially invited.”
In September 1915, according to the church website, “the (Ohio) conference recommended the church disband because false doctrines were creeping into the church and there was great division among the believers.”
At this time two early stalwarts of the church stepped forward — Minnie Long and Nora Watt. Sabbath and prayer meeting services were held in Minnie Long’s home for the next five years. Long’s husband, Grant, jointed the church in 1919.
“Shortly after 1921 as the group had been prospering, the Ohio conference had sent two young preachers to conduct service. The congregation purchased a lot,” the Lima News wrote on Aug. 7, 1949. “The church in Mendon, which since had been vacant because members of the congregation either had died or moved away, was donated to the Lima group. It was razed and brought to Lima and rebuilt at Eureka and Scott streets.”
In 1936-‘37, an evangelistic meeting in Memorial Hall again bolstered church membership, according to the church website. The Adventists sold the little church at Eureka and Scott streets for $2,300 in 1937 to the Peniel Temple Assembly of God and purchased the former Bethany Lutheran Church at Pierce and Spring streets.
“Rev. H.J. Detwiler, of Washington, D.C., will deliver the dedicatory sermon Saturday morning at the dedication services of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, Pierce and Spring streets,” the News reported on March 4, 1938. “This congregation organized 50 years ago, recently purchased the property which is being dedicated.”
With the dedication of the new church came the opening of a school. “The old time school bell rings again in Lima, this time in the private school started by the Seventh Day Adventist Church. The people of this church believe in combining religious education with the secular training of their children,” the News reported on March 6, 1938. “So, in a room adjoining their church at the corner of Pierce and Spring streets, modern adjustable desks, blackboards and other school equipment, have been installed and there, five days a week, the church children of school age gather for class work.”
Adventist youth would undergo education of a different sort as World War II loomed “The youth of the Seventh Day Adventist faith — whose elders were ‘conscientious objectors’ in the World war (World War I) are training themselves for non-combatant service,” according to a July 29, 1940, story from the Associated Press. “Striving to avoid the ‘misunderstandings’ which sent many of its faithful to prison for refusal to bear arms in 1917, the church is instructing thousands of its young men in the care of ailing, gassed and wounded soldiers and civilians.”
World War II hero and Medal of Honor winner Desmond Doss, whose exploits were detailed in the 2016 film “Hacksaw Ridge” was a Seventh Day Adventist.
Following World War II, the local Seventh Day Adventist Church, with a congregation numbering more than 150, joined national church efforts to raise money to help rebuild churches, schools and hospitals in Europe.
On the local level, the church’s Dorcas Society, continued to help the needy, as noted in a News article from March 15, 1952. “Additional clothing racks and storage shelves have been added to the Seventh Day Adventist welfare center, Spring and Pierce streets, in order for the agency to enlarge its aid for the needy program …. The (Dorcas) society has shipped packages to needy persons overseas and to disaster-stricken victims of Kansas and Winnipeg flood areas. The group gathers used and new clothes, repairs and cleans them and ships them … .”
In September 1955, the Adventist school was moved into a new, though not yet completed, building at Spencerville Road and Nixon Avenue, according to the church web site. Sabbath services continued to be held in the church at Pierce and Spring streets until November 1958 when they were moved to a room in the new school. On Sept. 13, 1963, the congregation moved into its new church at 1976 Spencerville Road.
Among the congregation was 90-year-old Nora Watt, the last surviving charter member of the church. Watt was 95 when the church was dedicated in 1968 as the Long Memorial Seventh Day Adventist Church in memory of Grant and Minnie Long.
Visit lima22.adventistchurchconnect.org for the latest news about Lima Seventh Day Adventist Church.
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.