Over the Christmas holidays while visiting in-laws in San Francisco, I was invited to a party at a wine marker’s cave in the mountaintop town of Angwin, California. As we wound up the steep road my friend said, “This is a Seventh Day Adventist town and university.” We flashed past a big church, the campus of the Pacific Union College, and then on into the back roads to our destination.
Intrigued, I did some research on the religion. Here are the basics: an American denomination formed in the middle of the 19th century from the s0-called “Millerite” movement, and was formally organized in 1863 in Battle Creek, Michigan (remember Battle Creek), largely around the writings and vision of its prophet, Ellen G. White, a native of Gorham, Maine who wrote prolifically of her visions which began after she was hit in the face by a thrown rock while fleeing a 13 year old girl in Portland, Maine.
The Millerites were a group formed around 1850 in upstate New York who, based on a close reading of the Bible, predicted the Second Coming would occur in 1844. It didn’t. Again, I will spare you my borrowed pedantic knowledge and point you at the Wikipedia entry, which, as I assume with all Wiki entries, shares the input of the church, its members and officials and is as balanced a definition and history as you can find anywhere. The church is unique in several respects, notably the observance of a Saturday sabbath, a high proportion of vegetarians and abstemious practices, and a strong tradition of extroverted charity and public works from hospitals to higher education. Tithing is encouraged — more on that later — and church members do not join unions or other organizations aside from the church.
I believe there is only one Seventh Day Adventist congregation on Cape Cod. I live about five miles from the church on Route 28 in Osterville. It is a modest, contemporary structure set slightly back from the road in a stand of pine trees.
The parking lot was full — most churches seem to be enjoying strong attendance these days — and I entered the narthex along with a herd of young people dressed in their Sunday best. I was warmly greeted at the door, handed a program, and made my way into the main church hall where I took the customary back-pew-right-hand-side seat. As I settled in I put on my glasses to read the program but the temple piece fell off, victim of a lost screw. As I flustered around trying to fix the specs, a jovial man introduced himself, a local attorney who it turned out was also the church pianist. We talked for a few minutes, me explaining the purpose of my visit, he telling me about his beginnings as a Catholic. Before I could ask him about his conversion the pastor, Rev. Mark Gagnon introduced himself. The welcome was warm and effusive and I was made to feel right at home.