Moving Toward Organization
By Stanley D. Hickerson
Through the eyes of three different believers, we observe God as He nudges His people toward organization in the years 1854-1859.
Family Unity: Henry Nichols White (1847-1863)
When Henry White was about 10 months old, Clarissa Bonfoey took over the care of little Henry so his parents could be free to travel.1 A few months later he was placed in the Howland home in Topsham, Maine.2 The Howlands’ 19-year-old daughter Frances cared for Henry for five years, his parents seeing him only a few times during that period. Little Henry hardly knew his own parents, and this was a terrible trial to them.
In 1854 Henry was reunited with his family in Rochester, New York, thus making the family complete. But along with his parents and two younger brothers, Henry shared his home with a large “family” of those who worked for the Review and Herald. His parents both worked incessantly, often 16 to 18 hours per day, thus leaving little family time.3
In 1855 the Whites, along with the office staff, moved from Rochester to Battle Creek, Michigan. Here, for the first time, Henry had the privilege of experiencing family life with some normalcy. The family still included one or two older girls to help with the housework and child care, and from time to time grandparents, but Henry no longer had to share his home with a dozen printers, proofreaders, typesetters, and bookbinders. True, his parents were still often gone for extended periods of time, but he and his brothers now had a home, their home. Ellen White remembered that “from the time we moved to Battle Creek, the Lord began to turn our captivity.”4
Part of God’s plan of church organization included family unity and security, and as He led his church toward full organization, He gave to Henry White and his little brothers a place they could identify as home.
Financial Security: Mary Jane (Walker) Loughborough (1832-1867)
In 1851 Mary Jane Walker married John Norton Loughborough. John was a house painter and a weekend preacher for the first-day Adventists. He also was a window sash lock dealer. About a year after their marriage Mary and John accepted the seventh-day Sabbath and joined the believers in Rochester, New York. John felt it was his duty to preach full-time but Mary was worried about their finances. With mixed feelings Mary waved goodbye to her husband as he began traveling and preaching in various towns in western New York. Soon the periods of separation grew longer as he traveled to other states, including Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin.
John’s “pay” consisted of an overcoat, a few bushels of apples and potatoes, some meat, and a dollar now and then. In 1856, frustrated and discouraged, Mary and John slipped away from Rochester and moved to Waukon, Iowa, where John found work again in the building trade. But God understood, and in a dramatic move sent James and Ellen White to encourage them back into the ministry. Mary’s heart was touched, and she tearfully urged John to resume preaching.
On January 16, 1859, the church in Battle Creek voted a plan of Systematic Benevolence,5 providing a way to give the preachers some regular pay. God continued to lead His church toward organization, which provided Mary and many others like her financial security.
Mutual Trust: Joseph Bates (1792-1872)
“Father” Bates was one of our older pioneers. Having been a sea captain and owner of a ship, he was accustomed to being in charge. And from time to time he struggled with giving some of the younger leaders—especially James White—all the respect to which they were entitled. He, along with other preachers, sometimes was tempted to work independently, and sometimes he unwittingly undermined the work of fellow preachers.
But in his heart Bates trusted God’s leading. In 1855 we find him chairing a conference that ultimately voted to recommend a change in the time for the beginning and ending of each Sabbath. Personally Bates had long promoted 6:00 p.m. as the correct time. But he graciously accepted the decision of the conference to recommend sunset instead. Elder John O. Corliss remembered Bates: “I found in him one who had a tender heart, and knew how to set wrongs right without ‘fuss or feathers.’ ”6
God’s plan of organization was under way. Although it was often an uphill battle, God began in these early years to create a church that fostered an atmosphere of mutual trust and cooperation.
1 Ellen G. White, Christian Experience and Teachings of Ellen G. White (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1922), p. 118.
2 Ellen G. White, Life Sketches of Ellen G. White (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1915), pp. 120, 121.
3 Ellen G. White, Spiritual Gifts (Battle Creek, Mich.: James White, 1860), vol. 2, p. 204.
4 E. G. White, Life Sketches, p. 159.
5 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Feb. 3, 1859, p. 84.
6 Review and Herald, Aug. 16, 1923, p. 8.
Stanley D. Hickerson currently serves as annotator for the letters and manuscripts project of the Ellen G. White Estate and lives in Michigan, U.S.A.