The official history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church began in 1860 with the choosing of its name and the incorporation of a small publishing association in 1861. With this humble beginning, Adventist believers started to view themselves as an organization. They united into local conferences, and the Michigan Conference was established in October 1861. Up to this time
The Ministry Expands
By Anna Galeniece
The official history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church began in 1860 with the choosing of its name and the incorporation of a small publishing association in 1861. With this humble beginning, Adventist believers started to view themselves as an organization. They united into local conferences, and the Michigan Conference was established in October 1861.
Up to this time, Ellen White’s messages had been directed mostly toward supporting the believers in their faithfulness to God and biblical doctrines, sustaining the publishing work, and pointing to the need of church organization. Now the time came to enlarge the vision of Adventists so they would start to see the expanding mission of the church. Thus, in May of 1863, 20 delegates from six of the seven state conferences1 decided to get together and organize the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists as the central governing body.
On June 5 (sometimes dated June 6 because it happened after sundown on Friday), 1863, just two weeks after the first official General Conference session, and several years after the consolidation of the church’s main doctrines, the Whites were visiting the Hilliard family in Otsego, Michigan. While there, Ellen White was taken into a vision that lasted about 45 minutes. She was given a comprehensive health reform message2 that God wanted her to deliver to the believers. This was not the first time she was shown the need for a healthier lifestyle. In 1848 the Lord revealed to her the danger of using tobacco, tea, and coffee,3 and in 1854 He revealed that houses of the saints should be kept tidy and their appetites must be controlled.
The comprehensive vision at the Hilliard home not only included the benefits of having a healthy body and surrounding environment, but also presented the close connection between health and spirituality, which is not just a personal matter of the believer. Ellen White saw that this message “should wake up minds to the subject”5 because of its social and mission implications.
In addition to these new understandings, the year 1863 ended up with a missing page in the White family album. Their eldest son, Henry Nichols, became sick with pneumonia and died on December 8, at Topsham, Maine. It was a heavy blow to the parents, especially to his mother, to lose their 16-year-old son, a “sweet singer,”6 because of their ignorance of simple home remedies with which they became acquainted in the near future.
Just two months after the death of Henry, the family’s third son, Willie, became sick with the same disease. This time the mother applied hydrotherapy with fervent prayers that sustained and healed the boy.
However, the results of the great controversy battle—sickness, pain, and death—did visit the home of God’s messenger several times. Earlier, the White’s fourth child, John Herbert, had died at the age of just 3 months in 1860.
The Learning Continues
The year 1864 marked at least several important events in the ministry of Ellen White. First, she published the fourth volume of Spiritual Gifts, subtitled “Important Facts of Faith: Laws of Health, and Testimonies Nos. 1-10.” It included a 32-page chapter describing the comprehensive health message revealed to her on June 5, 1863. At the same time she finished the pamphlet Appeal to Mothers.
A visit to James C. Jackson’s medical institution, “Our Home on the Hillside,” in Dansville, New York, in early September of 1864 was another significant event that took place. On their trip to Boston, Massachusetts, the Whites stopped at this medical institution and became impressed with the natural treatment they observed there.
Ellen White, however, did not fully agree with Jackson’s approach to health reform. She had a better understanding on the subject from her health visions. Thus, she continued the writing on health-related topics and published six pamphlets entitled Health: or How to Live in 1865. Through the subjects of health, nutrition, and lifestyle Ellen White called people to faithful observance of God’s natural laws.
Extensive travel, preaching, writing, the publishing work, leadership responsibilities, and a number of other obligations, in addition to various family tasks and poverty, took a toll on James White. On August 16, 1865, he collapsed from exhaustion and became stricken with paralysis, the first of a series of strokes that also affected his personality. Thus, in addition to her burden of being a prophet, writer, speaker, counselor, and mother, she had to also take care of her sick husband.
In December 1865 the Whites were able to travel to Rochester, New York, and stay at the home of friends. They assembled together on Christmas Day to pray for James’s deteriorating health. During that time she was taken into a vision in which she was instructed on how to aid her husband’s recovery. She was given important guidance on establishing a health-care institution in which the proper principles of health would be implemented and taught to the patients. This vision, integrating health reform with religion (Rev. 14:12), became instrumental in preparing the church for a wide mission and, consequently, for the second coming of Christ.7
Six months later, during the General Conference session in May 1866, Ellen White counseled church leaders on the need of establishing a health-care institution. They accepted the new challenge of health education and treatment. This decision led to the launching of a new journal, The Health Reformer, and the Western Health Reform Institute, the forerunner of Battle Creek Sanitarium, just months after the session.
To be a faithful instrument in God’s hands includes not only preaching and teaching others about something good, but also following the revealed will of the Lord all the way through. Thus, obeying God’s directions even during the cold winter weather and against the advice of their friends, Ellen took James for a preaching tour to northern Michigan as an aid to his recovery. At the very end of 1866 this trip was crowned by James’s partial restoration of health, and their ministry expanded.
For a while the Whites engaged in farming and writing, but a 20-week itinerary in 1867 took both of them on another trip during which they held 140 meetings. It “drove Ellen into unabashed public speaking.”8 She presented messages to small and large crowds equally.
For example, in September 1867 Ellen White spoke at the “convocation” meeting in the Illinois-Wisconsin Conference. Then she spoke at a similar meeting in Iowa. The success of these two meetings encouraged the General Conference to sponsor the first official camp meeting in Michigan in September 1868, where she spoke to about 2,000 people.9
When God calls people to perform something for Him, He equips and gives them strength, courage, and power. This is clearly seen in the life and ministry of God’s messenger in advancing the mission and message of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
1 Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, and Wisconsin; Vermont sent no delegate.
2 Ellen G. White manuscript 1, 1863; Ellen G. White, Spiritual Gifts (Battle Creek, Mich.: Seventh-day Adventist Pub. Assn., 1864), vol. 4a, p. 153; Review and Herald, Oct. 8, 1867; Apr. 2, 1914; Apr. 30, 1914.
3 Ellen G. White, Selected Messages (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1958, 1980), book. 3, p. 273.
4 Ellen G. White, Manuscript Releases (Silver Spring, Md.: Ellen G. White Estate, 1990), vol. 6, p. 221.
5 Ibid., vol. 5, pp. 105, 106.
6 Ellen G. White Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 1, p. 103.
7 Ibid., pp. 485-494.
8 Arthur L. White, Ellen G. White: The Progressive Years, 1862-1876 (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1986), vol. 2, p. 185.
9 Gary Land, “Camp Meetings,” The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 2013), pp. 676, 677.
Anna Galeniece is director of the Ellen G. White Estate Branch Office, Adventist University of Africa in Nairobi, Kenya.