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The Conference on the Contours of European Adventism (Day Two)

The second day of the conference explored further the Mission and Diversity of European Adventism.

The morning began with fascinating insights from Adventist historian, Dr. Gilbert Valentine, into the tensions between J.N. Andrews in his mission to Europe and the General Conference leaders back in America. Valentine’s research for his upcoming biography of Andrews served as a basis for his report on the institutional and personal tensions between Andrews and the Whites. Andrews’ publishing-based ministry and his “failure” to use “the American model” with tent campaigns were much criticized. Valentine explored why the positive assessment emerging from the subsequent “audit” of his work by the General Conference stand in stark contrast to Ellen White’s critical letter to Andrews as he lay on his deathbed.

The European mission theme moved to a more contemporary scene with a study by Dr. Peter Činčala from the Institute of Mission at Andrews University, of the church planting movement in various European countries between 1995 to the present. The new need-oriented, lifestyle evangelism, is based on the presupposition that “evangelism is not an event but a relational process.” It addresses perceived needs and has been presented in culturally relevant forms: house-churches, café-churches and cultural centers in countries where Adventism was plateauing or declining. Činčala reported on the reasons for various degrees of “success” with this biblically-rooted alternative mission.

The second half of the morning focused on the Diversity of Adventism in Europe. Veteran sociologist, Dr. Ronald Lawson presented an account of the impact of immigration during the late 20th century on Adventism in England, France, and the Netherlands and the growth of non-indigenous churches. Lawson suggested that the immigrants “Adventist distinctiveness and strictness encouraged both close ties and zeal among immigrants arriving in European countries…. They had much to gain from their Adventist connection and little to lose by separating themselves from the broader society.” In comparison, few from the indigenous “white” populations “were drawn to ‘peculiar’ Adventism for they had much more to lose.’”

For the final session of the morning, we turned to Icelander, Jón Stefánsson, and insights from his research into Adventist hymnals in Europe. Stefánsson showed how Adventists in countries where the local protestant influence has been strong have been more willing to borrow hymns within their own country. Various musicians in Romania and France have put extensive time into creating their own hymnbooks but in most cases, Adventist musicians in Catholic and Orthodox countries seem to have shied away from including music from their local traditions in their hymnals. The churches there have borrowed instead from the Adventist American hymnal. Stefánsson lamented the lack of a common European hymnbook containing local "gems" – both classical and contemporary.

On Wednesday afternoon the participants boarded a bus for nearby Magdeburg where the oldest Gothic cathedral in Germany contains the remains of the first German Holy Roman Emperor, Otto the Great and his English wife, Edith. Afterwards, conference participants were treated to “coffee and cake” — no trip to Germany is complete without it!

The late afternoon break-out sessions on Wednesday looked at Military Service and Mission in European Adventism. In one group, historians Johannes Hartlapp and Tiziano Rimoldiexamined different Adventist responses to compulsory military service in Germany and Italy respectively. In Germany, before the First World War, the problems of keeping Sabbath in the army meant that Adventists faced a choice between punishment and emigration. Between 1946-86, Italians fared better due to a growing recognition of conscientious objection in their country, pioneering the right for religious pacifists to perform civil service instead.

In the other group, Swedish historian, Yvonne Oster, shared her research on the histories and characteristics of Scandinavian missionaries, some self-financed, many of them women in China, Ethiopia, Finland, Iceland, Iran, and the Cameroons. Scandinavian women were skillful preachers, writers, and administrators bewildered by the church’s head-of-household system. Nigerian doctoral student,Chigemezi Wogu, completed the afternoon with his account of European Adventist missionaries’ attempts to develop models for mission and to learn from their predecessors’ mistakes both inside and outside Europe. His paper explored the tensions between the need to be true to scripture, context, and tradition.

Further Reading:

The Conference on the Contours of European Adventism (Day One)

 

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Editor's Note: The paragraph regarding Jón Stefánsson's research on hymnals was updated on April 30, 2018 at 5:00 p.m. (EST).

 

Helen Pearson is a counselor, psychotherapist, writer, and trainer from Wokingham in England and a longtime elder of Newbold Church. She and her husband, Michael, run the website Pearsons’ Perspectives.

Photo courtesy of the author.

 

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