The Seventh-day Adventist Church’s roots within the community of Cedar Lake, Michigan, run deep.
An Adventist academy was established in Cedar Lake in 1902, and it has educated thousands of pupils over the past century. That high school—now known as Great Lakes Adventist Academy—is one of the few focal points in the rural farm community.
Located four miles east of the village of Edmore, the Cedar Lake Seventh-day Adventist Church with a congregation of 479 members also resides on the academy’s sprawling campus.
Perhaps the church’s most well-known claim to notoriety is that it serves as a meeting space during the Michigan Conference of Seventh-day Adventists’ Camp Meeting and the host of the conference’s quinquennial constituency session. Amazing Facts International, the California-based media ministry led by Doug Batchelor, has also recorded two youth-focused television programs there. It is where the academy’s music groups hold their home performances, and where the student population attends church.
Though the local church holds regional significance to Adventists, the congregation has also attempted to establish itself as a resource to the local community.
It runs an Adventist Community Services center and thrift store, the “Heartland Center,” along with an elementary school. When I paid the Cedar Lake church a visit on May 6, 2023, the Pathfinder club sponsored by the church was holding its investiture ceremony. When I left that afternoon, the church was preparing to go door-to-door to distribute copies of The Great Controversy by Ellen G. White. Over the past several years, the Cedar Lake church has also held Bible prophecy seminars, healthy lifestyle seminars, and other events to which it invited the local community.
When I visited the church, the unique architecture of the house of worship immediately struck me. The building is pentagon-shaped, and the foyer doubles as a large hallway that completely wraps around the building.
The ultimate focal point is the sanctuary, which is in the center of the building. The cathedral-like ceiling is covered in timeless wood slabs and wraps into a tall steeple that is easily spotted outside. A white cutout of the “three angels” from the former logo of the Seventh-day Adventist Church hangs on the wall behind the lectern.
Several individuals warmly greeted me. Each took time to introduce themselves and find out where I am from. While the overall atmosphere could be described as formal and traditional, people from all walks of life were welcomed. Some wore suits and ties or dresses, while others wore jeans and button-down shirts.
Sabbath school began at 9:15 a.m. with congregational singing from the hymnal and a piano accompaniment. The large building is designed to hold several hundred people, and roughly 60 people attended.
Soon, we split into three groups. Two clusters met on opposite sides of the sanctuary, while a smaller and more intimate class met outside the sanctuary in the hallway. Each session functioned like a guided group discussion and engaged everybody in one way or another. The church follows the General Conference-produced Sabbath School Study Guide.
Depending on age, several Sabbath school programs are also provided for children.
One thing that I noticed is that the church takes greeting guests seriously. Because it was Pathfinder and Adventurer investiture Sabbath, the Adventurer children served as the “door greeters.” As I walked past a row of Adventurers coming out of Sabbath school, one of them said to the group, “We have to hurry! We’re the greeters!”
The worship service began at 10:50 a.m., with the arrival of the highly diverse academy student population. A piano prelude welcomed us into the sanctuary, and the chatter picked up. Almost every row in the first ten wooden pews was filled.
Once the preliminary announcements were finished, several academy students led the congregation in singing some contemporary Christian songs. It was less formal than the “opening hymn” that followed it, which is when the congregation stands and sings a song from the hymnal. Some churches I have attended aren’t very enthusiastic about singing, regardless of formalities. The sound of the Cedar Lake congregation, though, was more than enthusiastic.
Some things that are incorporated in the worship service may be boilerplate to some, but for others, they may be less familiar.
There was an offertory and “lamb’s offering.” A children’s story engaged the youngest within the audience. Several of the girls in the Pathfinder club led a special musical performance before the sermon’s beginning.
The portion I thought was unusual was a photo slideshow of the Pathfinder club’s year. It lasted more than ten minutes, and as a visitor, I was not sure what the context of each photo was. However, this was a special occasion, so I do not think it happens regularly.
Most of the cushioned wooden pews toward the front were filled. However, other parts of the large sanctuary sat empty. I counted 240 people in attendance at the Cedar Lake church when I visited on May 6. The congregation was mostly composed of academy students and teachers. Without the academy, Cedar Lake appears to be an aging congregation with a few young adults with children.
Michigan Conference Club Ministries Director Craig Harris was the guest speaker. He catered his sermon to the Pathfinders and Adventurers, but his message has meaning for everyone.
Harris centered his sermon around his conversion as a 16-year-old.
“There’s one thing about me that I didn’t like,” he said of being a young person in the Adventist church. “I didn’t like the inside of me. I pretended I was really good.”
“I loved Jesus,” Harris said. “I just hadn’t committed my life to Jesus.” He recounted how he felt God’s leading through teachers and other role models in his life, which led him to “find Jesus.” He related his story to the biblical parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15. “I know everything you taught me, but ‘the grass looks greener over here, dad,’” he said, paraphrasing the parable.
“Pathfinders, when he came to himself, he realized that [leaving] was a bad decision,” Harris said. “I’ve got friends from growing up that said ‘see ya’ to the church. But along the line somewhere, they came to themselves. And I hope that when they come to themselves … and they walk through those doors, that they’re welcomed with open arms.”
“If someone comes in all ‘tatted’ up, and you know what they’ve been doing, do you welcome them? The Bible tells me I should. That’s a tough thing sometimes. When you come to yourself, where are you going to go?” Harris said as he appealed to the Cedar Lake congregation. “If not, there’s some adjustments that have to take place.”
As the service ended, the Pathfinder and Adventurer club members marched out of the sanctuary while the congregation stood after the closing hymn. The group quickly dispersed as I left, and the academy students returned across the street for lunch. Nevertheless, Harris’s appeal loomed over my mind as I wondered, do any adjustments need to take place in my life or my church for people to feel welcome as they are?
Editor's note—Thank you for reading this installment of the 12 Churches Project, a special 2023 series from Spectrum.
Thanks to readers like you who donated to our Grow the Vision campaign for the Bonnie Dwyer Journalism Fund, we’re commissioning reporters to visit 12 different Adventist churches in the North American Division and write about the experience. We’re aiming for diversity—at least one in each of the nine NAD unions—with a focus on key examples of various church bodies and worship styles.
Post-pandemic, what’s church like? Who’s showing up and who’s not? What’s changed? What’s working? What needs to change? The goal is not deeply investigatory but merely to witness worship and share. Hopefully, we can all learn something from these first-person experiences.
Previously in this series:
“What It's Like to Worship at Crosswalk Redlands” by Ezrica Bennett.
“Visiting the District Community Church Plant in Washington, DC” by Jacklyn Frias.
“A Visit to SuCasa, a Spanish-American Church in Tennessee” by Josué Vega
Samuel Girven is a journalist, photographer, and designer based in Cadillac, Michigan.
Images by Samuel Girven
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