Celebrating (and Documenting) 50 Years

Celebrating (and Documenting) 50 Years

May 22, 2017

Nicholas J. Kersten Director of Education and History   We are preserving the stories of those faithful people who have made this history. At the past sessions of the World Federation, Seventh Day Baptists had the opportunity to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Federation, officially reached in 2015. That celebration is merited, as for half a century many Seventh Day Baptists from around the world have participated in the cooperative work of the Federation. As part of the celebration, a graphic was produced which we have included on this page to help point to the work of some of those who have been centrally involved in the work of the Federation. But beyond these leaders whose names and photographs we see, there is also the work of individual Seventh Day Baptists in their local congregations around the world who have carried their faith with them as they made disciples of all nations. Janet Thorngate has served for many years as an instructor in our Conference’s Summer Institute class on Seventh Day Baptist History. On the first day of the class (at least since 2004, when I took the class as a student with Janet, and at each session since), Janet has taken the opportunity to remind her classes of a quote from the English historian Thomas Carlyle: “…history is the essence of enumerable biographies.” In other words: where history exists, there also will you find the faithful people who went about their lives and contributed to it. Where the historian sees movements, there is really a sea of people changing their world in small, but real, ways. A half century of ministry for the World Federation is an important time for us to ask how we are preserving the stories of those faithful people who have made this history. It is very important that each SDB Conference around the world has documented its own story so that we do not lose the stories of how God has moved among them. Many of our brother and sister conferences do not have their history written down in their own words and in their own language. We will continue to advocate for this important work to...

Covenants, Creeds, and the Church

Covenants, Creeds, and the Church

Jun 23, 2016

Rev. Nicholas J. Kersten Director of Education and History One of the hallmarks of Seventh Day Baptist life is our belief that the Bible is the only guide to our faith and practice. In this, we share something important with all Baptists, and more generally, with all Protestants. Along with Martin Luther, Seventh Day Baptists can affirm it is “only the Scriptures” which undergird our beliefs. All of our distinctive beliefs — salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, believer’s baptism by immersion, regenerate church membership, and the Sabbath — come to us as a result of our shared convictions corporately as we study the Scriptures individually. We are Seventh Day Baptists because our reading of the Scriptures leads us to the same convictions and we join together in covenant relationships in local churches in response to that belief.   I recently took a trip to Zambia to teach SDB history to pastors and leaders in our Conference there. I was amazed as I heard from our pastors and leaders there how much their stories of conviction match the stories of Seventh Day Baptists throughout our history. While some groups can claim a founder or preeminent leader, there is no such figure for us — just a group of people throughout our history who came to the convictions we still hold today. The classic Seventh Day Baptist story is one of personal conviction, led by the Holy Spirit through study in the Scriptures, followed by connection to a community of the same convictions. For that reason, our relationship with our Statement of Belief is very different than other groups. In some denominational traditions, it is agreement with doctrinal positions (or creeds) which triggers identification and membership with the group. Such groups are rightly called “creedal.” But SDBs do not work that way, not because we do not have strong beliefs and doctrinal convictions, but because those positions precede membership. Membership for us is more than just mental assent to a series of doctrinal statements: it is the covenant relationship with the local congregation of people who are convicted the same way. We often describe this relationship as “covenantal” rather than “creedal.” But while...

Merger Between SDB Historical Society and SDB General Conference Completed!

Merger Between SDB Historical Society and SDB General Conference Completed! by Rev. Nicholas J. Kersten Director of Education and History On April 6th, we received paperwork at the General Conference offices which documented the finalizing of the merger between the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference of USA & Canada, Ltd. and the Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society. The completion of this paperwork with the State of Wisconsin represents the completion of a process which stretched over several years. The Historical Society’s membership carefully contemplated a request to merge originally made by the General Conference’s Ad Hoc Committee on Denominational Restructuring. Prior to the merger, the Historical Society was a separately incorporated non-profit organization in the State of Wisconsin, carrying forward an arrangement that had been in effect since the original incorporation of the Historical Society in New Jersey in 1916. In response to the General Conference’s request, the Society took a straw poll with the membership to get a sense of their general disposition towards merger. When the membership demonstrated openness to considering the proposal, the Historical Society convened its own committee to explore the possibility in greater depth and to make a recommendation back to the rest of the Society’s membership. After gathering the facts, the Society’s committee ultimately recommended the merger, which the members of the Society passed in consecutive years by wide margins. The General Conference, having made the initial recommendation, also approved the merger with the stipulations asked for by the Historical Society. As a result of the merger, the work of preserving and promoting Seventh Day Baptist history is now the work of the Council on History of the SDB General Conference, with the former Directors of the Historical Society becoming the new members of the Council on History. Members of the Historical Society will see their memberships converted into supporter categories of the Seventh Day Baptist Historical Library and Archives. They will maintain all of the rights and privileges they held previously with the Society, except the right to vote directly on history business. Election of new members of the Council on History will now take place at the yearly meetings of the General Conference. The Historical Society...

Five Men and One Woman: They Served Fifty Years Until They Died

Five Men and One Woman: They Served Fifty Years Until They Died

Mar 18, 2016

2nd in a series celebrating the Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society Centennial by Janet Thorngate It was thirty-five years ago that I first saw the picture. Four men and one woman, posed formally in front of an ivy-covered wall, impressive, yet at ease in their fashionable 1920s attire. Who were they? And why worthy of an 8 x 10 print mounted on pressed grey cardboard—with not a note of who, what, where, when, or why! I packed the photo along with hundreds of others in the boxes of the Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society library and archives soon to be put on a moving van leaving Plainfield, New Jersey for Janesville, Wisconsin. In the years since, through the historical detective work that becomes addictive, the four men emerged as four of the five original trustees of the Historical Society. And the woman? That took longer. The fifth founding trustee was not in the photo because he had already died: Frank J. Hubbard (1868-1927). He had signed the Articles of Incorporation with the other four men in June 1916 and had served as treasurer the eleven years until his death. He was a civil engineer; graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; prominent for civic involvement in Plainfield especially in public education; and much involved in the SDB General Conference particularly as a fund-raiser for the new denominational buildings erected in the 1920s. He was the brother-in-law of the woman in the photo. She, Miss Ethel Lucile Titsworth, was elected to succeed him and served as treasurer for thirty years, as trustee for thirty-eight, until her death in 1965. She also followed Hubbard as treasurer of the Tract Society.   Of the other four founders, William M. Stillman (1856-1937) was the oldest. He served as 1st Vice President until his death in 1937. A graduate of Rutgers University, he was an attorney in Plainfield, making his legal services available for any denominational concerns. His wide-ranging interests included support of the early work of Joseph Booth as first SDB missionary in Nyasaland (Malawi) and South Africa. After the death of his first wife he married Ethel Titsworth; they are the bookends in the four-men-and-one-woman photo. It...

Honoring Dr. Paul

Honoring Dr. Paul

Jan 22, 2016

By Nicholas J. Kersten Beginning in 1973, the SDB Historical Society has honored Seventh Day Baptists who have made significant contributions to the preservation and understanding of Seventh Day Baptist history by the presentation of an award: one of two traveling golden-headed walking canes, which have long been in the Historical Society’s archives, and a commemorative plaque. Because the primary symbol of the award is the cane, the award is known as the Gold-Headed Cane. Between 1973 and 2014, there were sixteen recipients of the award. In 2015, at our General Conference sessions, the Historical Society honored the seventeenth recipient of the award, the Rev. Dr. Paul W. Manuel, with the J. W. Morton Gold-Headed Cane. The presentation of the Morton cane to Dr. Paul was highly appropriate, as Morton was known as a pastor, a scholar, and a teacher — three functions which Dr. Paul has also admirably filled for many years. Morton was born in 1821, and after profession of faith and completion of his early years, was trained as a missionary and sent to Haiti as a missionary for two years. At age 28, Morton became a Seventh Day Baptist. Because of his education, he became a teacher of Latin and Greek at DeRuyter Institute. He was also a pastor at both the Marlboro, NJ, and North Loup, NE, churches. Dr. Paul is well known among our people for his teaching gift and his scholarship. Much of his education has been dedicated to the study of the Hebrew language. What is not as well known is that he has spent a significant amount of time studying and writing about the history of German Seventh Day Baptists, especially after he became the pastor of the German Seventh Day Baptist Church in Salemville, PA, in 1998. In addition, he has maintained important relationships between the German SDB church and the Ephrata Cloister and the now-defunct SDB group at Snow Hill, stewarding important parts of the story of German SDBs. In addition, his extensive theological reflection and writing (some of which is now available on his blog — http://paulwmanuel.blogspot.com) has long included a historic component. He traced the development of various theological concepts from their...

The Search For Ella Grace Brown Burdick

The Search For Ella Grace Brown Burdick

Dec 28, 2015

From a shrouded mother to a fist at her chin: The Search for Ella Grace Brown Burdick Janet Thorngate The original question was broader: Who were Dr. and Mrs. Alfred S. Burdick? The endowment in their name has supported the bulk of the Historical Society’s work for the past fifty years — and continues to provide half of the income in our current budget. The answer to the question also proved to be much broader. Only about one-quarter of the Burdicks’ contributions to Seventh Day Baptist ministries supported the historical work. Income from the endowments benefits missions, ministerial education, and a wide variety of church and denominational projects, thousands of dollars’ worth annually.     Identifying Dr. Alfred Stephen Burdick (1867-1933) did not prove to be difficult. An internet search turned up an impressive biographical sketch published in the History of Medicine and Surgery and Physicians and Surgeons of Chicago eleven years before his death.1 He was a practicing physician, medical school professor, editor of medical journals, pharmaceutical researcher, and ultimately President of Abbott Laboratories, a leading pharmaceutical company known worldwide. Tracking down his wife was the challenge. Like most women of her time, she was known publicly by her husband’s name: Mrs. Alfred S. Burdick. Yet the generous bequests and endowments came through her estate. It was valued at over two million dollars.2   Ironically, no obituary appeared in the Sabbath Recorder for Ella Grace Brown Burdick (1870-1960). She was ninety years old and seemingly forgotten. The clue to learning something personal about this woman, and about her husband as a person, had appeared in a tribute to her husband soon after his death in 1933. It was submitted to the Recorder from China by Dr. Rosa Palmborg, who served in the Seventh Day Baptist mission there for forty-six years from 1894 to 1940. After quoting from a long tribute to Dr. Burdick published in the American Journal of Clinical Medicine, Dr. Palmborg said, “I have known him and his dear wife since the time when she and I were in district school together, when his kindly, and perhaps I should say saintly, father was my pastor.”3 The district school Ella Burdick and Rosa...