California Conference History
In 1848 the Golden State became a possession of the United States after the Mexican American War, by the treaty of Guadalupe, although there were earlier Spanish residents, whose missions were south of San Francisco. The Russians had put their mark in California in the northern part of the state, naming the Russian River and Sebastopol, but they left by 1824. The population of the entire state in the early 1840s was 6,000, but by 1849 the population of San Francisco alone was 85,000. Gold had been discovered in the Golden State at Sutter’s Mill, and California was welcomed into Union in 1850.
In 1859, Merritt G. Kellogg, the oldest son of J. P. Kellogg, moved to San Francisco. He and his family shared the Good News by sharing literature and books. Their first convert was B. G. St. John, a forty-niner who made and lost a large fortune in gold mining. In 1861, Kellogg held meetings in the courthouse in San Francisco on a weekly basis, and there were eventually 14 who confessed their faith in Jesus and His Church.
Kellogg then organized a Sabbath School in his home. Soon an Adventist cobbler, L. W. Cronkrite, arrived in San Francisco. He hung a placard of the Ten Commandments and a prophetic chart on his shop wall. When customers made inquiries about the strange beasts, Cronkrite gave them a study on the prophecies. So many were interested that in the fall of 1865 the little Adventist company decided to send $133 in gold to Battle Creek to pay the travel expenses of a minister to labor in California. However, the General Conference had no one to send at that time (Testimonies to the Church, IV, 489, 490).
In the spring of 1867, the little group of believers in San Francisco decided to lodge their appeal once again to the General Conference by sending Kellogg to the General Conference Session, but unfortunately, he was not able to arrive in time for the session. Kellogg decided to take matters into his own hands. He sold his home on the West Coast, traveled eastward, and occupied himself until the next General Conference Session which was held May 28, 1868.
At first it seemed his plea would again go unheeded. Then, when only two workers remained to be assigned, one of them, J. N. Loughborough, arose. He spoke of recent dreams which had left him with a strong impression that he should hold tent meetings in California. “Should Elder Loughborough go alone?” asked James White. After all, Christ had sent his disciples out two by two. That seemed a good plan to follow for so distant a field. D. T. Bourdeau thought so too; he would gladly accompany Loughborough.
Immediately James White set about raising $1,000 to purchase a new tent for California and to finance passage for the Loughboroughs and Bourdeaus by way of Panama. No time was wasted. Less than a month after making their decision, these “missionaries” boarded a ship in New York City. Twenty-four days later they were in San Francisco. Here they were warmly welcomed by the St. Johns and other members of the Adventist company (O. Macomber, Pioneering the Message in the Golden West, (1946) 54, 58, 59, 63-67).
Public Evangelism Heads West
The discovery of gold in California had made the state an empire unto itself. Ellen White had cautioned to use economy but at the same time she urged the men to spend as needed to make sure God’s work would grow, knowing that the liberal donations of many would more than take care of the expenses that would be incurred in the spreading of the gospel on the West Coast.
Bourdeau and Loughborough arrived in San Francisco on July 18, 1868, and immediately found lodging with St. John, "the converted forty-niner." As they scouted the San Francisco area, they found that food was very inexpensive but the rental of homes and buildings to hold meetings was very expensive. There was a church in a small town called Petaluma about 50 miles north of San Francisco, which was known as an Independent church. Members had seen a notice in an Eastern newspaper that two men were traveling west with a tent to hold evangelistic meetings. They were able to make contact with Bourdeau and Loughborough in San Francisco, and the Independent church invited them to Petaluma to hold meetings.
On August 13, about a month after arriving in California, Bourdeau and Loughborough launched their series of tent meetings in Petaluma at the Independent church. One of the members of this Independent church, a Mr. Wolf, had a dream one night where he saw two men kindling five fires. In his dream, he saw the ministers of the other churches in Petaluma trying to put these fires out, but the more they tried to put the fires out, the more they burned. Finally he heard the ministers say in the dream, "It is of no use. Leave them alone. The more we try to put out the fires, the better they burn" (J. N. Loughborough, Rise and Progress of the Seventh-day Adventists, 276-279).
Everything seemed to be going fine until the missionaries presented the Sabbath doctrine, and a division arose among the Independent church members, with only six accepting the Sabbath doctrine and uniting with the Seventh-day Adventist group.
Upon completing these meetings in Petaluma, Bourdeau and Loughborough moved on to Windsor to the north, then to Piner, then on to Santa Rosa and Healdsburg. The "five fires" that had been kindled were now burning.
There was much intense excitement in this area of California regarding the establishment of the small Advent groups. It was decided that a church building should be established in this area, and Santa Rosa was the c ity chosen. A man donated two lots of land and $500, and as a result, the first Seventh-day Adventist church in California, and the first west of the Rockies, was established and organized in Santa Rosa, November 1869.
In October 1872, the first Adventist camp meeting in the State was held at Windsor, lasting one week. The camp consisted of 33 tents in addition to the 60-foot circular tent in which the meetings were held. James and Ellen White attended, and their message was heartily received by the believers. They remained in the state until the end of Feburary 1873, holding meetings with the various churches and companies. On February 15 and 16 the California Conference was organized at a meeting held in Bloomfield, Sonoma County, the Sabbath keepers then numbering 238 (M. Ellsworth Olsen, Origin and Progress of Seventh-day Adventists, 290).
By the time the California Conference was organized in February 1873 (a temporary organization having been formed in 1869), Conference President Loughborough could proclaim to the assembled delegates, "None of us, it seems to me, can doubt the utility and practicability of good camp-meetings. They are almost indispensable to the work of our cause" (Harold Oliver McCumber, Pioneering the Message in the Golden West, 51-107).
Camp meetings, having proved so successful in the past, inspired the California Adventists to organize another state-wide camp meeting for the fall of the same year. This camp meeting was a one-week affair held in a shady grove at the confluence of Conn Creek and the Napa River, about a mile northeast of Yountville. Sixty-three tents were neatly arranged around the thoroughfares Present Truth Street, Law and Order Street, etc. On Sunday, nearly 1,500 people pushed in and out of the big evangelistic tent, and afterwards 29 were baptized in the river (McCumber, 112).
On June 4, 1874, James White began to issue an eight-page semimonthly paper, The Signs of the Times, as a further means of spreading the Adventist principles on the Pacific Coast. After producing six issues, he arranged with the California Conference to take charge of the paper and returned east to obtain means to put the enterprise on strong footing. At the General Conference held in August of that year, it was proposed to raise $6,000 east of the Rocky Mountains for this purpose, provided the brethren on the West Coast would raise $4,000, secure a suitable site, and erect a building. Elder George I. Butler brought this proposition to the California brethren assembled at the Yountville camp meeting in October, and they responded by raising $19,414 in coin. The Sabbath keepers in California then numbered 550, and the yearly tithe amounted to more than $4,000. This resulted in the establishment of Pacific Press Publishing Association in Oakland.
The work in California emphasized health and education from its early days. A small health resort called Rural Health Retreat was opened near St. Helena in 1878 under the direction of Merritt Kellogg, who had received medical training in 1867. During the 1890s, the retreat was renamed St. Helena Sanitarium.
In 1882 Healdsburg Academy (soon to become College) was established in the town of Healdsburg, 15 miles north of Santa Rosa. In 1906, its name was changed to Pacific Union College. The church purchased the Angwin Resort in the mountains above St. Helena and moved the college there in 1909.
From its early days, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has had an interest in overseas mission work. In 1890 the mission ship Pitcairn, built in Benicia, was launched in Oakland and sailed from San Francisco. Money for this mission venture was raised through Sabbath School offerings. The ship sailed the Pacific Ocean for six voyages with Pitcairn Island as her first port of call on each journey. The ship was sold in 1900 (http://library.puc.edu/pitcairn/studycenter/pit_puc.shtml).
A high school boarding program has been part of the conference since 1908 when Lodi Academy & Normal Institute was opened, with a primary goal of training teachers. This school offered a boarding school environment until 1962 at which time the newly constructed Rio Lindo Academy near Healdsburg opened for boarding students.
Beginning in 1901, a series of changes occurred to reorganize the work in Ca lifornia. The Southern California Conference was formed in 1901 followed by the Central California Conference in 1911, in addition to the California Conference with headquarters in Oakland. For a brief time, the California Conference territory also spawned the Northern California-Nevada Conference as well as the Northwestern California Conference. Ultimately the territory was once again restructured, with the termination of the California Conference in 1932, renaming it as the Northern California Conference, with Morris Lukens as president.
(Compiled by Ted Calkins)
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