by His Children
Theresa Waterman Saunders
Rev. Earl Ellsworth Waterman, our Dad, was born on November 20, 1912, in Attleboro, Massachusetts, to Earl and Mildred Waterman. He was the third of four children; the only boy. When he was four his father was killed in a workplace accident and his mother was forced to go into housekeeping (living-in with her employers) for several years. The three oldest children were sent to live with various relatives and the year old baby was adopted by her uncle and aunt, Louis and Genevieve Waterman.
One of Dad’s earliest memories and never-forgotten pain was of watching out of the windows every evening at bedtime for his mother’s infrequent visits, wondering if this was the night she would come. This hurt colored much of his life, and he suffered with it until his death. He found the unconditional forgiveness of all his sins by the Lord Jesus, especially those committed as a Christian, extremely hard to accept in his last years. This came from a deep sense of his own unworthiness and from his lifelong pain over feeling like a deserted child with the accompanying sense of personal guilt that most children believe caused their loss.
The years from early childhood to late teens are very vague. The family moved to St. Johnsbury, Vermont, when he was in grade school. When Earl was six his mother married a refined, demanding man, autocratic and alcoholic. He says,
“My room was my home when I was small. It was at the top of the stairs and was a retreat from my step-father. I spent a lot of time there. He was no father to me; he didn’t know how to be. He did love my mother. He provided us with a home — at least a house. We were never hungry, but there was no joy for us kids.”
His two sisters avoided home and became quite rebellious. He saw much of his mother’s hard life, and often said, “I hated my step-father with a perfect hatred.” He got a passion for reading from spending so much time in his room, which continued throughout his life. He became very well read, with history and literature his special interests.
At age 12, Dad visited a very small prayer-meeting group in the neighborhood Advent Christian Church. He had gone there some as a small child. Here he accepted Jesus as his Savior and never rejected him. He says he lived with the strong sensation that something was wrong or missing in his life, and when he heard about the wonderful salvation that Jesus offers, he immediately responded. His need of love was met; love for studying and knowing the things of God was born.
A young man in the neighborhood, Carroll Montgomery, established a Christian Mission, and Dad became very involved in its work. This was a tremendous blessing to him. He read his Bible through several times and wore it out completely in three years. He spent much time with Carroll and was well discipled. This was when he first began to dream of preaching the gospel.
Dad went to high school for four years in two different states, but because they did not accept credits from one another, he had to repeat both his freshman and sophomore years. After four years he took a chance and enrolled in Boston Bible School, in Boston, with no money and no high school diploma. Meantime, he had fallen in love with a neighborhood girl. With no family support or interest, no funds, and being in love, he only attended one semester.
It had to be very painful for one with such a life-long hunger for learning to have no apparent opportunity for higher education. But he demonstrated his desire to serve God by enrolling in the school, attempting to support himself alone.
At age 18 he returned to St. Johnsbury and married Marion Moulton. In the next year their first child was born, and the country experienced the great depression. He found work in Somersworth, New Hampshire, in the shoe shops; then worked in the electric plant in Dover, New Hampshire. There he joined the Advent Christian Church. The family grew fast; four more children were born in these years.
While in Dover, Dad was able to attend Alton Bay Campmeetings and learned much from all the ministers there: Clyde Hewitt, C. O. Farnham, Carlyle Roberts, Vernon Burtt. He wrote,
We had both missionaries and ministers with us over the years. None of them made a greater impact on my life than Vernon Burtt — a mighty preacher. His coming to our church in Dover, N.H., was the beginning of a new hope that I might be a preacher (which hope I had practically given up). Rev. Burtt had no training, but the call of God was on him. By then I had five children and I thought it impossible. But something in me would not be denied. And brother Burtt, without knowing it, gave me courage to step out into this field of endeavor. On this subject this is my favorite Scripture: “I was not a prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son; but I was a herdsman and the Lord said unto me, ‘Go prophecy unto my people Israel’” (Amos 7:14-15).
There was nothing dramatic about my calling. It was just a tremendous urge or desire that came upon me. It’s what I wanted to do with my life up until I was 30. By then I had a large family, and it didn’t seem a reachable ambition any more. But the Lord made it possible somehow. I can never be grateful enough to the Advent Christian denomination for the chance they gave me and the mercy they had on me — and to God for the gift he gave me to expound his word. Considering my lack of training and my ignorant ways, I didn’t do too badly. I was in demand considerably during my active years.”
Dad “launched out” in faith in 1942 and accepted the pastorate in West Ossipee, New Hampshire. He had a farmer’s heart and was very happy in this farming community. At the end of the second year, a spinal meningitis epidemic struck, and the whole town was quarantined. He had been uncertain about how long to stay and believed it was clear he must leave at once or be there indefinitely.
His ministry took him to North Springfield, Vermont; Sunshine, Maine; Whitefield, New Hampshire; Auburn, Crouseville and Chelsea, Maine; Clearwater, Florida. He had very short-term ministries, usually three to five years. He had had no training in handling difficult relationships or conflict resolution and felt very inadequate in these areas. His gifts were his excellent ability to preach, his heart for evangelism, his strong personality, and his love for learning.
It didn’t take him long to become fascinated with Daniel and Revelation and all prophesy. This was stimulated by his love for Advent Christian doctrine and the marvelous teaching of William Miller with such emphasis on the second coming of Christ. He studied avidly and found satisfaction in discussing (and arguing) with other ministers at the campgrounds. He became an excellent prophetic preacher. He was always pleased to be approved by his more educated peers.
Dad became an excellent preacher, especially on prophecy and had many opportunities in prophetic conferences. Through the years he did frequent evangelistic work in many church revival services and camp meetings. He began to dream about becoming a full-time evangelist as he was a real soul winner. In several of his churches he had secular jobs, and as he worked on the railroad, in the woods, in the grocery stores, he won many people to Jesus.
In 1956 Marion died. She was his childhood sweetheart, and he was lost without her. He had two children still at home, the youngest was only 12. He was pastoring in Crouseville, Maine, at the time. In time, he met and married Rev. Ethel Sinclair, pastor of the Zion Fellowship Pentecostal Church in Washburn, Maine. In their first two years of marriage they traveled as full-time evangelists in Assemblies and Advent Christian churches, many of them in the south. Then he pastored in the Gospel Tabernacle in Augusta and Chelsea, Maine, and in Clearwater, Florida.
During their time in Clearwater another desire and passion was growing. As a young man he had always dearly loved Alton Bay with its powerful services, great teachings, and strong, helpful fellowship. He would have spent all his time there were it not for the need to work. Later, with a large family he found it impossible to go there very often. So now, he and Ethel prayed about establishing a camp meeting built and operated entirely by faith alone. He wanted to offer the chance for anyone who desired it to experience camp meeting at no charge whatever.
They decided to try, and moved to Whitefield, New Hampshire, where a friend sold him land on Dalton Mountain to begin his campground. He and Ethel walked the perimeter claiming the land for a place for the Spirit of God to dwell. Then they traveled through the year to promote the Camp Harbinger. People from all the New England states attended. Harbinger celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2001. It grew to a facility with a main house, rooms for families, private cottage, and a large tabernacle with dining room and well-equipped kitchen.
Harbinger became a wonderfully fulfilling ministry for Earl. He preached often in the early years and brought in wonderful speakers and Bible teachers. He had a forum there for prophecy, evangelism and theological fellowship. It became his heart and life, and he loved every minute there. Lives have been changed. Harbinger has served as a work of faith and is a place where all may come at no charge — offerings and volunteer labor have been blessed by God.
Ethel began to lose her health, and in 1999 they moved to Vernon Green in Vernon, Vermont. They were happy in Vernon. Ethel died there in 2002. They enjoyed their friends and appreciated the care they received and were in turn loved by the staff and residents. Dad always felt that Vernon was very good to him. While there, he led several Bible studies and attended the Vernon AC Church. Dad continued to live there until 2009 when he died very peacefully in his sleep.
Dad dearly loved the Advent Christian Denomination. He always felt tremendous gratitude that it ordained him, and accepted him to serve the Lord in its churches. He respected the leaders, loved its history, and believed its teachings. He felt honored to have fellowship with the well-educated men and professors and missionaries. He led all his churches to support and be involved with its conferences and ministry. He had great admiration for this area of God’s work and felt highly blessed to be a part of it.
Dad was painfully aware of his limited “formal” education. I enclose “formal” in quotation marks because in fact he was very well educated without benefit of the classroom. As an avid reader, if he was sitting down he was probably reading something. When he was finished with breakfast, together with breakfast dishes, there would usually be a copy of Time magazine, World’s Crisis, or one of Winston Churchill’s books left on the table. On occasion when none of these were handy, he was known to read aloud from the cereal boxes and offer commentary on the ingredients, the additives, and the nutritional content in comparison with the percentage of “no nutritional value” therein.
Obviously, the bulk of his reading was much more sophisticated. He enjoyed quoting from Shakespeare, though it is doubtful that he ever read a complete Shakespearian play. He loved words and continued building his vocabulary throughout his life. His sermons, written out word for word, were particularly expressive. Regarding using a manuscript, he told me, “When you write out your sermon, you will not intentionally write poor grammar. You will think out your sentence structure and choice of words, a luxury you do not have when preaching from limited notes. If he was expounding on a controversial subject, he would not be merely presenting an echo of a popular (or unpopular) viewpoint. He would have prepared well and be thoroughly prepared to defend his position. He revered his colleagues who were able to take advantage of higher education and pursue advanced degrees, always being self-effacing in contrast. Yet these same colleagues held him in equally high esteem.
He had an insatiable desire for a deep relationship and close walk with God. He often spoke of several emotional/spiritual encounters that he had experienced at White River Campground, Alton Bay, or at a special rock on the island of Sunshine, Maine, where he had been the pastor. He desired to be filled with the Spirit; he did not want a one-time “filling’ or “gift” per se, but an ongoing fullness of the Holy Spirit for purity and power.
After the death of our mother, Dad took a sabbatical from vocational ministry. This afforded him time for continued pursuing of his own spiritual growth. Through his study in the Scriptures, he had already come to the conclusion that Spiritual Gifts had not yet ceased, but are still offered to the church “ … to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for the building of the Body of Christ.” Also, he was assured from the Scripture that the baptism of the Hoy Spirit was distinct from, and subsequent to, salvation. It was during that summer that he received the answer to his prayer. He attended the local Pentecostal Church and was encouraged in this manner of Christian practice. (As an added bonus he eventually married the pastor of that church.) This prompted a change in his ministry and provoked some misunderstandings in Advent Christian circles as it had for several other Advent Christian men at that time. Soon after, the “Charismatic” movement was being endorsed by many evangelical churches. Akin to the popular country song by Barbara Mandrell, “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool,” he was heard to say, “I was charismatic when charismatic wasn’t cool!”
For many years he had dreamed of establishing a conference center removed from the busyness of life where tired workers could come, rest, and be encouraged at no cost. This resulted in Harbinger Bible Conference, probably his most personally fulfilling ministry. Harbinger developed into a conference center, offering three spiritual retreats a year, where anyone may attend without cost. Its purpose and practice continues today. He wanted to make a connection with a larger organization for accountability as well as encouragement. He applied to the Maranatha Conference (New Hampshire) to have Harbinger included as a cooperating ministry. He summoned up all of his courage and told Dr. Gedney, who was conference president at the time, that Harbinger is un-ashamedly and un-compromisingly charismatic, and hoped that this would not cause a problem. Dr. Gedney smiled and assured Dad that they would stand together on that issue.
Dad’s sense of self-worth was not predicated on the size of his congregation. Although he pastored several larger churches, he preferred smaller churches. As a result, most of the time he had to find other work to augment his income. This was a mixed blessing at best. The family was never hungry, cold or poorly clothed, but even two small incomes were never enough to provide in the manner that he would have liked; and, naturally, the secular work limited the time spent in ministry.
He loved the Advent Christian Church. For a while he thought he might have greater opportunity for ministry in a larger denomination. However, he learned that one of the common marks of most denominations is to have unity among their preachers on their secondary teachings as well as the orthodox doctrines of Christianity. His “modified historicist” position of eschatology was not well accepted amongst some of those brethren, and it caused no small uproar in the Northern New England District. He then accepted a call to a very small Advent Christian Church in rural New England, and both he and Ethel were welcomed as ordained clergy into the conference.
At my ordination he included in his sermon for the occasion: “You will have a difficult time finding a fellowship that will give you the liberty found in the Advent Christian Church. There is no pre-arranged credo you must fully embrace. If you are convinced from the Scripture on a given issue, you may adhere to it; you may even put it forward for consideration without fear of censorship.” Not only did he modify his prophetic position, he was a staunch Arminian until the day he died.
SOME PERSONAL NOTES
Over the years, Dad baptized a substantial number of people. He baptized me when I was 11 years old in the cold Atlantic waters off Sunshine Island, Maine. Twenty-five years later he baptized my three older children in the Advent Christian Church in Littleton, New Hampshire.
My children’s baptisms were very moving to me. It was during camp-meeting at Harbinger, and the Littleton Church was filled with camp folks. Dad asked each candidate questions designed to show that they knew what they were doing, and fully intended to turn away from the works of darkness and earnestly follow Jesus. I had no apprehensions about Wanda and Nathan. They understood the process of baptism and the meaning it holds.
But, Rita Kay has Down’s Syndrome. She wanted to be baptized. Her Sunday school teacher back in Bear River, Nova Scotia, had told her stories about baptisms in the Bible. I was concerned that she didn’t really understand “dying to self and being resurrected to newness of life.” Also, Rita Kay was always frightened of being submerged in water.
The service went along very nicely. Enthusiastic singing; lots of praising God; a joyful, uplifting time. Then Dad gave a brief resume of the meaning of baptism and the candidates descended into the tank one by one. “On confession of your faith,” Dad stated, “I now baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Ghost.” Each one was precious.
When it came to Rita’s turn, I tensed up. I remember praying, “Lord, make it good; make it real.”
She was somewhat uneasy about getting into the water, but decided she could trust Grandpa. Instead of the usual questions, Dad asked, “Rita Kay, do you love Jesus?” “Yes, Grandpa, I do.” “Do you want to be baptized?” “Yes!”
When he submerged her, she panicked. She swallowed water and thrashed about, spraying water all around. When she came up, she climbed on Dad and got her arms around his neck. After a brief session of gasping and sputtering, she said, so all could hear, “Grandpa, NOW I am a Christian!”
And so she was.
Dad was very affectionate to his children and grandchildren and cared much about their spiritual lives. In his later years he could be heard praying with a loud voice, sometimes with tears, for his family. I am grateful to God for Dad’s impact upon my life and the lives of my children.
Marion Waterman Blake
I had a healthy “fear” of my father. I was the “child” and he was the “father.” Mama only had to say, “I’ll tell your father,” and my behavior improved immediately. He played with us, fixed cook-outs in the back yard, took us on rides on hot days, which always ended with an ice-cream cone. He read “Pilgrim’s Progress” to us, quoted famous and not-so-famous writers; loved music; could play numerous instruments, wrote music and lyrics; he would even grab Mama and do the “light fantastic” across the kitchen floor (much to her chagrin).
Dad symbolized constancy in our family. He was always there and would always be there. When he died I felt a great loss – as if something I had always depended on was gone. He represented security. He was a solid rock, always there, loving and praying for his children.”
Carol Jensen Waterman
He called me “daughter”; this was always a delight to me and endearing.
When I first met my father-in-law I was quite fearful. He was a well-established pastor and, from what I had heard about him, quite intelligent. I thought, possibly stern, too. My first visit to the Waterman home was in Augusta, Maine. I was the guest of his son, George, my future husband. First impressions are important, but George and I broke his piano stool and fell flat on the floor. During that visit, I learned he liked limburger cheese.
Anyone who really knew Earl knew that he had a wonderful sense of humor. He wrote and quoted on occasion some of his limericks and poems. The music he wrote was sung by my husband and I and others, especially at Harbinger.
I had a deep respect for my father-in-law’s knowledge of Scripture and his love and understanding of eschatology. He had a unique preaching style, and was always sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. He had an extremely intimate relationship with his Creator and Savior.
When Earl died my heart was broken. I wanted him and his spirit to go on forever. In a sense, that is happening through his sons and grandsons who have dedicated their lives to full-time ministry and hold steadily to the truths that Earl planted in their hearts and minds. No one can take his place in our lives because no one prayed so faithfully and earnestly for his family and loved ones. When Earl would come to our home for a visit we could always count on him to be up half the night praying for us all by name. If he told anyone that he would pray for them, they can be certain that he did, and did often. He would spend his waking hours reading and studying or inquiring into our lives and encouraging us. He always brought nuts or popcorn, (things he was not supposed to eat!)
He had a wonderful memory and made wonderful memories for us all.
I am proud to be his daughter (in-law).
Gillian Waterman Willey
I had a deep respect for my father-in-law’s knowledge of scripture and his love and understanding of eschatology. He had a unique preaching style and was always sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. He had an extremely intimate relationship with his Creator and Savior.
When Earl died my heart was broken. I wanted him and his spirit to go on forever. In a sense that is happening through his sons and grandsons who have dedicated their lives to full-time ministry and hold steadily to the truths that Earl planted in their hearts and minds. No one can take his place in our lives because no one prayed so faithfully and earnestly for his family and loved ones. When Earl would come to our home for a visit we could always count on him to be up half the night praying for us all by name. If he told anyone that he would pray for them they can be certain that he did and did it often. He would spend his waking hours reading and studying or inquiring into our lives and encouraging us. He always brought nuts or popcorn, (things he was not supposed to eat!)
Carol Jensen Waterman
I remember our childhood in Dover, New Hampshire. Dad worked nights in the gas plant. He says he spent most of his time studying and praying.
We would sit around the table with pencils and notebooks and he led a Bible study just for us. He taught us all the books of the Bible. I still remember every prophecy Genesis to Malachi about Jesus’ birth.
He kept a tight reign on us kids. He took us to every camp-meeting he preached at. He had the best ability to help (encourage) people to love Jesus and developed a desire in people to want to be closer to Jesus.
As children we were poor but we didn’t know it. While other parents gave their children “things,” Dad gave us Jesus. He taught us to pray, read the Word, and to live by it. He was the best preacher; I miss his ministry.
EXAMPLES OF HIS HUMOR AND SATIRE
To the editor of “Henceforth … ”
Please consider yourself under suit by us as the result of your publishing that penetrating article on prophecy in your last issue. Any sudden increase in the circulation of “Henceforth … ” will only add to the enormity of your crime and will be dealt with accordingly.
So that we may be kept informed of your future practices, we enclose check for a new subscription.
It is the judgment of our staff that if you published four times a year instead of three, we would have the satisfaction of seeing you run out of Scriptures with the word “henceforth” in them.
We see no reason to ask your permission to print a part of the last article in our own paper, editing those manifestly erroneous portions which wreak such havoc on calm and deliberate reflection.
I will call you “Freeman” and wish you would call me “Earl.”
In “Henceforth … ”, Volume 8, page 127, you make a statement about the antichrist and his identity in which I concur and would like to quote in an up-coming chapter, with your permission.
You might be interested in an observation my son and I had. I said that in person Brother Barton is a gentle self-effacing man who differs with grace. But when he takes pen in hand he reminds me of Martin Luther.
Earl responded, “And you, Dad, are somewhat restrained in your writing but very self-assertive and unrestrained in the pulpit.”
Christian love and much respect,
Earl Waterman was a man blessed of God. He was a happy man and always knew how much he needed Jesus and never, ever felt worthy of his love. Earl was impulsive, quick-tempered, energetic, independent, a family man, animal lover, part-farmer, poet, song-writer, quick to speak and quick to forgive.
Earl wrote many beautiful songs. The best known is the sweet, simple song, “Who Could it Be But Jesus?” He played the accordion, trumpet, piano, autoharp and enjoyed the organ, (but couldn’t actually play it). He knew himself to be a great sinner, and Jesus to be a great Savior. He always felt unworthy, but always rejoiced in his wonderful God.
WHO COULD IT BE BUT JESUS?
by Earl Waterman
A beggar sits by the roadside
Sightless and friendless is he,
Then comes a stranger to help him,
Restoring his sight, making him whole,
Who could it be?
Disciples adrift on the water
Of turbulent Galilee
They cried out, “Master, we perish!
Who stilled the waves? Silenced the winds?
Who could it be?
Silas and Paul in the prison,
Beaten and hungry and cold,
Singing God’s praises at midnight,
Who made them sing? Who gave them joy?
Who made them bold?
Poor lost Samaritan woman,
Nobody cared for her soul.
Then came a stranger with water,
She took a drink, her life was changed,
She was made whole!
Who has that living water,
Able to satisfy?
Who else would sit by a well,
Save a lost soul, walk to a cross,
And hang there to die?
Who could it be but Jesus?
Able to set a soul free?
Who else would pour out his life?
None but the Son, Jesus our Lord,
Surely ‘tis He!