A History of an Urban Advent Christian Church in Chicago


By Dr. Kimon Nicolaides


The history of most urban neighborhoods in the United States over the past century is likely to reveal considerable demographic changes. Chicago is no exception. West Chicago, in particular, is a good contender for one with the highest rates of change in ethnic compositions. For the ever accelerating rates of globalization, urbanization and migratory patterns in the twenty-first century, these neighborhoods can provide a laboratory for the types of social problems such changes can bring. Studying one such surviving community may provide insight on how to cope with, or resolve, these problems. Such a community with sufficient cohesion and social fabric to clearly identify boundary markers and membership may be found in a local community church. Hence, this paper focuses on one such urban church within the neighborhoods of West Chicago, the Hope Community Advent Christian Church of West Iowa St (Hope Church).

The relatively brief historyof this church revealedsomecommon threads woven into its identity which may have helped it survive through these dramatic environmental changes. This study noted that racial discrimination may take precedence over theological distinctives within an Evangelical denomination at both the broader corporate and the congregational levels of leadership in determining patterns of fellowship and sites of worship. However, some of these denominational distinctives, if adequately demonstrated by sound exegesis of biblical truths, sufficiently acknowledged, and embraced by believing members, can provide a cohesive force to withstand and prevail over the schismatic tendencies resulting from demographic changes in an urban environment. This requires a faithful stewardship of these truths by those entrusted to transmit them, i.e., 1) sustaining its foundations by comprehensive learning, 2) consistently applying their biblical principles at all levels, and 3) safeguarding its integrity with transparent accountability while extending mercy, love and forgiveness. This study thus noted the vital role of ongoing publications of theological periodicals in meeting these requirements to sustain the momentum of a spiritual awakening and to keep the clarity of the distinct truths they uphold alive and relevant.

Formative Years of the Advent Christian Denomination

Hope Church belongs to a small Evangelical denomination that came out of the second Great Awakening in North America in the nineteenth century. In 1831, William Miller, a lay Baptist New Englander,was convinced from his interpretation of Daniel 8:14 and other passages of the imminence of the Lord’s return. Without specifying a date, he expressed his qualified opinion of the probability of that event occurring sometime on or about 1843.[1] More than 65 other biblical scholars in Europe and around the world, acting independently of Miller, around that time had arrived at the same conclusions, although none had as great an influence (Ferrell 2007, 156, 199-241). That was attributed to their failure to broadcast these findings through the publication of numerous journals, as was the case in America (Ferrell 2007, 339).

In 1839, a disciple of Miller, Joshua Himes, organized committees to finance and publish these views. He helped to start missionary associations and organize camp meetings, conferences, publishing houses and journals that became popular throughout the United States, Canada, England and several other countries. In the following decades the Awakening interest generated a flood (literally hundreds of millions of pages) of publications, tracts, pamphlets, books, weekly periodicals and journals on prophecy and eschatology around the country. They included The Midnight Cry, The World’s Crisis, Our Hope and Life in Christ, The Advent Christian Herald, Messiah’s Advocate, The Signs of the Timesand later The Advent Herald, The Light Bearer, The Present Truth Messenger, The Advent Christian Times, The Voice of the West, The Advent Christian Witness2 and many more. I do not think these publications were proponents of setting actual dates.3 They advocated, rather, for understanding the imminence of Christ’s second advent and argued for a premillenial eschatology. The sense of the very impending nature of that advent spawned a renewed urgency to respond. More than a million new professions of faith were made in North America alone during the nineteenth century (Knight 1994, 213) and a great interest was focused on Messianic prophecies. This renewed premillennial outlook challenged the post millennialism then in vogue, and especially the relative degree of spiritual complacency accompanying it.

In 1835, Henry Grew wrote on the topic of conditional immortality. George Storrs preached on it in Albany in 1842. His sermons were also published. They claimed that immortality was not inherent to man’s nature, but that it was a gift obtained only upon accepting Christ as Lord and Savior. This contradicted the traditional view of damnation, i.e., in its specifying of a state of eternal conscious torment in Hell (Mansfield,1913b), for which inherent immortality is prerequisite.[2]

Miller was not a conditionalist. However, Himes was later convinced of it and became an avid advocate of their cause. By 1858, 80% of Adventist preachers (Adventist here being defined as Millerites) had also been convinced of man’s conditional immortality, largely due to the outstanding biblical exegesis of men like William Sheldon (Sheldon 1902) and others published in The World’s Crisis (Stearns and Collins 1960, 14). Fierce opposition, evident to this day in exclusivistic policies, arose from leadership in mainline denominations. Adventists were expelled from these denominations for holding this tenet, and many others for their premillennialism, while not a few more were forced to withdraw their membership for their outspoken stand against slavery (Ferrell 2007, 2088-2137).

The practice of observing a seventh day Sabbath was atypical. Those doing so (less than 10%) formed a subsequent group under the leadership of Ellen White after 1860, while still tracing their roots to Miller. His impact on her as a child of 12 and 14 is recounted in “Testimonies” (Stearns and Collins 1960, p13f; Ferrell 2007, 2903). The term Adventist in this paper, thus, refers to Advent Christians, and not to Seventh Day Adventists.

The first general assembly of the Adventists occurred in October 1840 in Boston, Mass. The Advent Christian (AC) Association was formed from this conditionalist arm of the Adventist’s movement in 1854 (Advent Christian News Jan. 1959, 12). This included the launch of the publication of The World’s Crisis in Lowell, Massachusetts, the main periodical of the denomination continuing weekly for more than 100 years, and advocating conditional immortality. This publishing society, in Boston then (1856), had a subscription of 3,000 (5,000 later). A meeting it convened November 1861 (Mansfield 1913a, 2 – 3) brought into existence the denomination now known as the Advent Christian General Conference (ACGC).5 According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in the two decades from 1840 to 1860 their membership grew from about 5,000 to roughly 35,000, while the four largest Protestant denominations were in decline (Johnson 1919, 234). Their own tally counted 54,000 members that year (A.C. Witness 1960 Jan., p13).

The Formation of an Advent Christian Community in Chicago Land

Hope Church was re-chartered in 1959, but remained an AC church, with roots tracing back to the Adventists who first came to Illinois in the mid to late 19th century. Most of these preachers were initially rural, itinerant and pulpitless until they planted a church. Many traveled great distances on horseback or foot. Some eventually settled in the Mid West or on the West Coast. One couple, the Mansfields, came to Milwaukee, Wis., in 1852. They then moved to Indiana, and later to Michigan, while starting and organizing some 20 AC churches. They held meetings in more than 100 towns, built nine halls, pastored a church in Indiana for six years and one in Buchanan, Mich., for 13 years (Johnson 1919, 167).

In July 1863, Mansfield, along with Himes, and D.S. Clark, held tent meetings in Chicago before an AC church was planted there. Many Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Spiritualists and Nothingarians (sic) attended. Several converted. (Johnson 1919, 259). At a regional conference that year they established a printing society for Western publications. Himes was editor. In 1870 their publication the Voice of the Prophets became the Advent Christian Times. Providentially in 1872, the year after the fire when Chicago’s publishing companies suffered great losses (Andreas 1884, 2007-9), the Adventist publishing offices moved from Michigan to 11 South Canal Street, Chicago, and its printing facilities to Norwood Park (Johnson 1919, 1960), having then a subscription of 7,000, its high water mark (Johnson 1919, 197). Mansfield was then assisting in an AC mission work in Chicago (Wellcome 1874, 345-6; Mansfield 1914, 3). A few years earlier (1860s), an AC businessman A.M. Billings came to Chicago and built the Green Street Tabernacle (New York Times 1887, Jan. 15) on 91 S. Green Street. The publishing company moved its offices there in 1874. Frank Burr already had a congregation there, and became the editor of the Advent Christian Times (Johnson 1919, 197).

German was the predominant ethnic minority in Chicago then, estimated at about 60,000 (Andreas 1885, 1785), rising to 400,000 by 1900 (World’s Crisis 1 July 1908, 9) when the total population would increase from about 150,000 to 1.7 million. Other sizeable minorities were Irish, Scandinavians and Bohemians (The Annual Lakeside Directory 1875-6, Andreas 1885, 1785). Most were first generation immigrants. The AC churches were mostly German initially, but also had some Scandinavians and later Bohemians as well.

The obsession of early Adventists with the Lord’s return boded poorly for planning, goal establishment or budgeting resources. Preachers were itinerant (Welkley 2011). Chicagoans initially heard many early Adventist preachers like Miles Grant. Few, however, stayed. Hence, purchasing a building for worship was not as high a priority among some of them. The Lord’s return momentarily would render all else obsolete. The present urgency demanded one focus: bringing in the sheaves. Few anticipated the needs of ongoing pastoral ministries. More pragmatic Advent Christians migrating into the area, such as Billings, were put off (Welkley 2011).

The Green Street Tabernacle pulpit was filled by numerous evangelists such as the very popular George Sederquist and Frank Burr (World’s Crisis 24 Dec. 1947; Johnson 1919, 345). Miles Grant was the congregation’s leader for some time prior to 1870 (World’s Crisis 1947, 24 Dec.; Our Hope and Life in Christ 1910, 9 Feb. obituary M. Wilcox, 13). Green Street was across the river from the fire in 1871. Its Tabernacle was spared. From 1870 to 1876, Burr was listed as its pastor in the Chicago Directory. In 1892 when Billings died without deeding the building over to the church, they had no place to worship. The congregation was scattered.[3]

So in 1892, the Mansfields returned to Chicago from Mendota, Illinois, and regrouped 19 of the disbanded flock. They initially met at a local blacksmith’s shop on the South side of the city. (World’s Crisis 9 Aug. 1899, 11). In 1893, the Chicago World’s Fair hosted a Columbian Exposition, which included a World Parliament of Religions that sponsored several Essayists. September 14 was Advent Christian Day. They provided speakers to give essays on religion. These lectures attracted large and enthusiastic crowds for several nights in a row as reported in the Chicago newspapers (Johnson 1919, 415; Welkley Interview). These were later compiled, edited and published by Elvira Mansfield (Mansfield, 1893). She also organized the women into a Helper’s Union, raised funds for missions, and served as its president. In 1896, the congregation led by Mansfield rented a hall at the State Street Masonic temple for two hours on Sundays, being more central and conveniently located within the downtown loop. They had grown to more than 130 when he left in 1899, and had assumed a mission work on the city’s West side, at Kommensky and 15th Streets. That eventually became what is now Hope Church (World’s Crisis 31 Dec. 1948, 12).

The First Advent Christian Church of Chicago

In March 1900, Orrin Jenks became pastor of the State Street congregation. He also provided evening and midweek services at another hall on Chicago Ave, two miles outside the loop. He proposed building their own facility. In 1902 they purchased a lot, later began construction, and on December 31, 1903, dedicated the First Advent Christian Church of Chicago (FACC) at 424 Augusta Street. His assistant in 1909, R. L. Petersen, later went to India as a missionary, (Advent Christian News Nov 1959, 16). While there, Jenks baptized more than 100 members, oversaw the construction of the church and parsonage, cleared their debts (except for a $700 balance on the parsonage), and raised an additional $1,000 plus to build another facility for the outreach program.

The Blessed Hope Advent Christian Church of Chicago

In April 1908 their outreach mission began worshipping in the basement of the facility, and it was renamed the Blessed Hope AC Church (LaGrange AC Church Bulletin April 1958; Welkley 2011). By 1910, a charter member of FACC, George Erhardt, reported 130 in Hope’s Sunday school and the need for a larger facility. In 1910, Jenks left FACC to lead the denomination’s new Bible College at Aurora. James Gardner took over at Augusta Street and was also listed as the pastor of the Blessed Hope AC Church. He also held nightly tent meetings the following July at the corner of Chicago Avenue and Christiana Street while advertising in the Chicago Record Herald (Our Hope 12 July 1911). A German speaking congregation, then still at 274 Augusta Street, had to put up with the racket of an adjacent railroad (World’s Crisis 1 July 1908, 9).

That year, the denomination held its 55th annual conference of the Northern Illinois region in Chicago, highlighting its loss of ministers, decline in attendance, and the need for longer pastorates. They participated in a temperance law observance parade. White female slave traffic was seen as a serious threat due to city government corruption. Another grievance noted was the media’s universal categorization of anyone then predicting the end of the world as being Adventists (Our Hope 1909 Sept. 22-29, 3-9).

Gardner’s ministry at FACC was shortly followed by Charles A Decker, the treasurer of Aurora College, as interim until September 1913. During this time, Erhardt was leading the Blessed Hope AC Church together with the help of a brother, Tilton. They attracted large crowds with many Jewish attendees at outdoor meetings that summer (Our Hope 1913 Aug.). That fall, John A. Downy came from a church in Indiana to pastor FACC, noting it as a rough year (Our Hope 1914 Jan. 12), although boasting within a month their largest attendance yet (Our Hope 1914 Feb. 11, 12). In October 1914 they had 85 members, growing to 95 in the morning service, and 72 in the evening service by July 1915.

In 1916, under Erhardt’s oversight, the Blessed Hope AC Church purchased an old Methodist church building located on 4104 Grenshaw Street (Welkley Interview). By then, they had up to 175 at morning services. Their Sunday school was up from 79 to 284 that year (Our Hope Nov. 15 & 29, 1916, 11). In September 1918, Downy left FACC to work for the Ohio Regional Conference, noting it as a difficult field. W.O. Williams, a pastor in Indiana, waiting a commission as a US Army chaplain, withdrew his application and went to FACC. He arrived in October and served until May 1925.

Many Adventists saw the great unprecedented and fearful World War in Europe as an ominous and prophetic fulfillment of Scriptures. It was a sign of the times that God was “bringing in the end, that these were the early travail pains of Earth’s last catastrophe, and of creation’s second birth” (Johnson 1919, 591). The spectacle of so called “Christian” nations at war with each other before a watching world of non believers was not so shocking to those Adventists whose memories spanned the 50 odd years since their own origins. The rise in attendance then was likely not unrelated to the ongoing horrific news of these events. In 1923, Hope Church’s building was condemned, abandoned, and later demolished (Welkley Interview).7 The FACC and Hope Church congregations held joint watch night service on the last day of 1923 at Augusta Street (Our Hope Jan. 1924, 12). A series of revival services held during the spring of Williams’ final year (1925) recorded the largest attendance of the past eight to10 years at FACC (Our Hope 1918 Oct.& 1925 May).

A few months subsequent to William’s departure from FACC, its pulpit was filled by Warman, who came from a church in Villisca, Iowa. After two years of ministry, they had 46 new members, with Sunday school attendance and offerings doubling. However, Warman noted a growing sentiment to sell the property at Augusta Street so as to relocate to a more “American” part of the city (The World’s Crisis 5 May 1926, 2). Such sentiments may have had more to do with the post WWI sensitivities of 2nd generation Germans regarding their own identity. Immigration then had brought the Jewish component of their neighborhood up to about one in five residents. This was quite low, however, compared to the Lawndale neighborhood (the site of Hope Church). They (Hope Church) had then a large influx of Bohemians, and Jewish immigration to Lawndale was growing so rapidly (Welkley 2011) that in five more years, Jews would comprise more than 95% of their neighbors, by far the highest concentration in Chicago (Holli and Jones 1995, 150).

During Warman’s tenure at FACC, A.E. Bloom began to lead the Hope Church (Our Hope May 4 & 16 1927). James Todd was overseeing its Sunday school and its attendance rose steadily. Bloom also served as editor for Our Hope and Life in Christ, and in 1928 published a hymn book for the denomination,“Songs of Faith and Hope.” Will Shuma, who later became ACGC’s secretary/treasurer saw his Sunday school class at Hope Church grow that year from three to 56 boys (Our Hope16 May 1928, p11). The next year Warman left FACC to lead an AC Seminary in Bridgeport, Alabama. Fim Murra (Mrs.), the president of the Helper’s Union, filled FACCs pulpit until J.H. Crouse came in June 1929. That summer as Augusta Street was widened into Augusta Boulevard, FACC made the largest annual donation to the general united budget, Crouse wrote a Sunday school training manual for the denomination, and proposed opening a home for the aged.

The next year Hope Church’s Sunday school attendance dropped to 64 although 32 accepted Christ in the first four months (Our Hope 17 April 1929). With the market collapse of 1929, many left to find work. Later that year Midwestern region’s primary weekly journal Our Hope and Life in Christ began publishing only every other week, and then merged with The World’s Crisis in Boston. The printing presses in Chicago were sent East (Our Hope 30 Oct. 1929, p2). In 1930, the Blessed Hope AC Church and FACC combined their evening services (The World’s Crisis 19 Feb. 1930, 7). In March 1931, Blessed Hope had a Sunday school attendance of 129 on Pastor Bloom’s last day. He remained in Chicago as the Midwestern region’s corresponding editor for The World’s Crisis.

 7 This was originally the Methodist Church building which they had bought in 1916. It was finally demolished in 1923, but some of the bricks were saved and built into the new building, which was dedicated in 1924.

By November 1932 most of the FACC’s members had left for jobs away from the economically depressed conditions of Chicago (The World’s Crisis 9 Nov. 1932, 7). FACC’s Christmas pageant that year still had 40 participants in full costume (The World’s Crisis 11 Jan. 1933, 7). By August of 1933 Chicago’s World’s Fair had more than 7 million visitors. Advent Christians did not participate directly this time, but held an extensive evangelistic campaign (World’s Crisis 1933, 16 Aug., 6).

In 1935 revival came again to Chicago (World’s Crisis 1935, 23 Jan., 4). In 1936, Hope Church’s elder, Erhardt, died, but not before baptizing a third generation member of his clan and donating the funds necessary to build another AC mission chapel at Galesburg, Illinois (World’s Crisis 1936, 4 Mar). A few months later Crouse left FACC to work for the Advent Christian Mission Society and Arthur Northup took over. FACC’s mission giving doubled and things improved that year (World’s Crisis 1936, 12 Sept.). A hundred members from both congregations met with another 100 from Aurora College for their annual picnic the summer of 1938 (World’s Crisis1938, 8 June).

In 1941 FACC’s homecoming speakers, denominational leaders, S.H. Perry and C.H. Hewitt, noted the uphill struggle they faced in reviving a weakened work in a difficult community full of foreigners (World’s Crisis 1941, 5 Nov., 5). Nonetheless, they resumed their evening and mid-week services as new members joined, attendance rose, and their Christmas pageant was packed out (World’s Crisis 1942, 4 Feb., 11), the events of Pearl Harbor having some effect.

The Hope Community Advent Christian Church of Chicago

In 1942, the Blessed Hope AC Church was renamed the Hope Community AC Church to better reflect the needs of their changing community, with Leonard Lowe, having just arrived, as its new pastor (World’s Crisis 1942, 4 Feb., 11). Under Shuma’s leadership, the youth formed a Loyal Workers Union. Three enlisted to serve in the military, and three more do so within another month.The publishing society noted the added war costs while trying to raise subscriptions by another thousand. By then, Northup had left FACC to go to Westfield, Mass., and Jenks, now President Emeritus of Aurora College, was FACC’s interim while writing his memoirs for the World’s Crisis. He mentioned the losses of both churches during the depression. Many who left began new AC churches all along the West Coast from Pasadena, California,to Bellingham, Washington (World’s Crisis1942,28 July, 11).

In 1943 Hope Church had the most young people of any AC church serving in the military (World’s Crisis 1944, 12 Jan.). The general conference was providing interim preachers for FACC while its present congregation was being scattered again due to “the abnormal circumstances of the period” from 1939 to 1942 (World’s Crisis 1944, 12 June, 14). In 1942 Jenks assumed the last pastorate of FACC. In February 1944 Hope Church burned their 20-year mortgage (World’s Crisis 1944, 15 Mar., 13). In 1945 Pastor Lowe left to go to a Methodist church. J. Murray Hanna, a former Aurora student, came to Hope Church that fall. He started a VBS (Vacation Bible School) the next summer with 11 staff workers. The next winter he ran an evening missionary school. The following summer they heard accounts of Alice Longland, their own missionary to India, then home on furlough (World’s Crisis 1948, 9 June, 5) .In 1949 Hope Church’s homecoming saw 87 at Sunday school. The next year they averaged 77 at their services and their pastor was elected to the publishing society. In 1951 the Hannas led evangelistic services at several AC churches and went on evangelistic tours on the East Coast. Jenks died suddenly and FACC became inactive. Some of its members moved over to Hope Church (World’s Crisis 1951, 27 June 9).

In September 1951, the Hannas, seeing hundreds respond to the gospel, left Hope Church to become full time evangelists (World’s Crisis 1952, 6 Aug., 4) and in February, S. Perry of Aurora College was interim. In May he was part time and attendance averaged 78. Perry published The Hope Herald monthly.That summer’s VBS had 37.

Welkley noted the demographic changes occurring during this period:

After WWII the Grenshaw Street neighborhood had a significant influx of Appalachian white people from Kentucky and Tennessee, e.g., the Mays family came from an AC Church in Kentucky, in the 1950s.  Many joined the church. Earlier between 1925 and 1935, many synagogues were built in the area and it was very Jewish. Several Jewish children attended Sunday school at this a small predominantly Bohemian Protestant congregation. With Bohemian names such as Zajis, Kopriva, and Kudlata, some became leaders in the community, e.g., one was chairman of the board of the directors of Aurora College. Fred Kudlata was an attorney. The Black migration to Chicago from the south was also predominantly after the Second World War … first to the South side of the city and then expanding to the West side. About 1955 the first Black families moved into … West Grenshaw Street. When I taught Sunday school there in 1959 … it was predominantly Black. When our family moved to Chicago in 1965, four blocks per month were becoming Black per to Illinois Bell Telephone (Welkley 2011).

By the mid 1950s those coming from FACC were primarily of German descent. They proposed selling both church properties to rebuild together in a suburban location. From the sale of the FACC property they purchased a lot at Lagrange Highlands. A contingent of Hope Church, then a mixture of mostly Caucasian and Black folks from Hope Church, including the families of Sidney Cole and Jude Morris, chose to remain on Grenshaw Street (Welkley 2011). It was not until April 1959 that a ground breaking was held at the Highlands Lagrange site about 10 miles West (Advent Christian News 1959 April 15). Both congregations still worshipped together with Wilsey McKnight at Hope Church. African American, J. M. Monegain, led their evening services (Hope Church Bulletin April 1958).

The Re-Chartered Hope Community Church (Advent Christian) Chicago

They then rechartered into two separate congregations. Most planned on going to Lagrange. The denomination designated their Lawndale site, Hope Community Church (Hope Church), a national project for an integrated urban outreach mission church (Advent Christian News 1959 June). That year Lee Welkley, an Aurora freshman, taught Sunday school there. His class of 4th and 5th grade boys grew from six to 40. The next year McKnight, also a carpenter, was building the new church at Lagrange with volunteer help (Advent Christian News 1961 Apr., 19). During this decade the flight of Blacks from the South increased the population of Chicago by a million. Most were crowded into a narrow strip of land on the South side. Despite considerable resistance, they overflowed to Western suburbs, with mounting racial discord.

That year’s census recorded 20,000 families living in the 12 block area surrounding Hope Church, with their Easter attendance of 234 exceeding their goal of 175 (Clothey 1960, 11). The denomination allocated $5,000 in support of the urban mission. The Longs moved there while McKnight planned to relocate with those going to Lagrange. By May 1961, Long was averaging 100 at Sunday school (Advent Christian News 1961 May). By Mother’s day the two congregations were finally at their own sites.

Later that summer both pastors resigned. Long accepted a call to Fresno, Calif., and McKnight from exhaustion. Mike Haynes, a Bostonian Black visited the Hope Church for a couple of weeks to consider the possibility of a call. One hundred, eighty attended their VBS, and 113 enrolled in Sunday school, while they averaged 70 in Worship (Advent Christian News 1961 Oct.; Sept.). In December, Haynes declined their call, and Herbert Holland from Aurora College filled the pulpit. In January, Mike Whitley took over as interim until McKnight, recently recovering from a heart attack, returned to Hope Church, the Lagrange pulpit being filled (Advent Christian News 1963 July). Health, however, continued to plague him.

In 1965,McKnight invited Welkley, then pastoring churches in Connecticut, to return to Hope Church as a pastoral candidate. Welkley came to Hope Church in April 1965 and remained until 1977 (Welkley 2011). He started with 54 members (24 adults) of whom 70% were black and 30% white. In 1966 a block of homes kitty corner to the church was demolished to build a school, displacing 200 and six to 10 families of their congregation. The school was four to five years in building (Welkley 2011).

Next was the issue of Black identity. African Americans could no longer be called Negroes, but Blacks. The summers of 1966 and 1967 saw several racial riots. A decade earlier the treatment of the Clarks, a Black family trying to move into the Western neighborhood of Cicero, was well documented, gaining worldwide condemnation (Wilkerson 2010, 372f). The only change by the sixties was the increased concentration of Blacks on the West side.

In April 1968 James Earl Ray, a drifter from Illinois, went to Memphis in pursuit of the man leading civil rights marches through those neighborhoods. Another young boy named Steven Epting coincidentally was at his mother’s side on Mulberry Street across from the Lorraine Motel, Martin Luther King Jr.’s abode that evening, when a single .30 caliber bullet was fired (Epting 2011). When the news of King’s assassination broke out, the riots erupting in Chicago would permanently change the demographics of Lawndale and surrounding neighborhoods. Jewish and White owned businesses were wiped out. Neither the Welkleys nor any Whites could pass through without having their car assaulted. A Black member of the congregation would have to drive them to church (Welkley 2011). Two weeks later President Johnson signed into effect civil legislation banning housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin. The discrimination from which African Americans had fled in the South may have been institutionalized and overt, while in the North, covert, but it was just as real and virulent:

The Blacks were the last hired and first fired, injustice was everywhere, civil rights denied, prejudice, segregation, racial tension, limited educational opportunity and so much more had brought the city to an emotional boiling point.  Once, after entertaining two black teenagers in our home after a church service, our car’s rear window was smashed with a hydrant cap. We and our landlord, who lived downstairs, began receiving threatening phone calls (Welkley 2011).

Price addressed this issue by writing reviews monthly for the Advent Christian News of books dealing with the racial tensions, which he labeled as the major social problem of our time. He challenged the denomination “One reason why our churches are dying is for refusing to open their doors to anyone who is not of the right color” (Advent Christian News 1969 Oct., 12; Dec.; 1970 May; Sept.). Caroline Welkley (Lee’s wife) published an article I’m White and Ashamed, highlighting guilt by association with white brothers and sisters who treated blacks so despicably (Welkley 1969, 15-16).

The next year (1969) youth participation of about 200 in the summer program broke all records (Advent Christian News 1969 Oct., 13). Attendance at Hope Church doubled in both morning worship service and Sunday school from 1966 to 1970, while the mid week service continued to grow. Welkley proposed a plan at the Home Missions Conference to reach inner city youth. Another 150 young people participated in the summer of 1970 (Advent Christian News 1967 Oct., 10).

With the ongoing Vietnam War and job scarcity, the GI bill and draft prompted many youths to enlist. Funerals were conducted frequently for those not surviving. Johnson’s War on Poverty gave Mayor Daley access to urban funds. He established Urban Progress Centers to assist grassroots neighborhood people develop programs for youth and job development (Welkley 2011). In 1973, Price, then the moderator for the church board at Hope Church and an Assistant Professor of History at the Chicago State University, again challenged the denomination with his article, published in the Advent Christian News (Price 1973, 12-15). He pointed to the blatant discrimination against Blacks by denominational leaders, seen in a proposition made at the annual conference to transfer out of their region, Black Advent Christian Churches simply because of their color. He also noted that no Black minister would be accepted in a White AC church.

During Welkley’s tenure from 1965 to 1977, more than 80 young people from the church went on to college. They began a seven-week summer program to reach ghetto youth with more than 70 participants (Advent Christian Witness 1969 Sept.). In 1975 they purchased a new church building in the Austin neighborhood about five miles away at 5900 West Iowa Street (their present location), allowing them to minister to another neighborhood by alternating times between Sunday school and morning worship. Many youths not old enough to drive were unable to travel beyond their own neighborhood. In 1976, they hired youth minister, Leonard Sharber, and minister of communications, George F. Zajis. Their Austin neighborhood outreach program was growing 30% annually. Its morning worship attendance was at 146 and Sunday school was 115, with comparable increases in offerings. They published the Hope Herald every two months, had three choirs, with 284 (a new record) at Easter services, and participated in SCUPE (Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education) helping seminarians to minister in the church. Several members also took a Basic Youth Conflicts Seminar led by Melvin Upchurch.

The denomination began a fund drive of $100,000 to help pay for their new Austin worship facilities. The summer program was then running eight full weeks. They were still ministering to two congregations each week and membership had reached 200. In August 1977, Welkley preached the last sermon of his 12 years as senior pastor of Hope Church in which he averaged 70 hours weekly on ministerial duties (Welkley 2011). Price became the interim minister in addition to being moderator, while still teaching full time at Chicago State. During this time, the Deaconate helpedto manage the ministry with Price’s oversight and the various ministries continued for three years until Upchurch accepted their call to be the senior pastor (Price 2011). Sharber was then Associate Minister and Director of Christian Education. George Zajis had died (Hope Community Church Annual Report 1981). Price went to Lagrange to avoid impeding the new pastor.

In 1983 Hope Church joined the Circle Community Center, a collaborative of Christian civic-minded urban churches, to provide greater economies of scale in outreach ministries. They began leasing out their Austin site fellowship hall to a pre-school Head start program weekdays. Upchurch resigned in 1985 due to exhaustion but stayed on until his replacement, Carter, was appointed in February 1986. Curtis Johnson was also hired for Grenshaw Street (Hope Community Church Annual Report 1985; Jan. 1986 Report).

At close to 65, Carter was the oldest senior pastor since Jenks was at FACC in 1951. In 1989 with a drop in attendance Hope Church voted to sell the property at Grenshaw Street and consolidate at a single site. Johnson left for a United Methodist Church in Milwaukee that summer and Carter retired the next March. In May, Charles Cooper, a frequent attendee of church services became an interim. In October he became the senior pastor ,initially only part time due to a lack of funds. Cooper’s new bride died four months after assuming the pastorate (Hope Community Church Annual Report 1991). For the rest of his ministry at Hope Church, he remained single. The annual reports gave glowing accounts of increases in attendance, offerings, great preaching, and the acquisition of a new parking lot, although after two years he was still part time (Hope Community Church Annual Reports 1991, 1992). However, two years later, Cooper, for numerous reasons including his wish to leave the denomination, would himself be forced to leave, but not before taking some members with him (Norwood 2011, Le Faire 2011).

Sharber then served as interim until the new pastor, Donald Clay came on board. By November 1997, after eight months of tenure, Clay noted the bleeding from the church’s schism was finally under control. In fact, some sort of a revival was being experienced (Hope Community Church Annual Report 1997). Within another year Clay was on staff full time. By 2001 attendance was up to 55 and offerings were increasing. All the ministries of the church were operative.  Mrs. Clay led the Christian Education committee. After an inspiring sermon in 2003 the church was once again filled with hope for renewal. The next day Clay, who struggled with obesity, died of a heart attack. (Norwood 2011).

Sharber again filled the pulpit as interim at both the Hope Church and Lagrange congregations. Steven Epting learned of the vacancy from a cousin who was a member of Hope Church. He had served as a prison warden and was then the associate pastor of a local Baptist church. In 2003, Epting became the senior pastor. In 2005, after 25 years of ministry, Hope Church lost their Associate Minister Sharber to an untimely and unexpected death from a heart attack. The new pastor is an energetic and dynamic speaker. Hope Church is once again making significant progress with attendance and offerings more than doubling to date. There is a new sense of excitement about what God is going to do.


Many inferences may be drawn from this history. First, pastoring an urban church seems to require the stamina of a young man, as it can be very exhausting, taking its toll on one’s health and family, if not adequately supported (Deut. 18:18; see especially Hurston 1994, 81-88). Price’s interim ministry did relatively well, indicating that a) delegation is crucial, and b) any urban ministry requires a particular kind of discipleship to succeed. Perhaps those in such ministries need to prepare their successors before leaving. Second, an urban church ministry requires putting an appropriate priority on saving souls. However, this does not mean forsaking planning ahead as the 19th century Adventists discovered. And, as McKnight must have known, the time spent in constructing a church edifice takes away from that in evangelism. Third, the best pastor of an ethnic church need not be the same ethnicity as the congregation. Welkley succeeded as a White minister to a Black congregation in the midst of a world raging in a racial war with itself, thus, bearing an indisputable testimony to the reconciling power of the gospel he proclaimed.

Finally, it is also clear that despite challenges, the ACGC denominational distinctives have endured. It is fair to question, however, what difference those distinctive have made. The first answer any dyed in the wool Adventists would give is that the unadulterated gospel has been faithfully upheld and publically proclaimed by at least one congregation in Chicago. The past 50 years have not seen Adventists enduring anywhere near the same level of scorn their founders did, but their acceptance into the broader community of Evangelicalism is still limited. It also seems that the initial zeal both for evangelism and their defense of those distinctives have waned. It is proposed that those two attributes should go together. It was that zeal that motivated the early Adventist to sacrifice so much to get the word out through whatever means available. It was also through those various means of publication that that high degree of zeal was maintained and their efforts focused.

The early church founders who suffered and sacrificed so much for their beliefs, transmitted them diligently to their disciples through publishing a constant barrage of literature. The long line of those following has not always shown much acquaintance with, nor commitment to those distinctives. This was especially so when the Western Region’s publishing houses were no longer operative and pastors without much theological training took the helm. Whenever regional publishing efforts languished, church participation and evangelism were quick to follow suit. The knowledge of their heritage and distinctive beliefs are obviously important factors in defining their identity and having a strong sense of this identity is crucial for the motivation to continue.

Welkley, who graduated from the denomination’s Berkshire Christian Bible College, held forth their testimony faithfully and saw substantial long term growth. Price grew up in an AC church in Boston and was firmly convinced of the absolute necessity of preserving their distinctive light. His contributions to the denominational publications on the racial issues evidenced the grace that having such convictions provided, and helped to overcome the schismatic forces then tearing at the fabric of their corporate communion. Cooper, on the other hand, who did not have any conviction of these truths, did all but split the congregation asunder and probably would have were it not for those within who stood firm for those truths.9

Epting, while not being from an AC background and having had his formal training in psychology, nonetheless, appears to be God’s choice for this congregation. His sermons give evidence that he is a diligent student of the Scriptures. He is actively involved with the denomination, attending their conferences. ACGC leaders frequently visit and speak at Hope Church. The church, under Epting’s oversight, has recently established another AC congregation in Africa and their community outreach is thriving. Evangelism being a major focus of his ministry, and having  a strong sense of God’s calling upon his life, and sovereignty in leading him, he is beginning to see the possibilities of the fruit being produced there now. Several are converted generally every week. Although perhaps not considering them yet as factors with overriding precedence, he does, nonetheless, accept the AC distinctives as true. With the support of long time members of the church and denomination, it seems likely that he will develop a fuller grasp of the critical role Hope Church plays in the overall scheme of God’s redemptive plan and know why it is so important not to let their distinctive light go out.

It is also likely that some of the congregation’s resistance to Cooper’s  proposed disaffiliation with the denomination stemmed in part from their simple unwillingness to break the ties of fellowship they had for so long enjoyed with other ACGC churches.


The Advent Christian News. 1963 – present. Charlotte, NC: The Advent Christian General Conference. The Advent Christian Times. 1870 – 1878. Chicago, IL: Western Advent Christian Publishing Society. The Advent Christian Witness. 1910 – present. Charlotte, NC: The Advent Christian General Conference. The Advent Herald. 1844 – 1863. Editor S. Bliss. Boston, Mass.J.V. Himes Publishing Co.

Albinus, Lars. 2000. The house of Hades: Studies in ancient Greek eschatology. Copenhagen, Denmark: Aarhus University Press.

Alumni Directory, the University of Chicago, 1919. University of Chicago Publishing Co.

Andreas, Alfred T. 1884. The History of Chicago. New York: Arno Press.

The Annual Lakeside Directory of Chicago. 1864 – 5. Chicago, IL: The Lakeside Publishing Co.___________________________________. 1875 – 6. Chicago, IL: Donnelly, Lloyd & Co.

Bowden, Beulah M. 1920. A History of the Advent Christian Church. M.A. Dissertation. University of Wisconsin.

Clothey, Fred Jr. 1960. Advent Christian Church in Chicago ministers to integrated community. In Advent Christian Witness. Concord, NH: Advent Christian Publishing Society, pp 11 – 12.

Epting, Steven. 2011. Interview by author. Hope Church, Chicago Ill. April 13.

Ferrell, Vance. 2007. The Advent awakening: The most complete history of the Millerite movement in print today. Altamont, Tenn.: Harvestime Books.

Holli, Melvin G., and Peter d’A Jones. 1995. Ethnic Chicago: A multicultural portrait. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Hope Community Church Monthly Reports, 1985 – present.Chicago, Ill.: Hope Community Church. Hope Community Church Annual Reports. 1973 – present. Chicago, Ill.: Hope Community Church. Hurston, Karen. 1994. Growing the World’s Largest Church. Springfield, Mo.: The Gospel House Publishing Co.  Johnson. Albert C. 1919. Advent Christian History. Boston, Mass.: Advent Christian Publication Society. Knight, George R. 1994. Millenial Fever and the End of the World: A Study of Millerite Adventism. Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association. Mansfield, Daniel. 1913. Reminiscences. In Our Hope and Life in Christ. Chicago, Ill.: Western Advent Christian Publishing Society. July, 23, pp 2 – 3. ______________­­_.1913. Reminiscences. In Our Hope and Life in Christ. Chicago, Ill.: Western Advent Christian Publishing Society. Aug, 6, pp 2 – 3. ______________­­_.1914. Reminiscences. In Our Hope and Life in Christ. Chicago, Ill.: Western Advent Christian Publishing Society. May 2, pp 2 – 3

Mansfield, Elvira S., ed. 1893. Adventual essays delivered at the congress of the Parliament of Religions, Chicago, Ill., September 14, 1893. Boston: Advent Christian Publication Society.

The Messiah’s Advocate. 1881 – 1952. Oakland, Calif.: The Pacific Advent Christian Publication and Mission Society. The Midnight Cry. Edit. N. Southard. New York, N.Y.: Publisher J.V. Himes. Weekly Nov 1842 through April 1843. Available online at http://www.adventistarchives.org/documents.asp?CatID=134%20%20&SortBy=1&ShowDateOrder=True LeFaire, Pamela. 2011. Telephone interview by author. April 23. Norwood, Cloyd. 2011. Interview by author. Hope Church, Chicago, Ill., April 11. Our Hope and Life in Christ. 1880 – 1940. Chicago, Ill., Western Region Advent Christian Publication Society. The Present Truth Messenger. 1898 – 1964. Live Oak, Fla.: The Southern Advent Christian Publishing Society. Price, Robert. 1973. Ministry to ethnic minorities. In Advent Christian Witness. Concord, N.H.: Advent Christian Publishing Society, pp 12 – 15. ___________.2011. Telephone interview by author. April 26.   Sheldon, Lucy. 1902. The life and labors of William Sheldon, Mendota, Ill.: Western Advent Christian Publishing Society. The Signs of the Times. 1840 – 1844 Editor J. Litch. Boston, Mass.: Publisher J.V. Himes. Stearns, Wendell G., and Oral E. Collins. 1960. “A century of progress in publication.” In Advent Christian Witness. Concord, N.H.: Advent Christian Publishing Society. The Voice of the West. 1863 – 1870. Editor J.V. Himes. Buchanan, Mich.: Western Advent Christian Publishing Society. Welkley, Caroline. 1969. I’m White and Ashamed. In Advent Christian Witness Concord, N.H.: Advent Christian Publishing Society, 15 – 16. Welkley, Lee. 2011. Telephone interview by author. April 4. Wellcome, Isaac, C. 1874. The History of the Second Advent Message and Mission, Doctrine and People. Boston, Mass.: Advent Christian Publication Society. Wilkerson, Isabel. 2010. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. New York: Random House. The World’s Crisis. 1856 – 1952. Boston, Mass.: Advent Christian Publication Society.

[1]Later on as the end of the designated window of the expected time frame approached Miller yielded to a consensus of views that it would be likely to occur no later than 22 October 1944 (Ferrell 2007, 5399).

2The AC Witness was a successor to The World’s Crisis.

3 Some of the earlier publications did propose such dates.

immortality” was based on the biblical meaning of the term death (e.g.,Gen. 2:17; Ps. 49:12; Eccless. 9:5; etc.), i.e., loss of life. The belief that man is inherently immortal is found universally in all cultures and religions (Albinus 2007), but stems from, agrees with, and relies on, Satanic suggestion (Gen 3:4).

5 Other sources, supporting the official position of the ACGC denomination, will show that it began in 1860.

[3]That year Ben J. Devries established a mission work also called Blessed Hope Mission on Chicago Avenue (World’s Crisis 1948, 11 Feb p12). The Pacific Garden Mission, or “the Old Lighthouse Mission,” then on State Street in 1877 had many Adventists (Welkley interview). The Chicago Directory listed two AC churches still operative in 1892, one German speaking on the corner of Chicago Avenue and Chase Street, pastored by Dr Charles Koier, and the other on 213 West Madison St, pastored by H.G. McCullogh (The Chicago Directory 1875-6, 64; Our Hope 1909, 6 Oct, p5).

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