Church Leaders Tour 276-Year-Old ‘Center of Influence’ in U.S.
Joseph Bates’ childhood home is teaching people about the Sabbath.
A 276-year-old wooden house in the U.S. state of Massachusetts is proclaiming the seventh-day Sabbath and Jesus’ soon coming to hundreds of visitors every year, and the number is expected to soar following the restoration of the building.
The childhood home of Joseph Bates, a sea captain and cofounder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, is the oldest house in the coastal town of Fairhavenand has become a significant “center of influence” in the local community, said Markus Kutzschbach, director of Adventist Heritage Ministry, which oversees historical Adventist sites.
“This is a center of influence,” said Kutzschbach, who also serves as associate director of the Ellen G. White Estate.
“It educates our own people and inspires them to follow the spirit of sacrifice and commitment as this church started in our pioneers’ time,” he told visiting General Conference directors outside the house. “On the other way, it talks to people who are coming here, interested in the history of the sea captain and of their own local history here. And in learning about their history, they are learning about the Sabbath and the second coming of Christ.”
Through the house, caretaker Lloyd Hallock has met more local people over the past two years than he ever did as a pastor for 10 years in the area.
“We just have a constant stream of people coming off the street or being referred by someone else,” he said.
The house, constructed in 1742, has undergone a complete renovation over the past year. Final interior work is being done to install furnishings reflecting the time that Bates grew up in the house from the late 1700s to 1807, when he went to sea. Bates also lived in the house for a few years after the death of his fatherand sold it in 1835. Descendants of those buyers sold the house to the Adventist Church in 2005.
The Bates home was a highlight of the second day of a six-day church heritage tour for about 75 departmental directors and their spouses from the General Conference, the administrative body of the Adventist Church. The bus tour, which will conclude with Sabbath worship services at the farm of Advent movement leader William Miller in New York, is meant to provide church administrators with a new understanding of God’s past leading as they seek to fulfill the church’s mission to proclaim Jesus’ soon coming to the world.
The church’s world divisions, whose leaders participated on a similar General Conference-organized heritage tour last year, donated a significant part of the funds to renovate the Bates house, and General Conferencepresident Ted N.C. Wilson expressed gratitude to them during the visit Sept. 12.
“Renovation is not cheap,” Wilson said. “This house was in disastrous condition.”
The results, which include turning an adjacent carriage house into a visitors’ center, will bless many people, he said.
“This will represent a beautiful opportunity to tell people about history and also about the Sabbath truth,” he said. “That’s what Adventist Heritage Ministry is all about: sharing with people, not only Adventists but also visitors, what our heritage is and what our current hope is.”
The Adventist Church has opened scores of centers of influence — bookstores, vegetarian restaurants, language schools, medical centers, and others — around the world in recent years. The centers seek to improve the physical, psychological, and spiritual lives of people in the community.
About 800 people visited the Bates house while renovations were taking place last year, said Hallock, who dresses in period attire of a back vest and black slacks to greet visitors. He anticipates 3,500 to 8,000 visitors, including schoolchildren from local schools, to take tours every year once the restoration is completed in a few months.
Visitors often ask about the Adventist Church and its beliefs, said Hallock’s wife, Dora, who wears a long dress and a bonnet. Last week, she gave a full tour to a local couple who happened to drop in and was delighted when the wife asked, “What is happening to the Seventh-day Adventist Church today?”
On Sept. 12, General Conference visitors walked through the partly remodeled Bates house and took photos of the surrounding property, which dates back to the arrival of the first pilgrims on the Mayflower ship in 1620. A drone buzzed over the house as the husband of one church worker shot video from overhead.
“I think it is wonderful,” Janet Page, associate secretary of the Ministerial Association, said about the renovated house. “I like how they said it is reaching people.”
“They have done a really good job, and I can’t wait to come back when it’s done,” added Lori Williams, associate director of human resources at the General Conference. “I think it is great for the community to be able to know about Adventists, who are so much a part of the history of this town.”
One of only three known photos of Joseph Bates. (Ellen G. White Estate)
A view of the Joseph Bates house, built in 1742 and acquired by the Adventist Church in 2005. (Andrew McChesney / Adventist Mission)
A renovated bedroom on the second floor of the Joseph Bates home. (Andrew McChesney / Adventist Mission)
An old fireplace in a partly renovated room on the first floor of the Joseph Bates home. (Andrew McChesney / Adventist Mission)
A former carriage house on the Joseph Bates property is being transformed into a visitors’ center. (Andrew McChesney / Adventist Mission)
A 17th-century wall standing behind the Joseph Bates home. The wall is all that remains of an old building that predates the Joseph Bates home. (Andrew McChesney / Adventist Mission)
Merlin Burt, professor of church history and director of the Center for Adventist Research at Andrews University, showing a first edition copy of the Advent book “A Word to the Little Flock” published in May 1847 to General Conference visitors outside the Joseph Bates house in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, on Sept. 12, 2018. (Clinton Wahlen)