Harrison Demchick and Phil Kreniske
Since its official inception on May 21, 1863, the Seventh Day Adventist faith has grown from a small group of individuals into "a worldwide community of over eight million members and millions of others who regard the Adventist faith as their spiritual home." The Seventh Day Adventist movement emerged from the earlier Millerite movement, which had predicted, based on Bible studies, the return of Jesus Christ on October 22, 1844. When this return failed to occur, most members of the movement experienced "the great Disappointment," but a few, most notably James and Ellen G. White, returned to the Bible to determine where the mistake had been made, ultimately concluding that October 22, 1844 was not the return of Christ, but rather the start of "a special ministry in heaven for His followers." From this beginning the Seventh Day Adventists emerged, and "the Church now has established work in 209 countries." 
The history of the Park Street Church of Seventh Day Adventists in Oberlin, part of the Allegheny West Conference, located at 99 South Park Street, is not nearly so well documented. "No one that I recall ever thought about doing a history of [the church]," says congregation member Lynn Jackson. Speaking of the church's unusual lack of historical documentation, Jackson explains the following:
I think what it is [is] that people, they get concerned with programs in the church and the order of worship and all this, and then you get different pastors who will come in, maybe pastor the church for three or four years, some maybe longer, eight or ten, and they have their own system of doing it . . . and time just gets away from you, and what you have to do is you have to go to somebody that's been here a long time. 
Nobody has been at the Park Street Church longer than Jackson himself; nearly 67 years old, Jackson has been a part of the church from the very beginning, and is himself the best source of the church's history. "It was known as a company," says Jackson. "My parents were charter membersÉ and this was around 1938." 
Seventh Day Adventists had not always been welcome in Oberlin. In the October 13, 1887 edition of the Oberlin Weekly News, an individual identified simply as "A Reader" writes that "this sect of religionists are now making an earnest effort to get their literature before the people and to reach them with their peculiar views by Bible reading, etc.," stating also that "I think it but right that I should warn the public through your columns to beware of their encroachment." The article paints Seventh Day Adventists as threats with a doctrine that is "delusive and pernicious."
A later article, in the January 5, 1888 issue of the Oberlin Weekly News, written by D. H. Patchen, offers agreement, referring to belief in the seventh day Sabbath—a core belief in the Adventist faith, and the reason services are held on Saturday instead of Sunday—as "a great calamity to people and families and to communities, in ways too numerous to mention here." At this point the Seventh Day Adventist movement was only about 25 years old, and evidently animosity faded as the religion gained greater influence and prestige. There were no problems related to discrimination for the founders of the Park Street Church.
||From the start the Seventh Day Adventist group in Oberlin was a small one—"a family church," as Jackson describes it, actually comprised of a number of close families and friends. "There was the Battles," recalls Jackson, "Georgia, Maurice and Georgia Battle, there was Joel Battle, Horace and Bessie Jackson, who were my parents, Willard and Clea Holmes, and there were a family by the name of Bosses that were [there] at that time." Being both a small group and a new group, the founding members of this Seventh Day Adventist congregation did not yet have a church building, so they met in the Holmes's home, on North Professor Street. "They had to move furniture around in order to have room for the people to meet," says Jackson. This was just one of several places wherein the Seventh Day Adventists would meet; "we used to hold church in one of the rooms upstairs [at the Oberlin Inn], in, like, a conference room, and we rented from them for a while."|
The Seventh Day Adventists Church, Dec.2003;
photo by Kreniske and Demchik
With the small congregation established, it became necessary to find a pastor. "My dad knew of a gentleman in Cleveland by the name of Phillip Baskerville," explains Jackson, "who was a lay-pastor, and they sought to get him, and something happened where he couldn't come down, and a couple came down by the name of Charles and Bonnie Stewart." Charles Stewart became the unofficial pastor, "like a lay-pastor," as Jackson describes him. This occurred around 1940, and shortly thereafter, "I would say probably 1942 or '43, we rented the Methodist Church right down around the corner. Park and Groveland." Neither this location nor the Oberlin Inn, nor the congregants' homes, were used for a significant period of time, but the church building that currently exists at 99 South Park Street has been in use for around 57 years.
poles have been removed. Photo by
|Still more impressive, though, is that the building was constructed by the church members themselves. "My dad was a painter," says Jackson, and Horace Jackson was far from the only congregant with such skills. "Brother Stewart was a general contractor, Luther Palmer was a brick mason contractor, and [Espy] Carter did some contracting work," says Jackson. Palmer and Carter, along with Bessie Carter and the Dobbinses, were also members; and as the church grew, so did the number of people able to help with the building's construction. Burrell Scott, Palmer's nephew, was "one of the biggest masonry contractors in the area for a lot of years." His uncle, George Harris, was a bricklayer and a contractor, and his family joined the congregation as well. Family and friends allowed the congregation to expand, and the building did the same, everyone working together to create the current Park Street Church. "I remember there used to be poles right through here to help support the ceiling," says Jackson. He also recalls some of the more humorous aspects of the building's construction. "There were years when we were remodeling the basement," he says, "you had different people who would kind of disagree . . . but we managed to get through it." Charles Stewart was one of the bigger sources of disagreement. "He wanted it done a certain way," says Jackson, adding:|
and he was going to threaten to bring in the state inspector [if things didn't go his way] . . . but then you had his brother-in-laws [sic], who knew more about what they were doing than he did. So, when they had a meeting among the men, they all voted on how they wanted it done, and he threatened to put a stop to it.
All churches have people like that, according to Jackson, who remembers Stewart as "a good old man," but "a bit on the stubborn side . . . You couldn't help but love him."
The family togetherness that has always been a factor in this Seventh Day Adventist church manifested itself in other ways as well. Jackson recalls dinners at the roadside park on East Lorain Street: "We had a good time. They used to have picnic tables out there and all. Every time I go by there I think about that. My goodness, that was sixty years ago." There was also a group picnic at Cascade Park in Elyria. As Jackson remembers:
There's a big hill down there. We must have started halfway up that hill, and I slipped and fell and rolled down and was crying and screaming, and I think I was about five, or something like that, I remember laying on a picnic table, and they had a picnic over there, and somebody was trying to console me over there.
All the while, the family of Park Street Church grew, gaining new members over the years, peaking, according to Jackson, at somewhere between 90 and 110 members.
In the early 1950s, community service became a priority for the Seventh Day Adventists. The first documentation of their involvement in the community dates from a 1958 study entitled: A Study of Two Approaches to the Missionary Volunteers Program in the Park Street Seventh Day Adventist Church, written by one of the charter members, Luther Robert Palmer, Jr. One can speculate that the members of the Park Street Church had been working with the community for some time before the publication of this book. The book is mainly concerned with the following:
For several years a difference of opinion has existed within the Park Street Seventh Day Adventist Church, Oberlin, Ohio, Missionary Volunteer Society regarding the effectiveness of the program patterns and materials that are presented in the Missionary Volunteer Program Kit prepared under the direction of the denominational Young People's Missionary Volunteer Department of Seventh Day Adventist. 
The difference focused on aspects of the Missionary Volunteer Kit dealing with the young people. Some members of the Park Street Church voiced their concerns that the pamphlet was not meeting the needs of the younger members of the congregation. Specifically, Palmer writes:
Upon examining the condition of the Park Street Church Missionary Volunteer Society, some difficulties must have been involved in the use of denominational materials and plans because there was an apparent lack of interest on the part of the young people. 
Evidently the young people were not getting involved with the missionary work. Palmer concludes that the young people were not getting involved in the community work because "for the most part, it appeared that the members did not respond to the programs since they were planned and prepared without their help or ideas, and consequently did not satisfy their needs." The young people wanted to focus on contemporary issues like "making friends with those not of our faith," "self-understanding and the understanding of others," and "race relations." Today the members of the Park Street Church have continued to focus on all three of these issues. 
The Park Street Church members are still working to make more friends and help in the community. Church member and Deacon Philip Charles Hagan says of working in the community:
I'm a big believer in community service, that's I believe exactly what Christ would have done, he would have been out in the community helping people, healing people, feeding people. And there's a lot of needy people here in Oberlin, and it's a good thing when we can take our resources and give back to the community. And . . . probably one of the most important parts, as far as I'm concerned, about the Church is the church outreach, is meeting people where their basic needs are. 
Preparing for Thanksgiving 2003, the congregation gathered at the church on Park Street to put together boxes of food for families that could use a little extra help over the holiday season. The basement was filled with members old and young. In addition, according to Hagan, who became a member of the congregation last year, "over this Thanksgiving holiday we went to so many people's houses and I saw such a great need and it's not just a financial need, I believe it's a spiritual need." 
Mrs. Stone and her son Joshua setting up the Christmas clothing give away. 12/9/03
For Christmas, the congregation is putting together a clothing drive. They filled the church basement with winter clothing. They will give these clothes away to anybody in the community who might need some extra layers over the frigid Oberlin winter.
The quality of race relations at the Park Street Church sets an example for the rest of the community. Hagan, who was born in Mustang, Oklahoma, joined the congregation in 2002. He and his wife are the only two Caucasian members. Hagan says of this fact, "there is only one race and that is mankind, God was thoughtful enough not to make us all the same." Hagan continues:
It's a terrible thing to judge a man by the color of his skin. So when I came into this church all I cared about was how these people worshipped God and that's what I was concerned with, was the way that these people revered God and had a love and a zest and a zeal for God. The color of somebody's skin didn't matter.
Clearly Hagan is happy in this congregation. "These guys here, I'd die for them just as soon as I'd die for anyone in my family." 
The Park Street Church of Seventh Day Adventists was founded on a small familial base and over the past sixty years it has continued to maintain this important element. Hagan says, "This church here is a family and that is an important part of the church."
Another element of the church that has been preserved is the traditional music. Jackson has been the organist for the past twenty years. The Park Street Church also boasts a piano and choir pews. However, a drum set will not be found inside the walls of this church. Jackson says of this, "I'd rather see it stay in line with traditional hymns and things like that, maybe with a classical touch to it. But when you start bringing drums and all . . ." Jackson is skeptical, although he admits, "I've seen some churches though that had drums and they did it very tastefully. However I've seen more churches where it's done not too tastefully." Jackson complains that in these types of churches "you can't tell the difference between that and the nightclubs." So far Jackson and the Park Street congregation have preserved a traditional style of music in the church.
Although the music at the Park Street Church has remained much the same over the past twenty or thirty years, the pastors are always changing. Jackson says of this trend:
We've had probably thirty-five of them at least, in the last twenty years . . . The average one has been here probably about three to five years and we've had a couple that were here for at least eight years, I don't think any of them over ten years.
Sometimes Jackson felt as though "we had one pastor coming in the front door and another one going out the back."
This type of experience is not unusual for a Seventh Day Adventist Church. In the Adventist faith, the organization likes to move the pastors around so that congregants do not get too attached to one pastor. The scriptures and the Bible are always of most importance. Jackson explained with these words:
In the Adventist faith they have a standard where they don't let a pastor stay too long, because a lot of time the parishioners, they get caught up in the pastor instead of looking to the Lord.
It is often the case that a pastor will have responsibilities to more than one Church. For example, the present pastor of the Park Street Church, Pastor James Davis, also "has a church up in Warren, so he's here in Oberlin every other weekend. Of course, we have a local elder here, Gerald Steward," said Mr. Jackson.
Although the pastors at the Park Street Church are often changing, the congregation has maintained the familial character the charter members founded in 1938. In the early fifties the Park Street Seventh Day Adventists worked to improve their relations within the community. In recent years the congregation has built upon their rich history of community service, developing new church based initiatives that focus on meeting the needs of Oberlin residents.
 All quotations in this paragraph are from www.adventist.org.
 Interview with Lynn Jackson, November 23, 2003, conducted by Philip Kreniske and Harrison Demchick.
 Jackson interview.
 Luther Robert Palmer, Jr., A Study of Two Approaches to the Missionary Volunteers Program in the Park Street Seventh Day Adventist Church (1958), p. 1.
 Palmer, Study, p, 12
 Palmer, Study, pp. 13, 27-28.
 Interview with Philip Charles Hagan, November 2003, conducted by Philip Kreniske and Harrison Demchick.
 Hagan interview.
 Hagan interview.
Harrison Demchick and Gerald Stewart.
Special thanks to our friend and contact, Elder Gerald Stewart.