The Beginnings Of Adventism In England

In 1874 when J.N. Andrews arrived in England on his way to Switzerland he did not find any Seventh-Day Adventists in the British Isles. However, he managed to meet William Jones, who was the pastor of the English Seventh-Day Baptists. Jones took Andrews around London, showing him some of the important landmarks of the Sabbath-keeping movement there. They were able to exchange ideas and Andrews had the opportunity to share the three angel’s message with Jones. Jones was fascinated but not enough to be convicted.

Interestingly Adventism was first introduced to England through the efforts of a layman by the name of William Ings. Ings was born in England but had migrated to America where he became a member of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. In 1878 he along with his family returned to England, arriving in the town of Southampton to spend time with some relatives. During his stay, he spent a considerable amount of time visiting with the local people and going door to door distributing pamphlets and literature about the Seventh-Day Sabbath. A handful of those who came into contact with Ings were convicted and soon began to keep the Sabbath.

In December that same year, John Loughborough was sent by the General Conference to break ground in England and start up a permanent mission. When Loughborough arrived in England he was already a seasoned veteran having spent the previous thirty years in ministry as a preacher, evangelist, leader and administrator. Loughborough was used to hard work and immediately rolled up his sleeves and put his shoulder to the wheel. But the going was hard and slow. Setting up his tent he began to run evangelistic seminars but he had landed in England at the worst possible time. The tent meetings floundered in the midst of the two worst English summers of the century. In addition to this Loughborough struggled to navigate the cultural divide between America and England when it came to methods of evangelism.

In the American Midwest using tracts and tents to spread the gospel had proved to be efficient and fruitful. In England however, both the tract and the tent were generally used to attract the poorer, less educated subsection of society. This meant that Loughborough was unable to attract a diverse cross-section of English society to his meetings.  Added to all this was the fact that a bunch of Yankees were trying to teach the English about religion, of all things and they were trying to do it without much orientation regarding English cultural mores. Amidst all these challenges, the message struggled to gain traction.

After 255 meetings Loughborough found himself in December of 1879 without a single baptism. He had managed to start up a Sabbath School of 17 people however which was running regularly. Loughborough and his team pressed on. By February of 1880, by the grace of God 13 people were baptised in Southampton.

By 1882 the National Tract and Missionary Society were sending out Signs of the Times to libraries and interested individuals and later in 1884, this was succeeded by the Present Truth which was produced in Grimsby by M.C. Wilcox. The paper proved to be an indispensable evangelistic tool and by 1885 over fifteen thousand had been distributed and the circulation was consistent enough to make the paper a bi-monthly issue with its own dedicated workforce of six women to run it.

Meanwhile, in 1883 the first British Seventh-Day Adventist Church had been organised with the combined efforts of those who published the paper and those who ran the evangelistic meetings. The church grew steadily with membership rising to 122 by 1887. The Headquarters of the Church had been set up in Grimsby in 1884 which was also where the printing press was housed. In 1884 the Grimsby and Ulceby churches were formed and the first Adventist owned church was dedicated in 1889 in Ulceby.

Slow And Steady Progress

In May 1887 the General Conference suggested that the printing press should be moved to London and S.N. Haskell was sent to take over the leadership of the work. He took up the editorial responsibilities of the Present Truth in January 1888 at its new address of 451 Holloway Road. Haskell was able to grow the membership of the new mission field from 80 to 160 in the space of two years which was slow going compared to the pace of the work in places like Switzerland and Australia.

Ellen White encouraged Haskell to focus on evangelising the big cities which he did with a less than adequate workforce. He rented a house in Tufnell Park and patched together a team of mainly American Bible workers, who used the space as living quarters and a training school. He then gave them basic training in door-knocking, giving Bible studies and selling literature. By 1889 their work had yielded a harvest of 65 new members where previously there had been none.

In 1891 Judson Washburn took Bath by storm with a team of three Bible workers. Washburn had been 25 years old at the General Conference Session of 1888 in Minneapolis and the message of Righteousness by Faith had sunk deep roots into his heart. Eager and hungry to preach the message that had so definitively changed his life, Washburn preached the gospel powerfully. Coupled with his efforts were those of George Stagg who was a literature evangelist who had been working tirelessly in the area. By 1892 a church of 80 members was formed in Bath with over half of them having made first contact with Adventism through literature.   

In 1902 the British Union was formed with three mission and two conferences along with a newly established college and health food factory. In 1907 the entire operation was relocated to a 22-acre spread of land known as Stanborough Park which still serves as the headquarters of the British Union.

Church membership grew steadily throughout World War I but this also proved to be a difficult time for the church as it faced the challenge of conscription. While some were able to serve as conscientious objectors in non-combatant roles others served jail time for refusing to compromise their faith.

Even though the work in the British Isles was slow and arduous God blessed the work providing not only a harvest of members within the field but also producing missionaries who would serve the global church in other parts of the world as well. Working for God always requires commitment and dedication. It is rarely a cakewalk but neither is it boring or unfulfilling. If you are serving in an area where the work seems hard, yielding little to no fruit don’t give up. Continue to persevere with the assurance that Jesus is with you always, even unto the end.   

Further Reading

  • Marshall D.N. (Editor)  – A Century of Adventism In The British Isles
  • Dunton, H. (1997) – Heirs of the Reformation: The Story of Seventh-Day Adventists in Europe