A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE ADVENTIST CHURCH IN MONTANA
A.O. Johnson, an Adventist minister from Nebraska, came to Montana Territory in 1888. He began an evangelistic series in Livingston on July 6, 1888. At the time the series began there were four Sabbath-keepers in the area, and by the end of the year, that number had grown to twenty-six. This was the nucleus for the first Seventh-day Adventist Church in Montana which was organized in Livingston in February 1890.
Also in these early days meetings were held in various places around the state by J. T. Faro and
J. W. Watt. Elder Watt, along with E. R. Williams and his wife, held meetings in Bozeman, Boulder, Butte, Twin Bridges, Helena, Miles City, Livingston, Townsend, Virginia City, Billings, Great Falls and other places. In 1894, sixty meetings were held in Butte resulting in the organization of an Adventist Church there with twenty-five members.
By 1898 there were enough Adventists in Montana to organize a Conference. The Montana Conference was admitted into the American Adventist Church at a meeting held on October 5, 1898, at South Lancaster, Massachusetts. The original Conference officers were: W. B White, President; Mrs. Nellie White, Secretary; and W. J. Stone, Treasurer. Licensed ministers at this time included J. C. Foster, L. A. Gibson, and W. B. Emery.
The Conference published a semi-monthly paper called The Montana Bivouac. Subscriptions cost twenty-five cents per year. By January 1, 1900, there were eight ministries, five licensed missionaries, twelve churches and 335 members in the Montana Conference. Contributions to the church that year amounted to about $4,000. The main objective of the young Conference was evangelism, and to this end bible workers, colporteurs and pastors visited homes and held tent meetings around the state.
When the Conference was first organized the headquarters and tract society offices were located at 108 Grand St., Helena, with departmental offices located at various other places. The office was located in Missoula, Great Falls, and Billings for short periods of time also. The Conference and its associated offices were moved to their current location in Bozeman at 417 S. Black St. Open house at the present location at 1425 W. Main street was held in August, 1959,
The first camp meeting in Montana was held June 29-July 9, 1889 at Red Butte Settlement near Great Falls, Eighty-six people attended this camp meeting, some traveling by teams and wagon as far as 150 miles. Ten precious souls were baptized during the meetings. Because of the great distances involved there were three other camp meetings held around the state that same year so that as many of the Montana members as possible could attend. As the roads improved over the years, attendance at camp meeting steadily increased. Camp meeting was held in such places as Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Helena, Missoula, Livingston and others. The scattered believers looked forward to these times of sharing and fellowship each summer.
By the early 1890's there were several families in the Gallatin Valley who felt the need to have a Christian school for their children to attend. They began in a log building at the mouth of Cottonwood Canyon twenty miles south of Bozeman. Later they would build a church in Bozeman and move the school into it. By the time the Conference was organized similar schools were operating in Cora, Pageville and Hamilton. By 1904 the number of schools in Montana had grown to eight including schools in Great Falls, Butte, Missoula, Helena and Stevensville. That year Lula T. White was appointed Secretary of Education for the Conference. It took great sacrifice on the part of the church members to operate this school system, but they felt it was worth any sacrifice to have their young people educated for service here and for eternity.
In 1902 a committee was formed to find a rural location for building a boarding school in the Gallatin Valley. Twenty acres of land was purchased from Elisha Rouse at half price, and construction on the new school began immediately. Since the site was just north of Mount Ellis it was decided to name the school Mount Ellis Academy. Over the years additional buildings were built and additional land purchased as it has continued to educate Montana young people. Even during the depression years of the 1930's most of the church schools as well as the Academy continued to operate, so great was the commitment of Montana church members to provide Christian education for their children.
From its humble beginnings one hundred years ago the Montana Conference has grown to include 42 churches and companies and membership of 3,697. As we contemplate the 21st Century we can be confident that God will continue to lead us as He has in the past. Let us all join in partnership with Him to share the wondrous love of Jesus with everyone in Montana who will listen, and very soon we shall all go home with Him.