Our History

How we got here

The History of the College Church

Key Dates

Kay Bloom, formerly of the Southern New England Conference office, supplied the following dates:

  • Sept. 7, 1954: The Southern New England Conference executive committee voted college division of Village Church associate pastors: G.H. Minchin (first associate), L. M. Stump, C. O. Smith.
  • Sept. 9, 1954: The Southern New England Conference executive committee voted Village Church pastor leader of both college and village divisions of the Village Church, but with separate boards.
  • Apr. 4, 1955: The Southern New England Conference executive committee voted to organize the College Church of Seventh-day Adventists at Atlantic Union College.
  • Aug. 27, 1955: From the College Church organization bulletin: R. K. Krick, pastor, associate pastors G.H. Minchin, L. M. Stump, C. O. Smith.
  • May 5, 1956: The Southern New England Conference executive committee voted to appoint L. E. Tucker as pastor of the College Church as G. H. Minchin, pastor of the College Church, going to the seminary for a year of study beginning June 1956.
  • Feb. 20, 1957: The Southern New England Conference executive committee voted L. E. Tucker as permanent pastor of the College Church.
  • See the charter members of the College Church.

Building Committee


Alger F. Oster, Chairman Richard Latane
Harry A. Toomajanian, Treasurer Margarita Merriman
William R. Tymeson, Secretary David Osborne
Don R. Cantrell George Rice
Richard Clark Danny Smith
John Ellis Ottilie Stafford
W. Brooks Findley Stanley Steiner
Ralph A. Gifford Richard L. Trott
Fred E. Hauck Warren Zork

Beginnings

The origin of the College Church of Seventh-day Adventists at Atlantic Union College is in the South Lancaster Village Church, which was organized on April 30, 1864. Following years of steady growth, in the spring of 1878 the members of that congregation dedicated a new meetinghouse near the intersection of Narrow Lane and Sawyer Street.


Four years later, in the spring of 1882, various members of that congregation, led by Stephen N. Haskell, played prominent roles in the establishment of a new Adventist school in South Lancaster. As the school evolved into South Lancaster academy, then Lancaster Junior College, and finally Atlantic Union College, the local congregation expanded, making necessary a succession of enlargements of the church building. Nevertheless, crowded conditions persisted, leading finally to the scheduling of two worship services each Sabbath morning. The early service was designed especially for the college family, and the later service was planned to serve the needs of the other parishioners.


In the summer of 1954 the South Lancaster congregation voted to split into two divisions, each of which would have its own governing board. Russell K. Krick served as the pastor of both divisions, but three associate pastors helped him nurture the College division. Because president Lawrence M. Stump and others associated with the school were not fully satisfied with the new arrangement, they pressed for a complete separation from the Village Church. Finally, Southern New England Conference leaders consented. After the worship service on August 27, 1955, Merle Mills, the conference president, presided over the organization of the new College Church of Seventh-day Adventists at Atlantic Union College.


The new congregation included 180 charter members, but by the end of the calendar year there were 246 members, and scores of additional applicants were waiting to join. Gerald H. Minchin, the highly respected chair of the religion department, was the first pastor of the new congregation. Another of the many college employees who held church offices was librarian Oscar R. Schmidt, who continued to serve as a deacon until his death in 2013. The student officeholders included G. Ralph Thompson, a West Indian who served as the spiritual vice-president of the Associated Students of AUC. In the fall of 1955 he was ordained as a local elder.


When the College Church was founded, it was understood that it would include only members of the faculty, staff, administration, and student body (and members of their immediate families, of course) and would not take others from the Village Church. For that reason, the new congregation had a relatively low profile even during the school year, and attendance was extremely small between June and August.

Early Growth

The College Church was less than a year old when it lost its first pastor. When Minchin went on a study leave from AUC in 1956, LaVerne E. Tucker replaced him. Like Minchin, the new pastor also taught in the religion department of the college. The son of J.L. Tucker, a pioneer radio evangelist, he himself had made public evangelism the centerpiece of his pastorate in the Rochester, New York, area for the previous three years. Tucker was hired with the expectation that he would teach evangelism at AUC and lead evangelistic efforts in nearby communities while pastoring the College Church.


He did not wait long before launching his first central Massachusetts evangelistic effort. The new school year was barely underway when Tucker began preaching in what he described as a “full-scale evangelistic campaign” in Fitchburg. More than 400 people attended the opening meeting on September 30, 1956. Students from AUC visited in homes and gave Bible studies during the series, which extended into January. Although the results of the Fitchburg campaign did not come close to matching his success in Rochester, Tucker continued to organize evangelistic efforts in the area. Sometimes he was the speaker, as in a series in Lowell in the spring of 1958 and another in Maynard a year later. Sometimes students whom he had trained were the speakers, as in the case of an effort in the nearby town of Harvard in the late winter and early spring of 1958.


Meanwhile, increasing enrollments at AUC and South Lancaster academy helped the College Church to grow rapidly. By the time Tucker left in 1959 to serve in the North Philippine Union Mission, the membership had swelled to nearly 600. Consequently, it seemed desirable to bring in a pastor who would be more involved in nurturing the growing congregation. The choice was Orris J. Mills, pastor of the Madison College Church, near Nashville, Tennessee.


Although Mills was less involved in teaching and evangelism, he was interested in evangelistic outreach. Under his leadership, the College Church hosted a series that began about six weeks after his arrival. Two sessions in Machlan Auditorium were required to accommodate the overflow crowd that heard prominent evangelist Fordyce W. Detamore speak at the opening meeting on November 1, 1959.


Mills also reached outside of South Lancaster. During part of his pastorate he conducted a Sunday morning radio program that aired over a station in Lowell. Also, under the auspices of the College Church, a branch Sabbath school opened in a home in Sterling in October 1961. Another form of outreach was the annual Harvest Ingathering program of the denomination to collect donations from the public to support humanitarian and other activities. Mills helped to organize the college’s Ingathering field day on October 12, 1960, when 32 cars carried 155 students and faculty and staff members off campus to solicit donations.


Inreach accompanied outreach, of course. The college’s weeks of spiritual emphasis (“weeks of prayer”) usually ended with the Sabbath morning worship service. One of the most heavily attended weeks of prayer occurred in the late winter of 1962. When H.M.S. Richards and his team from the Voice of prophecy radio program concluded their week on Sabbath, March 17, more that 1,800 people crowded the two worship services.

A Changing Congregation

When Mills transferred to the Hartford, Connecticut, district later that year, he was replaced by Howard H. Mattison, who had served most recently as an educational leader at Spicer College in India. The period of Mattison’s pastorate was marked by a big increase in AUC’s enrollment. As baby boomers lifted the college’s enrollment, they also boosted attendance in the College Church. By this time, however, the church’s membership was climbing for other reasons as well. Former students who settled nearby and families moving into the area and choosing to attend the College Church were adding to its numbers. They were also altering its character. The College Church ceased to be a closed body existing only to serve individuals and families directly connected with AUC. That transformation would explain why the College Church would emerge as the largest congregation in the Southern New England Conference.


When Mattison arrived in 1962, he entered a fund-raising environment. The local conference had decided to establish a boarding academy and hoped, of course, to raise a substantial portion of the needed funds in South Lancaster. At the same time the two Adventist churches in town were facing the necessity of soon relocating the Browning Memorial church school from the AUC campus to a new facility at a new location. Under Mattison’s leadership, in the fall of 1963 the College Church conducted an “every-member canvass” to raise money for both of those projects. The effort was remarkably successful, as 95% of the families in the church made pledges of support that helped to ensure the completion of both projects.


While continuing to pastor the College Church, Mattison became the pastor of an additional church on Sabbath, February 22, 1964. On that day he was in Sterling for the organization of 41 charter members into a new church that was at least partly a result of outreach by the College Church.

Browning Elementary School and South Lancaster Academy

Less than a year later Mattison accepted a position at the Glendale Sanitarium, in southern California. He was replaced by Francis F. Bush, a 1934 graduate of AUC with a wealth of pastoral experience, most recently at the Green Lake Church in Seattle, Washington. After Bush came to the College Church early in 1965, one of his concerns was the planned relocation of the church school. On July 4 of that year he participated in the groundbreaking service at the George Hill Road site of the new Browning building. Eight months later the church school students and their teachers moved into the newly completed building. The first classes there were held on March 8, 1966. A few weeks later a joint meeting of the College and Village Churches voted to build a new structure next to the Browning building to house South Lancaster academy. That building was ready the following year.


Bush served the College Church longer than any of his predecessors had, but after four years he, too, moved on, to pastor a congregation in Stoneham. Members of the College Church said farewell at a pizza supper on January 19, 1969.


When the new pastor, Donald Bostian, transferred from Worthington, Ohio, the college was continuing to enjoy a baby-boom-fed period of growth and relative prosperity. Its enrollment peaked in the late 1960s, helping to fill Machlan Auditorium for Sabbath services and increasing interest in constructing a church for the campus. The auditorium was used for multiple secular purposes and had never been designed for use as a church. Some people were concerned about the fact that AUC was the only Seventh-day Adventist college in North America without a church building.


With that need in mind, in 1969 the College Church purchased a two-acre piece of property across Main Street from Machlan Auditorium. However, during the next few years no significant further steps were taken towards the building of a church. as the college enrollment declined, the idea of building a church lost some of its impetus, but it was not forgotten.


Meanwhile, other interests engaged the attention of the College Church, of course. One of the important undertakings was “Mission ’72.” Bostian and the pastor of the Village Church led out in the planning of that evangelistic outreach. Literature distribution, home visitation, a series of health lectures, and a five-day stop-smoking series prepared the way for an evangelistic crusade in Machlan Auditorium. About 500 people heard J.L. Dittberner, the new president of the Atlantic Union Conference, speak on the opening night, March 5, 1972.


Not long after the conclusion of “Mission ’72,” Bostian accepted a position in Kettering, Ohio. The new pastor, who doubled as the chair of the AUC religion department, was veteran John J. Robertson. He had served most recently as the pastor of the Vallejo Drive Church in Glendale, California. The fact that Robertson wore two hats probably made possible the hiring of the College Church’s first full-time associate pastor, Warren Zork, in 1973. After Robertson arrived, the dream of a new church building remained alive, but it was overshadowed by efforts to create a new home for his college department. Robertson helped to get serious planning underway for the restoration of old Academy Hall, in the center of the campus, before he moved to the Southeastern California Conference in 1974. After the restoration was completed in 1976, the building, renamed Founders Hall, was occupied by the College’s religion department.


Robertson’s successor as pastor, Stanley J. Steiner, who had most recently pastored in Keene, Texas (the home of Southwestern Union College), did not move to Founders Hall but remained in the Haskell Hall church office that was nearly adjacent to Machlan Auditorium.


A matter of immediate concern to the College Church when Steiner became pastor in 1974 was the possible ordination of women as local elders. Like most, if not all, SDa congregations at that time, the College Church had a majority of women on its membership list, but did not have any women on its board of elders. In 1973, before Steiner’s arrival, some members of the church’s nominating committee favored placing some women on the board of elders. although they were not successful, they stirred up discussion of the question not only in the College Church but also in higher levels of the denominational organization. after Steiner came, he helped to achieve a resolution of the ordination question for the local congregation. As a result, in 1975 several women were elected to serve on the board of elders. Subsequently three women and a male ally were ordained as local elders in a historic ceremony on the stage of Machlan Auditorium. Since that time women have consistently been represented on the board of elders, and they have frequently held the position of first (head) elder.


In Steiner’s previous pastoral service, he had gained valuable experience in church building projects. Soon after coming to the College Church, he helped to get the church building idea rolling fast again. In 1976 the church formed a building committee (chaired first by Fred Hauck and later by Alger Oster). The firm of John D. Latimer and Associates was hired to draw up the architectural plans. In January 1977 a business meeting of the congregation voted approval of the firm’s preliminary plans for the new church, to be built on the southeast corner of the intersection of Main Street and George Hill Road. The groundbreaking ceremony was held on Sunday, April 23, 1978, the final day of the college’s alumni homecoming weekend. (It also occurred midway through evangelist Mark Finley’s Radiant Living Crusade, during which more than 100 people made decisions to be baptized.)


Construction of the new, 1.6 million-dollar church was well underway when Steiner moved across town early in 1980 to become the ministerial and religious liberty director of the Southern New England Conference. Steiner was in a good position, then to keep an eye on the building project before and after the new pastor settled into place in July 1980. That new pastor was David D. Osborne, a dynamo who had been serving as a chaplain and religion teacher at La Sierra College, in Riverside, California.


On Sabbath, May 9, 1981, members of the College Church began their worship service in Machlan Auditorium and then formed a procession behind Osborne to cross the street to their spacious, modernistic new building. Following the 20-minute procession, most of the 1,235 seats in the sanctuary were full when the inaugural service resumed. The official dedication of the building was held a week later, on May 16, during the college’s graduation weekend. Earl Amundson, the president of the Atlantic Union Conference, preached the dedication sermon.


When the building was dedicated, it was not yet paid for. Although the union conference and the local conference had made large appropriations, the congregation had not been able to raise all of the balance needed, and so it had borrowed $500,000, a debt that would require about 20 years to discharge.


The congregation that moved into the new building was strikingly different from the one that had been formed in 1955. The congregation of 1981 included many people who had no current connection with the college, and it depended heavily on them for financial and other kinds of support. Also the congregation of 1981 was strikingly multicultural. as the college had become much more ethnically diverse, so had the College Church. The congregation’s ethnic diversity was reflected in its leadership positions, including the board of elders. One of the most prominent lay leaders was Caribbean-american Susan Willoughby, who had been an AUC student when the College Church was founded in 1955 and had joined the AUC faculty in 1972. At the time of this writing, in 2005, she continues to serve as a local elder of the College Church.

In the autumn of 1985 Osborne crossed the street to take up new duties in administration at the college. Richard Trott, who had become associate pastor and college chaplain in 1977, provided effective interim leadership for many months before the arrival of Terry G. Pooler, the new senior pastor. Pooler had pastored in California and Montana before serving most recently at Shenandoah Valley Academy, in New Market, Virginia.


When Pooler arrived in the summer of 1986, the college was experiencing an upsurge. Higher enrollments and higher morale benefited the College Church as well as AUC during Pooler’s pastorate, which ended in 1991, when he left for the church at Forest Lake academy, in the Orlando, Florida, area. Trott again led the congregation during the search for a senior pastor.


By the time of Pooler’s departure, Adventists in the New York City area comprised a majority of the members of the Atlantic Union Conference. as a result, students from that metropolitan area had become the largest segment of AUC’s student body. For that reason, the recruitment of a native of Brooklyn to pastor the College Church seemed to be timely.


That new pastor was John S. Nixon. after studying for the ministry at Oakwood College, in Huntsville, Alabama, he had pastored in his native borough and in Boston. Because he had been a visiting speaker at the College Church and his wife, Januwoina, had graduated from AUC, Nixon was familiar with the church and the college. In 1992 he left his position as an area vice-president and pastor in the Southern California Conference to take up the challenge of pastoring a congregation that had a white majority but was associated with a college that had a white minority.


Unfortunately, the college entered a long period of decline soon after Nixon arrived in 1992. Enrollment sagged and morale dropped at the college, and the church felt the effects. There were too few people in the pews to hear Nixon’s well-crafted Biblical sermons, and too many of those in the pews were weighed down by concerns about the future of AUC.


In early 1996 Nixon left to pastor a church in Washington, D.C. Steven Salsberry, who had become an associate pastor in 1993, helped to steer the ship until patrick Morrison came on board as the senior pastor in the summer of 1997. after 21 years on the pastoral staff, Trott became a full-time religion teacher at AUC in 1998, and Salsberry left that same year. In the following year, Morrison’s wife, Jane, joined the pastoral staff.


Because pastor “Mo” had been a long-time chaplain at andrews University, in Berrien Springs, Michigan, before coming to the College Church, he and his wife related well to the college students. They continued their andrews tradition of opening their home to college students on Friday nights, for example.


Sabbath morning visitors to the College Church continued to ask, however, as they had for many years, why so few college students were present. Low enrollments at the college were but a small part of the answer. Greatly increased mobility was probably more significant. Many students had automobiles, and they readily secured leaves to drive home for the weekend. If they did not go home, they might attend one of the other nearby churches. The Village Church was just one of the various English-language congregations in central Massachusetts. For students from families whose first language was not English, there were other convenient options, including worship with Hispanic, portuguese-speaking, and French/Creole-speaking congregations.


Moreover, at AUC, as on most SDa college campuses in North america there was a strong interest in conducting separate, student-run church services in Machlan Auditorium or some other campus facility. That controversial movement at AUC, encouraged by some college administrators, seemed to be aimed partly at providing Caribbean-style worship opportunities. (Many of the students, especially from the New York City area, were from families that had immigrated from Caribbean islands.) In any event, “student church” proved to be popular with the students.


Apparently undaunted by that centrifugal movement as well as by the continuing struggles of the college, the Morrisons and their part-time associates organized a multifaceted program to serve other segments of the College Church as well. The eleven o’clock worship service included elements that would appeal to a wide range of parishioners. That service was usually rich in music, including the organ-playing of William Ness. a simplified 8:15 service in the youth chapel gave members a second option for Sabbath worship. Large numbers of children attended the various Sabbath school divisions. The Morrisons themselves were leaders in the Beginners’ Division. Fellowship dinners, planned especially to accommodate visitors, were scheduled after the second worship service. Sometimes they were hosted in the fellowship hall of the church, and sometimes they were held in the homes of members.


During the week the church was the scene of a variety of other activities, which might range from college chapel services to Wednesday morning play time for preschoolers to choir practice to vespers programs to game nights, among others. The Morrison home was the venue for many other events, including gatherings to welcome newborn infants, Sunday pancake breakfasts, and “women’s nights out.”

Parallel with that array of nurturing endeavors were efforts to reach out to non-parishioners in the community. Elizabeth Castle, a part-time associate pastor, had a leading role in planning outreach activities. The most prominent method of outreach was satellite television evangelism. In “Net ’98” and similar efforts, people were invited to come to the College Church to view televised series of presentations of adventist beliefs. Meanwhile, from week to week the services of the College Church were telecast by a cable station. In early 2005 the congregation launched a campaign to raise funds to improve its video ministry. Some hoped that the video ministry could be expanded to additional outlets.


One of the most notable accomplishments of the College Church during the Morrison pastorate was the retirement of the mortgage on the church building. The “Freedom 2000” campaign did not reach its objective by the end of the year, but under the leadership of the Morrisons it came close. When worshippers picked up their bulletins on Sabbath, March 3, 2001, they read the words “Free at Last!” after the morning services, they went outside to release balloons in celebration of the church’s freedom from long-term debt.

 

In view of the cloud of uncertainty that continued to hang over the college’s future, the College Church was surprisingly vibrant and buoyant as it approached its 50th anniversary on August 27, 2005.


Dr. Juliette Willoughby sent us the document linked below that her mother, Dr. Susan M. Fenton Willoughby, kept in her office for 34 years (the elder Dr. Willoughby started the Social Work program at Atlantic Union College and ran it for over 25 years). Juliette said that it relates to when the College Church moved into our current building at 337 Main St., and it is apropos once again as we restart in-person services after the easing of the coronavirus restrictions.

College Church Charter Members


George W. Anderson Mrs. Ronald Giles Miss Ruth C. Nelson
Mr. & Mrs. Ed Armstrong Mr. & Mrs.Nelson Hallock Elder & Mrs. Edward Ney
Miss Patricia A. Babick Mr. & Mrs. E. C. Harkins Miss Evie Ney
Miss Constance Bartle Bruce Harkins Starling Nicholas
Miss Mabel R. Bartlett Elder & Mrs. J. I. Hartman Miss Jeanne Nicora
Mr. & Mrs. Adolf Beck Miss Cynthia Hartman Robert Nicora
Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Blahovich Ronald D. Hartman Mr. & Mrs. John O. Ouimette
Colis M. Blood John Heczko Mr. & Mrs. D. S. Phillips
Miss Glennis N. Brewer Mr. & Mrs. Jack E. Hicks Howard N. Pires
Miss Daphne P. Brown Victor C. Hilbert, Jr. David W. Price
William L. Budd Merrill L. Hoffman Miss Charlotte Record
Miss Charlene Carr Mrs. Grace Hogue Robert L. Reinowski
Mr. & Mrs. J. Arthur Carr Gordon Hoppe Miss Joan Richardson
Dr. & Mrs. Philip S. Chen Miss Beatrice Homer Mr. & Mrs. Ross I. Rick
George Chen Mr. Henry F. Howes Miss Rowena Rick
John Chen C. Dudley Howes Miss Mary Rick
Miss Ruth Chen H. Frank Howes Charles Rideout
Samuel M. Chen Frank Lea Jacobs Miss Joann Robbins
George Chonkich Lloyd Ray Jacobs Mr. & Mrs. J. A. Roberts
Mr. & Mrs. F. L. Clarambeau Mr. & Mrs. W. D. Jemson Mr. & Mrs. Lopez Rowe
Mr. & Mrs. H. E. Clasing Cyril Jemson Mrs.Juliana E. Salzler
Robert D. Clasing Mr. & Mrs. Lyle Jewell Mr. & Mrs. O. R. Schmidt
Miss Shirley Cobb Earl Blair Johnson Miss Bernice Severance
Mr. & Mrs. Earl Collard Mr. & Mrs. E. F. Judy Gail Shepherd
Mr. & Mrs. R Couden Miss Ina Kihlstrom Mr. & Mrs. V. H. Siver
Miss Lois Covey Mrs. Charles L. Kilgore Miss Martha Skuce
Miss Elinor M. Cox Miss Elizabeth G. Kim Mr. & Mrs. A. D. Smith
Miss Eunice Dahlgren Mr. Nicholas Klim Elder & Mrs. C. O. Smith
Lynn Dahlgren Miss Dorothy Knowles H. Arthur Smith, Jr.
Miss Mary Lou Doty Frank Koos Miss Janet Smith
Mr. & Mrs. Harold A. Drake Mr. & Mrs. H. F. Lease Miss Louise M. Smith
Glen K. Dryer Robert Lease Miss Elaine J. Sommers
Miss Mary Lou Durning Charles H. Linscott Mr. & Mrs. H. R. Stafford
Roger O. Eckert Miss Marvelyn Loewen Mr. & Mrs. N. H. Stevens
Robert N. Edwards Miss Beatrice V. Mahnke Miss Jessie A. Stevens
Elder & Mrs. L. E. Esteb Mr. & Mrs. F. B. Mashni Mr. & Mrs. Roy Stotz
Miss Marilyn E. Farley Earl Mason Elder & Mrs. L. M. Stump
Mrs. Robert L. Felton Charles C. McClenon Miss Marcia J. Sumner
Miss Muriel Agnes Field Miss Sylvia L. McCleno Robert B. Tanguay
Paul Fitts Lawrence R. McCloskey Miss Barbara Timura
Miss Jean Fleming Oscar E. Mejia Miss Ramona Valle
Miss Alma Foggo Miss Carol Miles Damaso R. Villalba
Mr. Paul G. Ford Richard V. Mills Donald Walkowiak
William Forssberg Elder & Mrs. G. H. Minchin Miss Jean Weiss
Miss Dorothy Forsythe Miss Eileen Minchin Mr. & Mrs. M. K. West
Mrs. George F. Furnival P. Emmanuel Mitchell Mr. & Mrs. C. E. Whetmore
Mr. & Mrs. R. G. Gadway Carl D. Moeckel Henry Alan Zuill
Ralph A. Gifford