The sacrifices of Saturday Christians

Savannah Morning News/October 4, 2008

All dressed up on a Saturday morning, Kent Elmore stopped by a friend's house on his way to his new girlfriend's church.

"To church?" the friend said. "Which church?"

"She's a Seventh-day Adventist," Elmore answered.

Horrified, the friend begged him not to go.

"It's a cult," she said.

Elmore almost took her advice.

Today, Elmore chuckles at the memory of his first encounter with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, an Evangelical Christian denomination known for its recognition of Saturday as the Biblical Sabbath.

In the nearly 20 years since his first Adventist service, Elmore married the girlfriend and joined the church and is raising children in the faith.

And he's come to understand one reason the church is misunderstood.

"People see all these folks pulling up in the parking lot on Saturday while they're going to the beach, and they wonder what's going on," Elmore said.

"When you're doing something or are a part of something that's a little different from the norm, people don't know what to think."

Local Adventists say their core beliefs center on Jesus Christ and the Bible and are relatively similar to that of their Baptist and Methodist friends and family.

But for them, keeping Sabbath on the busiest leisure day of the week comes with a different level of commitment.

Adventism in Georgia

Adventism stems from a 19th-century movement headed by a New York farmer named William Miller. His followers, known as Millerites, believed Jesus' second coming was imminent and that the date for Christ's return could be prophesied.

After several failed attempts to set a date, Millerites splintered into different groups, including the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Advent Christian Church and the Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventists.

Some continued to observe the belief in the Hebrew observance of Saturday as the original day of rest.

Organized in 1860, the Seventh-day Adventists emerged as the largest descendent of the Millerites. Followers consider former Millerite Ellen G. White as a founder and one who possessed the gift of prophesy.

The church circulated literature in Georgia as early as 1872, sent missionaries in 1887 and launched the Georgia Conference in 1901.

In 1910, a man named Walter Thomas became the first known Savannahian baptized into the faith.

The Savannah First Seventh-day Adventist Church was officially organized in 1914 in an upstairs room at 31st and Bull streets and soon purchased and renovated a former livery stable at 35th and Whitaker streets.

According to church records, one member, "Mr. MaKutchen" was arrested for breaking blue laws after he was caught repairing a bench on Sunday. Shortly after his sentencing, the wife of the judge began inquiring about the religion that met on Saturdays and was later baptized into the church.

In 1925, the denomination's national leaders took on the Savannah congregation as a missionary project and funded the destruction of the old livery and the construction of a new building. The congregation remained there for 41 years, until it purchased land for a church at Abercorn Street and Tibet Avenue.

After another 41 years, the congregation moved again, this time to the growing Godley Station community in west Chatham. Grand opening for the new church and school was October 2001.

Today, the Savannah area is home to more than 1,000 Seventh-day Adventists attending services at one of four congregations.


In his 1955 book, "The Rise of the Cults," Baptist minister Walter Martin of the anti-cult Christian Research Institute lumped Adventists with other new movements such as Mormonism, Christian Science, Spiritualism and Jehovah's Witnesses.

After meeting Adventist leaders and reading about its doctrine, Martin changed his mind and accepted the faith as a fellow Christian denomination.

But as anti-cult fervor grew through the late-20th century, the public relations damage had been done.

Adventist Leticia Chaparro said she was turned away from a local Christian thrift store when she asked if she could put up a flyer for a church charity event.

"A lot of people think we're Mormons," she said.

David Smith has encountered quite a few myths in his 25 years as an Adventist pastor.

"Once someone told me they thought in the Seventh-day Adventist Church we had a special kind of Bible we set on the pulpit that no one could use," said Smith, pastor of West Broad Street Seventh-day Adventist Church. "That's not true. I preach from the King James version, the same as anyone else."

Counter to some things he's heard, Smith asserts that Adventists also use the same types of spiritual music as other Protestant faiths, including anthems, hymns, spirituals and gospel.

He has also deflected notions that all Adventists are vegetarian. Some are, but not all, he said.

Unlike most other Christian denominations, Adventists observe Jewish dietary laws forbidding pork and shellfish.

"We teach it as a matter of biblical doctrine and principle," Smith said.

Some members take that further to swear off all meat.

"When you go back to Genesis, you'll find that the original diet did not include flesh," Smith said. "Many of our people believe it is better to take the original diet, even though it's not commanded.

"It is something we do encourage and strongly recommend, because it is the first diet that God recommended."

Seventh-day sacrifices

Adventists don't all agree on how to observe the Sabbath.

Chaparro's family generally agrees on having short Friday evening prayers and family time, going to church Saturday morning, participating in the covered-dish luncheon afterward and praying together Saturday at sunset.

But while Chaparro believes the television should stay off throughout the Sabbath, her husband believes watching some TV is OK.

"It was kind of rough, changing to Saturday," said Chaparro, who was raised in Chicago as a Catholic. "I grew up on Saturday morning cartoons. I was used to shopping on Saturday, partying on Saturday."

Chaparro makes the switch easier by surrounding the family with other Adventists. They home-school their three children and are involved in committees at the Savannah First Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Benny Curl learned about making sacrifices for his faith at an early age.

As a teenager, he left his family's Baptist church to follow Adventism. He soon struggled at first to find a summer job that didn't require working on Saturdays. But Curl considers his sacrifices also a blessing.

"That was a powerful demonstration to me personally that God would take care of me," he said.

On Saturdays, Curl and his wife Kay Curl hang a sign reading "Closed. Day of rest" on the door of their gourmet food store, Byrd Cookie Company.

Some customers have asked if they're Jewish.

"We say 'No, we're not. We're Seventh-day Adventists," Kay Curl said.

Richmond Hill ninth-grade teacher and football coach Chris Scholar occasionally has to bow out of events that fall on Saturday.

A number of non-Adventist friends have told him his faith is "legalistic," or too consumed with the Old Testament.

"People have told me they think that we're trying to get (to heaven) through works rather than by faith, that we're so consumed with keeping the Sabbath that it's something we feel is essential to salvation."

But Scholar doesn't see it that way.

"Because I love God, I want to do what God asks me to do. And it seems pretty clear he's asked me to keep the Sabbath."

About Seventh-day Adventism


Local: About 1,000

Worldwide: 10 million to 15 million

Religious texts

The Holy Bible, including the Old and New Testaments, are the written Word of God, given by divine inspiration through holy men of God who spoke and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.

Deity/who they worship

One God who is the father, son (incarnate in Jesus Christ) and Holy Spirit, a unity of three eternal persons.


The Jewish Sabbath is observed from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday. Church services are held on Saturdays. Believers are encouraged to dress modestly, avoid "outward adornment" such as lavish jewelry, exercise, follow a healthy diet and abstain from the "unclean foods" identified in the Scriptures such as pork and shellfish, as well as alcoholic beverages, tobacco, and the irresponsible use of drugs and narcotics.

What happens when people die?

Death is an unconscious sleep-like state. Upon the second coming of Jesus, true believers - both living and dead - will be called to heaven. Satan and his angels will occupy the earth as the unrighteous dead continue sleeping another thousand years. Then Jesus, his saints and heaven will descend to Earth and God will scorch the planet, destroying Satan, sinners and all sin forever.

How the faith began

Adventism stems from a 19th-century apocalyptic movement headed by a New York farmer named William Miller. His followers, known as Millerites, believed Jesus' second coming, or advent, was imminent and that the date for Christ's return could be prophesied. Seventh-day Adventistism was organized as a denomination in 1863 by former Millerites, including Ellen G. White who followers considered a messenger of God having the gift of prophesy.


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