Church Buys Oldest Adventist Church in Europe
Inter-European Division signs the contract to purchase the building in Tramelan, Switzerland.
, communication director for the Inter-European Division, with additional reporting by , news editor, Adventist Review
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has acquired ownership of the first Adventist church building in Europe: a 19th-century wooden house in Switzerland whose inaugural worship services were led by church co-founder Ellen G. White in 1886.
Bruno Vertallier, president of the church’s Inter-European Division, signed the contract to purchase the building at Grande Rue 171b in the small French-speaking town of Tramelan, located about 40 miles (65 kilometers) northwest of Berne.
“We believe that this church is part of Adventist history, and therefore it was important for us to get it back,” Vertallier said after signing the agreement on Aug. 18.
The church was constructed by the Roth family, who joined the Adventist Church as the result of evangelism work conducted in Tramelan by Michael Belina Czechowski, an independent Adventist missionary.
The church, which cost 3,300 Swiss francs ($3,560) to build at the time, was dedicated to God on Sabbath, Dec. 25, 1886. White, who was in Switzerland on other business, gave the first sermon from its pulpit and spoke from 1 Kings 8:54-61, a passage that describes King Solomon blessing people gathered for the dedication of Israel’s first temple.
“We hope that the Lord will so bless your work that this house will prove too small for you,” White said.
The church members, who met Sabbaths in the 645-square-foot (60-square-meter) main room of the small building, appeared to have risen to the challenge. A member of the Roth family, Gustave, wrote in Revue Adventiste in 1937: “Tramelan was the cradle of the Adventist reform in Europe. Our small church became a training school for workers who eventually spread throughout the world.” Revue Adventiste is a French-language publication that shares the same name as the Adventist Review but works independently of the U.S.-based magazine.
In addition to being the first Adventist church in Europe, Tramelan organized the first Adventist camp meeting on the continent.
Although consecrated as a church, the building never belonged to the Adventist Church itself.
The Roths later left Tramelan and sold the building to a non-Adventist family. Local Adventists moved to larger building in 1968.
But by that time, worries were growing about what would happen to the building. In 1967, Arthur L. White, secretary of the Ellen G. White Estate, wrote in Review and Herald: “Soon another house of worship in Tramelan will replace the neat little chapel in the garden, which has served well for more than eight decades. Although the title of the building is not held by the conference, it is to be hoped that this landmark of the work of Seventh-day Adventists in Europe may be preserved.”
Vertallier, the division president, said the acquisition of the building would help ensure that future generations could catch a glimpse of Adventist history.
“We hope it will inspire our young people to recognize and acknowledge the history and the sacrifice of these pioneers who invested in that humble chapel, starting to preach the everlasting gospel,” he said. “I invite church members to consider paying a visit to Tramelan and to enjoy fellowship in the spirit of the pioneers.”
Over the years, many Adventist tourists have visited the building, and the Swiss government has recognized it as a historical landmark, preventing it from being demolished.
Why Buy the Building?
European church leaders acknowledged that some people might object to the purchase, arguing that the church does not need a shrine or that it is making a mistake in spending money on a small building with little practical use.
“However, the purpose
of this decision is not to worship objects but to provide inspiration and
encouragement associated with humble beginnings, a place where history was
made: the first Adventist European chapel,” the Inter-European Division said in
a news article about the purchase on its Web site.
“This often occurs in the Unites States, by preserving and sometimes purchasing historical buildings associated with the beginnings of the Adventist Church,” it said. “This former little chapel in Tramelan represents the first Adventist church building on this side of the Atlantic. It is surely worth preserving, and an appropriate use for it will certainly be found.”
The division noted that the Israelites also kept simple reminders of past blessings and events, such as 12 stones that they took from the middle of the Jordan River after they crossed over on the way to Canaan. Joshua 4:6, 7 reads: “In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When they crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were at a standstill. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever” (Joshua 4:6, 7, NIV).
“Would a building like the former chapel of Tramelan not have a similar function — a memorial — since a lot of history is associated with it?” the news article said.
Purchase Cheers Church's Cheerleader
René Frauchiger, who blogs about the Tramelan church and perhaps knows more about it than anyone else today, is delighted that the building now belongs to the Adventist Church.
“In memory of my great-grandparents, Léon and Rosine Borle-Delaprès, who were among the first baptized Adventists in Switzerland, and of my grandfather, Emil Frauchiger-Borle, who was a pioneering missionary in Turkey and the Balkans, today it is a great joy to see this first chapel finally belong to our church,” Frauchiger said.
He and his wife, Liliane, do not live near Tramelan, but they assisted the previous private owners in caring for the building in recent years, and they give tours to curious Adventists. Contact information for arranging a tour can be found on Frauchiger’s blog.
“I am glad that my wife and I could help keep history alive,” Frauchiger said. “We are sure that this historical landmark will remind us of the hope that the first Adventists had in those early days.”
More about Michael Belina Czechowski from Adventist Review: “J.N. Andrews Was First Adventist Missionary? Think Again”
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