The Pacific Union Conference
The Pacific Union Conference is one of nine unions that make up the North American Division of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. The Pacific Union consists of seven conferences nurturing more than 211,000 members in 700 congregations. Nearly 42 million individuals of European, Hispanic, African, Asian/Pacific, and American Indian ancestry live in the five southwestern states comprising the Pacific Union. God's Word is preached in Adventist churches in approximately 30 different languages every Sabbath.
Pacific Union Office Location: 2686 Townsgate Rd., Westlake Village, CA 91361 (P.O. Box 5005, Westlake Village, CA 91359). Phone (805) 413-7100. Fax (805) 495-2644
History of the Pacific Union Conference
As part of the resulting reorganization of 1901 all the conferences of North America were grouped into unions. After April 1901, the local conferences would deal with union leaders, not with General Conference leaders. This enabled local churches, schools and missions to receive much quicker responses when they needed support or approvals, it created a mechanism for world policies to be adapted to local structures and it created a wide base of representatives to participate in world church decisions — union presidents from around the world. In the 21st century the union presidents remain the most influential decision-makers in the world-wide church.
According to the "Constitution of the Pacific Union Conference," which was published in the first Pacific Union Recorder (dated Aug. 1, 1901, subscription rate: 50 cents annually), "the conference shall comprise the states of California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Nevada, the Province of British Columbia, the Territory of Alaska, and such other territory as may hereafter come under its supervision."
In that same issue of the Recorder, W.T. Knox, first president of the Pacific Union, commented that "The [Pacific Union] territory is much the same as pertained to District 6, with addition of Arizona and Hawaii Territories."
But, as noted above, Arizona and Hawaii were not mentioned in the 1901 constitution. What happened? The next issue of the Recorder clarifies that point. The Arizona and Hawaii territories, we are told, had been assigned to the Pacific Union by the General Conference on July 1, 1901. Apparently the Pacific Union constitution had not yet been amended to include those territories when the first Recorder went to press.
At the third biennial meeting of the Pacific Union Conference, Feb. 15-25, 1906, in Portland, Oregon, the "Delegates from the Northern Division of the Pacific Union Conference" presented a paper entitled, "A Memorial — The Division of the Pacific Union Conference." Today we would probably call the document a memorandum. The paper, which was printed on the first two pages of the March 8, 1906 Pacific Union Recorder, called for the creation of a new "North Pacific Union Conference."
That issue of the Recorder goes on to report that the recommendation was adopted. As a result the revised constitution of 1906 stated that the territory of the Pacific Union "shall comprise the states of California, Nevada, Utah, and the territory of Arizona." In 1929 the Pacific Union also assumed responsibility for the Hawaiian Mission, which had earlier transferred to the NPUC and then to the GC.
Early California History
The American Indian Era
Until the early 16th century, the land now called California was unknown to anyone but the approximately 300,000 aboriginal Native Americans who lived there. By some (disputed) estimates, one-third of all Native North Americans lived in California. These California Indians had widely divergent styles of living, determined by their local food supply and climate. Most tribes spoke their own unique languages, about 135 languages in all, which scholars group into 22 different linguistic families. Because each tribe had its own source of food, there was little need to invade the territory of other tribes, little conflict between the tribes, and no necessity for them to develop fighting units or other social structures some American Indians in other parts of the continent developed to defend themselves or attack other tribes.
The Spanish Era
European involvement in what is now the American West came in several steps. In 1513 Vasco Nunez de Balboa, of Spain, crossed Panama and discovered the Pacific Ocean. In 1519, Spain began the conquest of Mexico, then started exploring oceans and lands to the north and west, including California. In 1602 Spaniard, Sebastian Viscaino, explored the California coast to Cape Mendocino. But then the Spanish government stopped exploration in California for 167 years.
But their interest in California continued. Though they didn't need the land, they believed they needed the ports for what they imagined would be a lucrative trade route to China and Japan. But claiming a territory is not the same as controlling that territory. To secure California Spain they would need either a migration of Spaniards to California, clearly unfeasible, or they would need to build and staff large military bases, also impossible. One other possibility seemed to offer some promise: making farmers, craftsman, Christians and Spaniards of the Indians already living there. In 1597 Jesuit priests, mostly Italian, built the first of 18 missions in Baja California, now part of Mexico.
In 1694 Jesuit missionary and explorer Eusebio Francisco Kino visited southern Arizona, near today's Tucson, and established what may have been the first Christian church in what Adventists now call the Pacific Union.
But by 1768 Spain could see that neither the Indians nor the Jesuit priests gave evidence of much loyalty to Spain, so they replaced all the Jesuit priests with Franciscan monks from the College of San Fernando in Mexico. The next year one of those Franciscan monks, Father Junipero Serra, traveled north to San Diego and established a mission at San Diego — the first Christian church in California. During the next several years they built a series of missions as far north as what is now San Francisco. Many of those missions still function as active parish churches.
In 1777, one year after the official founding of the United States, Spain established the first civil settlement in California, at San Jose. And in 1781 they started the second civil settlement, at Los Angeles.
Spain's efforts to turn American Indians into loyal subjects of Spain failed completely, but the European presence had a disastrous effect on the native population. A combination of European diseases, murder and occasional massacres reduced the Native American population to about 150,000.
In 1824 the Mexicans defeated Spain's forces near Mexico City, and Spain abandoned the Pacific territories. The California territory was so remote from Mexico that the news of Spain's defeat did not reach California for over a year. But with Spain gone and no one else claiming California, Mexico claimed the area, not as a part of Mexico, but as a distant territory owned by Mexico. Spain had considered California part of what they called New Spain. Mexican leaders soon realized they had inherited the same challenge Spain had faced: how to make their claim on California a reality. Almost no Mexican nationals lived in California, Mexico had no appreciable military forces there, and none available. And the few "Californios" who did live there—whether Mexican, Spanish or American—exhibited little loyalty to the distant government in Mexico City.
Mexico tried with little success to induce Mexicans to move to California, even sending troublesome military personnel and some criminals there as punishment. They sent a few small military units there to staff the presidios. But the agents of Mexico got little respect. Indians attacked Mexican soldiers and their families and settlers ignored them.
In 1836, many Californios, as the mixture of non-American Indian settlers were called, revolted against Mexico, deposed the governer Mexico had appointed and declared California a republic. It made little difference. Mexico declared the leader of the revolt, Juan Batista Alvarado, the new Mexican governor of California, and went on as if they were in control and Alvarado were their agent. During the early and middle 1840s, settlers in many places in California, often aided by American military units, raised American flags or other flags, and declared the California territory an independent republic.
But these revolts had little meaning other than illustrating that Mexico's claim on the territory was fragile. During the 24 years that Mexico claimed ownership of California, the total number of non-Indians — including the Spanish, Mexicans, Americans, Russians and others—never exceeded 7,000, of whom about 1,000 were adult males.
But if Mexico didn't have enough military or civilian presence to protect their claim on California, they did have some presence, enough to establish some traditions and form some stories that are still evident in the 21st century. Spain had established four presidios (military reservations) at San Diego, Santa Barbara, Monterey and San Francisco. These presidios were soon declared by Spain to be pueblos (civilian towns) because of the number of civilians who took up residence around them. In addition, Spain had established three pueblos at San Jose, Los Angeles and Branciforte. That last pueblo, near Santa Cruz, soon disappeared.
After Spanish forces left the new world, Mexico took over the existing missions, presidios and pueblos, and founded a new pueblo at Sonoma. One of the functions of the presidio under Spanish rule had been the establishment of land grants, called ranchos. Spanish leaders created about 30 Rancho Grants. These Rancho Grants became a crucial part of Mexico's strategy to occupy the territory. The Mexican government increased the total number of grants to over 800, covered much of the then-fertile areas of California. Obviously most of these Ranchos were extremely sparsely populated, since there were nearly as many Ranchos in the territory as there were adult males.
United States Era
Finally, in 1848, Mexico cedes the troublesome territory of California to the United States — in exchange for a few million dollars and America's promise to get their military forces out of old Mexico. That same year, in December, the president of the U.S. announced that an abundance of gold had been discovered in California, and one of the most amazing international migrations in history began. When gold was discovered there were fewer than 10,000 non-Native Americans in California. In a single year, 1849, the population of San Francisco alone grew from almost zero to 85,000. By 1850, when California became a state, the state's population had exploded to 100,000, and by 1852 it stood at 255,000.
The Seventh-day Adventist church began working in California as this massive migration was spreading to the surrounding states of Arizona, Nevada and Utah.
Both Spain and Mexico left permanent impressions on the western states that now comprise the Pacific Union, but it was probably the character of the gold rush — the high-risk dash to a new and better life — that most prepared the population for the rapid growth of the church in the west.
Adapted from the Pacific Union Recorder, August 2001
It appears that Merritt G. Kellogg, the oldest son of J. P. Kellogg, was the very first Seventh-day Adventist in the State of California. Merritt G. Kellogg, and his family, were very active in sharing their faith by distributing literature and books. No doubt there were other believers in the State who accepted the Adventist message by the reading of the literature they had received and read, but no one ever made contact with Mr. Kellogg.
It is recorded that Forty-niner, B. G. St. John, who had made and lost a large fortune in gold mining, was Merritt G. Kellogg’s very first convert. St. John was a Millerite of 1844 and still retained the hope of the Advent.
In 1861, Kellogg received permission to use a room for Bible meetings in the courthouse there in San Francisco. Once a week, for several months, he held meetings teaching those who attended about the Second Advent and the Sabbath truths. As a result, 14 precious souls accepted these truths.
In October of 1865, Merritt Kellogg and a few believers, sent a call and $130 to the General Conference, requesting some help for this growing group. But there was disorganization and perplexity at the time at the General Conference and the “brethren” responded that they could not send anyone at this time. (Apparently, they kept the $130).
About 18 months later, in the spring of 1867, the little group of believers in San Francisco decided to lodge their appeal once again to the General Conference by sending Merritt G. Kellogg to the General Conference Session, but unfortunately, he was not able to arrive on time for the Session.
So he decided to take matters into his own hands. He sold his home on the west coast, and traveled eastward and occupied himself until the next General Conference Session which was held May 28, 1868, where he would appear in person.
Two men, O.T. Bourdeau and J.N. Loughborough, attended this General Conference Session and felt heavy convictions that God wanted them to change their place of labor. The General Conference asked them to head west with a tent to hold meetings in the Pacific Coast. So about a month later, on June 24, Bourdeau and Loughborough, with their wives, sailed out of New York Harbor for the west coast.
The discovery of gold in California had made California an empire unto itself. Mrs. White had cautioned to use economy but at the same time she urged to spend as needed to make sure God’s work would grow, knowing that the liberal donations of many, would more than take care of the expenses that would be incurred in the spreading of the gospel in the West Coast.
Bourdeau and Loughborough arrived in San Francisco on July 18, 1868, and immediately found lodging with B. G. St. John, “the converted Forty-niner”. As they scouted the San Francisco area, they found that food was very inexpensive but the rental of homes and buildings to hold meetings was very expensive.
There was a church in a small town called Petaluma about 50 miles north of San Francisco, which was known as an Independent church. Members had seen a notice in an Eastern newspaper that two men were traveling west with a tent to hold evangelistic meetings. They were able to make contact with Bourdeau and Loughborough in San Francisco and the Independent church invited them to Petaluma to hold meetings.
On August 13, about a month after having arrived in California, Bourdeau and Loughborough launched their series of tent meetings in Petaluma at the Independent church.
As the story goes, one of the members of this Independent church had a dream one night where he saw two men kindling five fires. In his dream, he saw the ministers of the other churches in Petaluma trying to put these fires out, but the more they tried to put the fires out, the more they burned. Finally he heard the ministers say in the dream, “It is of no use. Leave them alone. The more we try to put out the fires, the better they burn.” – J.N. Loughborough, Rise and Progress of the Seventh-day Adventists, p. 276-279.
Everything seemed to be going fine until they presented the Sabbath doctrine and a division arose among the Independent church members with only six accepting the Sabbath doctrine and uniting with the Seventh-day Adventist group.
Upon completing these meetings in Petaluma, Bourdeau and Loughborough moved on to Windsor, to the north, then to Piner, then on to Santa Rosa and Healdsburg. It is interesting to note, that the “five fires”, that had been kindled, were now burning.
There was much intense excitement in this area of California regarding the establishment of the small Advent groups. It was decided that a church building should be established in this area. Santa Rosa was the city chosen for the establishment of a church building. A man donated two lots of land and $500, and as a result, the first Seventh-day Adventist church in California was established and organized in Santa Rosa, November, 1869.
This was the beginning of the work in what is known today as the Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, which became the largest Union in the North American Division, a position it held until the early 21st century.
From this small and humble beginning, the young church in California grew around the San Francisco Bay-Oakland area and the northern part of the State. In October of 1872, the very first camp meeting was held in Windsor. James and Ellen White traveled from the east, making their first visit to California and attending this camp meeting, encouraging the believers of this young church on the west coast.
The Whites remained in California for five months and were able to participate in the organization of the California Conference on Feb.15 and 16, 1873.
Late in 1873, James and Ellen White made their second visit to California. During this visit they saw the potential in establishing the publishing work in the city of Oakland, which eventually would become the Pacific Press.
The evangelistic work in California had been concentrated in the Bay area but soon it extended eastward to Sacramento and the surrounding areas by Loughborough and M.E. Cornell in 1872.
Very shortly, the work began to extend itself down to the Central part of the state, also known as the San Joaquin Valley.
In 1873, at a camp meeting in Yountville, Moses J. Church, a visitor from the San Joaquin Valley became a convert to Adventism. Church was also the originator of the irrigating system which has made the San Joaquin Valley so rich in the growth of fruits and vegetables. Church was also instrumental in inviting and taking the first Seventh-day Adventist minister to Fresno where the very first Adventist church was established in the Central part of California.
It was in this same year of 1873 that D.M. Canright and Loughborough established the work in the Watsonville and the San Jose areas.
John B. Judson, who had accepted the Adventist message in the northern part of the state, and had become an ordained minister, moved his family down to the southern part of California in 1874. He established himself in the San Pasqual Valley area and he was put in charge of that district. By 1879 the first Seventh-day Adventist church was established in this area and the work extended itself to all of the southern part of California.
In 1880, S.N. Haskell and J.H. Waggoner, visited southern California along with Pastor Judson and churches were soon established and organized in the large cities of Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Ana and San Bernardino.
California, especially the Bay area, was the focal point of the work extending itself to other sates. In 1878, the gospel message arrived in the state of Nevada. Nevada has the honor of being the second state in the Pacific West Coast to have received the Adventist message. But with the population gravitating to California, the membership in the state of Nevada has always remained small.
By the early 1890’s, with evangelistic meetings in the Phoenix and Prescott areas, and the distribution of much literature in the Verde Valley and the areas where evangelism had taken place, the work in Arizona spread rapidly.
In 1883 and 1884, Abram La Rue and Henry Scott left California to sell Adventist literature in Oahu, Hawaii. By Jan. 15, 1886, some evangelistic meetings in Honolulu by W.M. Healey from the General Conference, had established a company of nine baptized believers, the charter members of the first Adventist church in Hawaii.
In 1889, the work in Utah was started by sending a group of literature evangelists, followed by an evangelistic series. As a result, a church of 20 members was organized in Salt Lake City on May 1, 1892. From this small beginning, the work spread to Ogden, Provo, Logan and later to several other areas in Utah. In 1931, the Utah Mission and Nevada were united to form one conference.
In 1877, Dr. M.G. Kellogg was instrumental in establishing the medical work in California. He was introduced to a site right outside of St. Helena, on Howell Mountain, and established the Rural Health Retreat, which today is the St. Helena Hospital, the oldest existing Seventh-day Adventist health care institution.
The first Adventist College in California was established in Healdsburg in 1882, but by 1909 this College had been reestablished in Angwin and is known today as Pacific Union College. This was the second educational institution of higher learning in North America.
From its very small beginnings in the mid 1800’s the work in the West had been established on very solid foundations. Evangelism, the publishing work, the medical work and the educational work were the solid foundations of the work here on the West Coast and have helped make this Union one of the strongest in the North American Division and the world.