The Texas Conference is an administrative unit of the Seventh-day Adventist Church within the Southwestern Union Conference.
Territory: That portion of Texas (except the city of Texarkana) east and south of Callahan, Concho, Foard, Hardeman, Haskell, Jones, Knox, Runnels, Schleicher, Sutton, and Terrell counties, and south of the south line of Crockett County.
Statistics (June 30, 2019): Churches, 252; membership, 61,007; population, 24,859,973
On December 29, 1845, the United States of America under President James Polk annexed the Republic of Texas as the American nation’s twenty eighth state. Texas formally joined the union on February 19, 1846.
The Seventh-day Adventist message began to be preached in Texas about thirty years later, in 1875. Three brothers, John E., E. G., and A. B. Rust, came from Michigan to Texas and conducted a series of meetings, at the end of which a company was organized in Dallas. That first company met in various homes and buildings in the Dallas-Grand Prairie area.1
In May 1876, D. M. Canright came to Texas to hold meetings that eventually lead to the formation of a church of 18 members in Dallas. E. G. Rust was the deacon and the state’s first Seventh-day Adventist baptism was conducted the very next day. Canright estimated that “about sixty Sabbathkeepers” were scattered throughout the state.2
In the same year the General Conference asked R. M. Kilgore to go to Texas in response to a request from Dallas for an evangelist. He went in May 1877, held tent meetings, and organized churches in 1878 in Cleburne, Peoria, and Terrell.3 A. G. Daniells, then twenty-one years old, served as the tent master.4
James and Ellen White spent several months in the Plano and Denison area of Texas in 1878 and 1879. Regarding a camp meeting held November 12-19 in Plano, James White, General Conference president at time, reported: “During the camp meeting thirteen people were baptized, the Texas Conference was formed, and aggressive plans were laid for tent evangelism. It was decided to purchase two evangelistic tents, one sixty feet in diameter and the other fifty feet.” 5
Texas Conference (1878-1932)
At this camp meeting, the first regular one held, the Texas Conference was organized, with R. M. Kilgore as president.6 Around 1880 Kilgore moved to Peoria, and conducted evangelistic work in a number of places in north Texas (Fairview, Marystown, Plano, and Dresden), and organized a church at Sherman. Earlier John Wilson had begun German work in southwest Texas, and A. W. Jenson had started the Swedish and Danish work in Austin and Lexington.
By 1890, through the evangelism of Kilgore, W. S. Cruzan, and W. S. Hyatt, churches or groups had been organized in McKinney, Black Jack Grove, Clifton, Brushy Knob, Corsicana, Wilmer, Savoy, Cooper, Fairyland, and Ladonia. The conference membership then stood at 425, and there were two ordained ministers and four licensed ministers.7
In 1893 R. W. Roberson moved to San Antonio, and six months later a group of 21 were meeting regularly on the Sabbath. In the same year the conference purchased 800 acres (325 hectares) of land in Johnson County for a Texas training school (now Southwestern Adventist University). Smaller tracts of this land were sold to Seventh-day Adventist families, and many settled there. On January 6, 1894, a church of 60 charter members were organized. The U.S. Post Office Department named the settlement “Keene” in 1895.
In 1893 a copy of Uriah Smith’s Daniel and the Revelation was sold in a German settlement near Hutton, in central Texas, by a colporteur named Hunter. Several German families became Seventh-day Adventists and were organized in October 1895 as a small company, and then in December 1896 as a church, which increased to 34 members the next year. From this German church, 13 members moved in 1903 to Valley View, in north Texas, and with six isolated members in that area organized a church there.
Also in 1896, evangelism conducted by J. N. Summerville in the east Texas counties of Cass and Morris resulted in the organization of the Marietta church (now New Hope). A day school was opened soon afterwards.
As of 1900, the Texas Conference reported a total of 1,294 members.8
West Texas Conference Organized
In 1908 the 100 western counties of Texas, with 261 members, were separated from Texas Conference and became the West Texas Mission. The mission was organized in 1909 as the West Texas Conference, with T. W. Field as president. It became part of the Texico Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, organized in 1916.
North Texas and South Texas Conferences Organized
The Texas Conference was divided again in 1910. In the division it was reduced to the northeastern part of the state, with 21 churches, 1,336 members, and 10 church buildings. In 1911, it was renamed the Northeast Texas Conference (changed shortly to North Texas Conference), with headquarters in Keene. W.A. McCutchen was president. The southern portion of the state, with 257 members, was separated as the South Texas Mission Field, organized as the South Texas Conference at San Antonio in 1911, with J. I. Taylor as president.
In 1912 the North Texas Conference operated seven evangelistic tents, organized seven new churches, and conducted four camp meetings, including one for the African-American constituency, and Sabbath schools increased from 30 to 51. Although failure of cotton crops in 1914 forced the North Texas Conference to reduce budgets, that year saw the founding of Berean Intermediate School (later Jefferson Christian Academy) near Jefferson, in northeast Texas. In 1917 North Texas Conference colporteurs nearly doubled their deliveries over the previous year. Also in that year the financial goal for foreign missions was reached for the first time, and 200 persons were baptized.
During the 1920s large-scale citywide evangelistic campaigns were conducted in both the North and the South Texas Conferences. In 1921 J. H. Tindall conducted an evangelistic campaign in the city auditorium in Dallas, in which medical work was combined with gospel preaching. Dr. Mary McReynolds gave numerous treatments, and vegetarian meals were served in the auditorium. A three-month training school for 50 evangelistic workers was also operated in connection with the campaign. The combination of medical work with gospel preaching was also used in 1923 by G. R. West, with Toral Seat and two nurses conducting the medical evangelism in Fort Worth and in Waco; also, by W. E. Barr in Houston and in San Antonio.
The South Texas Conference membership rose from 416 in 1920 to 1,155, with 20 churches, in 1928. In 1922 one out of every 15 members in the conference was actively engaged in colporteur work. By 1928 the North Texas Conference (whose office moved from Keene to Dallas in 1924) had a membership of 1,323, with 29 churches.
Spanish Evangelism in South Texas
Between 1909 and 1913 W. F. Mayer conducted colporteur work among the Hispanic population along the Lower Rio Grande Valley. By 1916 two Hispanic churches had been organized, with a membership of 43. The La Reforma Mexican church in the Lower Rio Grande Valley was dedicated in 1923. Fifty six new Hispanic converts that year gave the South Texas Conference the largest number of Hispanic members of any conference in the United States. In 1925 nearly half the total member attending the South Texas camp meeting were of Mexican heritage, and by 1930 the Hispanic membership reached 200.9
Texas Conference Reorganized
In 1932 the South Texas and North Texas conferences were recombined to form the Texas Conference, with a total of 2,950 members. G. F. Eichman was elected president, and the conference office was moved to Fort Worth.10 Between 1932 and 1942, 21 new churches were organized and more than 2,600 members were baptized. At the end of the period there were 63 churches and 25 church schools. School enrollment in Texas in all grades rose from 543 in 1932 to 804 in 1935. In 1941 four evangelists were on the air weekly or daily.
Between 1943 and 1951 Adventist evangelists conducted campaigns in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and Fort Worth, each adding between 100 and 175 members. In addition, 17 new churches and eight new church schools were organized. In 1944 sales of church publications totaled $137,000—more than in the whole decade of 1932-1942. From 1950-1957 the Texas Conference had a net gain of nearly 2,000 members.
Growth in Recent Decades
In July 1959, under the name Operation Lone Star, conference president B. E. Leach launched an intensive program to advance in every phase of the work. Under this program, by 1963, 450 evangelistic meetings had been held and 2,066 persons had joined the church, bringing the conference membership to 8,000. In six years, 27 new churches were organized (through 1965), and active evangelism was carried on in 37 unentered regions. Each pastor was appointed an evangelist, and the conference department heads also conducted evangelistic meetings.
The Texas Conference grew substantially during the tenure of Cyril Miller as president (1974-1985). Membership nearly doubled as a result of an aggressive program of church planting, evangelism, and institutional development. A builder, Harold Bradbury, was employed to help construct 42 church homes for new congregations.
In 1980 Border Institutes of English, SDA (BIESDA) opened on the Mexican border. During the years up to 1993 more than 110 student missionaries taught English conversation and Bible to more than 18,000 students, baptizing 120 of them.
The Revelation Seminar approach to evangelism led to many baptisms, particularly during the 1980s and 1990s. Through Seminars Unlimited, established in the late 1970s, the world field was served with Revelation Seminar material produced in many languages.
In 1986 the conference sponsored the first of its many mission teams to Mexico and Belize. Over the next decade more than 1,200 youth and adults volunteered to build churches and conduct cross-culture evangelism.
B. L. Roberts, director of the Spanish Department (later renamed Hispanic Ministries) of the Texas Conference, reported that in 1990, 923 persons joined the Spanish-speaking churches of the conference, more than half (55%) of the conference total for the year of 1,673.11 By 1993, the conference had 6,716 Spanish-speaking members of various Hispanic backgrounds in 66 congregations, served by 30 pastors.
1996 proved to be an unprecedented year for growth in the conference’s Hispanic churches. The 1,280 new members added that year exceeded the goal of 1,200.12 The explosive growth has continued. In 2019, Texas Conference Hispanic membership surpassed 28,000, the largest of any conference in the North American Division. The number of congregations had more than doubled since 1993, with a total of 143 churches and companies, served by 84 pastors (71 full-time, 13 part-time) and seven Bible workers.13
Welfare and Medical Work
Between 1952 and 1962 activities in the areas of welfare work and civil defense included large civil defense rallies, mass feeding demonstrations, field hospital emergency drills, the establishment of two large clothing, food, and emergency relief depots usable as emergency hospitals, and the purchase of a large welfare van. In 1963 the conference operated 57 welfare units and 15 welfare centers.
During Hurricane Carla in 1961, working in cooperation with the Red Cross and Salvation Army, Seventh-day Adventist relief vans set up clothing distribution centers in 13 cities, distributed 160 tons (554,000 pieces) of clothing to 100,000 persons, and set up and operated an emergency hospital for 60 patients.
In 2017, in response to the historic flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, the Adventist Community Services (ACS) warehouse in San Antonio functioned as a distribution center, routing $2.7 million in relief supplies donated by corporations to 28 distribution sites, including 13 Adventist churches. Volunteers at the ACS Warehouse in Keene worked around the clock, receiving supplies and loading them for shipment to those in need. ACS also mobilized funds and volunteers for the ongoing work of long-term recovery.14
The Texas Conference began to operate its first hospital in 1956 in Santa Anna, and later assumed the operation of several others. These became part of Adventist Health Systems/Sunbelt.
Christian education has held a prominent place in the work of the conference for more than 125 years. During the 2018-2019 school year, the Education Department oversaw operation of 23 schools, with an enrollment totaling 2,253 students. The schools included three academies offering secondary education through twelfth grade: Chisolm Trail Academy in Keene (established 1894); North Dallas Adventist Academy in Richardson (established 2008); and South Texas Christian Academy in McAllen (established 2005).15
Lone Star MV Camp, the conference’s first youth camp, was established on a 400-acre (160-hectare) site near Athens, Texas, purchased in 1953.16 Lake Whitney Ranch, the conference-owned camp and retreat facility since 2013, encompasses 930 acres (377 hectare) near Clifton in central Texas.17
At the conference constituency meeting held in May 2019, executive secretary Richard White reported that during the four-year period of 2015-2018, the Texas Conference added 10,060 new members, making for a net increase of 7,939, bringing the total membership to 10, 060.18
All of the expanding work of the Texas Conference is driven by its mission “to empower members, pastors, churches and schools in our territory to share the gospel message with their friends and communities.”19
Texas Conference: R. M. Kilgore, 1878-1885; W. S. Greer, 1885-1887; James W. Gage, 1887-1888; W. S. Hyatt, 1888-1892; W. S. Greer, 1892-1895; H. W. Decker, 1895-1896; C. McReynolds, 1896-1899; E. T. Russell, 1899-1901; W. A. McCutchen, 1901-1903; N. P. Nelson, 1903-1905; W. A. McCutchen, 1910-1911.
North[east] Texas Conference: W. A. McCutchen, 1911-1913; J. I. Taylor, 1913-1916; David Voth, 1916-1921; J. F. Wright, 1921-1925; F. L. Perry, 1925-1926; Roy L. Benton, 1926-1930; F. L. Perry, 1930-1932.
South Texas Conference: J. I. Taylor, 1911-1913; J. A. Leland, 1913-1915; E. L. Neff, 1915-1920; R. P. Montgomery, 1920-1926; E. R. Elliott, 1926-1929; F. L. Perry, 1929-1930; G. F. Eichman, 1930-1932.
Texas Conference: G. F. Eichman, 1932-1936; J. D. Smith, 1936-1938; F. D. Wells, 1938-1943; L. L. McKinley, 1943-1950; N. R. Dover, 1950-1957; R. H. Pierson, 1957-1958; B. E. Leach, 1958-1966; G. C. Dart, 1968-1974; Cyril Miller, 1974-1985; W. R. May, 1985-1988; Don Aalborg, 1988-1989; Robert H. Wood, 1989-1994; L. Stephen Gifford, 1994-2007; Leighton Holley, 2007-2011; Carlos Craig, 2011-Present.
Headquarters: 1211 W. Highway 67, Alvarado, Texas 76009-3254
2015-2019 Texas Conference Constituency Report. Accessed March 30, 2020, https://issuu.com/texasadventist/docs/constituency_issue_web.
Annual Statistical Reports. Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Statistics/Forms/AllFolders.aspx.
Benton, R. L. “Texas Constituency Meeting.” Southwestern Union Record, April 20, 1932.
Benton, R. L. “Union of North and South Texas Conferences.” Southwestern Union Record, March 30, 1932.
Blackburn, R. S. “Lone Star MV Camp Building.” Southwestern Union Record, January 20, 1954.
Canright, D. M. “Texas.” ARH, May 25, 1876.
Clarke, Jos[eph]. “Texas,” ARH, March 8, 1877
Kilgore, R. N. “Texas.” ARH, October 3, 1877.
Lake Whitney Ranch. Accessed March 30, 2020, http://www.lakewhitneyranch.org/information.html
“Organization of the Texas Conference, State T. and M. Society, and S.S. Association.” ARH, December 5, 1878.
Piantini Jose A. “Spanish Pastors Exceed Baptismal Goals.” Southwestern Union Record, April 1997.
Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, 2nd rev. edition. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 1996. S.v. “Texas Conference.”
Schnell Brenda. “Spanish Churches Report 923 Baptisms.” Southwestern Union Record April 1991.
Spalding, Arthur Whitefield. Origin and History of Seventh-day Adventists, Vol. 2. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1962.
“Statistics of Home and Foreign Conferences and Missions.” Seventh-day Adventist Year Book for 1890. Battle Creek, MI: Review and Herald.
Texas Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Accessed March 31, 2020, https://texasadventist.org/about/.
Texas Conference Constituency Meeting Minutes, April 2015, Keene Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Texas Conference Constituency Meeting Minutes, May 2019, Brazos County Expo.
Vasquez, Manuel. The Untold Story: 100 Years of Hispanic Adventism, 1899-1999. Silver Spring, MD: North American Division Multilingual Ministries, 2000.
White, Arthur L. Ellen G. White: The Lonely Years: 1876-1891, Vol. 3. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 1984.
W[hite], J[ames]. “Texas Camp-Meeting.” ARH, December 5, 1878.
Arthur Whitefield Spalding, Origin and History of Seventh-day Adventists, Vol. 2 (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1962), 183-184; Jos[eph] Clarke, “Texas,” ARH, March 8, 1877, 78.↩
D.M. Canright, “Texas,” ARH, May 25, 1876, 166.↩
J[ames] W[hite], “The Cause in Texas,” ARH, March 29, 1877, 104; R.M. Kilgore, “Texas,” ARH, October 3, 1877, 108.↩
See publisher’s note in Ellen G. White, Manuscript Releases, Vol. 11 (Silver Spring, MD: Ellen G. White Estate, 1990), 61.↩
J[ames] W[hite], “Texas Camp-Meeting,” ARH, December 5, 1878, 180; Arthur White, Ellen G. White: The Lonely Years: 1876-1891, vol.3 (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1984), 101.↩
“Organization of the Texas Conference, State T. and M. Society, and S.S. Association,” ARH, December 5, 1878, 183. In addition to sources specified in subsequent endnotes, the “Organizational History” section draws from Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, 2nd rev. edition (1996), s.v. “Texas Conference.”↩
“Statistics of Home and Foreign Conferences and Missions,” Seventh-day Adventist Year Book for 1890 (Battle Creek, MI: Review and Herald), 59.↩
“Summary of Statistics for Conferences and Missions for the Year Ending Dec. 31, 1900,” accessed March 30, 2020, http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Statistics/ASR/ASR1900.pdf.↩
Manuel Vasquez, The Untold Story: 100 Years of Hispanic Adventism, 1899-1999 (Silver Spring, MD: North American Division Multilingual Ministries, 2000), 181-186.↩
R. L. Benton, “Union of North and South Texas Conferences,” Southwestern Union Record, March 30, 1932, 1; R. L. Benton, “Texas Constituency Meeting,” Southwestern Union Record, April 20, 1932, 1; R. L. Alexander, “Notice of the Permanent Location of the Texas Conference Office,” Southwestern Union Record, June 8, 1932, 3.↩
Brenda Schnell, “Spanish Churches Report 923 Baptisms,” Southwestern Union Record, April 1991, 9.↩
Jose A. Piantini, “Spanish Pastors Exceed Baptismal Goals,” Southwestern Union Record, April 1997, 13.↩
“Hispanic Ministries,” 2015-2019 Texas Conference Constituency Report, 17, accessed March 30, 2020, https://issuu.com/texasadventist/docs/constituency_issue_web.↩
“Adventist Community Services,” 2015-2019 Texas Conference Constituency Report, 9, accessed March 30, 2020, https://issuu.com/texasadventist/docs/constituency_issue_web↩
“Education,” 2015-2019 Texas Conference Constituency Report, 12-13, accessed March 30, 2020, https://issuu.com/texasadventist/docs/constituency_issue_web.↩
R.S. Blackburn, “Lone Star MV Camp Buildings,” Southwestern Union Record, January 20, 1954, 3.↩
“Conference Secretary Department Report,” Texas Conference Constituency Meeting Minutes, May 2019, Brazos County Expo, copy in author’s possession.↩