Mountain View Conference is an administrative unit of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Columbia Union Conference.
Territory: West Virginia (except Berkeley, Jefferson, and Morgan Counties), and Allegany and Garrett Counties in Maryland.
Statistics (June 30, 2020): churches, 34; membership, 2,267; population, 1,749,454.
Origin of Adventist Work
West Virginia first shows up in evangelistic reports in 1880, usually associated with the Ohio Conference. Harriet T. H. Sanborn sent church materials to some families in Wood County in 1879, and her husband Isaac Sanborn began to hold meetings in Jerry’s Run. The first baptisms and organized company occurred early the next year, with Mr. Sanborn reporting that he was expanding his work to Roane County as well.1 By 1881, J. R. S. Mowrey was holding meetings with a few believers there.2 By 1883 there were at least 50 members in West Virginia.3
In 1884, the General Conference officially placed West Virginia under the care of the Ohio Conference and designated C.H. Chaffee to lead the work.4 Two sets of tent meetings, led by L. B. Haughey and W. R. Foggin, were held in June and July 1886, one of which closed quickly due to lack of interest.5 The Review and Herald held reports of evangelistic meetings resulting in baptisms in Roane, Wood, and Kanawha Counties, and these areas resulted in the first more permanent church structures and congregations. Still, the first camp meeting was held in Parkersburg in September 1887. Parkersburg is the county seat of Wood County, home of the first Seventh-day Adventist meetings, and became the center of the church’s organization in West Virginia.6
Conference Organization and Leadership
Immediately after its first camp meeting, the West Virginia Conference was organized on September 17, 1887.7 Membership totaled 92. In 1888 the two ministers listed were W. J. Stone in Clarksburg and W. R. Foggin in Berea, Ritchie County.
West Virginia Conference was included in General Conference District 1 organized in 1889. The conference’s territory expanded in 1894 when three counties in western Maryland – Garrett, Allegany, and Washington – were added to it. When union conferences were created in North America in 1901, West Virginia was part of the Atlantic Union (at first briefly named the Eastern Union). In 1903, the Maryland counties added to the West Virginia Conference territory nine years before, along with three counties in eastern West Virginia – Morgan, Berkeley, and Jefferson – were transferred to the Chesapeake Conference.8
West Virginia Conference was transferred in 1907 to the newly-organized Columbia Union Conference. Allegany and Garrett, two of the three Maryland counties ceded in 1903, were returned to West Virginia in 1917. The conference’s territory remained stable thereafter.9
The Charleston “colored” church first appears in the 1923 Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook list of churches in the West Virginia conference (the racial designation was standard practice in the Yearbook until it ceased listing congregations in 1933).10 After the organization of Black-administered conferences was approved in 1944 in response to racial inequities in the denomination, the Charleston Berea church became part of the new Allegheny Conference.11
Some of the early church leaders in West Virginia included women who held positions as conference officials or directors of departments. Mina Babcock was a conference officer in 1894 in the role of treasurer.12 In 1909 the secretary-treasurer position was held by Pearl L. Rees and in 1916-1917 Jennie Burdick was listed as secretary-treasurer. She had come from out of state to help lead the work in West Virginia and in 1917 married a Mr. Seal from Parkersburg. The couple then moved to Central America as missionaries.13
Occasionally in the first fifty years or so of the conference one of the official department heads would be listed as “Health and Temperance Director” or “Medical Missionary Dept Director.” When physicians held these roles, they were invariably women. In 1891 Laura C. Bee of Battle Creek Sanitarium was listed as the head of the health work. From 1913-1915 Dr. Nina Mae Baierle led the Medical Missionary Dept from both Wheeling and Parkersburg. If male Adventist physicians were at work in the twentieth century in West Virginia, they weren’t listed in the official conference records.14
A crisis came in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1968 at the conference constituency meeting, 60% of the representatives followed the recommendation of the union and conference officials’ recommendation and voted to disband the West Virginia conference and divide the territory among other surrounding conferences. This was done partly because of the low number of members and financial problems, but also because the members felt that their young people were leaving the church because of the lack of resources.15 However, there was a backlash in the next three years and the laity mobilized to find alternative ways of handling their troubles. Tradition holds that it was a woman physician remembered as “Dr. Brown” who organized the laity in resisting this re-organization.16 The re-formation of the conference as “Mountain View” voted at a constituency meeting on August 22, 1971, was part of this endeavor.
Development of Mission
Some short-lived efforts at starting health care work in West Virginia took place in the early decades of the conference’s history. In 1905, for example, there were medical treatment rooms in Parkersburg, run by W. E. Arnett. But in the 1970s, as part of the newly reconstituted Mountain View Conference’s effort to revive the spirit of mission in West Virginia, several physicians came to the state. These cohorts of medical workers were recruited to start churches, schools, and clinics in what were called “dark counties” (a term designating counties where there was not an Adventist congregation). Two sets of physicians studied the state’s need for primary health care and started clinics in Summersville, Nicholas County and West Union, Ritchie County. They partnered with pastors and teachers to open schools and churches. These physicians wanted to be missionaries and saw the work in West Virginia as fulfilling that calling.17
Most of the elementary schools begun in West Virginia have remained one and two-room schools. From time to time local churches have sponsored secondary schools, most recently Mountain State Academy in Toll Gate started by Gayle Clark, and Highland Adventist School in Elkins led by Cheryl Jacko, who has shaped education in the conference over the past few decades.18 Historically high school education initiatives have usually not lasted more than one or two decades. In Summersville during the 1980s the church also started a highly successful and still-continuing daycare center under the leadership of Judy Olsen, who had moved to the area with her physician husband. These clinics, schools, and the daycare were deeply appreciated in their communities and a significant part of the church’s mission in West Virginia.
Close to the identity of the Mountain View Conference is its summer camp, Valley Vista. Located in a beautiful piece of land in Randolph County, the land was purchased in the 1970s with amenities being added each decade.19 Valley Vista functions as both camp meeting and summer camp and is used throughout the year by churches and family groups and schools alike. The membership of Mountain View is small, but they give sacrificially to maintain the camp, seeing it as one of the centers for youth evangelism. One of the most unique elements of this conference is the leadership of lay members and their sense of ownership of the church’s mission. Lay leaders remain core to the working out of vision of the Mountain View Conference.20
West Virginia is the only state entirely in Appalachia, characterized by tightly knit communities. Outsiders are treated kindly, but kept at arm’s length, so evangelism has often been most successful when led by people who were born and raised in the state. It is this concern for local control that has led the Mountain View Conference to lobby to retain its own conference structure in spite of its small size.21
The strengths of local identity have kept a steady level of membership in spite of increasing secularization and the decline in the state’s overall population in the twenty-first century. In a state with one of the highest death rates, one of the lowest birth rates, and with one of the highest populations of the elderly in the United States, Seventh-day Adventists have continued to flourish.22 They have retained their sense of mission, continued to raise money and pay tithe for the work of the church, and have passed on the legacy of education and healthcare work to the next generation.
W. J. Stone (1887-1891); D. C. Babcock (1892-1897); G. B. Thompson (1897-1898); S. M. Cobb (1898-1903); W. R. Foggin (1903); S. G. Huntington (1904-1905); B. F. Purdham (1906); E. J. Dryer (1907); J. M. Rees (1908-1909); W. D. MacLay (1910); F. H. Robbins (1911-1914); W. J. Tanner (1915); J. W. Hirlinger (1916); D. A. Parsons (1917); T. B. Westbook (1918-1920); J. W. McCord (1921-1922); W. M. Robbins (1923); C. V. Leach (1924); H. J. Detwiler (1925-1927); D. A. Rees (1928-1932); W. C. Moffett (1933-1934); C. V. Leach (1935-1937); L. H. King (1938); M. G. Conger (1939); T. M. French (1940-1941); W. B. Hill (1942-1946); C. J. Coon (1947-1951); A. F. Ruf (1952-1958); J. Patzer (1959-1966); Roscoe W. Moore (1967-1969); R. D. Fearing (1970-1975); Thomas J. Mostert, Jr. (1976-1978); Robert Thompson (1979-1981); Wayne Coulter (1982-1985); Herbert Broeckel (1986-1988); Randy Murphy (1990-2002); Kingsley Whitsett (2003-2006); Larry Boggess (2006-2017); Michael Hewitt (2018- ).
Headquarters: 1400 Liberty Street, Parkersburg, West Virginia 26101-4124
Canright, D. M. “The Ohio Campmeeting.” ARH, November 17, 1885.
Cottrell, H. W. “West Virginia Conference.” Atlantic Union Gleaner, December 16, 1903.
Farnsworth, E. W. “West Virginia Camp-Meeting.” ARH, October 11, 1887.
Foggin, W. R. and L. B. Haughey. “West Virginia.” ARH, August 10, 1886.
Green, W. H. “The Negro Department.” ARH, January 22, 1920.
Mowrey, J. R. S. “West Virginia.” ARH, October 25, 1881.
“Progress Continues in Mountain View.” Columbia Union Visitor, June 7, 1973.
Sanborn, H. T. H. “A Word to the Interested,” ARH, June 24, 1880.
Sanborn, I. “West Virginia.” ARH, July 29, 1880.
Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia. 2nd rev. edition. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1996. S.v. “Mountain View Conference.”
Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook, 1891, 1894, 1913, 1915-1917. General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Office of Archives, Statistics and Research, https://documents.adventistarchives.org/Yearbooks/Forms/AllItems.aspx.
Stone, W. J. “West Virginia Camp-Meeting.” ARH, July 26, 1887.
“West Virginia.” Columbia Union Visitor, January 27, 1916.
H. T. H. Sanborn, “A Word to the Interested,” ARH, June 24, 1880, 10; I. Sanborn, “West Virginia,” ARH July 29, 1880, 92.↩
J. R. S. Mowrey, “West Virginia,” ARH, October 25, 1881, 267.↩
G. I. Butler, “Labor in the South Atlantic States,” ARH, January 2, 1883, 9.↩
D. M. Canright “The Ohio Campmeeting,” ARH, November 17, 1885, 652.↩
W. R. Foggin and L. B. Haughey, “West Virginia,” ARH, August 10, 1886, 507.↩
W. J. Stone, “West Virginia Camp-Meeting,” ARH, July 26, 1887, 477; E. W. Farnsworth, “West Virginia Camp-Meeting,” ARH, October 11, 1887, 636-637.↩
Farnsworth, “West Virginia Camp-Meeting.”↩
H. W. Cottrell, “West Virginia Conference,” Atlantic Union Gleaner, December 16, 1903, 4; Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, 2nd rev. edition (1996), s.v. “Mountain View Conference.”↩
Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia (1996), s.v. “Mountain View Conference.”↩
The church was planted in 1919 through the work of Pastor M.S. Banfield; see W.H. Green, “The Negro Department,” ARH, January 22, 1920, 25.↩
“Minutes of the Colored Conference Organization Meeting for the Columbia Union Conference,” December 17-18, 1944, Allegheny Folder, Box A825, GCA.↩
Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook, 1894.↩
Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook, 1909. R. T. Dowsett, “Notices,” Columbia Union Visitor, November 25, 1915, 8; “West Virginia,” Columbia Union Visitor, January 27, 1916, 1.↩
Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook 1891,1913, 1915-1917.↩
“Progress Continues in Mountain View,” Columbia Union Visitor, June 7, 1973, 8-9.↩
Bill Clark, interview by author, April 25, 2020.↩
“Progress Continues in Mountain View”; Interview of Bill Clark by the author, April 25, 2020.↩
https://www.highlandadventistschool.org/about/faculty-and-staff; Bill Clark interview.↩
“Progress Continues in Mountain View,” 9.↩
Jane Browning, interview by the author, May 1, 2020.↩
Bill Clark and Jane Browning interviews.↩
West Virginia’s Department of Health and Human Resources, http://www.wvdhhr.org/bph/hsc/pubs/other/wvagingpop2013/hsc_wv_aging_pop_final_020317.pdf.↩