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Southeastern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists

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Southeastern California Conference

By Raymond D. Tetz

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Raymond D. Tetz has served as director of Communication and Community Engagement for the Pacific Union Conference since 2015. He served as vice president for strategic communication and corporate development at the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) from 1986 to 1995. For two decades, he successfully operated a consulting and media production company that served dozens of Adventist organizations and ministries. Tetz began his ministry in the Southern California Conference, initially serving as a pastor, Bible teacher, and youth director.

First Published: October 10, 2020

The Southeastern California Conference is an administrative unit of the Seventh-day Adventist church in the Pacific Union Conference.

Territory: the California counties of Imperial, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego.

Statistics (June 30, 2020): churches, 150; membership, 69,841; population, 10,868,478.1

Origins

John B. Judson, the first ordained Adventist minister to enter southern California, settled with his family in San Pasqual Valley in 1875. He was placed in charge of the California Tract and Missionary Society District No. 4, which included the counties of Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and San Diego. A small group of Sabbath-keepers began meeting in the Judson home in December 1875 and a church eventually was organized in 1884. In 1887, William Healey held meetings in San Diego resulting in a congregation that began worshipping in a “new meetinghouse” at 18th and G in April 1888 and was officially organized and admitted to the California Conference later that year. Fifteen years later, Healey reported that the San Diego church had grown to 140 members with a church school that had 20 pupils. By then Adventists in San Diego were also operating a health food store, a vegetarian restaurant, and treatment rooms directed by Dr. Thomas Whitlock. Also in 1902, C. E. Knight and his wife held public meetings in Riverside and baptized six people before going on to Corona.2

In that same year, Ellen White urged that the work in what is now the Southeastern California Conference be taken to an even higher level. “As soon as possible, sanitariums are to be established in different places in Southern California,” she urged, adding that “they are to be so conducted that a decided impression in favor of the truth will be made on the minds of those who come to them for treatment.”3 Despite the reluctance of church leaders concerned about the financial risk, Ellen White’s vigorous counsel, along with a personal loan of $2,000 to help secure the property, led to establishment of Paradise Valley Sanitarium in National City, a suburb of San Diego, in 1904.4 Similar dynamics led to acquisition of property for another sanitarium in Loma Linda the following year and for the College of Medical Evangelists (later Loma Linda University) in 1909.

In a 1908 Review article about the emerging work in the southern part of California, Ellen White called for leaders who “cultivate and cherish broad views and ideas.” She went on to specify places of particular opportunity: “In the cities of Riverside, Redlands, and San Bernardino a mission field is open to us that we have as yet only touched with the tips of our fingers.”5 Though she died soon after the formation of the Southeastern California Conference in 1915, much of what now exists in its territory is a legacy to her foresight and vision in terms of experimentation and innovation.

Organizational History

The growth of Adventist membership in southern California resulted in the 1915 decision to assign San Bernardino, Riverside, Orange, San Diego, and Imperial counties to a new organization, the Southeastern California Conference (SECC), with the other counties remaining in the Southern California Conference that had been organized in 1901. The new Southeastern California Conference had 27 churches and 1,645 members.6 The conference office was initially located in Santa Ana but soon moved to Riverside (1916) and then to Arlington, about seven miles southwest of Riverside (1927).7 In 1981 the headquarters moved from 9707 Magnolia Avenue in Arlington (by then part of the city of Riverside) to its current locale about three miles away at 11330 Pierce Street in Riverside.

Early Development

The conference held its first camp meeting at Huntington Beach from August 26 to September 5, 1915.8 The first annual session was held in San Diego, beginning on August 1, 1916.9 In his address to the session, conference president W.F. Martin alluded to the increasing sense of anxiety caused by the Great War (World War I) underway in Europe and talk of possible United States involvement:

God’s message of truth, culminating in the coming of the Son of man, is the one thing that will solve the great problem before the world and bring peace to the souls of men. The delegates assembled at this meeting should plan carefully for aggressive work in the new fields in our conference, and to hold the interest created where we have companies and churches.10

During its first decade and a half, SECC grew impressively to 4,929 by the end of 1931, nearly tripling the 1915 membership. Nonetheless, as part of denomination-wide cost-cutting measures to meet the financial crisis of the Great Depression, the SECC was combined with the Arizona Conference in 1932. The arrangement continued until 1936 when the conferences were returned to their previous distinct status.11

Education

The purchase of La Sierra Rancho about 10 miles southwest of Riverside provided land for a 12-grade boarding academy that opened in 1922, initially called Southeastern California Academy. It became a joint venture of SECC and the Southern California Conference and renamed La Sierra Academy and Normal School in 1925. The school went on to become an institution of higher education in stages – first becoming Southern California Junior College in 1927, then La Sierra College in 1939, and finally La Sierra University in 1990.12

Meanwhile, SECC and the college, then university, have continued to operate a secondary school today known as La Sierra Academy. By 1932 two more academies were in operation: one at Loma Linda and another at San Diego. These three academies have continued to serve SECC’s young people, and with the growth of the conference in subsequent decades another four secondary schools have been added: Escondido Adventist Academy in Escondido; Mesa Grande Academy in Calimesa; Orangewood Academy in Garden Grove; and Redlands Adventist Academy in Redlands.13 San Pasqual Academy, opened near Escondido in 1949, was the only boarding academy in SECC for nearly 50 years before closing in 1997.14

Conference Camp

In April 1932 SECC acquired property for a junior campsite in the San Jacinto Mountains southeast of Riverside as a means of meeting the needs of a growing number of young people.15 Continued growth created the need for a larger site and a higher quality of facilities. The 320-acre (130 hectare) Pine Springs Ranch near Idyllwild, purchased in 1961, remains the conference camp site as of 2020.

Membership Growth

The growth of church membership and interest in Adventist teachings are well illustrated by the pre-war attendance of between five and six thousand at the 1939 camp meeting held on the campus of Southern California Junior College [La Sierra].16 Membership growth continued to boom in the post-war era. A 66 percent growth rate in the 1950s took the total from 10,239 (1950) to 17,274 (1960) and 55 percent growth in the 1960s brought the total to 26,783 at the outset of 1970.17 With strong growth continuing into the twenty-first century, the SECC membership, just under 70,000 as of 2020, is the largest of any conference in the North American Division.

Hispanic Ministries

R. B. Stauffer led an evangelistic effort in 1923 in National City that resulted in 14 Spanish-speaking families accepting the Adventist message. These families had a collective total of 40 children, making the need for Adventist education quickly apparent.18 Action to meet it came, though not so swiftly. In 1938 with the encouragement of Dr. T. E. Bartholomew and Dr. Henry Forcher, SECC established the Calexico Mission School near the Mexican border. It still operates serving around 300 students as of 2020, most of whom are not Adventists.19

An evangelistic highpoint came when Joe Espinosa was appointed Hispanic evangelist for the SECC in 1962. During his five years in that role, he conducted separate, major evangelistic efforts in connection with at least eight Spanish congregations throughout the conference. For eight months in 1964, he had a half-hour television broadcast on a Tijuana, Mexico, station that aired each Saturday night after the bullfight in Mexico City ended. In 1970, the SECC appointed its first Hispanic coordinator, Manuel Nestares. By the end of the twentieth century, the conference had 35 Spanish-speaking churches with 13,665 members.20

With immigration increasing the diversity of the population in its territory, and the “minority” membership constituting more than one-third of the total as of 1993, the SECC added vice presidents for Hispanic Ministries, Asian/Pacific Ministries, and Black Ministries to its administrative structure.

Asian/Pacific Ministries

Jonathan Park, then Vice President for Asian/Pacific Ministries, gave an overview of the uniqueness and scope of this component of SECC in a 2010 report:

The uniqueness of the Asian/Pacific ministries, as compared to the other ministries in our conference, is that it is like a little United Nations. Despite its diverse composition with 11 nationalities, cultures and language groups, such as Cambodians, Chinese, Filipinos, Indonesians, Japanese, Koreans, Laotians, Samoans, Southern Asians (Bangladeshis, Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans), Thai and Vietnamese, the passion for evangelism still beats in the hearts of our church members to reach out to the thousands of people belonging to these language groups in the SECC territory and beyond with the gospel message. Because of the complexities in language and culture, camp meetings have to be conducted by each language group in their own language, aside from the yearly Asian/Pacific convocations, which are conducted in English.

As of 2010, the Asian/Pacific membership was close to 8,000, about 11 percent of the conference total.21

Black Ministries

In 1922 an African American church of some 30 members was organized in San Diego and called the Beacon Light church. This was the work of J. E. Johnson, who had recently become an Adventist, and did this in a voluntary capacity. Sidney Scott followed up with further meetings.22 Now known as the San Diego 31st Street church, this congregation continues with a membership of 1,151 reported in 2020. The 17 congregations overseen by the Black Ministries department also include the Riverside Kansas Avenue church, the Mt. Rubidoux church also in Riverside, and the San Bernardino 16th Street church, each of which reported memberships between 1,500 and 2,000 in 2020.23

Gender Equality

In 1995, the SECC identified as one of its major objectives “full gender equality in recruitment, training, appointment, ordination, and remuneration of ministers.”24 Toward that end, the SECC Executive Committee approved a revision of the procedures for ordaining and credentialing in which an “ordained-commissioned” credential would be issue to all qualifying ministers regardless of gender. The North American Division, however, did not recognize the validity of this innovation.25

With the Pacific Union having voted in favor of ordaining ministers without regard to gender in 2012, delegates to the SECC’s constituency session held October 27, 2013, elected Sandra E. Roberts as conference president, the first woman elected to that office in Adventist history.26

Strategic Priorities. The SECC defines its mission as “the expansion of God's kingdom through the preaching, teaching, publishing, and living of the everlasting gospel throughout the cross-cultural communities of our territory.”27

At its constituency session on October 7, 2018, the conference identified the following strategic priorities in moving ahead toward fulfillment of its mission:

We ENGAGE next generation leaders as a welcoming Christian community, through thriving ministries for youth and young adults, and in the development of leadership opportunities to serve that shape our shared future.

We live out our calling to EVANGELIZE in new and creative ways, intentionally participating with love and grace in the shared life of our communities, proclaiming the everlasting gospel through our public ministries and individual lives.

We EDUCATE for lifelong faithfulness and success, embracing the highest standards of academic excellence, sustainability, and accessibility throughout our Christ-centered and distinctly Seventh-day Adventist Christian educational network.

We EQUIP members of every age to embrace their calling to mission and service, empowering discipleship through mentoring, training, and resourcing.28

Presidents

W.F. Martin, 1915–1919; J.L. McElhany, 1919–1920; B.E. Beddoe, 1920; J.J. Nethery, 1921–1926; P.E. Brodersen, 1926–1927; Glenn A. Calkins, 1927–1930; C.S. Prout, 1930–1934; E.F. Hackman, 1934–1940; L.K. Dickson, 1940–1941; Lloyd E. Biggs, 1941–1945; H.H. Hicks, 1945–1955; R.C. Baker, 1955–1961; J.W. Osborn, 1961–1970; Melvin L. Lukens, 1970–1974; Max C. Torkelsen, 1974–1976; W. D. Blehm, 1976–1979; W.C. Heintz, 1979; T.J. Mostert, Jr., 1979–1986; L.S. Gifford, 1986–1992; F. Lynn Mallery, 1992–2005; Gerald D. Penick, Sr. 2005–2013; Sandra E. Roberts, 2013–2021.

Headquarters address: 11330 Pierce St., Riverside, CA 92505-3303.

Sources

“Adventist officers release statement regarding a local conference’s recent election of president.” Adventist News Network, October 31, 2013. Accessed April 8, 2020. https://news.adventist.org/en/all-news/news/go/2013-10-31/adventist-officers-release-statement-regarding-a-local-conferences-recent-election-of-president/.

Andross, E. E. “Early Camp Meetings in the Pacific Union.” ARH, August 17, 1939.

Calexico Mission School. “Eighty Years of Service: A Short History.” Accessed April 8, 2020. https://calexicomissionschool.com/about-us/school-history/.

C[orliss], J. O. “An Interesting Conference Session.” Pacific Union Recorder, February 25, 1915.

General Conference Committee, April 19, 2000, General Conference Archives, accessed March 21, 2021, https://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/GCC/GCC2000-04.pdf.

“Growing Together in Christ” Session Book, October 7, 2018, 99. Accessed April 8, 2020. http://seccsession.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Session-Book.pdf

Healey, W. M. “San Diego.” Signs of the Times, October 6, 1887.

Hodgkin, Georgia E. “Refocusing the Ordination Discussion as a Local Issue.” Spectrum 28, no. 3 (Summer 2000): 30-36.

Martin, W. F. “President’s Address.” Pacific Union Recorder, September 7, 1916.

Haussler, John Cecil “The History of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in California,” Ph.D. Thesis, June 1945, 314. Accessed March 30, 2020. http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p15799coll36/id/76330.

Office of Archives, Research, and Statistics, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (ASTR). “Southeastern California Conference (1915-Present).” Accessed March 21, 2021. http://www.adventiststatistics.org/view_Summary.asp?FieldID=C10460.

Roberts, Elizabeth Judson. “Some Early Church History.” Pacific Union Recorder, June 30, 1937.

“Sandra Roberts Elected President of Southeastern California Conference.” Pacific Union Recorder, December 1, 2013.

Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. “Southeastern California Conference.” Accessed March 18, 2021. https://www.adventistyearbook.org/entity?EntityID=18803.

Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia. 2nd rev. edition. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1996. S.v. “Southeastern California Conference.”

Southeastern California Conference. Accessed April 8, 2020. https://secc.adventistfaith.org/.

“Southeastern California Conference Session.” Pacific Union Recorder, September 7, 1916.

“Summary of the Proceedings of the California Conference.” Signs of the Times, October 19, 1888.

Vasquez, Manuel. The Untold Story: 100 Years of Hispanic Adventism, 1899-1999. Silver Spring, MD: North American Division Multilingual Ministries, 2000.

White, Ellen G. “Notes of Travel—No. 6.” ARH, March 16, 1905.

White, Ellen G. “Provision for Our Schools: An Appeal to Ministers, Physicians, and Teachers in Southern California.” ARH, September 3, 1908.

White, Ellen G. Testimonies for the Church, vol. 7. Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1902.

Notes

  1. “Southeastern California Conference,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook, accessed March 18, 2021, https://www.adventistyearbook.org/entity?EntityID=18803.

  2. Elizabeth Judson Roberts, “Some Early Church History,” Pacific Union Recorder, June 30, 1937, 3; W.M. Healey, “San Diego,” Signs of the Times, October 6, 1887, 618; W.M. Healey, “San Diego Quarterly Meeting,” Signs of the Times, March 30, 1888, 206; “Summary of the Proceedings of the California Conference,” Signs of the Times, October 19, 1888, 634; Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, 2nd rev. edition (1996) [hereafter SDAE], s.v. “Southeastern California Conference.”

  3. Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 7 (Mountain View, CA: 1902), 97.

  4. Ellen G. White, “Notes of Travel—No. 6,” ARH, March 16, 1905, 8.

  5. Ellen G. White, “Provision for Our Schools: An Appeal to Ministers, Physicians, and Teachers in Southern California,” ARH, September 3, 1908, 7.

  6. J.O. C[orliss], “An Interesting Conference Session,” Pacific Union Recorder, February 25, 1915, 8.

  7. SDAE, “Southeastern California Conference.”

  8. “Camp Meetings,” ARH, July 29, 1915, 21.

  9. “Southeastern California Conference Session,” Pacific Union Recorder, September 7, 1916, 1-7.

  10. W.F. Martin, “President’s Address,” Pacific Union Recorder, September 7, 1916, 3.

  11. SDAE, “Southeastern California Conference.”

  12. “About Us,” Southeastern California Conference, accessed April 8, 2020. https://secc.adventistfaith.org/members-about; SDAE, “Southeastern California Conference.”

  13. SDAE, “Southeastern California Conference”; “Southeastern California Conference,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook.

  14. Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, 2nd rev. edition (1996) [hereafter SDAE], s.v. “San Pasqual Adventist Academy”; Logan Jenkins, “Academy Undergoes a Reincarnation but Tradition May Linger,” San Diego Union-Tribune, December 8, 2001, accessed August 16, 2021, https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/sdut-academy-undergoes-reincarnation-tradition-may-ling-2001dec08-story.html.

  15. Ibid.

  16. E.E. Andross, “Early Camp Meetings in the Pacific Union,” ARH, August 17, 1939, 20.

  17. “Southeastern California Conference (1915-Present),” Office of Archives, Research, and Statistics, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (ASTR), accessed March 21, 2021, http://www.adventiststatistics.org/view_Summary.asp?FieldID=C10460.

  18. Manuel Vasquez, The Untold Story: 100 Years of Hispanic Adventism, 1899-1999 (Silver Spring, MD: North American Division Multilingual Ministries, 2000), 145.

  19. “Eighty Years of Service: A Short History,” accessed April 8, 2020. https://calexicomissionschool.com/about-us/school-history/.

  20. Vasquez, 157-159.

  21. “Asian-Pacific Ministries,” Midterm Reports, Southeastern California Conference, accessed March 21, 2021, https://secc.adventistfaith.org/members-midterm-asian-pacific.

  22. SDAE, “Southeastern California Conference.”

  23. “Black Ministries,” Southeastern California Conference, accessed March 21, 2021, https://seccblackmin.adventistfaith.org/; membership totals from eAdventist, accessed March 21, 2021, eadventist.net.

  24. SDAE, “Southeastern California Conference.”

  25. Georgia E. Hodgkin, “Refocusing the Ordination Discussion as a Local Issue,” Spectrum 28, no. 3 (Summer 2000), 33; General Conference Committee, April 19, 2000, General Conference Archives, accessed March 21, 2021, https://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/GCC/GCC2000-04.pdf.

  26. “Sandra Roberts Elected President of Southeastern California Conference,” Pacific Union Recorder, December 1, 2013, 18. Because the actions of the Pacific Union and the SECC with regard to ordination of women in 2012-2013 are not in harmony with the world church, the General Conference did not regard Pastor Roberts as an ordained minister and, as thereby disqualified to hold the office of conference president, did not recognize her election as valid; see “Adventist officers release statement regarding a local conference’s recent election of president,” Adventist News Network, October 31, 2013, accessed April 8, 2020, https://news.adventist.org/en/all-news/news/go/2013-10-31/adventist-officers-release-statement-regarding-a-local-conferences-recent-election-of-president/

  27. “Our Mission,” Southeastern California Conference, accessed March 22, 2021, https://secc.adventistfaith.org/members-about.

  28. “Growing Together in Christ” Session Book, October 7, 2018, 99, accessed April 8, 2020, http://seccsession.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Session-Book.pdf.

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Tetz, Raymond D. "Southeastern California Conference." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. October 10, 2020. Accessed September 30, 2022. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=BA6Y.

Tetz, Raymond D. "Southeastern California Conference." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. October 10, 2020. Date of access September 30, 2022, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=BA6Y.

Tetz, Raymond D. (2020, October 10). Southeastern California Conference. Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved September 30, 2022, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=BA6Y.