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 Helge Nelson

From the San Francisco Chronicle, April 6, 1903, page 1.

Nelson, Helge T.

By Michael W. Campbell

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Michael W. Campbell, Ph.D., is North American Division Archives, Statistics, and Research director. Previously, he was professor of church history and systematic theology at Southwestern Adventist University. An ordained minister, he pastored in Colorado and Kansas. He is assistant editor of The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia (Review and Herald, 2013) and currently is co-editor of the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Seventh-day Adventism. He also taught at the Adventist International Institute for Advanced Studies (2013-18) and recently wrote the Pocket Dictionary for Understanding Adventism (Pacific Press, 2020).

First Published: December 21, 2022

Helge T. Nelson was an Adventist from Chicago, Illinois, who believed that he was the prophetic successor to Ellen G. White and made national news for disrupting church services and assaulting White.

Early Association with Adventism

Nelson was born in 1875. His family originated from Sweden.1 Nelson joined the church around 1892.2 About 1896 he came to believe, based on the verse “Receive ye the Holy Ghost,” that Adventism had entered the time of the Latter Rain. This was a prevalent theme in Adventism at the time. Adventism embraced a stronger emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit during the 1890s, largely due to the influence of the wider Holiness movement on Adventism in the wake of the 1888 General Conference session.

At a church gathering, Nelson remembered:

Brother Barret placed his hand on my head, and said, “Brother H. T. Nelson, the Lord wants to work with you.” He did not make this statement concerning any of the rest. He merely pointed to them, saying, “The Lord has a work for you.” I understood from that time that the Lord desired to use me as a prophet, but I did not have any suspicion that it meant for me to take the leadership of this people….3

Conflict with Church Leaders

By 1897, Nelson began to run into trouble for disturbing Adventist worship services.4 In March 1901 Nelson arranged a meeting with Ellen G. White, who had returned from Australia the previous year. He told her that he believed she was Moses and that he was to be her Joshua, called to succeed her as the prophetic voice of the denomination. He furthermore believed that certain church leaders, who had not allowed him to speak, had committed the unpardonable sin. White replied that “God has not given him his message. . . . From the light that I have had, this could not be. It is an impossibility.”5 He later claimed that a dream by Fanny Bolton about apples with a small speck of decay was a metaphor for Ellen White’s prophetic ministry and the speck of decay was her failings in how she treated her literary helpers.6 In response, White stated that anyone in her family would know that such testimony about her treatment of workers was completely false.7 “I feel very sorry for this poor brother,” she wrote, “for he is certainly not in his right mind.”8

This conversation with White did not deter Nelson from seeking to interrupt the April 1901 General Conference session to promulgate his ideas. Church leaders refused to recognize him from the floor. A news article reported that he had been arrested at least twenty times at this point and that he believed the church was “failing” and that he should be the leader of the denomination.9 Nelson also published a paper titled The Lord Cry of the Third Angel from Chicago, where he had a small group of followers. At some point, church members in the Illinois Conference “expelled” him and some of his followers “from the Seventh-day Adventist denomination for their extreme fanaticism and misconduct.”10 The warning by church leaders stated:

These people go from church to church, creating disturbance in the Sabbath meetings, unless they are given the time of service in which to denounce Seventh-day Adventists, and Sister White in particular. Their chief aim seems to be to compel the brethren to use means to have them expelled as disturbers of worship, in order that they may have an opportunity to create sympathy by posing as martyrs.11

In 1902 he twice disturbed the worship hour at College View Church in Lincoln, Nebraska. As a result, the board of insanity discussed placing him in a mental institution. The insane asylum was full, and he was released from jail as “no one wished to punish him for disturbance, but desired to have him treated as a mental patient.”12 He was arrested yet again after trying to preach at the Battle Creek Dime Tabernacle in Michigan. It took five men to restrain him, and this “fanatic” was arrested.13 He was sentenced to 20 days in the county jail.14 Then, in November, he was arrested for rushing the pulpit of an Adventist congregation in Harlem, New York. The newspaper reported that he was accompanied by a spiritual wife and bodyguard.15

Helge Nelson’s most famous disruptive episode was at the 1903 General Conference session held in Oakland, California. Determined to address the delegates, he waited until Ellen White had finished leading the service and G. A. Irwin prayed. At this point he then lunged to the pulpit to speak, and after that, according to a newspaper report: "Nelson suddenly stepped from the pulpit and headed straight toward Mrs. White, who was walking to a seat in the main body of the church. Without a word of warning the “third angel” held his heavy hands upon the elderly woman’s shoulders, crushing her under the weight of his blow."16

Another account stated that Nelson “raised his hand and struck her in the face.”17 Yet another account reported that she was “fairly prostrated” from the surprise attack.18 The extent of Ellen White’s injuries from the assault is not completely clear, but she was apparently knocked over in the attack. At Nelson’s trial, Adventist physician Dr. W. H. Maxson, who had long known White, testified that she was not well enough to testify in court.19

Adventist church leader, G. B. Thompson, noted in the subsequent trial that while he was familiar with Nelson disturbing Adventist worship services, he had never been violent. He testified, "I witnessed the affair yesterday morning and his attack was most violent. There was an almost savage appearance to the man’s countenance. Mrs. White was thrown against the sanctuary steps and was noticeably unnerved by the suddenness of it all.”20 For his part, Nelson later testified that he never meant to hurt Ellen White, only to get her attention.21

This assault on White occurred on April 5. Alonzo T. Jones, then California Conference president, had been condemned by Nelson for committing the unpardonable sin. When Nelson physically attacked White, Jones detained Nelson and afterwards pressed charges. Jones added that Ellen White “regained her composure” as Patrolman Flynn hauled Nelson to jail where he was charged with battery.22 Two of his disciples, Oscar Lund and F. C. Hudlund, also landed in jail for “disturbing the peace.”23 Released on bail, Nelson attempted to disrupt the session a second time (April 13) at the 1903 General Conference session.24 His arrests and trial made newspaper headlines.25 Church leaders asked that he remain behind bars until the General Conference session was over in order not to disturb delegates at the 1903 General Conference session a third time. His trial began on June 30, 1903.

Records show that Nelson’s followers continued to occasionally disrupt church meetings. The next year, Nelson, F. O. Hedlund, G. G. Lundberg, and Alma Hedlund were arrested and imprisoned for thirty days for making threats against Adventists.26 One report asserted that Nelson claimed to have a dream in which he placed “dynamite in a great, tall house in Battle Creek and setting fire to the fuse.” The news reporter stated: “In the light of the many mysterious fires in the west end [of Battle Creek] and the threats he has made, it is thought that Nelson may know something about them.” This was a sensitive time since church leaders had experienced the burning of the Review and Herald and Battle Creek Sanitarium in 1902, although this was mere speculation. The report also noted that an arrest warrant was issued from the Brooklyn police department in New York for “bond-jumping.”27 When he arrived in court, he reportedly cursed Judge Horace Bidwell, which landed him in jail without bail.28

Over the next decade the group faded from view as Nelson slowly gave up on his ambitions to take over leadership of the denomination, although he retained some of his beliefs. In 1912 Nelson wrote an open letter in which he strongly condemned White’s prophetic ministry based on his own visions.29 He then republished his missives that claimed that White was a false prophet and the denomination was Babylon because they did not accept his prophetic leadership.30

Sources

“Adventist ‘Angel’ Bitten and Jailed.” The Evening Mail, April 13, 1903.

“Belligerent ‘Angel’ Rains Blows on Aged Prophetess Ellen G. White: Before Throng of Adventists, Helge Nelson Brutally Assaults Sister of the Faith.” The San Francisco Call, April 6, 1903.

[Campbell, Michael W.]. “Helge T. Nelson.” In The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia, edited by Denis Fortin and Jerry Moon, 475. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2013.

“The Case of H. T. Nelson.” ARH, July 30, 1901.

“Disciples and ‘Angel’ in Jail: Trial Set for June for Attacking Prophet White.” Oakland Tribune, April 6, 1903.

George, L. A. “The Facts About It.” ARH, August 20, 1901.

“Helge Nelson of Chicago Disturbs Adventist Camp.” Chicago Tribune, April 11, 1901.

“Locked Up.” St. Joseph Saturday Herald, February 20, 1904.

“Messengers of ‘The Third Angel’ Wish ‘Mother” White to Testify.” The San Francisco Call, April 9, 1903.

[Moon, Allen], “A Notice.” The New York Indicator, May 14, 1902.

Nelson, Helge T. “An Open Letter to Mrs. Ellen G. White,” Letter written Nov. 16, 1912, N.P., circa. 1912 (CAR DF 016338).

“Out of Our Past.” Battle Creek Enquirer, March 19, 2004.

“Prisoner Curses the Judge.” Chicago Tribune, February 18, 1904.

“’Prophet’ Raids Pulpit Backed by One Apostle.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 17, 1902.

“Third Angel Got it in the Neck: Attempted to Tell His Brethren Weird Message and They Threw Him Out of the Church.” Oakland Tribune, April 11, 1903.

[White, Ellen G.]. “Mrs. E. G. White’s Reply to H. T. Nelson.” ARH, July 30, 1901.

Notes

  1. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/202234733/helge-nelson [12/16/22]

  2. “Helge Nelson of Chicago Disturbs Adventist Camp,” Chicago Tribune, April 11, 1901, 9; In the 1901 record of his statement he states that nine years before he was baptized, see “The Case of H. T. Nelson,” ARH, July 30, 1901, 13.

  3. Quoted in “The Case of H. T. Nelson,” ARH, July 30, 1901, 13. Both statements lend credence that he was converted and baptized in 1892.

  4. “Helge Nelson of Chicago Disturbs Adventist Camp,” Chicago Tribune, April 11, 1901, 9.

  5. [Ellen G. White], “Mrs. E. G. White’s Reply to H. T. Nelson,” ARH, July 30, 1901, 13, 14.

  6. “The Fanny Bolton Story: A Collection of Source Documents,” (Washington, D.C.: Ellen G. White Estate, 1982, updated 1990), 107.

  7. [Michael W. Campbell], “Helge T. Nelson,” in The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia, eds. Denis Fortin and Jerry Moon (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2013), 475.

  8. Ellen G. White, Manuscript 21, 1901, Ellen G. White Estate.

  9. “Helge Nelson of Chicago Disturbs Adventist Camp,” Chicago Tribune, April 11, 1901, 9.

  10. [Allen Moon], “A Notice,” The New York Indicator, May 14, 1902, 2.

  11. Ibid.

  12. L. A. George, “The Facts About It,” ARH, August 20, 1901, 14.

  13. “Arrest Fanatic in Church,” Portage Daily, February 23, 1903, 2.

  14. See Battle Creek Enquirer, April 17, 1951, 6.

  15. “’Prophet’ Raids Pulpit Backed by One Apostle,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 17, 1902, 3; “’I’m the Holy Ghost,’ Says He: Man Enters Seventh Day Adventist [sic] Church, and, Ejecting Pastor, Makes This Announcement,” The Brooklyn Citizen, November 17, 1902, 4.

  16. “Belligerent ‘Angel’ Rains Blows on Aged Prophetess Ellen G. White: Before Throng of Adventists, Helge Nelson Brutally Assaults Sister of the Faith,” The San Francisco Call, April 6, 1903, 1. Arthur L. White references these same news reports, cf. Arthur L. White, Ellen G. White: The Early Elmshaven Years, 1900-1905 (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1981), 5: 254, 255.

  17. “Disciples and ‘Angel’ in Jail: Trial Set for June for Attacking Prophet White,” Oakland Tribune, April 6, 1903, 3.

  18. “An Angry Angel: Sensational Assault Made on an Aged Prophetess,” Santa Cruz Surf, April 6, 1903, 3.

  19. Dr. W. H. Maxson submitted a written statement to the court dated April 8, 1903 that stated: “To Whom It May Concern: I, being regularly licensed to the practice of medicine in the state of California and County of Alameda, have examined Mrs. E. G. White and do testify that said Mrs. E. G. White is incapacitated to appear in court, and is not able to be out of bed but a few moments at a time. She is very feeble and in pain.” See “Messengers of ‘The Third Angel’ Wish ‘Mother” White to Testify,” The San Francisco Call, April 9, 1903, 9.

  20. “Arrested Adventists, Carrying Bibles, Appear in Police Court,” The San Francisco Call, April 7, 1903, 14.

  21. Ibid.

  22. “An Angry Angel: Sensational Assault Made on an Aged Prophetess,” Santa Cruz Surf, April 6, 1903, 3.

  23. “Disciples and ‘Angel’ in Jail: Trial Set for June for Attacking Prophet White,” Oakland Tribune, April 6, 1903, 3.

  24. “Adventist ‘Angel’ Bitten and Jailed,” The Evening Mail, April 13, 1903, 7; “Third Angel Got it in the Neck: Attempted to Tell His Brethren Weird Message and They Threw Him Out of the Church,” Oakland Tribune, April 11, 1903, 1.

  25. See news announcement, The Selma Enterprise, April 18, 1903, 5.

  26. “Out of Our Past,” Battle Creek Enquirer, March 19, 2004, 17.

  27. “By the Lord’s Orders: Helge Nelson, Enemy of Adventists, Says He Will Return,” The Sebewaing Blade, February 13, 1904, 1.

  28. “Prisoner Curses the Judge,” Chicago Tribune, February 18, 1904, 8; “Locked Up,” St. Joseph Saturday Herald, February 20, 1904, 6; “Prisoner Curses the Judge,” The Dakota Chief, February 25, 1904, 2.

  29. Helge T. Nelson, “An Open Letter to Mrs. Ellen G. White,” Letter written Nov. 16, 1912, N.P., circa. 1912 (CAR DF 016338).

  30. Answer to President Wilson’s Speech Before the Manhattan Club in New York on the Evening of November 4, 1915, with Two Letters to Mrs. Ellen G. White (Chicago: [by the author], 1917).

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Campbell, Michael W. "Nelson, Helge T.." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. December 21, 2022. Accessed June 18, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=H9V1.

Campbell, Michael W. "Nelson, Helge T.." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. December 21, 2022. Date of access June 18, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=H9V1.

Campbell, Michael W. (2022, December 21). Nelson, Helge T.. Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved June 18, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=H9V1.