It was a very small church that sat on the corner of Mountain Street and McKenzie Avenue in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The German Seventh-day Adventist church could not have accommodated more than 100 worshipers. The two tables of the Ten Commandments hung on the front wall behind the pulpit written in typical German Gothic type. The seats were hard, and the only instrument with which to accompany the congregational singing was a piano, not infrequently out of tune. But oh, the joyous singing that rang out in that little church!
Most of the adult members of the congregation were first-generation Seventh-day Adventist immigrants, formerly German Lutherans, Mennonites (both Congregational and Brethren), and Baptists. Almost all had endured some form of discrimination from their families while studying to join the Adventist church and/or immediately thereafter. A number of husbands, who believed the message but felt they could not give up their jobs, were absent each Sabbath, although their wives and children attended. Whenever a testimony service was held, tears flowed freely as economic and social difficulties were recounted. I still remember some of those testimonials.
My parents, former Mennonites, spoke to us in a Dutch dialect at home (plaut dietsch), but the Sabbath worship service was conducted in Hochdeutch (high German). So I learned to say my memory verses in German and understood most of what was said in the sermons. My parents, who were also fluent in German, conducted our family worship in our dialect, although as we grew older much of it was conducted in English.
Anyone who has been to Winnipeg will agree that the winters are very cold there; the summers can be uncomfortably hot. The church furnace was housed in a tiny basement dugout just large enough to accommodate it. In the winter months, the janitor got to the church very early on Sabbath morning and lit the furnace so that by 9:30 it was quite comfortable for the beginning of Sabbath school. The heat of the summer was tolerated by opening the windows and the worshipers waving anything that resembled a fan. Some of the German ladies waved sprigs of lilacs, filling the air with a wonderful fragrance!
I was less than three years of age when my parents moved from Rosthern, Saskatchewan (where I was born), to Winnipeg, Manitoba. My family, along with four other Mennonite families, learned the Adventist faith under the preaching of Elder Sam Reile in a tent pitched in this predominantly Mennonite community. Many of the children and grandchildren of these families have made and continue to make significant contributions to the SDA Church to this day.
The Sabbath day was filled with excitement for me. It came at the end of a week of hard work. My mother was a seamstress; my father was both a jeweler and a musical instrument repairman. It seemed that they began preparing for the next Sabbath on Sunday. Every day certain things were done so that by Thursday evening the cleaning was well on the way to being completed. Friday was the day my dad delivered the musical instruments he had repaired to the several music stores he serviced and picked up new ones needing repair. On his way home he bought the groceries my mother needed for Sabbath dinner and the coming week. Friday also involved the last of the cleaning, baking of bread and kuchen, making daumpfnoodla for supper, and preparing the meal for Sabbath. It was always the best meal of the week! Friday was also the day for our baths. Although we had indoor plumbing, we did not have a bathtub or shower until I was 11. This meant heating water on the stove, and taking turns bathing in the washtub that was placed on the kitchen floor next to the stove.
The members of our church were taught to respect the “Preparation Day.” Meticulous effort was expended to have both physical and spiritual preparation made, including the Sabbath meal. Guarding the edges of the Sabbath was understood to mean that everything was in readiness before the sun set, and in Winnipeg in winter that was about 4:00 p.m. Eating out on Sabbath was not an option.
Friday evening was made special with a ritual that began after the evening meal: family music time. My sister played the piano, my brother played the cello, and my father and I played our violins. We played hymns out of the hymnal as well as songs from a hymnal my parents brought with them from the Old Country.
On Sabbath morning we were excited to put on our “Sabbath clothes,” worn only on Sabbath. We had breakfast, and then with my parents, my older brother and younger sister, we walked to church. It was especially exciting during the summer months. Sabbath, for me, was in large part, a social event. Although many of my friends attended Winnipeg Junior Academy, others lived in the country and made their only weekly trip to town to attend church on Sabbath. A few of my friends were from families who either couldn’t afford to send their children to church school or whose children preferred to attend public school. How we enjoyed seeing each other and visiting on Sabbath! At times I got a bit out of hand in my exuberance, but knew when to look around to catch my father waving his finger, which meant “settle down—now!”
The MV (Missionary Volunteer) meeting was held at 3:00 p.m. This allowed the “country members” to attend the young people’s meeting and still get home in time to milk the cows and do whatever chores had to be done. MV was conducted in English and was more relaxed than the morning service. I can’t remember now what went on at these meetings, but I recall that I was always eager to go. After MV we were often invited to the home of one of the youth leaders for an evening of games, food, fun, and laughter. How I loved those events! This is where young people came to know each other and form friendships, some of which resulted in marriage. It was at these social events that some of the older youth also told of their exploits at Canadian Union College—this far-away school that sounded absolutely intriguing. I was delighted when I was given the opportunity to attend CUC to further my education. There, I learned new traditions and appreciated understanding the Sabbath even more. It was there, also, that I met my wife.
Through the years my wife and I have made our own Sabbath traditions as we reared our children and grandchildren. My daily prayer for them is that they will remember what they have learned and continue in these traditions, even as they make their own traditions.
Although I thoroughly enjoy the magnificent organ, the choirs, the orchestra, and the outstanding Sabbath sermons at the Loma Linda University church, I will never forget the lessons I learned growing up in that humble little church.
Many things have changed with regard to Sabbath observance since the days of my childhood—some for good, others not so good. There are now, it seems, a variety of ways advanced on how to observe the Sabbath. Regardless of the conjecture and opinions offered, one thing has not changed: the request God made to “remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” This request has not changed with the passing of time. From the information we have been given, the observance of the Sabbath will become an ever-important badge of loyalty. The gathering clouds of controversy currently reported in print and on TV are a certain precursor of the fulfillment of Revelation 13. Can the end be far away?
“The Sabbath will be the great test of loyalty, for it is the point of truth especially controverted. When the final test shall be brought to bear upon men, the line of distinction will be drawn between those who serve God and those who serve Him not” (The Great Controversy 695). Dare we even suggest that the Sabbath has lost its significance?
Gery P. Friesen, a retired pastor, lives in Loma Linda, CA, with his wife, Billie.