Peering through the ages into the heavenly court, John the Revelator penned that he saw a "great multitude, which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb ... . " Revelation 7:9 NIV. John could easily have been describing the Sligo Seventh-day Adventist Church. As a flagship church of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, Sligo Church has been at the forefront of sharing the everlasting gospel during its 100 years of service.
Yet how did Sligo Church, formed in 1907 in pastoral Takoma Park, Maryland (a spot approved by Ellen White for the relocation of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination headquarters and the building of a school, a publishing plant, and a sanitarium), grow into a vibrant, international congregation with 2,958 members that resembles the United Nations? Seventy-eight nationalities are represented speaking 142 languages! To truly understand Sligo, one needs to worship with its people and walk beside them as they go out in service to their local community and world. One will quickly realize then that the real story of Sligo is actually quite simple: connect with God and with each other.
From Battle Creek to Takoma Park
Consuming fires in Battle Creek, Michigan, in 1902 laid waste to the Battle Creek Sanitarium, the one made famous by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, and the Review and Herald Publishing House. Miles away, one Judson S. Washburn had been captivated by the tranquil Sligo Creek and its arboreal environs and is said to have thought that an Adventist school would be well situated in such a locale. Although practically in the shadow of the Nation's Capitol, a city built on dredged swampland, Sligo Creek meandered peacefully through Takoma Park, which was, to a great extent, free from the muck, mire, heat, and humidity of its big city neighbor Washington, D.C.
The origination of the name Takoma Park is credited to an early developer, Benjamin Franklin Gilbert, who purchased ninety-some acres along the D.C./Maryland border, and his friend Mrs. Ida Summy. A century ago, dense forests stood strong, marked by Indian trails used by tobacco traders and crystal clear springs. Mrs. Summy thought that the Indian word
"Tacoma," meaning "high up" or "near heaven," denoting the area's elevation, was an appropriate moniker; Mr. Gilbert agreed and changed the "c" in "Tacoma" to "k" to differentiate it from Tacoma, Washington. He also added the word "Park."
In 1903, some two thousand residents made their home amid the deciduous forests of Takoma Park. (The 2000 U.S. Census recorded 17, 229 residents.) At the time, the Sligo Creek, which was fed by many springs, served as the municipal water supply, and, as documented by government inspectors, was "as nearly pure as can be found."
In that same year, the General Conference met in late March and early April in Oakland, California. Present was Judson S. Washburn, who, with the support of his home congregation, the Memorial Church (today's Capital Memorial Church), lobbied Adventist institutions to examine Washington, D.C., as a suitable base of operations. With the formation of a Location Committee, and guidance from Mrs. White, with whom Judson S. Washburn had been in contact, denomination president A.G. Daniells began the due diligence necessary to move the Adventist Church from the Battle Creek area where insularity had begun to take hold.
Elder Daniells was mindful of Mrs. White's counsel that a large East Coast city should be considered, and that memorials to God should be established in Washington, D.C. Mrs. White was keen on a rural setting with enough land for a sanitarium and agricultural school, and good climate suitable for the health. She also saw the value of having Adventist literature imprinted with the stamp of origin as Washington, D.C. Elder Daniells and his colleagues on the Location Committee carefully surveyed Washington, D.C. Reporting in August of 1903, he stated that the group, without dissent, had arrived on Takoma Park as the location of choice.
With locale in mind, the Location Committee's next step was property acquisition. Fortyseven and two-thirds of an acre adjacent to Sligo Creek, previously belonging to Dr. Flowers, who sought to build a sanitarium on the property, crune up for sale at $6,000-ten times less than the $60,000 that Dr. Flowers paid for the land and to clear it of underbrush. According to Elder Daniells, "the providence of God opened the way before us."
Apart from the spacing between the proposed College and Sanitarium locations, Mrs. White approved the sketch that Elder Daniells sent her in December of 1903. In April of the next year, Mrs. White came to Takoma Park to examine the work. She liked what she saw of Takoma Park, and wrote that "I have several times gone over the land which has been purchased for school and sanitarium purposes, and all that I have seen is most satisfactory. The land resembles representations that have been shown me by the Lord."
The Formation of Sligo Church
As denominational buildings rose, folks gathered to worship in secondary structures. The early group, numbering no more than forty persons, met in Takoma Hall. With the establishment of the General Conference and Review and Herald Publishing House at one end of Carroll and the Washington Training College (1904) and Sanitarium (1905-06) on the other, the Adventist population began to cluster around these institutions; the employees of the Sanitarium and College students met for worship.
With fifty-four members on the books, on October 12, 1907 the Seminary and Sanitarium Church was established. The founders included Dr. D.H. Kress and Professor H.R. Salisbury as Elders, C.H. Hayton and A.O. Kalstrom as Deacons, Mrs. W.E. Hancock as the Clerk, O.F. Butcher as the Treasurer, and Mrs. Dr. Ruble as the Librarian. The nascent Church met in the Sanitarium gymnasium. At the end of the year, ten more members joined, making a grand total of sixty-four. The congregation was admitted into the District of Columbia Conference. In 1908, the Church moved into the second floor chapel of the newly erected College Hall
(currently the Columbia Union College Science Building).
In 1907 the General Conference changed the name of the College to the Washington Foreign Mission Seminary. Seven years later, the College curriculum changed from a focus on one-year preparation for mission service to a four-year liberal arts offering. With the curriculum came a new name: Washington Missionary College. Given the most recent College name change and general consensus that the title "Seminary and Sanitarium Church" was rather unwieldy, ideas were cast about for a new name. The Sligo Creek, an integral element of the Adventist campus and a focal point of community life, provided a suitable solution. Thus, in 1914, the name "Sligo Church" entered the Adventist lexicon. Little did the founders know that one day the peoples of the world would come together to worship at Sligo Church.
Sligo Church Grows
By now, Sligo Church membership had almost tripled to 185 members. The forerunner of Sligo Adventist School, Sligo Elementary School, started in 1914 and also called College Hall its home. College Hall was overcrowded. This growth coincided with attendant growth for the Washington Missionary College.
Early Sligo Church activities were captured by the Sligonian, the College's Student's Association publication that started in April of 1916 as a twenty-eight page monthly magazine. C.H. Lewis was the first editor. The name for the Sligonian came from Professor C.C. Lewis and the beautiful Sligo Creek. The next year, the Sligonian became a forty-four-page spread, after which it turned into a newspaper. The Sligonian ran advertisements and covered topics of importance to the College and local institutions.
Needing to address the challenges of space allocation, the College administration looked to erect a new structure, Columbia Hall, in which a chapel would be built that would also serve as Sligo Church's home. By now, World War I was raging and tough economic straights affected the Adventist band in Takoma Park.
The capital needed to build Columbia Hall appeared out of reach. Nevertheless, the College, Sanitarium, and Sligo Church set fundraising goals, with Sligo Church's set at $1,500. One hundred and fifty persons from Sligo Church reached that target by raising $1,515. In 1919, Columbia Hall was dedicated. It would serve as Sligo Church's home for the next quarter of a century.
Sligo Church was drawing its membership from Adventists working at the sanitarium, students attending the College, those at the General Conference and Review and Herald Publishing House, and other Adventists making their way to Takoma Park. Evangelism, through home missionaries and College students holding gospel meetings in neighboring areas, further added to Sligo Church's growth.
Meanwhile, the burb of Takoma Park also saw its population increase. The Seventh-day Adventist presence in Takoma Park has been an integral part of the City's economic, political, and cultural fabric. In 1920, a committee comprised of local Seventh-day Adventists, Baptists, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians met to organize a patriotic parade. Today that is the city's 4th of July parade. Seventh-day Adventists have run for Mayor, served on the City Council (Sligo Church member Carol Stewart), and managed the City's operations (Sligo Church member Bev Habada).
Sligo Church had no formal pastor until 1930 when H.L. Shoup (1930-1936), a Bible Doctrines instructor at the College took on the job as a full-time vocation. Prior to Pastor Shoup, J.N. Anderson (1922-1925) and Richard F. Farley (1925-1930) guided the congregation. Pastor Farley had been in the first graduating class at the College in 1915. Looking towards the future, Pastor Shoup urged that Sligo Church erect its own structure. He is credited with raising the first $800 towards building Sligo Church's present structure.
Pastor Alger Johns (1936-1939) next took on the mantle of leadership. On Sabbath, September 16, 1939, Pastor Johns announced that Sligo Church would have two preaching services. In explaining the new system to alleviate overcrowding, Pastor Johns said that it would be a temporary arrangement that would cease once the new building was completed. The new facility was expected to meet present and future seating demands. Pastor Johns was followed by Pastor Clinton J. Coon (1939-1943). In 1939, Sligo Elementary School moved from Columbia Hall to the newly built structure known today as H.M.S. Richards Hall.
Building on Pastor Shoup' s efforts, Pastor Coon guided Sligo Church further along the path towards its own facility. During his tenure, Sligo Church had architectural plans drawn and fundraising elevated. Building fund aside, on December 7, 1940, the Sligo Sabbath School class reported $2,008.85 on Investment Day. That collection set a Sabbath School world record!
Sligo Builds a Home and Starts Ministries
World War II was now on center stage. In 1941, Sligo Church membership stood at 1,293, which did not include the 700 or so College students who attended as space permitted. Two services were held in the Columbia Hall chapel, which seated between 500 and 600 persons. Regarding this situation, the Potomac Conference President, Elder J.W. MacNeil, said, "it is a deplorable condition which must be remedied." He felt that holding two services each Sabbath was not satisfactory. The situation would be remedied, but subject to the constraints of a country on war-time footing.
Grand plans were announced in January of 1941 to build a structure seating 1,519 persons for an estimated $110,000. A mere five months beginning in March was projected to complete this undertaking. All were involved with the fundraising, with Sligo Elementary School children receiving penny banks to save money for the construction. The children collected the handsome sum of $41.37 !
Discussion ensued about the proposed location of the new structure, currently the College baseball and sports field. When authorization to proceed with the erection of the new building was granted, the General Conference committee recommended that more study be given to the location. That committee, called by Elder J.W. MacNeil, unanimously voted to recommend to Sligo Church to change the site to the Stewart property, which was a comer lot abutting Carroll and Flower A venues. Pastor Coon expressed the opinion that this was the best possible location that could be secured and promised that progress would shortly be in evidence. The College, which held title to this property, deeded it to the Potomac Conference. The Stewart house was jacked up and moved to Carroll and Greenwood Avenues. Later the Stewart house served as the Columbia Union office building; today it serves as Sligo Church's office building where pastors and staff members make their offices.
One year after announcing the ambitious plans for the new structure, work on the new building actually commenced. On March 2, 1942, at 8:00 a.m., soil evacuation for the foundation began. College engineer L.G. Small remarked that after much anguish, copper tubing, electrical wiring, and other materials were in hand. L.G. Small would go on to work on building Sligo Elementary School in 1963, the 1972 renovation, and the 1985 addition to Sligo Church. Steel, however, was essential to the war effort and nearly impossible to purchase. The building contractor, H.H. Hubbard, miraculously received a priority rating and the work was on; it would take, however, two years and nine months to complete-more than six times the original calculation.
Lack of materials, labor, the unearthing of a spring, and quicksand-yes quicksand slowed the work. Today, a pump in the room directly in front of the main doors to the Memorial Chapel manages water flow from the spring. At the end of 1941, the construction crew had only laid the foundation. Despite H.H. Hubbard's priority rating, steel for the building was delayed. The building was to be of immense proportions. When finished, the structure would occupy 700,000 cubic feet, which required twenty-eight carloads of Indiana limestone for the exterior walls.
In 1943, Pastor Coon moved down the street to pastor the Takoma Park Church. Pastor Ned S. Ashton (1943-51) succeeded him; he would see the construction completed. Delays and costs piled up. At one point, mohair upholstery was needed as a substitute for more expensive acoustical treatment. The structure was connected to the College's steam pipes by way of a tunnel that runs from Sligo Church and connects to the College's steam pipes. In the depths of winter, the ground above this tunnel is clearly visible as snow and ice melt away from it.
Interior work on the structure continued into the fall of 1944 with the opening service set for December 30, 1944. Sligo Church leaders were eager to match the opening service with the cornerstone that read 1944.
On that Sabbath, a congregation of more than 2,000 gathered to hear General Conference Vice-President W.H. Branson preach. All told, costs were $368,762.33 (today, an unheard of 53¢ per cubic foot). The building held 2,300, making it the largest in the Seventh-day Adventist denomination and even in Washington, D.C. On June 12, 1945, Juanita Wooster and Harry Slough were the first couple married in the new sanctuary.
The formal dedication service took place on June 1, 1946, with Sligo Church serving as the venue for the 1946 General Conference Session that commenced on June 5. For the dedication, a 150-voice choir performed Handel's Messiah, supported by a rented organ.
To take care of the new facility, in May of 1947, Pastor Ashton hired Thurman Mayes as the first custodian. Brother Mayes served in that post for twenty-six years. Pastor Ashton is also credited with proposing that the sanctuary be carpeted, reducing the risk of slipping on the main aisles and graded balcony ramps. Pastor Ashton preached only once or twice a year as General Conference leaders and other distinguished guests filled the pulpit.
After Pastor Asthon, Pastor Merle Mills (1952), who attended the College and was a pastor in Battle Creek, came to serve at Sligo Church. Pastor Mills instituted the quarterly communion service during the main worship hour. Given the logistics required, others had deemed it impractical to hold at that time and had relegated it to an afternoon service that was poorly attended.
Pastor Taylor Bunch (1952-58), a scholar and writer, catne next to the leadership post at Sligo Church. He took the post on condition that he would preach most of the time. Among other texts, he authored Behold the Man, The Perfect Prayer, and The Seven Epistles of Christ. Pastor Bunch was assisted by Pastor J. Melvyn Clemons, who arrived in 1952 as Sligo Church's first Associate Pastor.
In 1953, Sligo Church upgraded its organ for a $24,000 M.P. Moller pipe organ. Each part of the console for this organ was made by hand and would take over six months to assemble. When this item was first discussed in 1951, the Sligo Church Board was of a consensus opinion that cost-benefit analysis did not support expending funds for a new organ when the world was not expected to last much longer. A few months later, the Sligo Church Board reversed course and agreed to replace the electric organ that had been in use since 1945. A special service was held at 5:30 p.m. on April 4, 1953, to showcase the M.P. Moller organ. Pastor Bunch noted that it was one of the best pipe organs available. Organist Donald J. Vaughn commented that that, "with a minimum of maintenance it should last forty to fifty years!" Little did he know that indeed, that was to be close to the life span of the organ.
It was not until 1955 that the Seventh-day Adventist denomination had its own Vacation Bible School (VBS) literature and earnestly began to promote the progratn. Dorothy Dart
(1956-67), Florence Dom (1958-65), and Mary Margaret Kluge (1966-67) led out in those early VBS years. For five years, the Sanitarium, Silver Spring, Sligo, and Takoma Park churches joined together for the progratn. In 1959, a record 725 children attend the program. Between 120 to 200 volunteers assisted with the program, which had non-Adventist enrollment of 21-30 percent. VBS has continued on as a staple of Sligo Church's summer programming for children, with neighborhood children specifically invited and encouraged to attend. In recent years, Sligo Church has been transformed into jungles and the Wild West to immerse the children into the VBS theme-of-the-year.
The forerunner of WGTS started in 1948 as WAFT, a call sign selected by students of Wilifred Atherton Fletcher Tan who insisted that the station be named in his honor. Note that "W" is a Federal Communications Commission mark for stations located east of the Mississippi River; stations to the west start with a "K." In 1957, Dr. Stephen Hiten obtained a ten watt license for WGTS, standing for "Washington's Gateway to Service"-"Gateway to Service" being the College's motto. WGTS was the first non-commercial station to began FM broadcast in the greater Washington, D.C., area. Sligo Church's main worship service became a regular on WGTS's Sabbath programming starting in February of 1959. That tradition carries on today at 91.9 MHz on Sabbath mornings. Sligo Church and WGTS work closely together to bring renowned, contemporary Christian musical performers to Sligo Church for concerts ( e.g., the Katinas, Take 6, Chris Rice, Crystal Lewis, C.C. Wynans, Selah, and the Heritage Singers), and with programming, such as Pastor Terry Johnsson's counseling feature called Teen Talk, Jerry Fuller's Saturday Seminar and now Breaking Away, Zella Holbert's Precious Memories, and Walter Dom's Saturday night program, among others. Today WGTS broadcasts with 23,000 watts of power and is one of the most listened to Christian stations in the country.
Pastor Bunch retired in 1958, making way for former New Jersey Conference President Pastor John Osborn (1958-1961). Pastor Osborn instituted office hours with the hiring of Sligo Church's first Secretary. He remodeled the choir room into church offices and turned changing rooms near the baptistery into offices for Associate Pastors.
In 1959, the first student missionary, Marlin Matthiesen, went forth from the College to spend three months in Mexico performing medical and educational work: giving real meaning to the Gateway to Service motto. Sligo Church's Young Peoples Missionary Volunteer Society launched this program, which now counts in the thousands those who go to serve.
Change and Growth at Sligo
Pastor William Loveless (1961-1970), an Associate Pastor under Pastor Osborn, was named Senior Pastor when Pastor Osborn moved on to the Southeastern California Conference. Pastor Loveless, a thirty-three year-old from Spokane, Washington, would significantly shape Sligo Church's image during one of this country's most interesting decades.
In 1961 the College became Columbia Union College and plans were set for constructing a new building to house Sligo Adventist School. The Candlelight Winter Concert series began in this year. During the season of Advent, Sligo Adventist School, Takoma Academy, the College, and the Sligo Church Choir, among others, gather on Friday night for a musical celebration. The musical tradition at Sligo has been a strong one, with many notable choir directors, singers, and talented musicians filling the Sanctuary with sounds of praise.
In the spring of 1962, Pastor Loveless, who also served as Chair of the Sligo Church Board, put on the Board's agenda the question of recognizing the transfer in of AfricanAmericans and allowing their baptism in Sligo Church. For a few years, Sligo Church had accepted some Asian Americans, but did not accommodate African Americans. According to Pastor Loveless, many of his elders counseled against bringing up this topic. They argued that Sligo Church would split. Pastor Loveless responded that it might be "time to split the Church then." To understand the depth of this problem, one should know that the Sligo Elementary School constitution was drafted to preclude non-Sligo Church members' children from attending the school. Because Sligo Church itself was segregated, children of color were guaranteed to be kept out of the School.
In spite of firm opposition, Pastor Loveless stuck to his resolve, saying, "it's [the matter of integrating African-Americans] going to the Board until we decide what to do, and we better do the right thing." For four months the debate raged. Members came forth with all sorts of justifications for and against integration. Finally, instead of acrimonious debate, the Sligo Church Board unanimously and enthusiastically settled on dispensing with its restrictive membership policy. As Sligo Church membership was unencumbered, the path was set for the face of the local congregation to reflect that of the larger world.
Mr. and Mrs. Alan Anderson and Mr. and Mrs. Robert Maupin, Sr., were among the first African American families to join Sligo. According, to Dr. John Butler, who along with his wife, Shirley, joined Sligo in 1968, an elder came to his home to interview him and his wife after they had expressed an interest in joining Sligo. Whatever the vetting process was, they apparently passed it. With the color bar broken, persons of color eventually were elected to leadership positions in Sligo Church. Dr. Butler, for example, went on to serve as Head Elder, Chairman of the Sligo School Board, and Sabbath School Superintendent, among other posts.
In 1963, groundbreaking for Sligo Elementary School took place at 8300 Carroll Avenue. Former Guide Editor Lawrence Maxwell was one of the leaders of the building project. When Sligo Elementary School opened in 1964, enrollment was planned for 320 students. An additional forty children put the enrollment at 360 for that year. In 2008, the School, now named Sligo Adventist School, celebrated its 90th anniversary!
The painting of Jesus in the Garden that hangs is the foyer has a story to tell. Harry Baerg, husband of Sligo Adventist School teacher Ida Mae Baerg, modified the painting, originally done by Harry Anderson ( created in 1957 for the Review and Herald Publishing Association). The Baergs wanted the painting to represent the racial balance found among students and administration at the School. Artist Baerg modified the children from Anderson's original work and added two children to the painting: Karen Yoon, an Asian American girl (far left), and Arjun Moses, an Indian American boy (fourth from the left in blue and white striped shirt). Karen and Arjun were third-graders in Mrs. Baerg's class in 1984-85 when their photos were taken to serve as a guide for Mr. Baerg.
In 1965, Pastor Loveless and College president Winton Beaven produced Concept, a television program that aired locally on Channel 7. More than 7,000 Bibles were given away during the first year that Concept was on the air.
The 3,000 membership barrier fell the next year. Also in 1966, a Sligo Church paper, the Sligo Scene, made its debut. It was published for approximately two years and then was revived under the name Sligoscope in 1971. The Mosaic continued on with the mission of the Sligoscope. Today, Sligo Church publishes eVangel and eWeekend, and has a robust Internet site (www.sligochurch.org), which was launched in 2002 by Cheerie Lou Capman. Sligo sermons are webcast and downloaded by listeners the world over.
1966 also saw the genesis of Sligo-by-the-Sea, Sligo Church's Sabbath programming in Ocean City, Maryland. This relaxed, informal worship service began with a weekly attendance that averaged eighty-five persons. For forty-two years, Sligo by the Sea has been a respite for those wishing to get away from the summer heat and humidity of Washington, D.C. Wellknown preachers routinely appear on its circuit. Sligo by the Sea meets in the St. Peter's Lutheran Church off of the Coastal Highway in Ocean City, Maryland.
Another program started in 1966, was the Christian Urban Service Corps. College Missionary Volunteer leader Ed Peterson and Pastor Loveless initiated this program that teamed inner-city children with a mentor. In 1968-69, more than 150 College and Takoma Academy students tutored children in Washington, D.C.
The chapel in Sligo Church's basement was remodeled in 1967 and turned into the Memorial Chapel, the name for which was selected "as an appropriate way to remember the spirit and contribution of our early denominational pioneers." Sligo Church member Robert F. Schwindt (he would later Chair the Psychology Department at the College) designed the Memorial Chapel. The first wedding to take place in the Memorial Chapel was that of Barbara Mauer and George Bestpitch on March 26, 1967. Barbara served for many years as Sligo Church's Secretary and George would become the Pastor for Visitation. The Memorial Chapel was dedicated on January 13, 1968. Social and political calls for change reverberating through the country impacted the Seventh-day Adventist campus in Takoma Park. Starting in 1969, some in Sligo Church's Missionary Volunteer program discussed starting a coffeehouse in the Washington, D.C., area. Those early leaders included, Verlin Chalmers, Gabe Romero, Melinda Howes, and Sharon Reed. Verlin Chalmers had visited Southern Missionary College (now Southern University) and the Gate coffeehouse. He had also met with Wayne Estep and Bob Hunter who had started that program. With support from Sligo Church and other denominational and non-denominational entities, a building at 3338 M Street in Georgetown was leased and renovated. Given the complex nature of the Gate program, which planned to include a general medical practice, counseling, nutrition classes, pre-natal care, drug counseling, stop-smoking clinics, and a laboratory and pharmacy, it was disengaged from the Missionary Volunteer department. Verlin Chalmers and Wayne Eastep were tapped to take on management roles. The Xerox corporation even lent one of its executives, Lionel Reim, to the Gate for a full year (paid leave of absence) beginning January 1, 1970. Xerox's evaluation committee chose twenty proposals from more over 1,000 with its first priority the social worth of the project and its relevance to the dominant problems of the decade. Many College and Sligo Church members became involved in this cutting-edge ministry, which provided cooking and weight-reduction classes, cardiovascular screening tests, films, worship services, concerts, and vegetarian meals.
In 1969, Sligo Church broke the $1,000,000 mark for tithe. For purposes of compari
son, tithe given was $2,872,655.62 at the close of 2007. Sligo Church for 2008 was $690,000.
Pastor Loveless took a call in 1970 to serve at the University Church, Loma Linda, California. The new Senior Pastor, M. Dale Hannah (1970-74), came from pastoring the college churches in Lincoln, Nebraska, and Keene, Texas. Interestingly, future Sligo Church Senior Pastor Ron Halvorsen, Jr., would pastor at Keene and then leave Sligo Church to take the Senior Pastor post at Lincoln.
Sligo Church purchased its Gapville, Pennsylvania property in 1971. Known as Sligoin-the-Woods, the property is located 110 miles away from Takoma Park. Pathfinders and others enjoyed its forest and stream. Later years would see Sligo Church deal with ARCO Oil Company for leasing rights to this property.
The grand Festival of Praise started in 1971. During the annual Thanksgiving worship service, members of the congregation, assisted by the Pathfinders, bring their offerings, gifts, note cards of thanks, and grocery items to the platform where a cornucopia of food items is collected and displayed. Members bag the food, making sure to have food staples needed by members of the many ethnic groups that are Sligo Church's neighbors, and sort them for distribution based on lists provided by the Adventist Community Services Center and local agencies. Volunteers from Sligo Church and community then deliver the food and supplies to those in need. The Festival of Praise is a highlight on Sligo Church's calendar, enjoyed by members and community friends.
Both Sligo Church and Sligo Adventist School saw renovation take place in 1972. The portion of the School behind the cafeteria was added; it included music, home economics, and art rooms, a spacious library and room for the Sligo Challenger Pathfinders. Sligo Church met at Takoma Academy while the first major renovation since the 1944 construction took place. It would take a similar hiatus in 2004 when the second major renovation commenced. As with its latter-day counterpart, the work would also entail handling competing design visions. The Sligoscope reported at the time that the "committee is bound to study the practical as well as the aesthetic aspects of the renovation programs and come up with recommendations that will please 3,000 people."
The 1972 work covered the front walls, which were opened to connect the organ chambers over the choir loft with the sanctuary and thousands of new organ pipes were added. Walnut woodwork, matching that from the Memorial Chapel and Sligo Church entrances, was installed on the platform. Sligo Church was also carpeted and a plan for new landscaping was set for the following year.
Pastor Hannah accepted the call to Sligo Church with the understanding that he would suggest the candidates for pastoral replacements to the Potomac Conference. In 1973, Kit Watts became the first female pastor at Sligo Church when she accepted the post of Minister of Publications. Four months later, Josephine Benton joined the pastoral team. Pastor Hannah related that, at first, there were some minor rumblings, but that to the credit of the Sligo congregation, Pastor Benton and Pastor Watts were enthusiastically accepted. He added that their
"reception was easy to understand as the quality of their leadership and services quickly became apparent." Pastor Benton was the first woman to hold the title of Associate Pastor in the North American Division. She was also the first woman ordained as a local church elder (in 1973 by the Brotherhood Church); Sligo Church recognized that ordination and elected her a local church elder the following year.
Since that time, numerous women pastors have ably served the Sligo Church, among them: Janice Daffern (1980-85); Marianne Scriven (1986-89); Hyveth Williams (1986-89); Norma Osborn (1987-99); Esther Knott (1990-1997); Kendra Haloviak (1991-92); Rebecca Brillhart (1997-present); Gail Enikeev (1998-1999); Debbie Eisele (2001-present); Sabine Vatel (2001-04); Kitty Pilli (2003-07); Buffy Halvorsen (2005-07); and Jacqui Sanchez (2008).
1974 was a busy year at Sligo Church: the first singles meeting was held; the first outdoor baptism of Sligo School candidates took place; the first pictorial directory was published; and Sligo Church purchased a row-house on 12th Place, Washington, D.C., for live-in Christian ministry. Also, in 1974, the Brotherhood Church, which directly sprang from a Sligo Church adult education class on African-American history, was recognized by the Conference as a church. The Sligo Church family has sponsored and continues to support many smaller groups, including the French-American company and the Mizo group.
Senior Pastor Hannah left in 1974 and was replaced in 1975 by Pastor James Londis
(1975-85), who came to Sligo Church from Atlantic Union College, Massachusetts. He would become Sligo Church's longest tenured Senior Pastor. Grounded in scripture and sound scholarship, Senior Pastor Londis' s sermons addressed contemporary issues in terms that both the theologian and unchurched could find understandable. Besides essays and articles written and published for various Adventist publications, while at Sligo Church, Senior Pastor Londis wrote the book "God's Finger Wrote Freedom." Of note, Ron Halvorsen, Jr., the son of Pastor Londis' childhood friend, Pastor Ron Halvorsen, Sr., would come to serve Sligo Church as its Senior Pastor two decades after Pastor Londis' departure.
Pastor Robert Uhran, an Associate Minister, chaired the pastoral team until Pastor Londis' arrival. Senior Pastor Hannah was the last Senior Pastor directly appointed to Sligo Church. Nine lay members worked with the Potomac Conference to select Senior Pastor Londis. That tradition of collaborative trust continues today with the Sligo Church Board and the Potomac Conference officers researching and vetting names for pastoral openings at Sligo Church.
In 1975, Sligo Church and its faithful members started to participate in the Meals on Wheels program that delivers food to shut-ins. This benevolent effort is coordinated with other faith communities in the Washington, D.C. area.
Plans laid in 1977 for a new Adventist Community Services Center (ACS) came to fruition in 1983 with the opening of a new facility on Sligo A venue, in Silver Spring. ACS is operated by a consortium of local Adventist churches, including Sligo Church. Sligo Church put
$65,000 plus the $72,000 proceeds from the sale of its Philadelphia Avenue property towards the ACS facility. ACS serves those in need by offering assistance with rent, emergency utility payments, groceries, clothing, and other related services. Several Sligo Church members have served as the Director of the ACS. Sligo Church Pastor Herbert Thurber was recognized as the "quiet" force behind this project. Former Sligo Church member Ron Wylie now leads the ACS and has marshaled significant resources and support to put the ACS on a stable footing to ensure that it continues to provide much needed services to those in need. Of note, the A CS Boardroom is dedicated to Sligo Church member Florence Dom. Florence, who served for many years as Secretary to the ACS Board, and her husband, Walter Dom, D.D.S., were strong pillars of Sligo Church, and, among other things, supported ACS and WGTS with their time and resources.
In 1978, Sligo Church purchased property in Boonsboro, Maryland, near the Antietam National Battlefield. The Antietam Creek runs through the property. Sligo Church baptisms have taken place in Antietam Creek. Sligo Adventist School has used the Boonsboro property for Outdoor School. Pathfinders and others find the land amenable for learning outdoor skills, getting away from the hustle and bustle of a busier Takoma Park and environs, and to contemplate God's "Second Book"-nature.
In 1981, the pastoral team and Office staff moved into the old Stewart house from space in Sligo Church. Over the years, the Stewart house has seen significant repair and renovation. It serves as the hub of Sligo Church business during the weekdays and nights, and provides meeting space for the Pathfinders, Mizo group, and office space for Action in Montgomery
A link to Sligo Church's past disappeared in 1982 when the "old San," as it was affectionately known, was razed. The successor to the Sanitarium is Washington Adventist Hospital (WAH). The Seventh-day Adventist denomination's medical institutions and facilities in this region come under the umbrella of Adventist Healthcare. Adventist Healthcare faithfully carries on the medical missionary work of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination and provides financial support to church institutions, including generous gifts to Sligo Church. In its second century of service to the people of this region, AHC is looking to expand and build a new primary and acute care facility in Silver Spring, Maryland, which is but a few minutes walk from the Seventh-day Adventist denomination's world headquarters located now in Silver Spring.
In 1985, Charles Scriven (1985-92) came to Sligo Church from Walla Walla College, where he taught Systematic Theology. His focus was a contemporary expression of Adventist doctrine. Senior Pastor Scriven incorporated baseball analogies, along with the seemingly sim pie, yet highly symbolic interactions between the characters from the Charles Schultz Peanuts cartoon strip into his sermons.
In 1985, Sligo Church completed a long-sought after addition to house the Youth and provide additional meeting space. Prior to this addition, teen and children's classes were held in Richards Hall and the Science Building, with not so many somehow losing their way to class when presented with an enticing diversion. Now, the words "Fellowship Hall," "Youth Room," and "Atrium," are words in common usage. Furthermore, all the teens and children under one roof on Sabbath morning.
Children's programs are a strong suit at Sligo Church. Families drive long distances, passing by many other Seventh-day Adventist churches on the way, just to come to Sligo Church's excellent Children's Sabbath Schools. During her tenure, Pastor Norma Osborn organized these ministries and injected creative ideas and programming. Strong lay leadership is an essential part of the success in this area, with numerous volunteers faithfully teaching classes, assisting behind the scenes, and leading ministry areas.
In 1990, Senior Pastor Scriven announced that a Praise Service would replace the traditional First Service. Old and new praise songs with guitar accompaniment, time for personal testimony, more congregational participation, and a focus on prayer were constitute key elements of this programming change.
The following year, the Parent's Room, located in the back left of the portion of the Sanctuary (looking at the platform) was built. It offers a glass-enclosed space where parents may cater to young children. Previously, the last few rows were reserved for parents and a room under the balcony was set aside for their use.
Down the road at Sligo Adventist School, a new Child Development Center (CDC), was set to open. Designed to serve pre-school aged children, the CDC now provides a good avenue of recruiting and revenue for the School.
In 1992, Pastor Rudy Torres (1992-97) came to replace Senior Pastor Scriven. Sligo Church was already home to Senior Pastor Torres, for he had served on the staff from 1970-73. The defining moment of his tenure was the ordination of three women pastors in 1995: Kendra Haloviak, Norma Osborn, and Penny Shell.
Senior Pastor Torres' service stints included the U.S. Army, as well as big city, inner city, and rural churches. He moved across the platform when presenting his points, often with an open Bible in his hand. He preached grace-filled sermons.
The Deacons, looking for help and those interested in Deacon work, included two women, Nahla Wu and Rose Melendez, into their ranks in 1992. Both were ordained as Deacons and joined their husbands in this service.
The 55+ Club, for those retired members, started in 1993. The group meets for Sunday Brunch, and has a full calendar of social activities on its plate. All are welcome to this gathering. Sligo Church's former Business Administrator and Treasurer, Israel Castro, serves as the Senior Ministries Coordinator for this segment of Sligo Church; his wife, Dr. Rosella Castro, assists with this ministry. The 55+ Club takes trips to area attractions in a bus purchased for Senior Ministries by the Castros. The Castros have been faithful stewards in their service to Sligo Church. On Sabbath mornings, the Senior Ministries bus makes the rounds picking up those needing a ride to Sligo Church.
In 1994, a powerful lay movement began at Sligo for more intentional disciple-making that eventually renamed and reorganized "personal ministries" into a continuum for spiritual growth and equipping servant leaders. Since 1995, more than 750 persons have participated in DISCIPLE Bible study groups, which are an in-depth encounter with the Bible that inspires service as well as informs it. Pastor Rebecca Brillhart (1997-present) joined the Pastoral staff as the first Pastor of Discipleship to help Sligo Church become more accountable to its mission of making disciples. A Discipleship Action Team makes recommendations to the pastoral team to keep discipleship alive and well at Sligo Church.
In 1995, after debate within the Sligo Church Board and a Church in Business Session, Sligo Church voted with a very strong majority to ordain three women pastors: Kendra Haloviak, Norma Osborn, and Penny Shell. Layman Robert Visser, who chaired the Church in Business Session meeting, recalled that there was some tension in the air as to how the meeting would unfold, as there were advocates for both sides of the issue present. Given the prominence of Sligo Church, it counted and counts among its members, senior elected and appointed leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. Some of them were present during the Church in Business Session meeting. Of the persons speaking that evening, Chairman Visser recounted, they cogently articulated their positions, whether for or against the ordination, yet the meeting went smoothly and moved to decisive action.
Each of the women pastors was qualified to be ordained, but could not under the general position adopted by delegates to General Conference Session in Utrecht, Holland. The three women followed in the path formed by the pioneering footsteps of Pastor Benton and Pastor Watts, and Pastor Janice Daffern, who, in 1984, performed the second baptism by a woman pastor in the history of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination (the first performed two weeks earlier in nearby Fairfax, Virginia).
Senior Pastor Torres delivered the homily for the ordination program, which took place on Sabbath, September 23, 1995, at 3:30 p.m. in the Sligo Church sanctuary. His topic, "Let the Future Begin." Pastor Penny Shell commented on the pain of belonging to a denomination that did not sanction the ordination of women, and added that, "I no longer belong to such a church, and it's a great joy." Looking back on that day, Senior Pastor Torres recounted that he has no regrets about his decision. Regardless of the perspective one takes on this issue, it stands as a milestone in the history of Sligo Church.
In the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, the senior pastor or head elder in the absence of the senior pastor, holds the title of Chairman of the Church Board. Pastor Torres, wishing to engage in substantive discussion at Board meetings without compromising his role of Chair, sought out assistance from Robert Visser, a layman to serve as the Chairman. Pastor Torres knew "Bob" Visser well; together they had served in the U.S. Army and even in a quartet (Rudy sang bass and Bob sang second tenor). The Lay Board tradition continues at Sligo Church. Bob Visser's service in this role matched Pastor Torres's tenure. When Pastor Torres left, Bob Visser stepped down. He was succeeded by Allan Manuel (1998-2005) and current Lay Board Chair Steve Chavez (2005-present).
The Youth program received a huge boost when Pastor Terry Johnsson joined the Pastoral staff in 1996. A dynamic speaker, Pastor Johnsson incorporated innovative programs to develop youth leaders and empower them to pursue ministry ideas. Youth choir, mission trips to El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala, New Orleans, West Virginia, Belize, Hour of Hope-a youth prayer gathering, are just some of the offerings provided to the youth. In 2003, the North American Division recognized the quality of Sligo Church's Youth Department by presenting it the John Hancock award for excellence.
Next in line to take up the pulpit at Sligo Church was Pastor Michael Oxentenko (1998- 99). He was a strong, biblical preacher who had a keen interest in eschatology. His sermons and revival of the weekly prayer meeting resonated with many members. During this time, however, divisions in Sligo Church and its leadership surfaced that may have been percolating for some time. The Potomac Conference intervened, which itself caused much confusion and strong feelings among a portion of Sligo Church's membership. Senior Pastor Oxentenko left Sligo Church and started a new congregation under the Allegheny East Conference; several Sligo Church families joined him.
Former Associate Sligo Pastor George Digel and then Pastor William Johnsson, Editor of the Adventist Review, stepped into the leadership role at Sligo Church until former Sligo Church member, Pastor Walter Scragg (1999-2000), came out of retirement and away from his native Australia to serve as Sligo Church's Senior Pastor on an interim basis. Senior Pastor Scragg, who had served as President of two Divisions of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, brought senior-level experience and biblical preaching to Sligo Church. Senior Pastor Scragg, working with Lay Board Chair Allan Manuel and the Sligo Church Board, led a search process that resulted in Pastor Peter Bath accepting the call to service.
Renovation and Renewal
In 2000, Pastor Peter Bath (2000-05) arrived at Sligo Church. Senior Pastor Bath was an able administrator, coming in as the President of the Kettering College of Medical Arts and as former Senior Pastor of the Kettering Church. Senior Pastor Bath involved himself with local institutions, such as the Rotary Club, and delivered messages that challenged one to find his or her "true North." He would cite to Gordon Dahl's observation that many worship their work, work at their play, and play at their worship as a call to bring balance to one's life.
The horrific attacks of September 11, 2001 struck home when Sligo Church member Joan Silver lost her daughter Valerie who was working near the top of the World Trade Center. Sligo Church mourned Valerie's death in an interfaith service that demonstrated her mother Joan's desire for understanding toward people of all faiths. Joan has since shared her testimony with Sligo Church.
In the fall of 2002, panic seized the Washington, D.C. area when seemingly random killings took place in Washington, Maryland, and Virginia. A Sligo Church member, Premkumar Walekar, was felled by what turned out to be a sniper's bullet. Sligo Church was filled for his funeral on October 6, 2002. In attendance were Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan, Chief of Police Charles Moose, and many members of the local community. Senior Pastor Bath delivered a homily that brought peace and comfort to those present.
Transformations came to the Sanctuary Adult Sabbath School from a plenary style to classes in 2003. Despite the initial resistance, the new format gives an opportunity for many more people to be involved in teaching, leading and nurturing others. Adult Sabbath School attendance tripled in 2004 and is still growing, as do the weekly offerings.
The major event during Senior Pastor Bath's tenure was the redesign and renovation of the Sanctuary. The project, known as the Organ Sanctuary Restoration (OSR), cost
$4,446,738.33. Former pastor (Minister for Music) Marianne Scriven and layman David Malin led out as co-chairs of that committee. Half of the money was on hand at the start of the project in cash or pledges; the rest of the funding came from the Columbia Union Revolving Fund
The work included opening the front of the building to allow natural light in, installing a new maple stage, baptistery, Daffer organ and pipes, and-controversial to many-pews on the main floor and new seats in the balcony. The building was closed from December of 2003 to May of 2004, during which time the congregation met at Takoma Academy. On May 22, 2004, the congregation processed from the Columbia Union College commons into the "new" church. In 1944, the congregation took a similar walk from Columbia Hall and across Flower A venue to a brand new church. Pastor Terry Johnsson spoke that Sabbath. His sermon was entitled, "My House."
Pastor Johnsson and Youth Pastor Peter Garza, building on common visions of service for the community, were instrumental in transforming the former Sligo PM service, which was designed to draw disaffected church members, into the New Community Fellowship (NCF) in 2004. NCF is a contemporary, non-denominational service that is marketed to the community. Services are held in the sanctuary at 6:00 p.m., and are followed by a time of fellowship.
In another area of outreach, Senior Pastor Bath and Associate Pastor Brillhart helped Sligo Church realize more of its intent to help its neighbors by addressing systemic issues and concerns by becoming involved in Action In Montgomery (AIM), an interfaith coalition of congregations in Montgomery County, Maryland. AIM partners work together on various social justice concerns. Sligo Church, in partnership with Columbia Union College students, faculty and staff, is the only Adventist congregation involved in AIM at present, and has become a leader among the congregations in engaging members for advocacy work concerning affordable housing and health care, community centers, taxi and immigration reform and other pressing issues.
On October 13, 2003, over 1,000 persons convened at Sligo Church-the largest community action to date in the county-where they pressed County Executive Duncan and County Council Members to address AIM' s core issues. Present were members and leaders of many different denominations. In 2006, Pastor Brillhart took on the post of AIM Clergy Co-Chair and, as such, helps lead its strategy team.
In 2005, Pastor Ron Halverson, Jr. (2005-2007) came on board as the Senior Pastor. Prior to his arrival, and following Senior Pastor Bath's departure, Pastor Terry Johnnsson served as the Interim Senior Pastor.
During the Sligo Church Board's time sitting as the Search Committee, Potomac Conference officers relayed that Pastor Halvorsen had a track record of increased attendance and giving with his congregations. Among other stops, he had served as Senior Pastor of the Keene, Texas college church.
Senior Pastor Halvorsen connected with the congregation and was effective in encouraging church members to get involved and support the church. As advertised, church attendance and giving went up during his time as Senior Pastor. His wife, Buffy, also served on the pastoral staff, handling counseling duties.
Poised for the Future
As we close this narrative, Sligo Church is still reverberating from its grand Centennial Celebration Weekend (September 12-14), at which former Senior Pastor Rudy Torres was the keynote speaker. In a few days, Sligo Church will enter its 101st year. Meanwhile, the Church Board, once again, is sitting as the Senior Pastor Search Committee. The search is on for someone whose spiritual walk will inspire Sligo Church to reach a closer communion with God.
Until the Lord returns, Sligo Church will not pause or turn aside from sharing the Good News. Maranatha!
In this narrative, we recite some of Sligo's highlights over the past century. We do not intend for it to stand as the definitive chronicling of Sligo's legacy, and, as such, we take liberty to omit quotations and references, and paraphrase at will. Any omission may be attributed to our limited knowledge and not as an intentional slight. We are indebted to Pastor Kit Watt's seminal articles on Sligo Church's history through 1978, on which we draw liberally, paraphrase, and commend the reader to take up. We also thank the following persons who provided useful information for this manuscript:
Elder and Mrs. Maurice Battle
Dr. and Mrs. John Butler, Sr.
Dr. Clarence Dunbebin
Dr. William Johnsson