The Country Church - Kulm's tribute to Adventist Preaching
Article NAD AR
There’s a picturesque American Gothic styled Seventh-day Adventist Church that sits on a knoll outside the tiny town of Kulm, North Dakota, population 356 on 0.32 sq miles. It was built in 1926 on two acres of land, purchased from a church member, to replace the first building they had outgrown. When the church was organized in 1908 the seven charter members met in a home. Although at one time the church was the largest Adventist congregation in the Dakotas with 166 members, it now has just 21 names on the roster with about 15 attending.
“In spite of our size, we’re an active and spiritually grounded congregation,” remarked Deanne Reinke, who moved to Kulm when she met and married her husband, Bruce. They, like most of the church members, live in the surrounding countryside and farm the land. Kulm was settled by German immigrants as was the founding of the church which remained German-speaking until 1939.
When asked how they have remained active and connected to the larger picture, Deanne said, “We’d probably have closed our doors if it weren’t for the Adventist Preaching DVDs.”
“The sermon series were a gift from Diane and Kon Sorensen, Kon a friend since Dakota Academy and Walla Walla College days”, continued Deanne. While visiting our church, they thought of Adventist Preaching as a way of solving our preaching problems. Now we’re able to hear some of the best preachers in our denomination who rarely are able to visit this part of the country. We enjoy their unique perspectives through excellent Bible-based sermons. As we watch the DVDs we can observe what is happening in our sister churches in North American. Because of that connection, we feel less isolated and can also keep in touch with the world church. We are fortunate to have a couple of regular guests who are treated, along with us, to a level of sophistication that we’re not able to provide since our elders have no formal homiletics training.”
Like many Dakota churches, and in many areas of the United States and Canada, the congregation must survive basically on their own because they are part of a district of churches that are miles apart. The Kulm district has four churches distanced by 50-70 miles. It isn’t possible for the pastor to be present at all four churches every Sabbath. Since Kulm members prefer to have their pastor spend the day so they can know him better and benefit more from his leadership, they opted to have him one Sabbath a month rather than one hour twice a month. “So About three Sabbaths a month, we select a sermon from the Adventist Preaching series,” Deanne added. “They’ve become so precious to us that we save them for Sabbath morning only.”
Occasionally the Kulm Adventist Church enjoys a guest speaker, but that means one of the members will offer overnight housing because it might be too far to drive on a Sabbath morning. Guest speakers are hard to find from neighboring churches because they have the same problem. Deanne noted, “No one in our group likes to speak. We’re all farmers who spend long hours in the fields and don’t have time to prepare a sermon. Besides, our German heritage makes us self-conscious. Only if hard-pressed will a couple of our men agree to preach”.
The Kulm story is a beautiful tribute to the relevance of Adventist Preaching. Eight years ago it was only an idea--one that was tossed about in a brainstorming session in the Adventist Communication Network (ACN) offices at the General Conference.
ACN had been uplinking a complete worship service every Sabbath morning to help congregations who were part of a district of churches like Kulm. It was time to look at ways to improve the resource.
In the early days of satellite dishes, it required a technically-savvy person to set the parameters for the dish in order to downlink the programming. This was a huge problem for some congregations, especially those with a large number of women and senior members. Dishes were large and cumbersome to install.
The ACN staff discussed questions like, “How can we make the delivery more user-friendly? Do enough churches need all the elements of a worship service or would they appreciate personalizing their services to use local talent and to encourage participation? Would it be most valuable to provide quality Bible-based sermons for the one time a week that members gather together for worship?”
The discussion led to a decision. The delivery system for the Adventist Worship Hour would be changed to a DVD format—cutting-edge technology at the time. Furthermore, full services were dropped in favor of 2-DVD sets which would feature favorite Adventist preachers presenting a series of sermons on a given topic. The quarterly editions of Adventist Preaching, as the resource would now be known, would provide enough sermons for churches without speakers. The product would alleviate anxious moments such as, “Oh no! It’s my week to preach! I’m too busy to take the time necessary to research and prepare a suitable sermon. Preaching is not really my thing.”
The first series out of the gate was a work in progress but it featured Randy Roberts, a very popular speaker, so it took off and by the end of the second year, sales more than covered the cost of production and marketing. No longer was a division appropriation needed to survive.
Conference leadership recognized the value of a preaching resource. Pastors appreciated the fact that they could plan in advance who would fill the pulpit and what message the congregation would hear in their absence. As the resource grew, a yearly subscription was offered to pastors and churches at a 40% discount. Several conference administrators have made the DVDs available to every pastor on their team. Larry Priest, Secretary of the Dakota Conference, was one of them. He could see that Adventist Preaching would be one way to solve some of the challenges that faced the conference.
The concept spread as members viewed the growing collection of sermon series. It became clear that marketing should include the Christian home, which has sustained the product well. Individuals seized the opportunity to build personal DVD libraries of favorite Adventist preachers.
In addition to the 2-DVD sets of Adventist Preaching which have 5-6 sermons plus an interview with the speaker and often a bonus segment that can be used in the various ministries of the church, three Signature Editions have been produced. These collections provide content and ideas for celebrating holidays and special events in church.
Volume 16,The Collected Works of Renowned Black Preachers, is a valuable tool for Black History month. The accompanying booklet highlights popular Black preachers in the Adventist Church and their varying styles of preaching within the Black culture. With the recent passing of Elder E. E. Cleveland, the collection is viewed as a way to preserve the memory of his powerful preaching and to honor others like Bradford and Brooks who have also served with distinction.
Volume 18 is The Collected Works of Pioneer Preachers. It features sermons prepared and delivered by pioneers back in the 1800s when the Seventh-day Adventist church was being organized. Current speakers, dressed in period costume, delivered the sermons on location in Battle Creek including the former Battle Creek Sanitarium. Filming highlighted the beautiful architecture of the grand building that Dr. Kellogg built for the medical work. Ron Long, owner of Long Shot Videos, brought his team from Lincoln, Nebraska, to film the project. The accompanying booklet provides historical information about the sermon, the pioneer and the person who played the pioneer. It is a great resource for us to remember our roots and to celebrate Adventist Heritage Days in October.
The third and most recent Signature Edition, Volume 24, is A Collection of Holiday Sermons. It offers nine sermons for holidays throughout the calendar year—New Year, Easter, Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas plus a Communion homily. An excellent sermon, For God and Country, by Gary Councell, Director of Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries, is offered as a way to honor the Veterans in our churches. Derek Morris as one of the Magi and related readings provide basic elements for a Christmas program. It is designed so churches can add local talent to the program. Also unique to this edition are musical selections appropriate for the holidays.
Although created to meet the needs of the North American Division, the distribution of Adventist Preaching has grown to include the world church. In North America it is being distributed through this website, by Adventist Book Centers and AdventSource. In addition to regular sales, there are between 450-500 yearly subscriptions. Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries subscribes for over 200 chaplains around the world including military.
Adventist Preaching is beautifully designed and packaged to make an attractive and complete library of gifted speakers. It has more than met expectations with 25 editions now in circulation featuring more than 40 speakers and 133 sermons.
As long as Adventist Preaching is instrumental in keeping churches alive and connected to the larger picture of Adventism, as is true with the Kulm church, then “praise God” it is doing its job! If your church scenario is similar to the Kulm story, accept the challenge to seek out every resource and every method of outreach and community involvement to strengthen your congregation and grow it for God’s glory.
In 2008, the Kulm Seventh-day Adventist Church celebrated its 100th anniversary with 250 friends and former members. Among them were church leaders who had grown up in its rural community and moved on to serve the church in various capacities. (See sidebar) If Kulm had given up and no longer provided a community of faith for its youth, these leader’s lives may have taken a very different turn. Instead the stalwart faith and heritage of this group of German immigrants lives on because they boldly grasped new ideas, yet held on to that which has kept them strong.
Producer, Adventist Preaching
North American Division