The Relay of Faith

 At South Stukely Seventh-day Adventist Church (Que.), this spiritual race can be traced back to the beginning of the Adventist movement in Canada. In the oldest Adventist church in Canada, you get a strong sense of the continuity of our faith. In an unbroken relay spanning almost 150 years, the members of South Stukely have passed the baton of God’s promises and truths for generations.

News July 8, 2024

I’m sure most of us are familiar with relay racing. It involves a team of runners and usually a baton. Each team member runs as swiftly as they can to pass the baton to the next runner. Sometimes there are fumbles and stumbles along the way. But I’ve never seen any team give up. They work together to complete the race, crossing the finish line with the baton in hand.

            Much like relay racers passing the baton, we believers pass on truths from generation to generation. We “run with endurance the race God has set before us” (Heb. 12:2, NLT), receiving truth passed to us and sharing our experiences and learnings as we move forward.

            At South Stukely Seventh-day Adventist Church (Que.), this spiritual race can be traced back to the beginning of the Adventist movement in Canada. In the oldest Adventist church in Canada, you get a strong sense of the continuity of our faith. In an unbroken relay spanning almost 150 years, the members of South Stukely have passed the baton of God’s promises and truths for generations.

            In 2027, the church members will celebrate their 150th anniversary. It’s a celebration we can all join as we remember our shared heritage and our hope for Jesus’ soon return.

            Today, Adventist churches dot the nation from coast to coast to coast. But the beginnings of Adventism in Canada are humble, tucked into a region known as the Eastern Townships, an anglophone pocket in southern Quebec. The Adventist movement reached into Canada from this unexpected corner of the country.1 

            As a small village of just a little over 1,000 residents,2 South Stukely is perhaps the last place you would expect the beginnings of a church that would eventually span the nation. But God is fond of using the small to accomplish the great.

            In 1877, a little group of believers gathered in South Stukely every Sabbath to worship, study, and encourage one another. Since then, worshippers have come together for nearly 150 years, or over 7,000 Sabbaths.

            But how did the initial small family of believers learn of and accept the Adventist faith? For that story, we need to wind the clock back further than 1877. We need to go to 1835.

            Just over the border from Eastern Townships, William Miller was preaching in various churches in Vermont and across New England. His heart burned with the conviction of Jesus’ soon return and the necessity of sharing the news as far and wide as possible.3

            One audience he wished to reach, however, was not so far removed. Miller’s sister, Anna Atwood, lived with her husband, Joseph, in the Eastern Townships area.

            In 1835, Miller visited his sister and her family. While visiting, he was invited to preach several sermons throughout the Eastern Townships region. Over five years, Miller visited Eastern Townships three times. During these visits, he planted seeds of truth regarding Jesus’ imminent return.

            Over the years, these seeds took root. Interest in Miller’s message grew. People asked questions and searched their Bibles. Building on Miller’s momentum, other speakers took up the baton of truth run by Miller, visiting the region to speak and share literature.

One such speaker was Josiah Litch. People came in the hundreds from as far afield as 12 to 15 miles to listen to his lectures. He wrote, “The seed sown by Brother Miller in this vicinity in past years is now springing up and bearing abundant fruit.”4

            After fervent excitement and anticipation for Jesus’ second coming, new Advent believers in Eastern Townships were not spared the desolation of the Great Disappointment in 1844. Nor were they sheltered from the animosity poured out by secular newspapers and occasional violence from other Christians who had rejected the Millerite message. As in other areas of North America, many abandoned the message.

            Runners in the relay of faith had fumbled, and even stumbled, in their understanding of the Bible. But some held on to their convictions. They returned to their Bibles with redoubled efforts. With the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit, they sifted truth from human error in interpretation. They emerged with a deeper understanding of God and His Word. 

            A spiritual descendant of these tenacious believers was Augustin C. Bourdeau. In 1855, at the age of 21, he accepted Sabbatarian Adventist beliefs and began preaching his new faith in small towns in his native Quebec and Vermont.5

            In 1875, through his ministry, Bourdeau advanced the relay of faith in Eastern Townships. Thanks to the seeds planted by William Miller—nurtured by many leaders such as the Whites, who visited the region three times, and nourished by individual study and prayer—the region was ripe for establishing churches.

            In 1877, Bourdeau helped to officially organize the South Stukely Seventh-day Adventist Church. At first, the 16 members met in homes. Before long, the church family felt the necessity of having a church building of their own. Andrew Blake, one of the earliest members of the church, donated land for the undertaking. In 1883, the new church was dedicated.

            The following year, the first Adventist school in Canada was founded, teaching students from the second floor of the church. The school remained open until 1924.

            The church building has been in continuous use ever since its doors first opened. Its minimalist aesthetic, favoured by the early Adventists, imparts an atmosphere of calm and rest. Generations have lifted their prayers in the small sanctuary, their songs echoing off the wooden walls. Worshippers can appreciate the continuity of faith from pioneers to today, the baton of truth passed from generation to generation.

            Victor Dingman, church elder, remembers a time when the church faced significant challenges: “I grew up in this church, but was there a future here? At 50 years old, my wife and I were the youngest members. I thought to myself, Will Canada’s oldest church die?

            Danièle Starenkyj has been a member of South Stukely for 40 years. She and her late husband were part of efforts to revive the church from barely surviving to the vibrancy it enjoys today. “We have constantly looked forward while never forgetting our roots,” Mrs. Starenkyj shared.  

            Dingman said, “Today, with all the new families, it is an answer to prayer. Our pews are full. As elder, I look out from the pulpit to a church family young and vibrant.”

            Mrs. Starenkyj added, “The church is packed. We constantly have new persons and new families coming to our services characterized by dignity and good spiritual preaching. We love being together, and often we stay for lunch and share our concerns, troubles, and hopes.”

            Church member Karine Coulombe said, “I have three teenagers. The church embraces them and includes them in activities and different functions of the church. This is quite significant to me because it’s such a small congregation and yet everyone takes part. If you come to South Stukely, you’ll always find a place to fit in, and that is very important.”

            Jo-Anne Anderson, who has attended South Stukely for nearly 40 years, added, “We enjoy the best Sabbath schools, Sabbath lunches, heartfelt testimonials, and intercessory prayers. The children and youth are a great blessing to everyone. We are a group of people from all different cultures and walks of life, each bringing something very special to the mix and adding to the joy! In all honesty, we are very blessed.”

            Today, the church welcomes 60 to 75 members and regular visitors. With a capacity of only 50 people, church services get very snug, with attendees crowding onto wooden pews and overflowing onto folding chairs. Church members make space for visitors by viewing services livestreamed on a screen in the basement.

            At a time when churches of all denominations are closing their doors across the nation, the South Stukely Seventh-day Adventist Church remains open. It even has ambitious expansion plans.  

            In an interview with Radio-Canada, Dingman explained, “We lack space for people to come each Sabbath. We’ve come to the point where we don’t have enough space for the new members who try to come. This is why we need this expansion.”

            Dingman added in another reflection, “Our challenge is to protect the heritage of the building while adding an extension to meet our growing needs. Will the little white church on the hill stand until the coming of the Lord?”

            “I am looking forward to the expansion,” Karine Coulombe said. “It will help us receive more people and to expand our influence in the community. We still have so much to do!”

            With an expected capacity of 115 people, the expansion will accommodate current attendees with room for anticipated growth. Its style will mimic the original church building. The expansion can accommodate community services, while the heritage building will be transformed into an exhibition hall.

            In the same Radio-Canada interview, Francois Rhéaume, the mayor of South Stukely, said, “In regards to the expansion, it’s interesting for the community, because we may benefit from it as a local community centre.”

            André L’Espérance, local councillor of South Stukely, said, “The community centre we currently have is not heated in winter. Meanwhile, this expansion will be heated. This offers the community some very interesting possibilities.”

            “The people of South Stukely are happy that this church is part of the patrimoine, the heritage of Quebec and even Canada,” said Claude Trépanier, pastor. “They’re happy that we will be working with them. They’re charmed by the fact that they can have a place with heat in the winter to conduct community activities. For us, this is good because this is what community service is all about.”

            As an exhibition hall, the heritage building will capture the history of the Adventist Church in the region of Quebec-Eastern Canada. As a well-preserved building, it is a worthy stop for anyone who wishes to trace the roots of the Adventist faith in Canada and indeed in North America.

            With its heritage deep in the roots of Canadian Adventism, this church holds historical significance to Adventists across Canada. Its uninterrupted use for nearly a century and a half and its growth today offer inspiration and lessons to churches across the country.  

            Trépanier aims to break ground for the expansion this summer. He hopes the project will be completed in time for the church’s 150th anniversary. To accomplish this, it will take a concerted effort of believers.

            By God’s blessing, members and friends of the South Stukely church will gather in 2027 to celebrate 150 years and dedicate the new expansion. Heritage will meet modern day. Roots will nurture new fruit. And the relay of faith will pass the baton of truth until Jesus comes.

To learn more about the church, please visit!

Heather Grbic is a writer and member of the Toronto Yugoslavian Seventh-day Adventist Church

1 Denis Fortin, Adventism in Quebec: The Dynamics of Rural Church Growth, 1830–1910 (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2004).

2 According to Statistics Canada, the population was 1,142 as of the 2021 census.

3 Denis Fortin, “The World Turned Upside Down: Millerism in the Eastern Townships, 1835–1845,” Originally published in Journal of Eastern Townships Studies (Fall 1997).

4 Ibid.

5 Denis Fortin, “Bourdeau, Augustin Cornelis (1834–1916),” in Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists, by General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists,