For religion professor, Dr. Ed Allen, a close watch on his student’s research led to his own research into the “morning watch” and how an emphasis on morning devotions played an important role in Christian mission work around the beginning of the 20th century.
After a student from his class on the History of the Seventh-day Adventist Church transcribed original Union College faculty meeting notes from 1891-1893, Allen noticed a motion from the 1893 notes to send a delegate to the Student Volunteer Convention in Detroit. Finding this intriguing, Allen wondered if this referred to the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions (SVM). “Would Union College have sent a delegate to this major convention that had just gotten started?” he asked. After finding out that yes, the notes were, in fact, referencing the SVM, Allen began to question just how many Adventists were involved in the movement.
The Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions, founded in 1886 by a student at Princeton University, was a Protestant Christian organization with the goal of recruiting North American college and university students into lifelong missionary service abroad. “It aimed to inspire American college students to commit themselves to foreign mission service once they finished their schooling,” Allen explained.
Allen’s interest was sparked and this led to further research, where he discovered many more references to Adventist participation in the movement. Adventist campuses across North America, as well as in Europe, the Philippines, and Australia, implemented foreign mission bands inspired by the Student Volunteer Movement.
The Student Volunteer Movement came about at a time when Christianity was still mainly in North America and western Europe. “If this movement had not begun and spread as it did, Christianity would be much smaller and not nearly as widespread as it is,” said Allen. What began with 100 initial volunteers during a small meeting with Dwight L. Moody in Northfield, Massachusetts grew to become a worldwide movement during the first half of the 20th century.
Allen noticed that an emphasis on prayer, and particularly the morning watch, was placed in both the Student Volunteer Movement as well as Adventism. “What’s the very first Pathfinder law? I will keep the morning watch,” he said.
He discovered that a Union College student, M.E. Kern attended the 1898 SVM conference, where he was inspired by a talk on the morning watch. This Union alumnus later became the youth director for the Central Union Conference, where he began to encourage the practice of the morning watch. In 1907, he became youth director at the General Conference, which led to this practice being spread denomination-wide. This idea focused on prayer first-thing in the morning as an essential element in being a missionary, either at home or abroad.
Allen received an invitation to an academic conference held in Edinburgh, Scotland, in March of 2018. “The topic of the conference was ‘Scripture, Prayer
Allen shared his paper at the conference in July, where it was well-received, before submitting it to Studies in World Christianity, a peer-reviewed journal published by Edinburgh University Press. It was accepted for publication in April 2019.
Danica Eylenstein is a senior communication major.