Rock Hall Seventh-day Adventist Church History

Sharpe & Judefind Streets


100th Anniversary 1892 – 1992

Make of Thy house a restful place, and fill it with Thy loving grace;
Hear within these humble walls, the needy soul who on Thee calls;
Grant to them Thy gracious care, those who heavy burdens bear.
Let us in numbers also grow, and richly with Thy spirit glow;
Make us so large that pride and hate and selfishness will find no place;
May those about us everywhere Thy many blessings with us share.

Lord, grant us this… it is our prayer

The year was 1891, better known as the era of the Gay Nineties, but all was not gay in the town of Rock Hall, Maryland. There was one serious minded man, John Judefind was his name, carpenter by trade. He heard of the second coming of Jesus and the seventh-day Sabbath while traveling through Tacoma Park on a trip that carried him south to Florida, seeking good farm land, only to settle down in the Garden Spot of the World, the property behind this church. He recalled the things he had heard in Tacoma Park through correspondence with his cousin, Leah Victor in Indiana, who had recently accepted the Seventh-day Adventist teachings. Upon learning of his interest, she sent a check for one hundred dollars to the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists at Battle Creek, Michigan to pay the expenses of sending a preacher to Rock Hall, Maryland. Pastors R. D. Hottle and E. E. Frank were sent from the Atlantic Conference.
After some advertising, evangelistic meetings began December 10, 1891 in Downey's Hall in the middle of town next to where the present Fire Hall is located today, and were held for some time.
Sabbath, May 21, 1892 at 10 A.M., a meeting was called for the purpose of organizing an S.D.A. Church. Elder H. E. Robinson, President of the Atlantic Conference, was present and occupied the chair. After reading the following covenant, the persons whose names appear below presented themselves for examination and church fellowship.


We, the persons whose names appear below, desire to come into close fellowship with each other and with our Savior, Jesus Christ, through an organization to be known as the Seventh-day Adventist Church of Rock Hall, MD do hereby covenant by divine grace to keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus and to watch over one another for good.

Robert W. Armstrong Margante S. Dreer John C. Legg
John R. Ashley E. E. Frank Marietta Legg  
Mary C. Ashley Mrs. E. E. Frank Annie M. Reynolds
Phillip Ashley Eliza Hartman Clara M. Reynolds
Maggie Baker R. D. Hottle Nettie E. Reynolds  
W. R. Beck Mrs. R. D. Hottle Peter Reynolds  
Ella A. Coleman W. E. Hubbard George B. Sewell
John W. Coleman Charles H. Joiner Charles Stevens  
Marion Coleman Kate Joiner Emma Stevens
Martha A. Coleman Florence Joiner Lillie Stevens  
W. W. Coleman Charles Judefind Sarah J. Stevens
Catherine Downey J. W. Judefind Wesley Stevens
Charles Downey Steven Kendall Josie Warner


The following day, Sunday, May 22, 1892, thirty-seven persons were baptized in the Chesapeake Bay at Huntingfield, approximately two miles south of Rock Hall. The following Sabbath, May 28, the first meeting of the newly organized church was held in Downey's Hall. At this meeting, John Judefind donated the corner lot known as Sharpe and Judefind Avenue from a portion of his farm on which to construct a church. Immediately, construction began on a wooden frame building. John Judefind and W. W. Coleman and Marion Coleman were some of the builders. Meetings were held that summer in the building although it was far from being completed. Kitchen chairs were moved in from several homes. John Judefind built the pulpit from which I read, the only original piece of furniture in the church today. The deed was recorded July 15, 1892. Another baptism took place July 17th and twenty-one more names were added to the church roll.

The young Sabbath School had no quarterlies at that time, so their Sabbath School consisted of memory work. Among the most popular was learning and repeating the books of the Bible. The first Sabbath of the fourth quarter fell on October 1 and quarterlies were received and passed out. The title of the lessons for the quarter were "Lessons from the Acts of the Apostles." The lesson for the day was "Saul of Tarsus Converted." How do I know this? I have in my possession one of those first quarterlies. On November 21st, the church building was dedicated as a place of worship, with the president and the same two pastors and their families present. Sometime later, folding chairs were purchased.
Feeling a great need of Christian education for their children, church school was started in this church building with approximately twelve students in attendance. The date was September 1899. Among the first students was Hillary Akers, father of Doctor George Akers.  Also Mrs. Irena Coleman Pettibone. She told me her seat was close to the wall where our old antique clock hangs today. Blackboards were set up in the church and the kitchen chairs were used, two to a student, one to sit on and one to write on. The teacher was Ben Kneeland. A short time later, a one room school was added to the back of the church. In the late 1920's another room was added and there was a two-teacher school known as the Rock Hall Junior Academy. School continued with fluctuating enrollment until September 1958. At that time, Rock Hall joined the Constituency Church School of Dover, Grasonville, Chestertown and Middletown known as W. C. Moffett School in Barclay, Maryland.

In 1974, thanks to James and Monroe Coleman who donated Land and many hours of labor with other Volunteers, the Eastern Shore Academy was built near Sudlersville where our children still attend.

Stucco was applied to the outside of the church in the late 1920's and soon there-after the metal ceiling was added, also the stained-glass windows donated by various families. Around 1940 a drive was made to purchase Oak Pews. Some families donated three or four. In 1942, Clifton and Rebecca Simns donated a sizable piece of property adjacent to the church property where the present parking lot is located, and extending beyond. The church was brick veneered in 1944.

The week of February 20, 1944, Bible lecture bulletins were mailed throughout Kent County, Evangelist Dan Harris held a series of meetings in the Chestertown Fire Hall, supported by the Rock Hall Church. At the close of these meetings, James Monroe Coleman donated to the newly formed Chestertown Church, the land where the present church now stands. Rock Hall members also donated considerable cash that the new church might be built on Kent Circle, Chestertown, Maryland.

1940's Progressive Class Work under the leadership of Mrs. Leslie Wildes, Church School Teacher, was conducted and many youth finished various phases and many adults became Master Comrades.  The youngest, Geneva Gatling, we had to wait for her to become 16 so that she could be invested. Later, an active Pathfinder Club for the youth was organized and for many years led by Newtie and Hazel Downey. Brother Newtie was also Choir Leader for many years.

A group of church ladies formed a fund-raising club in the 1950's.  They purchased an organ and piano (the piano is the same, however the organ was replaced later and the present organ was purchased in 1982), and also the material for Howard Joiner to construct the brick church sign on the front lawn.

In April 1960, a business meeting was called. Subject: Remodel or Build a New Church. The church, as a whole, was thought to be in good shape as far as foundation, etc., and adequate for the membership. There was also some sentiment involved, so it was decided to remodel. The Rock Hall members met in the Rock Hall Theater from June 18 to July 16, 1960 due to remodeling of the interior of the church. The church was rewired, re-plastered, the frame work about the platform was arched, the railing removed and the platform extended. A complete painting of the interior and the beautiful new light fixtures were installed. The baptistery was made usable again. It had not been used since 1943.

Mrs. Margaret Baker Hartman, the last charter member passed away in September 1966.
On November 1966, at the church board meeting, plans were shown for a proposed addition. The present Sabbath school floors were deteriorating and had actually dropped several inches in places.

November 18, 1967, approximately two hundred and fifty persons attended services at the church in honor of the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary. Many of the ladies and girls were dressed in old fashioned dresses and hats that added meaning to the beginning of this small church. A tent was pitched beside the west side of the church, with windows raised so the crowd could hear from the tent.  Heat was furnished by William Anderson. Many former pastors, teachers, students and friends were present. James and Monroe Coleman donated the communion table and hymn board in memory of their parents, Marion and Ella Coleman, two of the charter members. A talent program was presented in the evening at the Fire Hall.

Sunday afternoon, March 31, 1968, approximately thirty-five adults and children gathered on the church lawn for ground breaking. Elder A. E. Neil, Pastor, quoted Isaiah 54:2, "Enlarge the place of thy tent". Robert Gatling read the church history. Howard Joiner, Chairman of the Building Committee, spoke of the plans. Delegate Elroy G. Boyer gave a short speech of congratulations on our expansion program. Alva Randall, Treasurer of the Chesapeake Conference, gave the Conference approval and congratulation. Clifton Simns took pictures for the press. Five bronze coated and ribbon tied shovels were used to turn over the sod and digging for the footing began immediately. It was finished by night fall.

The plans to complete two sabbath school rooms, two rest rooms and a hall before tearing down the existing rooms, began the same week. Various members and friends donated many hours of labor, supervised by James and Monroe Coleman; Howard Joiner, Herman Yerkie, William Anderson, Ben Mench, Raymond Foreman, Robert Gatling and non-members Dudley Reed and Donald Tolson helped considerably with the brick work. Many of the ladies served hot meals to the men on the full workdays. Thomas Coleman laid the carpet. A lovely water fountain was installed in the hallway, a gift from Dr. and Mrs. Dale Wood. Furniture was moved in the middle of July, and the second phase of the building began. With the chimney run, roof on, and building under cover by the end of 1968, with two furnaces in operation and all bills paid to date.

Work began again in approximately one year when the multi-purpose room and modern kitchen began to take shape. Donations from the Edgar Judefind family and Mrs. William Sermons purchased the hot water heater in memory of Mr. Judefind and Mrs. Hartman. The drapes, and the large hand painting in the fellowship room were donated by Betty Bigelow. Targonal was applied to the floors in the fall of 1970. It was replaced with carpet sometime in the 1980's.

Bernice Wood presented the church with a beautiful Christian flat in memory of Mrs. Maggie Hartman and Mrs. Rosetta Coxon. She had, some years previous, donated the American Flag.
Two beautiful offering plates, in memory of Sherry Lee Hubbard, who died October 20, 1971, were donated by her beloved family.

In 1973 carpet was installed in the Sanctuary, and new draperies were hung. The oak pulpit and other furniture on the podium were purchased in 1974 with funds received in memory of Jennie Joiner, Joshua and Ella Thomas, William Anderson, Morris Downey, Joseph and Olive Jones, Monroe Coleman and Marvie LeCompte. The hymnal plaque was donated by James and Monroe Coleman.

On August 16, 1980 a beautiful wood carving of "The Last Supper" was dedicated to the church in memory of Clara Simns, who was the church organist at the time of her death, at the age of 28. It took her son, Clifton Simns, approximately four years of painstaking work to create a masterpiece. The Rock Hall Church is indeed honored to accept such a lovely gift from a son who was only 8 years old at the time of his mother's death.

In 1987, after much discussion as to what color to pad the seats of the pews and chairs, it was decided that the only color that wouldn't clash with the red carpet was more red. This project, too, was made possible by donations from friends and members. The same year Pearl and Don Rees donated the two stained glass windows in the vestibule to coincide with the other stained-glass windows in the church. They had given the ceiling light in the vestibule a short while before that, and also the oak lectern in memory of Pearl's mother, Marvie Lecompte.

The hymnals were a gift donated by Anita and Allen Hawkins; Pearl and Don Rees. Clara Walbert Nicholson and Vernon Baker have made donations through the years in memory of their parents.

In 1990, a gift from the George Crossett Estate in memory of Catherine Williams Crossett purchased the two new furnaces and paid for the painting of the church.

A VCR and disc player were purchased with funds received in memory of Lillie Britton. The new Church sign insert was a gift from Anita and Roger Milam. The centennial ribbons being distributed today are the courtesy of Anita and Allen Hawkins, and Betty Wood. Some funds have also been received from the Mildred Willis Estate.

The use of the audio-visual system for our 100th Anniversary has been donated by Susan Witt Ponchock and her husband John Ponchock in memory of Susan's parents, Dorothy and Karcher Witt and her Grandparents, Eolin and William Witt, who gave many years of dedicated service to our church and to our church school.

Many Pastors and teachers have dedicated years of their lives in this district and many students have left here for further education in our denominational academies and colleges to serve as conference officials, pastors, evangelists, missionaries, teachers, doctors, nurses, secretaries and various other jobs of importance.

For six years, Pastor George Wennerberg, with his wife Brenda and family, have been pastoring the Chestertown and Rock Hall churches and we are thankful for their dedicated lives.

Though we may seem as a small lighthouse on the shore of the Chesapeake, our beams are now shining around the world, proclaiming the message of a soon coming Savior. May they shine brightly until Jesus returns to take us home to live with Him is my prayer in His name.

Lovingly submitted by Rose Elma Thomas Cornelius

Mission Statement
To be the best we can be
through Christ's power,
to everyone our lives touch.

Vision Statement
Through a personal and corporate relationship with the Lord,
we will seek His leading as we reach out to all people.
We will serve as Christ served, meeting the needs of young,
old, rich and poor, leading all to a relationship with the Lord,
teaching, enabling and encouraging all for His service.


125th Anniversary 1892 – 2017

Here we are, 25 years later.  There have been many changes in the world, as we once knew it and changes in our little church.  Children once attending church here and attending ESJA grew up and moved away.  A number of our older members have been laid to rest awaiting the Soon Return of Jesus.  Though we faced these inevitable changes the Lord has continued to bless us.  

We would like to give special recognition for contributions to our church by those that have passed away.

Nelda Bigelow Sabbath School Superintendent for 50 years and the arranging of the Harvest Home Program for 25 years.
Iva Mae Bryden School Board Member
Robert Gatling Elder and Sabbath School Teacher
George Muck Elder and Sabbath School Teacher
Harold Main Elder and Sabbath School Teacher
James Coleman Elder and played a major role in building ESJA
Monroe Coleman Deacon and played a major role in building ESJA
Roby Cornelius Jr. Deacon
Roby Cornelius Sr. Deacon
Louis Joiner Deacon
Gilbert Hinefelt Head Elder
Howard Joiner Elder
Ben Mench Deacon
Phyllis Brown Active in the Children’s Division
Flora Main Deaconess
Elma Cornelius Elder and Historian
Jimmy Bryden An answer to many prayers


All of these individuals brought their unique personalities and special gifts to this church and have a special place in our hearts today.  Another member that has added much to our church and is still living today at 101 years of age is Margaret Coleman.  She was the treasurer of our church for over 34 years.  We continue to keep her in our prayers since she is unable to worship with us any longer

Since Pastor Wennerberg we have had several pastors: Danny Flower, Pastor Kevin McDaniel, Pastor John Kurlinski, Pastor Ben Coria, Pastor Al Konrad, and our current Pastor, David Byrkit.  We have all grown spiritually and hope that with their time spent with us they could feel the warmth and love that we have for the Lord and for one another.  

Besides Spiritual Gifts the Lord has provided for our needs in other areas.  We have also been the recipients of a new piano that was given in memory of Olive Anderson and in 2013 Dorothy Thomas Stella donated the organ that we have in our church today.

Our church members have always pulled together for fundraisers, ranging from yard sales, selling beaten biscuits, apple dumplings and our biggest fundraiser, the Harvest Home Program and Auction.  Most of these fundraisers were held to provide fund for the Rock Hall Church Subsidy for ESJA.

As best as we can tell, the Annual Harvest Home Program was started well over one hundred years ago.  The Program began with music, special readings and prayer by members of the church and the local community.  It was followed by the Harvest Home Auction.  Many hours were spent in preparation for this Event, soliciting the community for items to sell, gathering baked goods and preparing food to be sold.  Every member had a part to play.  The sale itself, each year, was something that we members will never forget.  There were many times we would end up paying for things that we didn’t know we had bid on and how many times have you paid $65 for a Coconut Cake or $30 for a quart of Pole Lima Beans.  If you have ever tasted one of Elma Cornelius’s Coconut Cakes or Eastern Shore Lima Beans, you might just consider doing just that.

We have had many good times and then there were times that were not so good, but the Lord has promised to bring beauty out of Ashes and He has been Faithful.

In 2013 Eastern Shore Junior Academy that we had been helping support since its opening, closed its doors, because of dwindling enrollment and other circumstances out of our control.  The Constituency was disbanded and Dover First Church and the Chestertown Seventh-day Adventist Church started their own schools.  At that time the ESJA school building and property became the sole property of the Rock Hall SDA Church.

The property was put on the market and remained on the market for over two years.  What initially seemed to be a blessing soon put a strain on our little church.  We had several people interested in purchasing the property but we had a vision for the property use and knew that the Lord would send just the right people to us if we remained faithful and He did.  The School is now owned by an Independent Baptist Church.  They are currently using it for church services and hope to open a school in the future.  

This brings us to our present day and the new building renovation project that we have just completed.  With our small congregation we have been richly blessed with hard workers that share a common vision for our church.  Through the dedication and hard work of our Head Deacon, Johnny Anderson, each Sabbath our doors are ready to be opened for our services.  We can’t begin to know the countless hours he spends and has spent here to keep the church in top shape.

If you walked through the doors on Judefind Avenue today you have seen the results of great team work with Johnny Anderson as the Project Manager and our Elder, Frankie Williams as the General Contractor.  It has been many years since we had any renovation done to the Children’s SS rooms, the rest rooms, the kitchen and our multi-purpose room so we have been excited about this entire process.  Frankie went far beyond the duties of a general contractor and every Friday would clean the entire area, set up the tables and chairs and anchor any loose building materials to assure our safety and ability to have a Pot Luck Dinner each week.  We are very grateful for how richly God has blessed us with these renovations and our dedicated members.

Since the closing of ESJA we have continued to have the Harvest Home Program and all monies collected were given to the Town of Rock Hall’s Food Bank and Back Pack Project.  It was our desire to give back to our community for the support we have received in the past.  

This year the proceeds from the program and the auction are being given to the Rock Hall Fire and Ambulance Department to be put towards the purchase of a Lucas CPR Devices.

As we look around we see signs of Jesus’ soon return.  There is much work to be done in God’s Vineyard.  We pray that God will continue to bless our humble endeavors and lead us to those that we can share and help experience the Great Hope that we have through Jesus Christ, our Savior.

Written by Diane Gatling
October 2017


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