The origins of the Seventh-day Adventist Church are rooted in the Millerite movement of 1831 to 1844. During the Second Great Awakening—a period of great spiritual revival in the first half of the nineteenth century—a Baptist farmer in rural New York State named William Miller came to the conclusion that Jesus would return to take His people to heaven in 1843 or 1844. One of Miller’s followers refined his chronology, determining October 22, 1844, to be the exact day. When Jesus failed to appear that day—the Great Disappointment—many Millerites returned to their former churches, but some continued to believe that Jesus was coming soon.
Continuing to meet and study the Bible in small groups in their homes, mostly in New England and New York, these Advent believers developed a body of biblically-based core beliefs central to the Seventh-day Adventist Church today. With headquarters first in Rochester, New York, established in 1852, and then Battle Creek, Michigan, in 1855, the Advent movement followed the path of Yankee migration from New England and New York to Michigan, the Midwest, and then California. The Seventh-day Adventist denomination was formally organized in 1862.
The Adventist message was largely spread by traveling ministers. Adventist minister Philip Strong held meetings in the “Champlain district” of Cass County, a few miles from Dowagiac, June 5-25, 1873. At the close of the meetings, he organized a church of eight members, which sent funds to the Michigan Conference and asked to be admitted into fellowship. Although there is no record of an appointed minister, a few months later they were visited by Isaac A. Olmstead, a colporteur and traveling minister. This group may have met in the Champlain schoolhouse as this was where they met with Olmstead in October 1873. Norman Dewey (1852-1940), Almon Dewey (1857-1922), Herbert Ford, and Julia Ford are among the possible members of this group as all four were enrolled in the normal course at Battle Creek College in 1875-1876 with Dowagiac, Michigan, listed as place of origin.
On June 30, 1874, C. A. Russell and M. B. Miller pitched a tent in Dowagiac where they held meetings for the month of July. By the time they left town, there were enough converts in the city that the Champlain group decided to join them for Sabbath meetings. However, by 1887 the group had dwindled in attendance and the Michigan Conference closed the church.
When Battle Creek College moved to Berrien Springs, where it was renamed Emmanuel Missionary College (now Andrews University), students started distributing Adventist literature in Cass County and Dowagiac. In 1920, two recent graduates of the religion program, Grant Hosford and Robert Boothby, conducted evangelistic meetings in Dowagiac. They organized a new congregation, although it is unclear where it met. By some reports, the church met in a barn. By 1925, Robert Prothero, a local stone worker, was elder and lay pastor of the church. The large stained-glass window on the front façade of the present church building is dedicated to Prothero.
According to Michigan Conference directories, the Dowagiac church met in a building on the corner of Oak and Prairie Ronde Streets from 1935 to 1941. Membership remained low, and the church was either disbanded or reduced to a branch Sabbath School during World War II. Evangelist Boothby returned to Dowagiac in 1945 and revived the congregation, which then met at 313 E. Division Street. From 1946 to 1949, the Adventist congregation met in the Federated Church House on the 200 block of Courtland Street, and from 1950 to 1967 it met in a house at 505 N. Front Street. This house was sold in 1967 when construction began for the present church building at 410 Hill Street. The congregation began meeting in the new building in 1968.
Throughout the 1970s, the congregation continued to grow under the lay leadership of John Freeman, founder of Maranatha Volunteers International, Dr. Wilbur Alexander, a professor from the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University, and others. Since then, the Dowagiac Seventh-day Adventist church has continued to be a training ground for seminary students from Andrews University. Former members now serve as pastors across the United States, missionaries with Adventist Frontier Missions, and leaders at the General Conference—the denomination’s world headquarters.