100 Years Ago Today: Ellen G. White’s Funeral

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100 Years Ago Today: Ellen G. White’s Funeral

Invitation to Ellen White's FuneralWhen Ellen White died in July 1915, three funerals and a graveside service memorialized her life of ministry. An estimated 5,400 people attended these services.

The first funeral was held July 18 on the lawn at her home in California, known as Elmshaven. A second was held the next day in Oakland, California. The third and largest service was held on Sabbath, July 24, in Battle Creek, Michigan, where Ellen White had lived for many years and where she was to be buried beside her husband, James.

F.M. Wilcox, editor of the Review and Herald, described the service, which occurred during the morning worship hour:

Friends were given opportunity at the Tabernacle [the Battle Creek Seventh-day Adventist Church], from eight o’clock until half past ten Sabbath morning, to look upon the familiar face.

Six ministers acted as guards of honor at the Tabernacle, alternating in pairs every twenty minutes, one standing at the head and one at the foot of the casket. [See top photo] … The body reposed in a plain black casket, without ornamentation, except a simple plate engraved with the words “At rest.”

The casket was placed directly in front of the pulpit, which was banked with a rich profusion of palms, ferns, and flowers. The floral tributes were numerous and beautiful. One design of an open Bible, made of white and pink carnations, presented by the Pacific Press Publishing Association, was especially noticeable. Across the open pages in purple flowers were the words, “Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me.” [See photo of grave below.] … A cross of white roses [at left in photo below] hung in front of the pulpit. On a ribbon attached to this cross were the last words uttered by Sister White, “I know in whom I have believed.” …

The service in the Tabernacle was attended by a large congregation. It is estimated that four thousand persons were present, crowding the Tabernacle to its very doors. Many stood in the lobbies, doorways, and approaches to the building, unable to obtain seats.

According to Wilcox, many of the nearby Adventist churches cancelled their Sabbath services so the members and pastors could attend. General Conference officials and many of Battle Creek’s “leading citizens” were present, along with representatives from Adventist churches throughout Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana.

Testimonies of a Life Well Lived

Ellen White's grave with funeral flowersGeneral Conference President A.G. Daniells presented a detailed overview of Mrs. White’s life. He told of how she had received the gift of prophecy at age 17 and had been granted “a series of remarkable spiritual experiences, unmistakably genuine.” He testified: “Those who have been associated with her through all the years that have passed since that time never have had occasion to alter their conviction that the revelations which have come to her through the years have come from God.”

Daniells outlined key themes in White’s ministry that bore witness to the Spirit that inspired her, noting that she upheld the Bible as God’s inspired Word and Jesus Christ as Savior. He also noted her emphasis on mission and her “broad, progressive views” about the “betterment and uplift of the human family from the moral, the intellectual, the physical, and the social standpoint, as well as the spiritual.”

“She has touched humanity at every vital point of need, and lifted it to a higher level,” Daniells said.

The funeral sermon was offered by Stephen Haskell, an Adventist evangelist whose friendship with Ellen White ran so deep that, after both of their spouses had died, he proposed marriage to her! (Ellen White did not accept his offer, but suggested another woman, whom Haskell later married.)

Haskell found comfort in the text that immediately follows the three angels’ messages that Ellen White had proclaimed so fervently: “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth” (Rev. 14:13, KJV). He said:

We have no question in reference to the faithfulness of our dear sister. She has been faithful and true as far as lay in her power to accomplish the work that God gave her to do. … She has met the foe, Death; she has surrendered; but her works live. Being dead, she speaks and will speak as long as souls can be saved in this world.

A Faithful Servant Laid to Rest

After the service, Wilcox wrote, “the body was removed to the vestibule of the church,” where “the large congregation in single column slowly filed by the casket.” Then pallbearers, Wilcox among them, carried the casket to a waiting carriage.

The procession to the cemetery was a large one. More than one hundred vehicles of various kinds, automobiles and carriages, were in line. Nine street cars, chartered for the occasion and loaded to the fullest capacity, accommodated those not possessing carriage conveniences.

The somber-hued, overcast sky harmonized with the solemn occasion. Rain at one time threatened. …

The hundreds gathered around the open grave stood with bowed heads and sorrow-filled hearts, recognizing the great loss to the church of God, and their own personal loss, in the death of this noble, devout woman.

Mourners at Ellen White's graveside service

Mourners at Ellen White’s graveside service. The top of the monument marking the White family plot can be seen at the center of the crowd, in front of the building.

Assessing her legacy, Wilcox spoke highly of White’s Christian example but cautioned against deifying the prophet:

Her own humble, God-fearing life, her simplicity of character, her dignity of womanhood, were models of Christian character.

But in saying this we would not unduly exalt the human; for our beloved sister was only human after all—a fallible mortal woman striving by God’s grace to overcome the evil tendencies which existed in her heart, and which exist in the heart of every human being.

He noted that while White’s personal involvement and her prophetic gift had contributed greatly to the development of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, “this movement is not dependent upon any of its human founders for continuance,” but on God’s power.

Wilcox expressed a fitting sentiment for this centennial of Ellen White’s death: “We hope that our church’s appreciation of the gift of the spirit of prophecy will not be voiced alone in words, but above all in following the instructions that have been given.”

______

Note: Quotations in this article are from a booklet called “In Memoriam, Mrs. E. G. White, 1827-1915,” which was reprinted with slight changes from the Review and Herald, July 29 and August 5, 1915. Thanks to Compass Magazine board member Steve Dunson for providing a copy of this document. Photos are from The Ellen G. White Estate.

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Rachel Cabose is the consulting editor of The Compass Magazine and a freelance writer. She previously worked as associate editor of Guide magazine at the Review and Herald Publishing Association. Rachel and her husband, Greg, live in Michigan.