Friday, July 9, 2010

Memorializing D. S. Warner

Wife and I are preparing for the 118th annual Warner Memorial Camp Meeting, July 16-23. I sucked a baby bottle at the old camp grounds during the Depression. About 1951, I introduced my young bride to Grand Junction, a place that held sacred memories for me. By 1973, we returned to Michigan to pastor. Since that time, she and I have attended annually, serving and supporting Warner Memorial Camp in every way available to us. This year--once more--we will be support staff in the Dining Hall; that‘s what octogenerians like us need to be doing! :-)

Cousin Dick and I were very involved in the recovering of D. S Warner’s former home site adjacent to the campgrounds. Warner Camp, as many now know it, was loved by Brother D. S. Warner. He built his final home nearby. Before and after the grounds were purchased, he fished frequently in Lester Lake. After it became the site of our first national encampment, he preached some highly successful camp meetings there, with crowds estimated to reach upwards of ten-thousand.

Some call Warner our founder. He did become a successful pastor-evangelist. He became a successful publisher, with the aid of friends and the voluntary “Trumpet Family” J.C. Fisher initiated. There were others, like Sebastian Michels, who became to Warner at that given time, what Barnabas became to Paul. There were others, like Enoch Byrum, who freed Warner from office management in 1887; that allowed Warner to travel, evangelize, write, and still publish. All in all, I call him our “patron saint.”

However, have we gone a little overboard? I don’t mind calling our campground Warner Memorial Camp, although I think a change of name could bring new meaning and fresh importance, while better serving us today.

Interestingly enough, there is a Warner Memorial Church of God in Ferndale, MI. There used to be a Warner Memorial Church of God in Milwaukee, WI; I don’t know what ever happened to them, but The Yearbook no longer lists such a church.

In the early 50s I cut my eye teeth in camp meeting amid rattlesnakes and Sage Brush at a site that formerly housed Warner Memorial University, Eastland, TX. J. T. Wilson’s dream collapsed with the depression. En route to Eastland, TX I went to Portland, OR and became an alumnus of a Bible School now known as Warner Pacific College (for me a life-changing experience). More recently, our university of the southeast renamed itself from Warner Southern College to Warner University.

Lest we forget our once illustrious publishing house that formerly printed Warner’s magazine, “The Gospel Trumpet.” That institution was known for many years as Warner Press, Inc.--until the demise of the magazine. There is also a blogsite with the name walkingwithwarner. In case you wonder where I am going with this, consider the following.

Originally, we called ourselves a “Reformation Movement.” Eventually, we lost the movement and today we have little reform. We rejected organization and man-made rule (denominationalism). Yet, I wonder if we, in our inconsistency and incongruity (Patrick Nachtigal calls us a “case study in irony”), have fallen prey to becoming Warnerites.

There are those among us who will read and publish only the original writings of Warner and his earliest followers, (Byrum, Smith, Riggle, Brown, Morrison et al). I’ve often had the impression that non of the rest of us were quite as inspired of God and authoritative as were those first writers of the early decades--no matter what our pedigree.

Have we been inconsistent in elevating D.S. Warner to such a high level of “hero worship”? Have we betrayed our antipathy of man worship by naming so many objects and functions after D. S. Warner? Have we betrayed some of the very message we proclaim as his? I hold him in pretty high esteem myself, so I cannot really speak for you because I have my own bit of bias.

In spite of our manifested reverence for Elder Warner, there is one small matter in which I suggest our “Warner” memorials and other trappings fall a little short. A couple of illustrations will make my point.

1) Warner stepped outside the four walls of denominationalism at Beaver Dam, IN to fellowship and work with believers of all stripes--to save the world (for most of our institutional life, we have treated other believers like the a Babylonian harlot (metaphor intended). 2) Warner used every means at his disposal to extend his mission and share his message (reach his world, whereas we have built ourselves a comfortable, middleclass upwardly mobile denomination).

Regardless of which side of this discussion you land on, it would seem that we really ought to clarify our understandings of what Warner was really about and what he was willing to do to achieve God’s will for his life. Then perhaps we could do a better job of memorializing the man and his message.

From Warner’s World, this is


Rose Michels-Being salt and light! said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rose Michels-Being salt and light! said...

I've been reading over your blogs, wanting to comment, yet hesitated till I read this one. I so appreciated your true humility in this blog post. While many would love to sit back and enjoy the 'memorializing', you bring to the forefront a much truer question. Thank you. Mrs. Donald Michels (husband Donald is the great grandson of Sebastian Michels)

Wayne said...

Rose, please do feel free to comment. I am interested in hearing what you think. If you prefer to say it just to me, write me at
AND, I have to ask, are you the granddaughter to the JW Michels in PA?