In Castle Coakley, St. Croix, sits a quaint little grocery store replete with vegetarian delights and numerous other health foods, along with a section dedicated to holistic health care. The store is owned and operated by one of the healthiest religious denominations – in waistlines and in numbers – in the territory, the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
The Adventists Book Center and Health Food Store is located next to the North Caribbean Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which governs nine islands in the Caribbean, including the U.S. Virgin Islands. There are more than 8,000 members in the V.I., according to Pastor Earl Daniel, the stewardship director of the North Caribbean Conference.
The church focuses heavily on health reform, according to Daniel, so much in fact, that they are currently going through a special 10-day fast, where they are concentrating mostly on eating nuts, vegetables, and juices, and abstaining from other “regular foods.” Some members are even conducting their own 40-day fast to get healthy.
“We believe a vegetarian diet is healthier, and although lots of our members still eat certain types of meat, the Bible clearly defines what unclean meats are,” Daniel said. “We don’t rage at those who eat plain meats, but we try to persuade them that fruits and vegetables would be better.”
Seventh-day Adventists resemble many conservative Protestant denominations; they believe in literal interpretation of Scripture, six days of Creation, and baptism by full immersion. Adventists also worship on Saturday as opposed to Sunday, adhering to what Daniel said is a strict Biblical interpretation that the seventh day of the week is the Sabbath.
“We believe Sunday is the first day of the week according to the Bible, the day that Christ rose from the grave was Sunday,” Daniel said. “The crucifixion was on Friday, the Sabbath is Saturday, and Sunday is the first day of the week.”
Seventh-day Adventists also agree with mainstream Christian belief in the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus Christ, the virgin birth, atonement, the physical resurrection of the dead and on the imminent second coming (advent) of Christ.
“The peculiarity about us is that we keep the Sabbath, and we don’t eat unclean foods, but there isn’t anything else,” Daniel said. “We are just different because we preach that judgment is now going on in heaven; names are accepted, names are rejected before God daily.”
Another unique tenet to their faith is their strong conviction of the Book of Revelation 14:6-12, which pertains to the context of the three angels’ messages.
“We believe in the Old and New Testament, and the entire Bible, but Revelation 14:6-12 gives a condensed version of our main beliefs,” Daniel said.
Daniel added that Seventh-day Adventists believe that there comes a day when Jesus will determine that “it is finished” and will decide on Earth that all those who embraced his offer of salvation will be “saved.”
The church’s hierarchy has four constituent levels which are divided into conferences. There are 13 divisions throughout the world, and Daniel believes with over 17 million members and another 15 million children soon to be members, that the church is one of the fastest growing religions.
Adventists also begin learning core principles of their faith from an early age, and throughout life are guided to belong to one of many ministries or groups.
For example, the Pathfinders Club is a worldwide program for youth ages 10-15, whose participants learn about fundamentals like camping, crafts, and learning to be a friend of God, according Daniel. There are also Seventh-day Adventist schools on both St. Thomas and St. Croix, with more than 400 students in attendance.
“We guide them their whole lives from a young age, and also have marriage classes, and women’s and men’s ministries, Daniel said. “The church is really holistic in the coverage of the life of its members.”
Daniel said that the church sends missionaries all over the world, and according to an Adventist website, they have missionaries in 202 out 228 countries.
“We also set up tents all the time here and afar, and put laymen in to preach and train them to do missionary work so they can become active,” Daniel said. “We also worship on Sunday and Wednesday nights, for prayer meetings and to give guidance.”
Daniel said it’s simple to become a member, and said that anybody who is interested can show up at one of the 13 churches in the V.I.
“Once you have decided to accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior,” Daniel said. “The pastor will give you certain instructions – after you are baptized, it gives you membership in the worldwide church,” Daniel said.
To find out more about the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the territory, visit their website.