A recent archival donation to the Sooke Region Museum included items relating to the Stand Fast Bible Students colony that once made its home in the Sooke Region.
The students are an international movement of Christians who formed hundreds of communities, coming together to study the Word of God, to proclaim the plan of God, and, in particular, announce Christ’s second presence.
Charles Taze Russell, a successful young businessman from Pennsylvania, better known to the colony as Pastor Russell, sold his successful chain of haberdasheries in the late 1870s. He then went on to found what became known in the early 1900s as the International Bible Students Association.
Elected pastor of his Bible study group, Russell was disenchanted with the orthodox teachings of larger churches which he believed had misinterpreted the return of Christ. He began an independent study to reveal the true divine purpose of mankind, and the plan of God.
After the death of Pastor Russell in 1916, new leadership took over and began to reverse many of the former teachings.
Consequently, the Stand Fast Bible Students Association was organized on Dec. 1, 1918. It adopted this name to show that members would “stand fast” in support of the former teachings, including conscientious objection to war.
The Stand Fast movement was centered in the Pacific Coast region.
The Sooke faction settled in the area around Whiffin Spit in the early 1920s and was founded on principles of love, cooperation, and a desire to live communally. Doing this, they believed, would prepare them for their place in the Kingdom of God.
The students operated a number of joint enterprises, including a garment factory, cheese-making factory, bakery, fish reduction plant, and the Star Construction Company. The community also had a dentist, school and temple.
While some had houses, a significant number of the colony’s 300 to 400 residents lived in some 70 tents. In other parts of the world, nearly all of the Bible students who had a heavenly hope left the original organization by 1929, but retained the Bible Student name. They continue to this day.
Bonnie Brenner, a descendant of the Halliday family, who were members of the Stand Fast group in Sooke, today dedicates time to her own Bible study. In a recent visit to the museum she donated valuable texts, photos and research materials relating to her families faith. Included among these donations was a hardcover text that would have been kept and studied by members of the colony. The devotional text, titled: What Pastor Russell Said – His answer to hundreds of questions, is a collection of questions asked of Pastor Russell that pertain to the movement and its principles.
A pale pink piece of paper detailing the Present Joys of the New Creation, often included in devotional books such as: Daily Heavenly Manna was also donated. Certain words are underlined with pen, and notes made, just one indication of their dedication to these everyday reminders of faith.
Montana Stanley is the collections and exhibits manager at Sooke Region Museum.