The Seventh-day Adventist Church on Pitcairn Island was officially restructured as a “company” May 19, in recognition of declining church attendance in what was once known as an entirely “Adventist culture.”
This island has a significant place in Adventist history, says Ray Coombe, assistant to the Adventist Church president in the South Pacific. “For more than 110 years, Adventists around the world have treasured the Pitcairn story,” he explains. “Missionary expansion of the Adventist Church in the Pacific was indeed led by the sailing of the ‘Pitcairn’ mission ship in 1890, and the image of an all-Adventist population tucked away in an isolated Pacific paradise has prevailed ever since.”
Residents of the island are descended from the notorious “Bounty” mutineers who set Captain William Bligh adrift in 1789 and then settled on a number of South Pacific islands. Since the late 1800s, Pitcairn residents have been known internationally for their devout Christianity and their adherence to a wholistic Adventist lifestyle.
However, in recent years, as the island has opened up to more outside influences, the reality has been quite different, explains Coombe. Although the Adventist Church has always maintained a resident minister and nurse on Pitcairn, there have been fewer adherents and some church members have moved away from the island. By the end of 2000, regular church attendees among the island population of 40 numbered only eight. “Although an ‘Adventist culture’ prevails, Pitcairn Island is no longer the pristine example of the past,” adds Coombe. “A handful of faithful members remains, and the church is committed to maintaining its presence and influence on this historic island.”
The executive committee of the Adventist Church in the New Zealand Pacific region, chaired by regional church president Allan Walshe, voted May 19 that the church on Pitcairn be restructured to “company status.” In the coming months, remaining church members on the Pitcairn Island church roll will have the opportunity to transfer their membership to the new Pitcairn company or to other Adventist churches, or to discontinue their membership with the Adventist Church. The new Pitcairn Island company will then be cared for by the current pastor and his wife, John and Sue O’Malley, who are resident on the island.