A BIG SIGN reading "Health Chautauqua" clamored for attention over the tent pitched at the Y where Main and Broadway came together. Ned Sutton and his wife noticed it for the first time as they drove by on a summer day in 1922. "We've tried everything else for dad," said Mrs. Sutton. "Let's see what they have to say here. Maybe they can help."
Adventists entered Ardmore in the 1890's when Oklahoma was still Indian Territory. They met in homes until 1918, when a church was organized with ten charter members. Things moved slowly for the small congregation in the bustling frontier oil town until Elder W. E. Barr and his "company" arrived in the spring of 1922. Then the team went to work. A big tent was pitched near the downtown area—smaller ones surrounding it. The sign saying "Health Chautauqua" aroused people's curiosity and brought them into the tent to see what was happening.
Inside, the team combined the preaching of the Word with nightly expositions on health. What to eat, how to exercise, even how to dress were part of the pro gram. Cooking classes were a must for new converts and were open to others who wanted to at tend them. Hydrotherapy treatments were given to those who needed them or who just felt like learning how they should be done.
Ned Sutton kept coming, and so did his young wife's family, the John Labbaits. Mr. Labbait soon was feeling better and eating differently, too. Before long he and his wife and three children be came baptized members of the Ardmore Seventh-day Adventist church.
Within two years about a hundred other new converts joined the church. The struggling congregation was suddenly faced with a space crisis—too many people for the small church in which they had been meeting for years. Elder Barr stayed on to help erect a new sanctuary, which was used until five years ago. One day, Mrs. Barr came home from Ingathering with an unexpected donation from a towns man—a "piece of ground and house for a new school," with living quarters for a teacher and the pastor. The two-teacher school had a "complete laboratory for general science." The union pa per reported that never before had there been "more marked evidence of the guiding hand of God than in the work at Ardmore."
All of this happened before Ardmore had an Adventist physician or hospital, and was a striking example of the church using its knowledge of health principles to advance its cause, as we were instructed to do in such passages as the following:
In new fields no work is so successful as medical missionary work. If our ministers would work earnestly to obtain an education in medical missionary lines, they would be far better fitted to do the work Christ did as a medical missionary. ... By the practice of its simple principles, the sick and suffering are relieved, and fields otherwise unapproachable become most interesting fields of action. The seeds of truth, cast into good ground, produce an abundant harvest.— Medical Ministry, p. 239.
Adventists now operate a hospital in this city of 24,000 people— the 105-bed Ardmore Seventh-day Adventist Hospital, largest in the Southwestern Union. Layton Sutton, M.D., son of Ned—one of those early converts—practices medicine at the hospital, having graduated from Loma Linda University's School of Medicine.
The church also operates a new $15,000 Community Services center; a day-care center licensed for ninety children; and a three-teacher, ten-grade school. Last year the 250-member congregation dedicated a new church structure valued at $200,000. In addition, the conference operates a very successful branch book and Bible store in the downtown area.
"Even with all this," says an old-timer, "we've never had a time when so many people were baptized as when Elder Barr held the Health Chautauqua. I wish we could do it again."