Thinking we had the right place, we knocked. But
no one answered. Thirty minutes, conversations with three neighbors and
a short drive later, we found Canon (pronounced "canyon") City's
Hildebrand Care Center, where Mr. Kiesz had been living for the past two
months after his health began declining in the wake of the death of his
wife, Katherine, in 1993.
"You can try," said the nurse in response
to our request for an interview with Mr. Kiesz. "But I don't think
he's feeling very well today."
The good old days
When we entered the room she pointed out
to us, we found an elderly gentleman lying stretched out on the bed. He
was perfectly groomed, from his gray beard, trimmed in a square-cut style
reminiscent of czarist Russia, to his old-fashioned, high-top, lace-up boots.
The mail beside his bed was from the Church of God (Seventh Day), and he
seemed to have fallen asleep, glasses still on, while reading.
When we spoke his name, he awoke, immediately lucid.
"Mr. Kiesz, we'd like to talk to you about
the old days."
He smiled. "The good old days or the bad old
We said we hoped the good old days and first asked
him about the unusual symbol we'd seen on his front door.
"Oh, I found that while ministering to a Sabbath-keeping
group in Tennessee. I thought it very appropriate as a symbol of the seventh-day
We asked him when he first became acquainted with
Sabbath-keepers in Russia
"Now, that's a long story that goes
back to imperial Russia. I'd have to brush up on my history to give you
the exact details, but Peter the Great invited some German people to Russia
to teach Russian peasants how to farm and to teach them trades. When presented
the opportunity, those people in western Germany, many of whom were Mennonites,
took the czar up on his offer.
"About 1870, Russia broke their promise to
these people never to require them to serve in the army and began drafting
them. They left Russia by the hundreds of thousands for Canada and the Dakotas.
My parents were part of that wave of immigration, moving to South Dakota."
Were his parents Mennonites?
"No, interestingly enough, there were Sabbath-keepers
in Russia before the Mennonites, most of whom were not Sabbath-keepers,
were organized. My parents were independent Sabbath-keepers, and so were
my wife's parents, who settled in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan."
Meeting his mate
How did Mr. Kiesz meet his wife?
"Katherine?" His intense brown eyes,
rimmed with the white corona of advanced age, softened. "My wife's
parents heard about a Church of God (Seventh Day) camp meeting with other
Germanic brethren in our area, and they came down to investigate. She, being
about four years younger than me and in her early 20s at the time, came
with her parents.
"I saw her at church for the first time. When
I came in, I noticed there were several new young people seated at the front,
near what we called the altar. One young lady was wearing a broad-brimmed
hat, and, when she turned, what I saw under that hat gave young John Kiesz
a thrill. We got married some months later, in 1929, Oct. 3."
How did he and his wife earn a living?
"We had a traveling music ministry.
We played instruments, the guitar, organ and piano, and sang, my wife especially.
And I preached."
Did they have children, and were the children involved
in their music ministry?
"I have two surviving daughters, Pearl and
Martha. They sang with us. We lost two children, our son Harley and our
daughter Sarah Katherine, when they were young."
During the six decades of their ministry, were
they always part of the Church of God (Seventh Day)?
"No. For 12 years in there I considered myself
independent. We earned a living in different ways. There were times we received
a salary, and there were times we didn't. Sometimes there were offerings
that were given to us. God always provided."
Did he raise up churches during his ministry?
"Yes, we raised up a number of different churches;
I can't really tell you specifically right now the details. We preached
in four Canadian provinces, including my wife's native Saskatchewan, where
we spent some time, and we crisscrossed the United States."
With Mr. Armstrong in Oregon
How did he end up in Oregon helping Mr.
Armstrong with the Feast of Tabernacles in Belknap Springs from 1935 to
"I was keeping the Feast of Tabernacles even
before I met Brother Armstrong. I guess I came up with the idea about the
same time as he did. We had been working together in evangelism--he had
held services for me at times--and the Feast was an outgrowth of our relationship."
Didn't that relationship spring from an affiliation
with the Church of God (Seventh Day)?
"Yes, at the time we were both affiliated
with the Church of God (Seventh Day) and went with the Salem, W.Va., faction
when there was a split in 1933. I was chosen by lot as one of the 12 apostles
of the church, and Brother Armstrong was chosen as one of the 70 elders.
I was editor of the church's magazine, The Bible Advocate, around
that time, and I published some of Mr. Armstrong's articles in the magazine."
Why did Mr. Kiesz and Mr. Armstrong part ways?
"Well, at the Feast in 1945 Brother
Armstrong had to leave part way during the Feast--some kind of family emergency--and
I took over services for him.
"We had a disagreement over our approaches
to the ministry, and so we didn't work together after that."
Could the disagreement have been over an altar
"That was probably part of it." Mr. Kiesz
smiled. "You must know that Herbert Armstrong always had a reason for
Did Mr. Armstrong just say, "I don't believe
in altar calls, and that's that"?
Mr. Kiesz smiled again. "It wasn't quite that
hard, but almost. After that, we went our separate ways. As you know, the
church he founded grew quite large. I had a different calling to pursue.
How did Mr. Kiesz end up in Canon City?
"I was working in Texas in 1940, and I took
sick, so I consulted a doctor. He told me to see another doctor for X rays.
That doctor told me I had problems that looked like tuberculosis.
"I underwent treatment for six weeks, and
then he suggested I move to the West, preferably California or Arizona,
for my health's sake. Instead, we ended up here in 1940. Although we went
here and there after that, we considered this home from then on."
Did he continue to keep the Feast, even though
it was not a belief of the CG7?
The Kieszes kept the other Holy Days
"The church always kept Passover,
so that was not an issue. But, yes, Sister Katherine and I continued to
keep the other feast days. Sometimes there were others to keep the feasts
with; otherwise we kept them by ourselves."
Is the Church of God (Seventh Day) headed toward
a more Protestant view, toward acceptance of the Trinity?
Mr. Kiesz looked momentarily pained at the question
but answered simply, "I don't know. You never know what might happen
to the church these days."
Did he know about the split in the Worldwide Church
of God? Or did it catch him by surprise?
"I was not surprised at all. I saw it coming.
I had some conversations with Mr. [Joseph] Tkach [Sr.] a few years ago when
he first began making changes. I told him I thought some changes were necessary,
but I told him to be careful, that he was going too fast.
"Doctrinal changes of that nature need to
come from the ground up, not from the top down. Timing is important. The
people must come to an understanding first.
"We've seen over and over that it doesn't
work for the leadership to force their own ideas on people."
Did he hold Sabbath services in his home in recent
"Sometimes, as people would come by and there
was a need, I did."
We asked Mr. Kiesz if we could take a picture of
him, and he laughed, as if genuinely amused by the thought. "Oh, no.
That would be too ugly."
By then we had visited with Mr. Kiesz for an hour
and could tell he was tiring. His soft-spoken voice had grown almost inaudible.
So, we bade farewell to a man whose calm, thoughtful
and gently humorous responses to our questions told us this was someone
who had come to profound peace with all that had transpired in his over
nine decades of life.
Outside, as we left Mr. Kiesz's home, the sunset