History of Pathfinders

First Young People’s Society

Harry Fenner and Luther Warren, young pioneers and cofounders of the Adventist Youth Society. Russell Harlan, Artist

Our work for young people begins in the summer of 1879, when two boys, Luther Warren, age 14, and Harry Fenner, age 17, were walking along a country road and talking earnestly about the young people of their church at Hazelton, Michigan. The boys had the idea to start a boys’ society and to do everything they could to help other young people to get ready for heaven. Before they went their separate ways, they climbed over the fence beside the road and prayed about it. This first young people’s society had a membership of only five or six. As an adult, Elder Luther Warren reflected that, “At our weekly meetings the work done was reported — papers and tracts given away, missionary letters written and received, and other work of like character. A temperance pledge against the use of alcohol, tobacco, tea, coffee, and pork, was drawn up and signed” (Peterson, 1938). A short time later, girls were invited to join the society. Little did that group of Adventist boys and girls realize the significance of that first denominational young people’s society of which we have any record (Krum, 1963).

The Missionary Volunteer Department

Early in the history of Seventh-day Adventists, there was strong interest in the need to train young adults for service and to safeguard them from worldly influences, and by 1907 there were 281 young people’s societies scattered throughout the world field, with a total membership of 5,329. The General Conference leaders recognized that the youth work had grown to the place where a special department could be properly established. In the spring of 1907 a tent meeting was held at Mount Vernon College in Ohio, with over 200 representatives, to develop a plan for a young people’s organization which was to circle the world (Peterson, 1938). The name “Seventh-day Adventist Young People’s Society of Missionary Volunteers” (MV Society) was chosen (Krum, 1963). The representatives made plans which would lead young people to develop habits of daily Bible reading, prayer, and service. This also led to the establishment of the Youth Instructor as their official magazine, and provided for an annual Week of Prayer. This program proved so successful that in 1909 the General Conference delegates called for the development of a similar program for the younger children, which became the “Junior Missionary Volunteer Society” (JMV Society) (Krum, 1963).

Beginning of Pathfinder Clubs

Arthur W. Spalding (1877-1953)

In 1919 Arthur W. Spalding started a Mission Scouts organization in Tennessee for his own boys and their friends. Activities consisted of handicrafts, woodcraft, hiking, and camping. They adopted a Pledge and Law, which became the basis for today’s Pathfinder Pledge and Law (Krum, 1963).

“By the Grace of God,
I will be pure, kind and true.
I will keep the Junior Law.
I will be a servant of God and friend to man.”

“The Junior Missionary Volunteer Law Is for Me to
Keep the Morning Watch.
Do my honest part.
Care for my body.
Keep a level eye.
Be courteous and obedient.
Walk softly in the sanctuary.
Keep a song in my heart, and
Go on God’s errands.”

How Pathfinders Got Its Name

John C. Fremont (1813-1890)

While at a summer camp in 1928, Arthur Spalding told the story of John Charles Fremont (Holbrook, 2005), a Civil War soldier and explorer who had led five expeditions into the American west and had been given the nickname “The Pathfinder” (Wikipedia, 2019). The boys were intrigued and the nickname caught on. It was used in 1929 when an Adventist scout master, John McKim, became the director of the first known “Pathfinder” club for boys and girls. In 1950, the General Conference officially authorized the establishment of Pathfinder Clubs. Although youth leaders had supported and recommended the basic program as early as 1922, it was not officially recognized until the Pacific Union “demonstrated its effectiveness in the years from 1944-1950” (Krum, 1963).

Brief Timeline of Pathfinder History

  • 1879 — First Young People’s Society organized
  • 1892 — E. G. White calls for a specialized work for the youth
  • 1907 — Missionary Volunteer Societies organized
  • 1908 — Junior Reading Course introduced
  • 1909 — Junior MV Societies organized
  • 1913 — Spanish Morning Watch and Reading Course begun
  • 1917 — French Reading Course in Haiti introduced
  • 1922 — JMV Progressive Classes introduced – Friend and Companion
  • 1926 — First junior camp held in USA at Town Line Lake, Michigan
  • 1927 — Master Comrade (now Master Guide) officially approved
  • 1928 — Vocational honors introduced
  • 1929 — Pathfinder name first used at a summer camp in California
  • 1930 — Pre-JMV Classes, Busy Bee, Sun Beam, Builder and Helping Hand developed
  • 1931 — First Master Comrade Investiture
  • 1932 — First JMV Pathfinder Camp, Idyllwild, purchased
  • 1938 — Master Comrade Manual published
  • 1946 — First conference-sponsored Pathfinder Club (Riverside, California)
  • 1946 — Pathfinder Club emblem designed by John H. Hancock
  • 1947 — First North American Division Youth Congress
  • 1948 — Helen Hobbs designs and makes the Pathfinder flag
  • 1949 — Henry Bergh writes Pathfinder song
  • 1950 — General Conference authorizes JMV Pathfinder clubs for world field; Pathfinder Staff Training Course and How to Start a Pathfinder Club booklet; Explorer class added for 7th grade
  • 1951 — Master Comrade changed to Master Guide; Pathfinder Staff Manual published
  • 1954 — First Pathfinder Camporee, May 7-9, Idyllwild, California
  • 1960 — First Union Camporee, April 11-14, Lone Pine, California
  • 1962 — MV Pathfinder Field Guide and Pathfinder Drill Manual Published
  • 1966 — Pioneer Class added added for 8th grade
  • 1970 — Pioneer Class name changed to Ranger
  • 1979 — The name Missionary Volunteer changed to Adventist Youth (AY); Junior Missionary Volunteer changed to Adventist Junior Youth (AJY); Pre-AJY changed to Adventurers (4 yrs. – 4th grade)
  • 1982 — New Pathfinder World emblem replaces MV World; Voyager Class added; NAD Pathfinder uniform revised
  • 1985 — First NAD Pathfinder Camporee, Camp Hale, Colorado, with an attendance of 16,129
  • 1987 — Current NAD Pathfinder emblem designed by Norm Middag
  • 1989 — Adventurer Program becomes an independent program from Pathfinders
  • 1994 — First International Pathfinder Camporee, Dare to Care, held in Denver, Colorado, with an attendance of 12,300
  • 1995 — Teen Leadership Training (TLT) Program established for training High school students (grades 9-12); First Pathfinder Web Site established
  • 1999 — Discover the Power International Pathfinder Camporee held in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, with an attendance of over 20,000
  • 2000 — Pathfinder Uniform changed to Black & Tan
  • 2004 — Faith on Fire International Pathfinder Camporee held in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, with an attendance of 31,000 from 83 countries
  • 2009 — Courage to Stand International Pathfinder Camporee held in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, with an attendance of over 36,000
  • 2014 — Forever Faithful International Pathfinder Camporee held in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, with an attendance of over 46,000 from 50 countries
  • 2019 — Chosen International Pathfinder Camporee held in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, with an attendance of about 55,000 from 92 countries

Pathfinder Song

Oh, we are the Pathfinders strong, 
The servants of God are we
Faithful as we march along
In kindness, truth, and purity.
A message to tell to the world,
A truth that will set us free
King Jesus the Savior’s coming back
For you and me.

Left: Henry Bergh’s words for the Pathfinder song that he jotted on a scrap of paper.

(Nad, 2019).

Some Pathfinder Logos


(2019). International Pathfinder Camporee: Logos & Patches. Retrieved from http://old.camporee.org/about/past-camporees/.

Holbrook, Robert, ed. (2005). The AY Story. Collegedale, TN: College Press.

Krum, Nathaniel. (1963). The MV Story. Washington, D. C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association.

NAD Youth and Young Adult Ministries. (2019). Pathfinders Online Timeline. Retrieved from https://www.pathfindersonline.org/about-pathfinders/history/27-overview-of-pathfinder-history/244-timeline.

Peterson, Alfred W. (1938, Dec. 29). Review and Herald, p. 48.

Wikipedia contributors. (2019, May 22). John C. Frémont. (Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.phptitle=John_C._Fr%C3%A9mont&oldid=898282423).

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