Primitive Church

October 21, 2004 | 30 comments
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The missionaries found me when I was 17. That was back in 1964 in Antwerp, Belgium. I read Joseph Smith’s history and Moroni’s promise. I knew it was true. Immediately, fully. The Gospel unfolded like the rising sun.

I went to the local branch. A tiny branch in a regular rowhouse that the Church had purchased a few years before. I got to know the handful of members, my new family.

There were only two Melchizedek priesthood holders, one was the branch president and the other the district president. Both converts from the 1950s. They did not get along at all. The district president was a military man with the Handbook in his eyes. The branch president was a simple workman, forbearing and reassuring. He had a peculiar realistic faith. He told us quietly he had decided not go to the temple and be sealed to his wife because he did not want to spend eternity with her, but he was willing to put up with her for mortality, which he considered an already reasonable sacrifice. His wife would then punch him and grin: “Just wait and see!” In church he would chew some mint, to counter the tobacco smell. But he cared for his little flock in his own paternal way. We loved him dearly. And he effectively stopped the district president from holding church courts after sacrament meeting. Because taking the sacrament with the left hand, quarreling in public, or speaking evil of the district president were causes for on the spot church discipline. The branch president would tell him to get lost.

The refiner’s fire burned with a broken thermostat. The heat was up all the way. Our branch counted some twenty (semi)active members – mostly elderly sisters with colorful personalities. But so many converts had come and gone, so many came and went. Yearly the membership records had been expanding and continued to expand, to a couple of hundred names, but for years our average attendance remained around twenty. There were plenty of reasons to give up – family pressure, social pressure, burnout, and all manner of troubles with bizarre and volatile converts baptized by eager missionaries.

But, oh, the excitement for those who kept the faith. We feasted on Church history and pure plain doctrine. The First Vision, the visit of Moroni, the translation of the Book of Mormon, the return of John the Baptist, of Peter, James and John; the martyrdom of the prophet, the exodus from Nauvoo, the founding of that paradise in Deseret – each of those breathtaking episodes filled us with awe, again and again. Glad tidings of great joy! Religion was now so crystal-clear for those who had wandered in the darkness of the Great Apostasy: we knew the dispensations of time, the restoration, the plan of salvation, the ordinances, the work for the dead, the degrees of glory. Everything fell into place. Everything related to the Church was perfect for me. Arnold Friberg’s prints now decorated my bedroom, much to the dismay of my dad, a professional art historian, who now was sure he had lost his son for good, religiously and culturally.

Other electrifying doctrines were talked about, without restriction, as if no end would come to the unfolding of truth: “As man is, God once was…”, eternal progression, mother in heaven, the King Follet discourse… We got the first edition of Bruce R. McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine. Wow, look at this entry: Catholic Church – See Church of the Devil. We knew that equation already, but it was heartwarming to see it in print, also considering the persecution from the Belgian Catholic establishment we were under (an establishment quite different from the Catholic Church in the U.S.). Little did we know that Mormon Doctrine’s first edition had been disapproved by the Brethern. We knew where we stood and who the enemy was. We were not just another denomination, Christian or not, we were the Only True Church. And the rest were abominations in the eyes of the Lord — though thanks to us all their members could be saved.

Our enthusiasm made us always sing very loudly. Perhaps also to encourage the little, crumbling harmonium with two squeaking pedals to pump the air and the left pedal faltering regularly. One Sunday we had high visitors from Utah: two sisters of the Primary General Presidency, passing through with the mission president. I overheard the one say to the other, with a disturbed look on her face: “They sing so noisily”. True, we were singing even more loudly than usual, to demonstrate to our visitors our unflagging commitment to the Church. Under the vigorous foot of sister Janssens even the left pedal of the harmonium squeaked better than ever.

A highlight of that period was a visit by a member of the Twelve – Elder Mark E. Petersen, who gave a stirring talk about the Great Apostasy, with a sparkling depiction of the atrocities by the popes in Rome. My mother, a committed Catholic whom I had finally convinced to come to a Mormon event, was so upset that for months I was forbidden to set foot again in that cult. I cried my heart out so much I missed my branch.

On Sundays, we’d be in church from at least 9 AM till at least 7 PM. Relief Society, Priesthood and Sunday School took from 9 till 12, Sacrament meeting was at 5 PM, but since distances to our homes were too great, quite a few would stay in the little rowhouse on Sunday afternoon, picnicking in the basement, singing hymns and telling faith promoting rumors. Ten hours in church — and never be bored. There was so much to be excited about, the unity of this handful of saints in the middle of Babylon, the talks, testimonies and tears — and the occasional clash between the branch and the district president.

And we would dream about growth: certainly, once the time would come that we would have a stake, and hundreds of priesthood holders, and mature leaders, and we would be a ward with a real church building. I remember how I gave moving talks picturing that future. To endure, we had to cling to that vision.

All that happened between 35 and 40 years ago. It was all indiscriminately natural and elating, normal and supernatural. But I don’t think I was a simpleton. During these very years I also obtained my B.A., studying philosophy, history and literature at the Antwerp Jesuit University, then obtained my M.A. at the University of Ghent with a thesis on the first medieval Bible translation in French, and then went on to study post-graduate theology at the Catholic University of Louvain, specializing in early medieval Patrology, which was like a map to understand the Great Apostasy. Those studies helped me grasp even better the stirring audacity of Mormonism, its no-nonsense cosmic vision, its dynamic ability to circumscribe everything into one logic whole, its unique capacity to be both exclusive as Only Truth and inclusive to all mankind, even the dead.

Now, looking back, I think I have been immensely privileged to experience what must have been the Primitive Church during the lifetime of either Paul or Joseph Smith, in a little branch on the outskirts of the Kingdom. A mixture of uncontaminated faith and crude leadership, of delight and turmoil, of persevering against all odds. We had this keen sense of coming out of the darkness to the perfect light, of continuous doctrinal unfolding, of uniqueness. The Primitive Church as found in Acts or D&C, with its fervor and its fights, its faithful and its defectors. The Primitive Church with its daring doctrinal deepening, punctuated by exclamations, like in Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews or in Joseph Smith’s discourses.

And over the years I have come to love and respect that district president who, even as little understood and little sustained as he was, kept the faith for half a century in that very same branch until his death a year ago. The branch president died twelve years ago, after some 40 years of faithful attendance and service. He never made it to the temple. His wife is still alive, now 94. I am confident his understanding of eternal marriage has matured up there and that he is now eagerly waiting for her to come. Members who for decades have simply remained active in such branches, without ever doing the heroic things that make Ensign-stories, are the real heroes of our faith. The Lord must have a special welcome for them.

Today I sit in my Provo ward. Three hundred people in Sacrament meeting. Rotating schedules with two other wards in the building. The bishopric on the stand, kindly smiling. Even with so many people, the singing is gentle. The routine of releases and callings. Plenty of willing and able hands to serve. In priesthood I’m surrounded by some seventy wise, loving high priests. Friendships abound. This is the Church of which I dreamt 40 years ago: large, mature, organized. I truly love my ward.

But should it surprise anyone that my memories of the Primitive Church make my heart glow and my eyes moist?

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30 Responses to Primitive Church

  1. Times and Seasons » A tribute to simple saints on November 29, 2004 at 5:08 pm

    [...] as true messengers of the Lord. Miss Pooters became Sister Pooters, a gutsy member of the tiny Antwerp branch. Gutsy? I should clarify she was a stubborn saint. For Sister Pooters had [...]

  2. Times and Seasons » Opposed, if any? on January 5, 2005 at 1:00 pm

    [...] called him as branch president of a small Flemish unit – a unit in the tradition of our Primitive Church –, but we could not keep him long in that position. On Sunday morning, at 9 [...]

  3. danithew on October 21, 2004 at 2:09 pm

    That post was wonderful. Thank you thank you thank you. It reminded me of special feelings I’ve had growing up in the Church (though the ward was certainly bigger) as well as positive spiritual feelings I had in smaller branches I visited.

  4. Randy on October 21, 2004 at 3:14 pm

    Beautiful post, Wilfried. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Geoff B on October 21, 2004 at 3:38 pm

    Wilfried, I had an experience similar to yours when I became active in the Church in Brazil just five years ago. Our bishop lived in a small hut on the hillsides of Rio (they are called favelas, a pretty name for slums). We had four active M Priesthood holders on any given Sunday. We could never have PTC meetings because nobody could ever come. Somebody always forgot to bring the bread for the sacrament. We would baptize dozens of people, and if we were lucky two or three would remain active. But the Spirit was always strong, confirming the Truth of our seemingly feeble efforts. I felt just as you did: this was probably what it was like for Paul almost 2000 years ago. Now, my ward in Miami, filled with many, many problems, seems like a well-oiled machine in comparison. But I am convinced that the struggle is part of the process of advancement.

  6. Davis Bell on October 21, 2004 at 3:39 pm

    Beautiful.

  7. cooper on October 21, 2004 at 3:53 pm

    Would that we could all have such experiences. It would make our gratitude for what is ours by geography that much more sweet.

  8. Kevin Barney on October 21, 2004 at 4:51 pm

    Great post. It reminded me of my own boyhood growing up in a branch in DeKalb, Illinois (I live about an hour further east today). We were less primitive; we had a building (an old congregational church, made of stone with beautiful stained glass windows) and a few more members. But it was indeed very much like a family. It’s too bad everyone can’t experience the church in such a setting.

  9. Justin H. on October 21, 2004 at 5:47 pm

    Some of the most intense and enduring lessons I’ve learned about the Gospel came in the small branch in Luxembourg where I was ordained a deacon. Thanks, Brother Decoo, for reminding me of that.

  10. J. Stapley on October 21, 2004 at 6:02 pm

    I admit that I look back on the changes within the Church over my lifetime (okay I’m in my late twenties, but give me some rope here) with a hint of nostalgia. I can barely remember the change from Wards being responsible for their budgets to the Tithing only system now. I am moved by the stories the old-timers tell of raising money for the Building Fund or Temple Fund and being asked to sacrifice more than they reasonably could for such. I remember when my older brother served in Japan and my parents had to come up with more than $800 a month (which at the time was probably double their mortgage). I remember affluent and struggling saints alike volunteering at the ward pig farm and chicken slaughter. It seems as if there was a community (the Ward Family that is often spoken of maybe) of love and maybe even hints of Zion.

    I’ve since seen flashes of those communities arise: when my parents got a branch and met in a community center without heat one winter. Within a couple of years, they met in a brand new Stake center a mile away from the dilapidated center. It wasn’t just the venue or size of the meetings that changed.

    Given the choice, I would choose the Church as it is now, with my contributions limited to a generous offering and full tithe. I would choose the gigantic youth programs and the High Priest group the size of a high school football team. I, like everybody else, will stay here for several years then move on. Like everyone else, I frequently travel on business and am hard to get a hold of except by cell phone. But, I wonder if anyone else feels like they too are missing something a little more primitive.

  11. Jim F. on October 21, 2004 at 6:08 pm

    As it did for many others, Wilfried’s experience reminded me of my own. I “grew up” in the Church in Korea when there was only one brand new mission, with few missionaries and no more than five or six branches of the Church, not including the servicemens groups. The servicemens group of which I was apart consisted of my family, another American LDS family (who, thank goodness, actually new something about the Church–we were new converts, of two months), and three or four American GIs. But the experience was a formative one, a time of intensely spiritual experiences and feelings. It prepared me for life in the Church in a way that I don’t think I could have had another way, though it also meant that I was in for a huge shock when I came to BYU. Though I felt good about being at BYU and was happy, finally, to see so many other Mormons, I was also very conscious of the fact that I didn’t really fit in. Half of the time I had no idea what the other people in the dorm were talking about, and often, when I did understand, I couldn’t relate to what they were talking about. The experience in that small group of Saints laid a foundation that has helped me stand through various trials of my faith, including that one.

  12. Jim F. on October 21, 2004 at 6:10 pm

    “knew,” not “new”–I knew that.

  13. Randy on October 21, 2004 at 6:16 pm

    I have a question that I’d be interested in hearing everyone’s thoughts on. It has been my experience — like many of you — that small branches and wards, particularly disfunctional ones, have a special feel that simply is not replicated in larger, more traditional wards. I grew up in SLC, but I didn’t gain a true testimony of the gospel until I spent a couple of years in a small branch during law school.

    I now live in a downtown ward in Atlanta. My wife and I have three young kids. Our ward has all kinds of problems, like any inner city ward (nothing approaching Wilfried’s branch). In the past couple of months, we have begun to seriously considering moving, partially as a result of these problems, so that our kids could live in a “normal” ward.

    But perhaps this is just silly. Sure, there are disadvantages that come with disfunctional wards, but maybe the upside is greater than the downside. Maybe this type of environment would make my kids stronger, not weaker. Perhaps I am being an overprotective worry wart.

    Thoughts anyone?

  14. Bryce I on October 21, 2004 at 7:39 pm

    Wifried–

    Thank you for that post. I think that one of the great challenges the Church faces in the US right now is that of prosperity. We’ve arrived, so to speak. We don’t need to fight to survive as a church in many places. I hope that we are up to the task of dealing with this blessing.

    Randy–

    I grew up in the Westchester Ward in New York, a “traditional,” high-functioning ward that had a very strong sense of community. Westchester 1st has many members that have since moved to Utah who hold reunions occasionally. I heard reports the last one drew over a hundred people (I may be wrong on that number, but at any rate, it was a lot). As far as I know, all of the kids that I grew up with who were active at the time are still active in the church. My wife and I often wonder how this came to be, in hopes of creating/finding a similar environment for our own children.

    I don’t think that ward had exactly the same kind of special feel that you refer to in your comment, but it definitely had a special something.

  15. Clark Goble on October 21, 2004 at 8:57 pm

    Randy I grew up in a small branch in Nova Scotia where even as a little kid I knew more about the gospel than the vast majority of the members. Heavens, they use to make the “strong” new converts my primary teachers before shipping them off to the bishopric. I think if anything, it made me stronger. It made me really think about the gospel and decide what I knew. Further the whole context of people joining and leaving forces you to take it more seriously than the wasatch front where one can easily be a lukewarm social member. In fact my biggest worry with my new son is raising him here in Provo. Back in college I always swore I’d never raise a child in the wasatch front. It simply is too polarized here in various ways. In the mission field you’re confronted everyday with living by your testimony that you simply don’t get here.

    Yeah it is tiring in that if you are a solid member you are always having leadership put on you – even when you aren’t the leader. And to be honest I think the lack of members to date stunted me socially a little growing up. There are pros and cons. Still, I think I’d rather be in one of those wards than most of the wards I’ve been in here. People just take it too much for granted here. (Myself included, unfortunately at times)

  16. Steve T. on October 21, 2004 at 9:45 pm

    Thanks so much for that great post. Like many others, I too was reminded of my experiences in a small branch. For me, it was the two years I spent in a tiny branch in Newbury, England as a teenaged son of an officer in the U.S. Air Force. We met in a very old (even by English standards) school with about 25 members (including those assigned by the stake to come down each week to “pump up” our attendance records). Our branch was full of quirky characters and many, many memorable moments–none of which would make it into the Ensign for various reasons. Those experiences have proven invaluable to me and I can honestly say that I miss them. Thanks for allowing me to revisit my youth!

  17. Tom Manney on October 22, 2004 at 4:45 am

    Like Steve, I have fond memories of a small English congregation, Banbury 1st Ward — there was no 2nd ward, and it hardly qualified as a “ward,” rarely having more than 50 members on any Sunday — where I spent three years as the child (age 9-12) of a U.S. Air Force officer. The ward shrank by half while we were there. Sometimes the whole primary was four kids from two families. The ward boundaries had to be redrawn to loop around one house, far away, where a member of the stake presidency lived — all so that he could be released from his stake calling and be our bishop. My line of authority runs through him. Not long after we left, the Relief Society President and mother of a charming Welsh family of recent converts ran off with the stoic husband of an older couple in the ward.

    The ward was often rife with tension as it was half American families and half recent British converts (few of them whole families). The two groups often didn’t get along. The Americans, most of them lifetime members from the Wasatch front, overpowered the Brits with their dynamism, staid notions of the way things ought to be done, and tendency to get all the important callings. There were times when many of the British members, mad over some sleight, wouldn’t talk to the Americans or would loudly criticize them within the Americans’ hearing.

    Although — and perhaps this would have been fun to share in Wilfried’s international thread — on national holidays of either country we would sing each other’s national anthems in the same sacrament meeting, and that was a beautiful experience I’ll never forget.

    Despite all the troubles, I never felt more like I belonged in Church than there, and I think my parents felt the same way. My father, never a particularly spiritual man (to this day I’m amazed he ever joined the Church), even served in the bishopric as 2nd couselor and did all right at it.

    Like every other active adult in the ward, my parents had two or three callings a piece. My mom, for example, was simultaneously a Primary presidency counselor (and often the only person in the whole Primary organization who showed up on Sundays), Seminary teacher (it was a once-a-week affair on a weekday evening), and Activities Director. We were there nearly every night of the week — a 40-minute drive, each way. I gave more than one talk in Sacrament Meeting, even while I was still in Primary, that I wrote myself. I got to bear my testimony often. Everyone did. Because home was a long drive away, we stayed after church while my dad attended meetings and conducted interviews. I remember once having the sacrament meeting room to myself and acting out a one-man play of the War in Heaven, without realizing that the microphone was on and everyone waiting in the little foyer could hear me.

    On gray Saturdays, we would often drive up to the chapel and sit in the bishop’s office while my dad did paperwork (he was also the clerk and secretary) and my mom read books to my brother and me. I remember some great books were read.

    For a year, we met in an odd-smelling middle school while our little chapel was modestly remodeled and expanded. I’ll never forget how atrocious the acoustics were in the auditorium where we met. No one could hear anything.

    And you know, I don’t think I’ve ever stopped to consider how much I owe to that bizarre little “ward.” Even as a child, I experienced a lot of spiritual growth there that sustained me in the large, aloof, sterile ward we lived in for years afterward, right up until I went to college. Thank you for this topic, Wilfried.

    Randy, based on my own little introspection tonight, in addition to my own philosophy in general, I would recommend that you stay right where you are. I remember a story, I can’t remember where I heard it, about a couple with small children that, when they left college, moved to downtown Seattle specifically with the intent of volunteering their time, talents and energy to an inner-city ward with all its warts. That ward needs you, and I’d be willing to bet that, in the end, your children will be more likely to grow there than in some cookie-cutter suburban ward. Undoubtedly, you might be more comfortable in a “normal” ward, but I don’t Heavenly Father wants us to be comfortable in this life. He wants us to roll up our sleeves, work hard, and love strange people — they are also his children.

  18. Geoff B on October 22, 2004 at 5:21 am

    Randy, it’s impossible for me to know your individual situation, but it is true that the Lord often deliberately puts strong families in dysfunctional wards precisely because they are needed there at that moment to help boost the ward. You may want to consider that possibility.

  19. Quinn McCoy Hansen on October 22, 2004 at 5:23 am

    What he has described is what i live right now. Currently, we live 1 hour away from our branch, a branch of roughly 15 people, 2 of the 15 being elders, the other 2 my wife and i. The people there sometimes arent really sure what they are doing, but all know that they are doing the right thing. There are only 2 priesthood holders, the branch pres. and me. The branch pres. works as a prison guard and therefore, he is gone just about every other sunday. It is rough sailing being here in the “mission field”, where the elders and sisters are happy just to teach anything, even if it is how to tie a shoe.
    I sometimes wonder, what are these people doing? If i hadnt been brought up in a huge ward in houston, texas, would i be strong enough? Who knows, but i do know, that every where in the world there are small groups of saints just starving for the gospel.
    Um abraço de Portugal

  20. LoneWriter on October 22, 2004 at 9:32 am

    I can also relate to Wilfried’s story. My family joined the church in 1958, when I was a small child. Our branch met in an old funeral home, with the attic carved into classrooms. If you sat in the back row of some of the rooms, you couldn’t sit straight up since the roof sloped so low into the room.

    One extended family dominated the branch — they were always in the leadership, with the various fathers and uncles of the other girls my age serving as the branch president, elder’s quorum, and even stake president. I was always looked down on by my peers, because I wasnt’ a “fourth generation Mormon.” Later on, the branch became a ward. When the church introduced Family Home Evening, the family-in-charge declared that it should be held on Wednesdays, since Monday was wrestling night at the local high school.

    Did anything good come out of this small, cliche-ish branch? Well, the geographical area that the branch covered (several hundred square miles) now contains at least 8 wards and 2 stakes. A 10-year-old that my mother taught in Sunday School is serving in the First Quorum of Seventy. And, despite what the other girls thought of me, I am still strong in the church. You don’t have to be a fourth or fifth generation Mormon to live the gospel!

  21. Sean Harrison on October 22, 2004 at 12:34 pm

    Wilfried,

    Extraordinary. I wept as I read your experiences.

    Twenty seven years ago as a nineteen year old missionary in Chile we were working in the small town of Santa Cruz. When my companion and I arrived there were 3 members, all from one family. We rented a small house and went to work. In a month or two we had increased the membership to around twenty.

    We stumbled upon a rather prominant member of the community and began to teach him, his wife and two daughters. They came to church and were rather unimpressed with the facility and the attendance, nonetheless they couldn’t deny the spirit they felt there. We continued to shepard them carefully down the path toward baptism.

    We had a discussion set for one Monday evening. When we arrived at the house Sister Romero excitedly ushered us into the living room. She had gone to Santiago (some ninety miles to the north) for some errands that day and had gone to the library to look up something on the Church. She proudly showed us a large coffeee table book about the Church (fortunately published by the Church.

    There on the inside cover was a wide angle photograph circa 1950 of the Tabernacle taken during conference. It showed the whole building filled to overflowing with saints. She breathlessly asked me if I were aware that there could be so many saints assembled in one place for one meeting.

    From my very shallow nineteen year old perspective it seemed like a crazy question (I grew up in Salt Lake). I assured Sister Romero that there were millions of members of the church around the world.

    The Romeros were baptized and continue faithful today.

    It is interesting but not surprising that the Church can flourish in the lives of the Members without all of the accoutrments of chapels, wards, stakes, hundreds or thousands of members, youth conferences, primary programs, even without the temple. But it cannot exist even one day without the Holy Ghost and the burning testimony of the Atonement.

  22. Bryce I on October 22, 2004 at 4:53 pm

    Wifried wrote about a special time in his “Primitive Church”

    A highlight of that period was a visit by a member of the Twelve – Elder Mark E. Petersen, who gave a stirring talk about the Great Apostasy, with a sparkling depiction of the atrocities by the popes in Rome. My mother, a committed Catholic whom I had finally convinced to come to a Mormon event, was so upset that for months I was forbidden to set foot again in that cult. I cried my heart out so much I missed my branch.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this bloggernacle thing. It’s not quite the same thing, but I see some parallels between the bloggernacle and the type of church organization that Wilfried describes. What the above quote got me thinking about was this: can you imagine 12 questions with one of the 12? Or a blog by a GA? Would that validate our activites here somehow? Or would it stifle discussion?

    Does anyone else think of the bloggernacle when they read Wilfried’s post?

  23. Anne Wunderli on October 24, 2004 at 6:43 pm

    This is a beautiful post and one that resonated with me. I’m 47 so not completely ancient, but I do look back on my childhood growing up in Naperville, Illinois with a lot of nostalgia — and for some of the same reasons mentioned in this post.

    Our ward met in an elementary school in a neighborhing town. Sacrament Meeting took place in the gym, with folding chairs and an erratic PA system. I remember my many younger brothers and sisters squirmming on and around the chairs as my parents vainly tried to keep us in order. It was hard to feel reverent in that environment. We had primary class in the school classrooms (where we couldn’t help but review the contents of the students’ desks).

    Relief Society was held in our small, split level ranch home. My mom was Relief Society president and we held the meeting in our basement. My dad painted the concrete floor with gray paint and the laundry room served as the nursery. The meeting was held on Thursday morning (if my aging memory can be trusted) and the kids in our family cleaned the floor and set up chairs the night before. We had an old piano in the basement as well for hymn singing.

    One of my favorite memories of that time is one of the fundraising projects for Relief Society. This was during the time when the sisters managed — and generated — their own budgets. They were making large, nougat-filled chocolate Easter eggs and then selling them. We had all of these hunks of wrapped chocolate stored in my brother’s bedroom (the coldest room in the house). I remember gnawing on bars of chocolate pilfered from that room. (The place smelled like chocolate for months afterward.)

    I also remember going to stake Relief Society bazaars where all manner of what I’m sure to my modern eyes would look like a bunch of horrible stuff was on display for sale (crocheted toilet paper holders and woven hot pads included).

    During that time we were also raising money for the construction of a new stake center. One of our family’s assignments was to sand the pews before they were stained. I was back in that building last summer for the first time in 30 years and it was still in great shape.

    The church is a wonderful place, but I do miss the times when we struggled more to pull it all off.

  24. Aaron Kooienga on July 2, 2005 at 5:58 pm

    Nice post that is true the people who keep the faith deserve the most respect.

  25. Ann on August 11, 2005 at 8:34 am

    Wilfried – Thank you so much for this post – I’ve read it alternating between laughter and tears. It describes so exactly the situation of the small branch I was baptised into in England in 1961. I was 14 years old, the only member of my family to join and I just felt I had become a member of a crazy but loving family. I remember well the excitement of learning new doctrines, the excitement of receiving callings – within a month I had about 4 callings – Primary teacher (Tuesday night), MIA counsellor (Thursday night), Sunday School Secretary (Sunday) – all for this 14 year old kid from the wrong end of town. In addition, because there were only about 20 members I had at least one talk to prepare and give every week, in addition to the lesson. Those were the days of 1 and half hour Sacrament meetings to fill, two x 2 and a half minute talks in Sunday School, 2 talks to be given in MIA opening exercises. I dread to think back now what the standard of my talks where and whether I ‘magnified’ my callings to any extent! However I did it to the best of my ability, and I’m still here many years later. The powers that be delayed calling me to be a Visiting Teacher until I was 15 (quite unofficially I know) – so I now rack up 43 years service as a VT. We met in a very old building, came early to use big brooms with towels over the ends, to wipe down all the walls running with condensation. We did all our own cleaning of the building, etc.

    The week after I was baptised we broke ground for our new chapel, so for the next year and a half I spent every spare hour on the building site along with the Ward members, helping? to build our chapel. We seemed to do a lot of stacking of bricks from one area to another and a lot of sweeping up! Those were the days before the Health and Safety Executive rules in England! I can still go back and show the brick in the wall the bricklayers allowed me to lay. At the same time I can go back to the Stake Center which they built around the same time, some 40 miles away, and show you the part of the woodent strip flooring I laid as a 16 year old. Even after building we worked hard to pay our debt off. During this time the Branch became a Ward and our Bishop was a model of dedication. He and his wife and young family took in the ‘building missionaries’ and looked after them for 18 months. They were supposed to have money from the budget to help pay for their keep. But as it was such a small unit, we never had any money in the budget. So they just absorbed the extra cost. As well as being the Bishop he worked as the Janitor in the new Building as well as his full-time job as Electrician. It was a paid appointment but he just put the hours in, and then used the earnings from the janitor’ job help pay off the building debt. What dedication. What example. I know the Lord has a place in heaven for such as he. Elder Mark E Peterson also came to visit us and said he was the hardest working Bishop he had ever known – I’m glad he got the recognition, though I know he didn’t do it for that.

    I particularly enjoyed the reference to the ‘loud singing’. I love to sing and unfortunately have a on the loud side voice. I like to think I sing with gusto and sing in tune. It’s been the bane of my children’s lives, and I have tried very hard to tone it down over the years, but I just love to sing the wonderful hymns of the restoration. When I visited a chapel in the USA a couple of years ago, packed with hundreds in the congregation, I figured I wouldn’t be heard joined in the singing lustily as always – I soon realised it sounded like a lead singer with a backing group, so quickly piped down. I couldn’t believe so many Saints could make so little noise – what’s wrong with you guys? (only joking)!

    Thanks again Wilfried for bringing the sweet memories back for me.

  26. Wilfried on August 11, 2005 at 12:11 pm

    Thank you, Ann, for sharing those memories. Sometimes we, aging converts, need to be reminded of those early days that forged the basis of our testimonies. We are as much part of the pioneer experiences as those who crossed the plains and there is reason to be proud of them. Just as today, in Russia, Mongolia, Kenya, Senegal… thousands of new converts go through similar experiences that challenge their dedication while building up memories for decades ahead.

  27. carine on August 12, 2005 at 5:05 am

    Ann, thank you for your comment. I recognize so much of your story. I was 14 years old as well when I gained a testimony of the Restored Gospel. That was in 1973. My parents were not happy with my desire to join the church and they made me wait until I turned 18. Nevertheless I was very active during those four “dry” years in my tiny, struggling local branch. I helped clean the little row house which was our chapel, kept the yard clean, ironed curtains, helped cook meals for members and missionaries in an old, not very practical kitchen, gave many talks in Sunday School. I even became the only counselor of the Y.W president. She was 18, I was 16. At the same time I had 4 to 5 callings.

    Now 31 years later we have a beautiful Mormon chapel. But when driving home I often make a detour just to drive to that little row house and park there for a few minutes and let the memories and emotions flow. That struggling branch molded me for life for which I am grateful every day.

    Ann, people like you are my true heroes. Thank you!

  28. Ann on August 12, 2005 at 6:06 am

    Thank you Wilfried and Carine for your kind comments. I think we could all write a book with our experiences – as could many others who are and were in similar situations. I’m the type of person who never thinks they do enough to repay the Lord (even though I know I could never repay Him). Sometimes it’s good to look back and see all that was accomplished, rather than continually worry about all that I feel I leave undone. God bless you both.

  29. elizabeth on February 19, 2006 at 3:12 pm

    Broeder Decoo
    Ik ben een Nederlander die vaak in Antwerpen op visite is geweest in het begin van de jaren tachtig en heb Antwerpen altijd een bijzondere gemeente gevonden.

    Groetjes Elizabeth Blom

  30. Wilfried on February 19, 2006 at 4:05 pm

    Veel dank, Elizabeth!

    For our non-Dutch readers, this kind message from Elizabeth (29) mentions that she has often visited the Antwerp branch in the 1980s and found it to be a special branch. It is indeed the branch were I grew up as a young convert and where my “Primitive church” was located in the 1960s.

    From my side I can confirm that the Blom-family is famous in the Netherlands mission field: one of those staunch pioneer families, extending to several generations, that has been intensely involved in the work of the Kingdom to provide blessings to many.