Administrative acts don’t always get the same attention that ordinances and more dramatic events. And in comparison to the First Vision, the Martyrdom and a number of other events, the organization of the Church doesn’t get as much attention. This is also true in poetry. But even so, there are poems that mention the organization of the Church.
This week’s Come Follow Me lesson discusses sections 20 and 21, both of which refer directly to the organization of the Church. And the third section covered in the lesson, section 22, makes plain the need for baptism by proper authority, something directly connected to the Church’s organization.
Whitney’s Two Pictures
While the Church’s organization hasn’t received as much attention as the First Vision, poet Orson F. Whitney saw an important connection between them. Whitney was not the first of our poets to eventually become Apostles, but he may be the best, and perhaps even the most ambitious poetically (although Parley P. Pratt can also make these claims). Here’s Whitney’s take on these two early events in Church history:
by Orson F. Whitney (1886)
- The foremost is a scene where forests grow,
- Where flowers bloom and springtime breezes blow,
- Where sweet-toned birds send up their matin lay
- And revel in the golden beams of day.
- Deep in the bosom of a woodland shade,
- Where solitude her secret home hath made,
- A rustic lad, his sunburned temples bare,
- Pours forth a guileless soul to God in prayer.
- A sudden cloud of midnight depth profound,
- Now hurls him breathless to the trembling ground,
- Speechless he’s stricken, but with voice of will
- Calls on his God and supplicates Him still.
- His prayer is heard. Lo! shining o’er his head,
- A dazzling light-where hath the darkness fled?
- A pillar brighter than the noonday sun,
- When on the purest sky his race is run,
- Falls gently as the earth-reviving dew,
- And opens to his gaze a heavenly view.
- Two Beings of a glory to defy
- the power of words, descend the glowing sky.
- Is it a voice, or music low and clear?
- Whose hallowed sweetness charms the listener’s ear,
- Like murmuring waters from a mossy rim:
- “Joseph! ‘Tis my beloved Son. Hear Him!”
- The scene has changed. Within a rustic cot-
- And honest farmer’s home, of humble lot-
- The boy that was, in pride of strength appears
- Erect ‘neath manhood’s crown of ripening years.
- Nor now as when, in trusting childhood’s care,
- Alone he sought and found the God of prayer;
- Nor when, as singly, stemmed the tide of hate
- Which spurned the truth he dared to innovate.
- Friends are his followers, tho’ numbering few,
- Disciples dauntless of a doctrine new,
- Here to fulfill the heaven-appointed word
- Of one who bore the burden of the Lord,
- When learned proud Babel’s king, in wondering maze,
- What God had destined in the latter days.
- The hour is nigh when monarchs’ necks shall bow,
- The Stone yet lingers on the mountain’s brow,
- But soon with force resistless shall it fall
- And onward roll triumphant over all.
- ‘Tis done; the deed creation’s morn devised-
- The Church of Jesus Christ is organized!
That Thy Days May be Long by Ouida Johns Pedersen
Much of the text of section 20 concerns the responsibilities of the offices of the Priesthood, especially in the basic ordinances of the gospel. The impact of faithful priesthood service on the family is nicely demonstrated in the following poem by Ouida Johns Pedersen. Born in England in 1917, just a few years after her parents joined the Church, Ouida Johns immigrated with her family at 6 years of age, first to Canada and then to Utah1. She graduated from the University of Utah with a B.A. in English, and participated in many writing groups through her life, including the Salt Lake Chapter of League of Utah Writers, the Art Barn Poets, and the Nat’l League of American Pen Women. She married Ellis Pedersen in 1945, and raised 7 children. In 1983 a volume of her poetry was published by the Royal College of Art.
That Thy Days May Be Long
by Ouida Johns Pedersen (1961)
- I think of father voicing family prayer
- From childhood days, when, chin upon the chair,
- I knelt. Petitioning in time, for us, became
- Jacob’s ladders reaching to God’s name,
- Testaments of light. Bibles of spark,
- To kindle our own fires against the dark.
- How humbly he used the Priesthood’s power;
- When we were ill, he gently brought to flower
- Our budding faith, to us made clear
- Each sacred ordinance; made us revere
- Doctrines of worship, covenants of truth.
- The iron rod to guide us in our youth.
- When settling his tithes, he often said,
- “The body needs to buy the spirit bread.
- The Lord has given us a chance to give
- In gratitude.” Oh, may I ever live
- That scriptures of service, records of joy, my song.
- Shall honor him. May both our days be long!
Zion’s Railroad: Getting on the Right Train
In the 1840s, the railroad was relatively new, so using it as a metaphor was probably seen as at least topical, if not creative. Lucius N. Scovil’s poem Zion’s Railroad also implies something of the issue that section 22 addresses: just like its necessary to get on the correct train to reach your destination, so also must baptism be in the correct Church. Scovil joined the Church in 1836, and a decade later was called to serve a mission in England. No sooner did he return than he was called again, to serve in the Southern States mission, from which he returned just before this poem was written. He likely first rode a train traveling to or from one of these missions. He isn’t known for his poetry, and as far as I can tell he only wrote one other poem.
by Lucius N. Scovil (1849)
- The line to Zion by Christ was made,
- With heavenly truths, the rails are laid,
- From here to Zion the line extends,
- To life eternal where it ends
- Faith and repentance are the station,
- And baptism, door of admission,
- No fee for them is there to pay,
- For Jesus he has marked the way.
- The Holy Ghost is the true ticket,
- And it is given to all who seek it,
- By hands laid on, as anciently,
- And brings all things as formerly.
- The law of God is engineer,
- It points the way to Zion clear,
- Through tunnels dark, and dreary here,
- It does the way to Zion steer.
- God’s love the fire, His truth the steam,
- Which drives the engine and the train;
- All you who would to Zion ride,
- Must come to Christ, in him abide.
- If in first class you wish to ride,
- A law celestial you must abide:
- And if not valiant in the cause,
- You must abide terrestrial laws.
- And if you do the whole reject,
- Telestial laws you may expect;
- Where thieves and liars are found,
- And whosoever loves the sound.
- Come on all people, now’s the time,
- At any station on the line,
- If you do wish to turn from sin,
- The train will stop and take you in,
- And you must call at the wicket,
- And be sure you have a ticket,
- If not the porter will detect,
- And from the car will you eject.
(H.T. Ardis Parshall in Keepapitchinin.)