Chorley Stake Indexing Marathon 2012

  David M W Pickup

  • 30 November 2012

Yes, every name mattered, as it represented a real person who lived and died without the gospel, and who would be brought a step closer to temple ordinances, but what was more significant was that we were doing this together as a stake, as wards, as families, with one heart and one mind. There was a strong spirit of fellowship amongst us. For us, this was a truly Zion experience.

Editor's note:  I looked at making this story shorter but I felt that it was worth reading in full.  I trust you will feel the same Spirit that I did as I read it for the first time.

Members of the Chorley England Stake were first introduced to FamilySearch indexing in 2010, when the Europe Area Advisors for Family History, Malcolm and Linda Beverley, set an objective for the stakes of the Preston Temple District, covering approximately half of the United Kingdom, to index 1 million names in 2010. In comparison with indexing figures from past years, it seemed like mission impossible, but by 12 November 2010 that goal was accomplished. Chorley England Stake contributed 147000 to that total, with some 100 members participating.

At the 2011 ward conferences, held at the beginning of the year, Chorley England Stake set a theme that 2011 would be their year of personal righteousness. Members were challenged to put their lives in order and become temple-worthy. Stake President David MW Pickup outlined his desire for the stake to be known as a temple-going stake. His vision was of the temple being like a busy hive, with members buzzing in and out like bees bringing nectar to the temple, in the form of a few names of ancestors they had prepared, performing ordinances, and going back out to gather a few more. As he taught the doctrine of family history work, President Pickup explained that indexing names was an easy way to get involved in family history, one that would hasten the performance of temple ordinances for those who had died without a knowledge of the gospel. Indexing, he said, can be done by anyone, anytime and almost anywhere. This vital work has a refining influence on those engaged; it softens hearts and leads to greater interest in one’s own family history. Home and visiting teachers were asked to teach less-active members how to become involved in indexing.

At the conferences, President Pickup invited members to make and record commitments to improve, including a commitment to become involved in indexing during 2011. At special post-conference meetings between ward and stake council members, each bishop was invited to make a commitment as to how many names his ward would index during the year. The total commitment of the 6 wards in the stake came to approximately 1,000,000. Thus was born a stake objective to index a million names in 2011. Although the work began in earnest, by the summer enthusiasm was waning and when the indexing servers went down for a fortnight, many lost the habit of regular indexing. By November 2011, it seemed that with less than 700,000 names the stake would not reach its target. President Pickup rallied the members in December, encouraged more to register for indexing. The pace increased but by the last week of December it still looked tight. A stake-wide marathon was organised for New Year’s Eve, replacing a dance. At 3:18pm that day, the stake reached its goal of 1 million.

Many members continued to index in 2012, but with stake leaders emphasising other areas of focus, there was not the same impetus on indexing. By early October the stake had indexed only 358,000. But in reviewing reports, President Pickup had begun to realise the unanticipated effects indexing had had on the membership. Not only had there been a greater feeling of unity and fellowship as a result of pursuing a common goal, but all key areas of activity had increased. The focus on indexing had led members to become more involved in their own family history. More members were submitting names to the temple and attending to perform the necessary ordinances and more members than ever before held temple recommends. 

President Pickup decided that the stake needed more of these blessings. With the recollection of a report of a stake in California that had indexed one million names in one month, President Pickup decided that the Chorley Stake would attempt to at least equal that feat by indexing a quarter of a million names in 7 days. Announced to the membership on Sunday 28 October, the marathon began at midnight the following Sunday, to conclude at midnight on Saturday 4 November. “I thought a quarter of a million names was a worthwhile challenge; but I honestly didn’t know whether we would succeed or not.  After setting the challenge, I turned to my wife, who had been consistently indexing throughout the year until she broke her wrist in a fall, and said, ‘well, you and I can index 25,000 each.’ She replied with words to the effect that it was not feasible. But I determined I would do all I could to make it happen, and I knew she would too, so there would be at least two of us.”

President Pickup met with the high council and impressed on them the need for stake leaders to show the way. “I can’t ask the members to do something that I am not prepared to do myself and I feel strongly that priesthood leaders need to lead by example.” The high councillor rallied behind the cause. Between them, the high council and stake presidency indexed some 287,000.

“I knew that if we didn’t reach 50,000 on Sunday, there would be little chance of indexing a quarter of a million by the following Saturday,” said President Pickup. On Sunday, members in fact indexed 80,000, a number which was to rise each successive day. “I knew that when we broke the 250,000 barrier on Tuesday morning, that something special was happening,” explained President Pickup. “I was constantly amazed, overwhelmed and humbled by the magnificent response of the members.” The goal was rapidly increased to half a million names, but 113,000 names were indexed on Wednesday alone. When the half-million milestone was passed on Friday morning, a new objective was set of 750,000. ‘Three-quarters of a million names! At the outset I wasn’t even sure that we would make a quarter of a million. However, I am so proud of the members who rose to the new challenge.”

Unexpected corollaries came from the stake’s indexing marathon. “From the experiences that were being circulated between the high council as they led out in indexing, and amongst members by email and on social networks, I came to understand that the most important thing was not the final number of names we managed to index. Yes, every name mattered, as it represented a real person who lived and died without the gospel, and who would be brought a step closer to temple ordinances, but what was more significant was that we were doing this together as a stake, as wards, as families, with one heart and one mind. There was a strong spirit of fellowship amongst us. For us, this was a truly Zion experience.” The number President Pickup was really watching was how many indexers were contributing to the marathon. During the week some new 80 people, including some excited non-members, registered for indexing. Those contributing to completing the 1 million names in December 2011 had numbered 150, but ultimately 289 contributed during the 2012 marathon week. The stake now has an amazing 481 registered indexers, representing about 73% of active youth and adult members.

High councillor Richard McClure emailed stake leaders his indexing experience, “Today I was called home from work as my (baby) son Wilson had a sudden turn of health. He had to be taken to hospital by ambulance as his temperature had risen way over what a normal temperature should be. As Jade (his wife) was sat trying to comfort Wilson in the hospital we were talking about our indexing (as we have been all week), she mentioned that I should do some now - telling me that if I have any saved batches I could do them without working online. So, when not holding Wilson, I've been on it. I think, with my typing skills I've done about 350. Best news is - Jade is good, Wilson is doing better and the staff here think he'll be alright.”

High Councillor Neil Millington reported that his wife, “Zoe got a phone call from a family who were doing Indexing together at home on 3 laptops and were struggling; Zoe was the “help desk” and talked them through the process that they were struggling with.  She got a text later to say thank you and that the two children had indexed 240 names.  Quite good for the first time!  Every little helps. But on a personal note, I have had a great week, feeling the spirit and reading the e-mails that have gone back and forth from the high council, feeling that we are part of something very special.”

One sister who signed up to indexing and received a welcoming email from President Pickup replied, “Actually president it’s such fun....seeing a glimpse of someone’s life....where they live....how old they are...what they're doing....some can't write their own name and just leave a mark....some don't know their birthday......people from Russia and Austria.....illegal and legal immigrants.... It’s amazing ....all these people lived and breathed and worked and cried...loved and laughed and now they'll get baptised and progress ... This has strengthened my testimony and helped me feel useful when my days are spent relying on people for all my needs... My emotional struggle today was lessened due to the ability to serve in this way. Grateful doesn't cover it.”

On Friday evening, members of the stake presidency and high council gathered at the home of Jason Hunt, one of the high councillors to share their experiences and to index together. At the same time, bishops held indexing events in their homes for their youth. Right across the stake a wonderful work was in full swing. Brother Hunt emailed his brethren about that night’s get-together, “It was a wonderful experience for Marie and I to host this very special event. Thank you to all of you who came. To have this special moment happen in our home is humbling and it's one we will always remember. There were a few tears as President Pickup reviewed the week’s conversations and experiences. I will never forget Brother Leyland's offer to stand in for Brother Cook.  I am so proud of you. It's one of those where 'you had to be there' to understand what that offer really meant.”

“I know this is the start of a new relationship between each of us and the Lord we serve. I feel completely bonded to this band of brothers. I'll just be amazed to think I was part of it. I know we can do whatever we want to. I know we will face challenges but I now know more than ever before that we will face them together. We will not always be on the Chorley Stake High Council but I know we will always remember this time, and remembering is what we will have done much of this week. As we head for Armistice Day which this year is also Remembrance Sunday, remembering those that have passed through the veil seems all the more appropriate. Every name brings us closer together.”

By the end of Friday night, the stake had indexed 578000 names; but 750000 by midnight Saturday seemed unlikely. But a stake-wide marathon had been organised for the stake centre and the other three chapels of the stake for all-day on Saturday. Members flooded in to help from 7:30am, bringing laptops and computers to set up around the cultural hall. President Pickup put up a large whiteboard on which he updated the figures. By 7:00pm Saturday evening, when the last weary volunteer had gone home, the number indexed had reached 716908 for the week, and for the year well over the 1 million names indexed in 2011. But three-quarters of a million seemed a step too far; members had already indexed a record-breaking 136000 that day and there were less than 5 hours to go. However, at 9:00pm with 15000 short of the target, President Pickup put out a last rallying call to arms via email and social network sites: “It's not too late! Help us reach this fantastic objective tonight and be part of the most magnificent work. As the First Presidency said earlier this year, FamilySearch Indexing is vital to Temple and Family History work. Go Chorley Stake Go!”  Members responded, putting aside leisure and relaxation to make one final push. Touched by the call, even more registered for indexing and did what they could to help. One father messaged back that he and his 12-year-old son, who had already indexed more than 10,000 names were “still plugging away.” A sister posted, “doing as much as we can between me, Anna, Alisha and Jenny (her daughters).” A newly-married sister posted, “We’ll do it no probs. Me and Kevin working our hearts out at it. So good to be part of all this!” Some members later reported that they indexed through tears, moved by the spirit of the stake’s unified effort.

At 10:32pm President Pickup was able to post: “WE HAVE DONE IT! At 10:32pm this evening we reached a total for the week of 751350 names indexed. Fantastic! Wonderful work everyone. We have indexed an incredible 172000 today alone!! Can you believe it? Thank you so very, very much. Thank you all for pulling together as a stake, as wards, and as families to accomplish this most significant event in the history of our stake. I take my hat off to all of you, to everyone, from the five year old who told me today that she had indexed 50 names, to the young men and women of our stake who indexed thousands, to those who have introduced indexing, to the indexing champions who worked tirelessly today. To everyone who helped in any way, I thank you.”

As midnight arrived the final total for the 7 days was a massive 763749 names. Even after the marathon came to an end, members continued to index a further 30000 names through Monday.

Notified of the indexing results, Area Seventy, Elder Stephen C Kerr messaged stake members, “This is an amazing achievement. I add my congratulations to the Chorley England Stake. And thank you! Every single one of you.”

The following day, President Pickup had a message read out in sacrament meetings across the stake, to thank the members for their efforts in the stake indexing marathon. “There has been a great spirit of unity and fellowship as we have worked together during these past few days. The many experiences that have been recounted have been truly touching and uplifting. We have been unified with one mind and one heart in accomplishing a worthwhile objective. I am so very grateful for everyone who rallied to the call to help. No effort was too small or insignificant. Every single name counted. It has brought us together… The gospel helps ordinary people do extraordinary things and we have accomplished something extraordinary this week. As one of our high councillors paraphrased, ‘These were days never to be forgotten.’ Thank you. I have been deeply touched and in many cases moved to tears by the experience.”

Saturday, the last day of the marathon, members indexed 185000 names.

There were many special spiritual experiences during the 7 days of the marathon. “I have been close to tears most of the week, but one email I received on Tuesday caused me to weep openly when I read it on the train home.” President Pickup explained that in emails between them the high council had committed to indexing at least 4000 names each. One high councillor, Martin Cook felt that would be impossible, as he was not computer literate enough to index more than a few names, but with the encouragement of President Pickup he managed 1000 names on Sunday evening. On Monday night however, Brother Cook learned that his brother Steve had died suddenly in Utah. He emailed President Pickup to apologise he would have to leave to attend to the funeral arrangements and support his brother’s widow and 6 children and his sudden change of plans would curtail his ability to index.

On Tuesday morning Brother Cook emailed his high council brethren, to explain the situation, and went on to describe, “How touched and humbled I was when Tim, our executive secretary, offered to take on my user name and password and index in my name in my absence. Then I decided to involve my own children (all 9 of them) instead of Tim, so that this project might bless their lives. The idea has caught on like ‘wildfire’. My wife and I have laughed and cried at their responses, texts and emails. They are now doing it for Uncle Steve and to stand proxy for their Dad, unavoidably called away. They texted each other for the last hour and a half, set goals, and organised a family indexing marathon at our house tonight.”

His daughter Naomi, a primary school teacher, sent this text to her brothers, “My phone has been going crazy buzzing in my pocket for the last hour but couldn't look because I was teaching - then when I did I had 49 messages! So touched when I read them I was laughing and crying at the same time! You guys! I'm in. What time later Joe?”

Brother Cook’s email continued, “Our other daughter, Clarissa, who is also 'in', shared this with me a few minutes ago, which I think captures the spirit of what our Stake President wants us to achieve, “On Sunday night I finally started indexing and felt really proud of myself for doing 50 names (took me ages!). Then last night I did another 200 - I loved it, it took me 3 hours though! However, I have set a goal of 1000 this week, I still aim to do my goal, but will still do some for you to help you reach your 4000 plus target. It has been a remarkable learning curve for me, I feel so strongly the spirit of Elijah and it has strengthened me. When indexing I feel as though I can hear a small whisper saying, ‘Do just one more...' it feels like you don't want to stop, there's a special feeling that comes with this service.”

The Cook family, indexing on behalf of their father, racked up an amazing 76247 names, in memory of their uncle Steve.  Brother Cook later reported the effect on his family and himself, “President, all 9 of our children and 3 of their spouses (the other spouses were babysitting) joined in our family indexing marathon last evening. There was a wonderful spirit here – a spirit of fun, camaraderie, enthusiasm and excitement but above all the spirit of Elijah prompting us to do ‘one more name’.  We indexed just over 9000 names last night. In the course of yesterday – with the thought of my dear brother (also my best friend) passing through the veil we were all motivated to honour him.

As I thought of the figures that we have set out to achieve, i.e. 250000, I could see in my mind’s eye thousands of our Heavenly Father’s spirit children and as their name was indexed they arose and stepped forward in the knowledge that they, not their name, were one step closer to the glorious blessings of the temple. Thank you for your inspired and inspiring leadership in this monumental effort of such an important part of the work of salvation.”

On Wednesday evening another of the Cook sons, Elders Quorum President in Chorley 2nd ward, held an indexing marathon in his home. At the other end of the stake more than 20 members gathered in the Burnley Ward chapel to index. New Burnley Ward member Hannah Sonnenstein indexed over 1000 names.

During the marathon on Saturday a five-year-old girl came up to President Pickup to proudly announce that she had helped her mother index 50 names. 10 year old Amber Butler of the Rossendale Valley ward received an encouraging email from President Pickup when she registered for indexing. She emailed back, “I’m having lots of fun indexing. My best friend who is not a member of the church has now become addicted. She came for tea tonight and I taught her how to index. She really liked it and wants to do it again the next time she comes. My goal is to do 100 names by tomorrow. If I do, I will make my goal bigger.” The next day she emailed to say she had completed her goal and had set a new goal of 250. Amber went on to index 729 names in the week.

Bishop Masser of the Rossendale Valley ward wrote, “I have learned so much and had the spirit bear witness to me that this is truly the Lord’s work (as I already knew) but also how critical this can be to the development of our ward. I’ve gained too many spiritual insights to list.”

After holding an indexing marathon at the ward chapel on Wednesday evening and again on Saturday, Bishop Mark Whittaker of the Burnley Ward wrote, “I would like to thank you for the vision of family history work. It has been a real opportunity for us as a ward. Non-members and members have been blessed because of obedience to those who hold keys.” Responding to the stake president’s call to prepare and submit a name to the temple for each family member before Christmas, Bishop Whittaker added, “5th December is our next baptismal trip so we can get the names of the individuals ready by that day to get all their work done before Christmas.”

On the conclusion of the indexing marathon, high councillor Sean Waite, wrote to share a special experience with his fellow high councillors. His parents had divorced when he was 6; he never had a relationship with his biological mother and had never met his maternal grandparents, but had recently made contact with his mother and begun to develop their relationship. Whilst indexing names from the 1900’s, he noticed that many people were named Frederick. “Last Sunday I woke up and the name Frederick was in my mind all morning - President Fredrick was the name of my mission President, so I just thought that it was me reminiscing about my mission, specially since I'd indexed a lot of 'Frederick's' the previous night. I bore my testimony in sacrament meeting and mentioned how 'Frederick' is a name that has influenced my life in many ways. Last night I called my mother and asked her, for the first time in my life, if she could tell me about her parents, their names, if they were alive and what they were like. She told me that my Grandad's name was Fredrick (but everyone called him Fred). He died when I was 1 year old. I got all of the important dates from my mum and this morning logged onto FamilySearch and printed off ordinance request forms for Frederick Wood (my grandad). I can now go to the temple and be baptised, confirmed and endowed on his behalf. I am absolutely full of the spirit right now and am so grateful for you fine brethren - your enthusiasm for family history will impact my family for generations.”

Speaking of the daily updates on indexing progress posted by the stake executive secretary, High Councillor David Hughes emailed his fellow high councillors, ““Brethren, can't wait for the update tonight, this reminds me of the words and sentiments of Parley P Pratt when reading the Book of Mormon.

. . I commenced indexing via invitation from our Stake President...

I indexed all day; eating was a burden, I had no desire for food; sleep was a burden when the night came, for I preferred indexing to sleep.“ 'As I indexed, the spirit of the Lord was upon me.’

“Come on brothers index away,” he concluded.

In a later email to the stake president, Brother Hughes reflected on the personal effect on him of the high council meeting immediately prior to the launch of the stake indexing marathon, “President, you may be surprised by what's happening, don't know if I am, if you analyse what happened. The executive secretary sent out an email on Saturday night giving a heads up on the topic of PEC the next day. We came to PEC (probably the best Sunday I've had in months) the vision of the indexing marathon was clearly and precisely presented. All who were present had a desire to come together and support this worthy goal. That fast Sunday, every high council member bore testimony in sacrament meeting (4 of us in Chorley 3rd ward) of the blessings that can be felt from indexing. Friendship and encouragement has been exchanged throughout the week, giving the strongest feeling of brotherhood and unity I have ever felt on the high council. We have been able to encourage our families and others through invitation. I believe good leadership can make anything happen.”

The stake has been told by FamilySearch staff that whilst a handful of stakes have now indexed a million names in a month, no stake in the Church has indexed as many in 7 days as Chorley England Stake.

Although the marathon has now ended, the stake has continued to index, with a further 185000 names since the end of the marathon. By 26 November 2012, the stake had indexed 1000000 names in November 2012, and a total of 1.4 million names for the year, thus far. Most significantly for President Pickup, a total of 493 members have registered for indexing and contributed to the effort, over 76% of all active youth and adults. “Participation is the key,” said President Pickup, it doesn’t matter how many names an individual indexes. The important thing for our stake is that we accomplished this magnificent work together, united with one mind and one heart. You know, although we were indexing, which obviously is vital to temple and family history work, it wasn’t so much what we did, but that we came together in a spirit of unity; we could have been digging trenches and we would still have had a great spiritual experience! This has been an amazing experience, for all of us.”

Now, working on the success of the indexing marathon, the Chorley England Stake has launched a new initiative: to have every member 12 and upwards to log onto FamilySearch Family Tree and submit one name of an ancestor to the temple before Christmas. ‘I don’t want Dad to do this to print cards for the rest of the family. I want each member of the family to make their own submission, in their own name, resulting in a temple ordinance card in their name. The important thing is for us to get everyone to do it, right across the stake.” President Pickup committed the high council and bishops to do this by the stake’s conference weekend of 24-25 November. “Again, I have been overwhelmed by the support of the priesthood. Every high councillor and every bishop managed to do this with their families by the Saturday of stake conference.”

High councillor Martin Cook reported his family’s experience. Building on the bonding experience indexing had in his family, he introduced this new challenge to a special meeting of family members gathered in his home the week before stake conference weekend. “We started our meeting with testimonies from all present,” he wrote. “All testified of the blessings of the work they had undertaken, expressed gratitude and a desire to continue to the next stage of family name submission and temple work. I passed on the invitation we had received from the stake president that morning and we agreed to meet this Friday (last evening) at our home for name submission together as a family.  Eleven of us met Friday evening and helped each other with name submission. I am pleased to report that every member of our household has now submitted names through our own lds.org accounts and have 'Family Ordinance Requests,' each with our own names as the submitter ready to take to the Temple today. I had successfully done this earlier in the week, but did not want to report until all our family had done so. In addition many other members of our family have done the same. This is just the very beginning for our family,” said Brother Cook. “Many thanks for your inspired and inspiring leadership.”

As, one by one, each high councillor or bishop reported that their family members had made a temple name submission, President Pickup, relying on the teaching of Elder Bednar in ‘go get the one,’ called on them to now go get their counsellors, or others for whom they are responsible, to go do the same. As a result, there has been a great wave of temple name submission washing right across the Chorley stake, with members rushing to the temple to get ordinance cards printed.