Family History Efforts Bless Ward in Utica, New York

Contributed By Emma Young, Church News Contributor

  • 16 September 2014

Members of the Utica Ward in the Utica New York Stake performed over 1,200 temple ordinances for the dead after being issued a family history challenge from the bishopric.

Article Highlights

  • As ward members encouraged and helped one another achieve the ward goal, the members grew to be more unified and strengthened by their experiences.
  • Under the direction of their bishopric, the Utica Ward connected with over 480 ancestors to perform over 1,200 temple ordinances for them in one year.

“The Lord will bless us as we attend to the sacred ordinance work of the temples. Blessings there will not be limited to our temple service. We will be blessed in all of our affairs.” —President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve

“This work is a spiritual work, a monumental effort of cooperation on both sides of the veil, where help is given in both directions. Anywhere you are in the world, with prayer, faith, determination, diligence, and some sacrifice, you can make a powerful contribution. Begin now. I promise you that the Lord will help you find a way. And it will make you feel wonderful” (Richard G. Scott, “The Joy of Redeeming the Dead,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2012, 95).

An Unusual Goal
The Utica Ward in the Utica New York Stake knows the dual blessings of family history and temple work. In 2013, under the direction of the bishopric, ward members were asked to “do enough temple work for … ancestors to establish a new ward of members in the spirit world.” In practical terms, this effort meant performing temple work for over 400 ancestors in one year. By the end of that single year, hearts were turning, and ward members connected with over 480 ancestors by performing over 1,200 temple ordinances for them. In one year, the ward found that their project to take the names of their ancestors to the temple overwhelmingly blessed them in return.

The blessings to the ward members who united together to find ancestors, prepare names, and attend the temple were immediately apparent. “We traveled together, we served together, and we experienced things together. We were a very diverse group at the beginning, but we all got to know each other better and became closer because of it,” said ward member Gayla Rothdiener. John Brokaw, another ward member, agreed. “Family history and temple work can become too much of an individual effort. Any time the ward itself can get more involved, it will strengthen the ward,” he observed. The ward members became “certainly more unified,” affirmed the Utica Ward bishop, Herb Bloss. “They were focused on their goal and enjoyed the journey in getting there.”

Increased and strengthened ward unity came, in part, through service to each other. “We were able to see ward members help each other do the work and encourage each other to keep going to achieve the ward goal,” explained ward member Pam Mueller. She further noted, “In our situation, we could not have completed all … we did without the help of ward members.” For Sister Rothdiener, help from fellow ward members was invaluable. “I don’t have an endowed male in my family that can help me. I have lots of men waiting for someone to do their work,” she said. Males in the ward were able to perform work for her ancestors. Brother Brokaw remarked, “My wife was blessed as she received help doing ordinances that she could never accomplish by herself.”

Gayla Rothdiener’s son stands in front of the Palmyra New York Temple before performing his first baptism for the dead.

Gayla Rothdiener and her daughter stand in front of the Palmyra New York Temple.

Service to Ancestors
The Utica Ward members also experienced the blessings of service to their ancestors. President Thomas S. Monson noted, “If we do our duty and trust fully in the Lord, we will fill His temples, not only doing our own ordinance work, but also having the privilege of doing work for others” (“Blessings of the Temple,” Ensign, Oct. 2010, 16). Ancestors who receive a testimony of the gospel in the spirit world need our help to receive saving ordinances such as baptism. Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve taught, “Service in their behalf provides an opportunity for our continuing temple worship, selflessly rendered as a vicarious work patterned after that of the Lord as He wrought the Atonement to bless all who would ever live” (“Prepare for Blessings of the Temple,” Ensign, Mar. 2002, 22).

Personal Impact
The initiative had a significant personal impact on ward members. “There were a number of very spiritual experiences as the members did their ancestral temple work,” declared Dallas Jones, first assistant in the high priests group, who spearheaded the ward effort. In addition, he noted, “When some of the new members went to the temple for the first time, they were surrounded by several ward members and felt great love and support.” Sister Rothdiener personally knows the heart-turning experiences felt in the temple. During “one visit to the temple last year,” she recalled, “when doing family names, I was so moved by the Spirit, I will never forget it. … It filled me with such joy.”

A recently returned missionary and ward member, Jackson Graves, said, “Through the several [temple] trips we took, I was able to complete all of the ordinances for more than a whole family. Each experience not only impacted those who were waiting, but led me to deepen the loyalty I have to my own covenants.”

President Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, promised all who do this work: “The Lord will bless us as we attend to the sacred ordinance work of the temples. Blessings there will not be limited to our temple service. We will be blessed in all of our affairs” (The Holy Temple [1980], 182).

Lasting Effect
The joy of temple work for kindred ancestors and working together as a ward family to achieve a goal with sacred consequences has had a great effect on Utica Ward members. Brother Graves noted, “I certainly feel a more concrete and personal connection to the mission and purposes of the Savior.” Brother Jones summed up the enduring influence achieving the goal has brought: “Those members that have become involved in family history research and temple work have become more active members with stronger testimonies. You sense a higher commitment to spiritual matters.”

As President Thomas S. Monson declared, “I think there is no place in the world where I feel closer to the Lord than in one of His holy temples” (“Blessings of the Temple,” 10).

“I am satisfied that every man or woman who goes to the temple in a spirit of sincerity and faith leaves the house of the Lord a better man or woman” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “Of Missions, Temples, and Stewardship,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 53).

“By identifying our ancestors and performing for them the saving ordinances they could not themselves perform, we are testifying of the infinite reach of the Atonement of Jesus Christ” (D. Todd Christofferson, “The Redemption of the Dead and the Testimony of Jesus,” Ensign, Oct. 2000, 10). 

Utica Ward’s Plan for Achievement

“Planning and communication is the key to success,” said Brother Dallas Jones, an assistant in the Utica Ward high priests group leadership. Four key areas led to the Utica Ward’s achievements:

1. Communicate—“Through the quorums and auxiliaries, as well as announcing temple trips and success stories from the pulpit,” explained Bishop Bloss, “the ward was able to explain the great benefits in participating and develop excitement.” Warren Hall, an adult convert to the Church and a ward member, noted, “We set up a phone tree to contact numerous ward members to exhort them to get on, add their ancestors, and perform ordinances.”

2. Provide Support—Family history consultants worked “one-on-one with the members, especially the new converts,” explained Brother Jones, to ensure they had help preparing family names to take to the temple. “Present an audiovisual demonstration of the website,” suggested Brother Hall. “With the dramatic upgrade to the website, it [the website and family history] is now easier than ever.”

3. Provide Opportunities—The ward organized several temple trips to help ward members travel to the Palmyra New York Temple, which is over 100 miles away. During the year, two youth trips were planned and ancestral names were prepared in advance for baptisms by the youth. Three arranged trips focused on new converts performing baptisms for their own ancestors. Larger ward trips were organized when new converts received their own endowments. In addition, several small trips were planned when those serving as temple workers could provide rides to others.

4. Track the Work, and Create a Visual—Ordinances were tracked and displayed on a chart once per quarter. “Viewing the work all on one sheet showed the amount of effort and dedication the members have made in helping their ancestors. It was inspiring,” explained Bishop Bloss. “As I saw the chart, it encouraged me,” noted Sister Rothdiener. “Instead of thinking, ‘I have so much to do,’ … I was happy to see ‘Look, I did some!’”