Hundreds Serving in Family and Church History Headquarters Mission

Contributed By Valerie Johnson, Church News contributor

  • 18 September 2015

Family and Church History Headquarters Mission, Friday, September 4, 2015, at Temple Square in Salt Lake City.  Photo by Scott G Winterton.

Article Highlights

  • More than 1,000 missionaries from across the world serve in the mission.
  • Senior couples, senior sisters, part-time Church-service missionaries, and young elders with health challenges serve in the mission.
  • Missionaries serve in a variety of capacities to help keep Church headquarters running.

“It’s a little city over here, and most people don’t know about this.” —President Warren G. Tate, Family and Church History Headquarters Mission president

With more than 1,000 missionaries from all across the world serving in the Family and Church History Headquarters Mission, it could be considered the largest LDS mission in the world, one that few people have even heard of.

“Most people who have never heard very much about this [mission] are aghast at how big this is,” said President Warren G. Tate. “It’s a little city over here, and most people don’t know about this.”

The mission itself covers very little ground. “We are in basically four different buildings,” President Tate said. “We’re in the Family History Library, the Church History Library, the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, and the Church Office Building.”

Their responsibility, as outlined by the mission statement, is to “fulfill the prophetic vision of effectively utilizing missionaries to assist in the growing needs of the Family History, Church History, and Headquarters Departments of the Church in achieving each of their purposes.” From digital imaging processing of Church and family history records to translation and services for those who are deaf or have hearing impairments in the Family History Library, the missionaries help to keep Church headquarters running.

President Warren G. Tate and his first counselor, President Clark Larson, talk with senior missionaries Elder Robert Benmore and Sister Margaret Benmore of England after a morning meeting of the Family and Church History Headquarters Mission Friday, September 4, 2015, in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City. Photo by Scott G Winterton.

The missionaries who make up the mission include senior couples serving full-time, along with senior sisters, part-time Church-service missionaries who contribute about 16 hours a week, and around 90 young elders with health challenges who have been specifically called to the Family and Church History Headquarters Mission.

“Every month on the first week of the month, we receive Church-service missionaries,” said President Tate. The following weeks, they receive senior couples, senior sisters, and young elders. “These are impressive people,” he said. All missionaries begin in a training center in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, where they learn how to use FamilySearch, Family Tree, and other programs they will use on their mission.

“The hope is that each one will have a moment where they have found an ancestor,” said President Tate. The missionaries are then sent out after a week or two of training to one of the 19 zones of the mission.

Elder Larry Thomas of Grace, Idaho, takes notes in the training room for missionaries serving in the Family and Church History Headquarters Mission in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building on Friday, September 4, 2015, on Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City. Photo by Scott G Winterton.

Sending the missionaries to Church services requires two stakes. Every month, President Tate receives and assigns new missionaries, holds mission conferences over the course of two days in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square, and interviews the young elders individually.

While all of their baptisms are for the dead, the elders, who have health challenges ranging from Asperger’s to cerebral palsy, serve just like in any other mission. “These young elders do not proselyte the way other elders do, but every Sunday evening they teach Preach My Gospel lessons to the senior couples,” said President Tate.

Elder Sam Lichtenstein of Tigard, Oregon; Elder Allen Hernandez of Ajo, Arizona; and Elder Cameron Jones of La Quinta, California, work in the command center for Worldwide Patron Services as missionaries in the Family and Church History Headquarters Mission on September 4, 2015. Photo by Scott G Winterton.

“These are not downtrodden, feel-sorry-for-them kids,” he said. “These are [young adults] that are wonderful. They’ve stolen my heart, that’s for sure.”

The Family and Church History Headquarters Mission has experienced many changes in its history. In past years, “the missionaries didn’t have regular companions and their primary, in fact, only real responsibility was to work in the Family History Department or Church History Department in either technical roles or aiding patrons,” said former mission president H. Ross Workman. “It was my concern that the missionaries were not having a complete missionary experience.”

After speaking with the missionaries, he felt like they viewed the mission as an odd one. “They were happy to serve, but they didn’t feel like they were in a real mission,” Brother Workman said. “We needed to take some steps to make this as much of a real missionary experience for them as possible and still be able to accommodate their special circumstances.”

First, then-President Workman arranged for the young elders to teach the senior missionaries the lessons found in Preach My Gospel at least once a week. “The senior missionary couples were delighted to do it because it made a better missionary experience for them,” he said.

Elder Issac Maughan of Rexburg, Idaho, trains Elder Ammon Taylor of Allen, Texas, in the missionary contact center of the Family and Church History Headquarters Mission in Salt Lake City. Photo by Scott G Winterton.

The elders also gained from teaching the lessons. “They had to study the Preach My Gospel lessons closely, they had to learn the scriptures that were associated with it, and they had to teach the doctrine. In teaching the doctrine, they learned the doctrine themselves, which is what happens on every mission.”

The elders were also assigned to work in companionships. “This gave them both the protection of being with a companion and the strength that comes from somebody that’s responsible for his companion.”

As a result, the missionaries experienced blessings. “With this new system, the missionaries became a great deal more obedient,” Brother Workman said. “The missionaries began to focus more on the things of the Spirit instead of the things of the world that had given them pleasure before.”

Speaking of all his missionaries, President Tate said, “The people serving here are amazing. They’re consecrated, salt-of-the-earth people. They want to serve the Lord.”

Photos of missionaries serving in the Family and Church History Headquarters Mission line the walls of the mission office in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. Photo by Scott G Winterton.

For more information about the Family and Church History Headquarters Mission visit the website FamilySearch.org/mission, email mission@familysearch.org, or call 1-855-346-4774.

President J. Lawrence Oliver, a counselor in the mission presidency, talks with Elder Stanley Murray of Manchester, Iowa, and Elder Jonathan Barrows of Folsom, California, who are assistants to the president of the Family and Church History Headquarters Mission, on Friday, September 4, 2015. Photo by Scott G Winterton.

President Warren G. Tate of the Family and Church History Headquarters Mission demonstrates some of the tools in the new Family Discovery Center in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building on September 4, 2015. Photo by Scott G Winterton.

David Sherman of Winter Haven, Florida, receives some help on September 4, 2015, from Elder Taylor Fairbanks of Maryland, a missionary serving in the Family and Church History Headquarters Mission. Photo by Scott G Winterton.

Elder Martyn Reynolds of Spokane, Washington, serves in the Family and Church History Headquarters Mission Friday, September 4, 2015. Photo by Scott G Winterton.

Sister Susan Stokes signs with Stephen Ehrlich at the Family and Church History Headquarters Mission on September 4, 2015, on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. Photo by Scott G Winterton.

Sister Ingrid Byram and others of the Family and Church History Headquarters Mission work Friday, September 4, 2015, to retrieve and check thousands of patriarchal blessings for members around the world. Photo by Scott G Winterton.

Missionaries of the Family and Church History Headquarters Mission help patrons Friday, September 4, 2015, at Temple Square in Salt Lake City. Photo by Scott G Winterton.