Improved Annual History Instructions to Bless Leaders, Members
Contributed By Heather Whittle Wrigley, Church News and Events
Every member plays some part in Church history, whether their role is recorded or not. Providing renewed emphasis and revised instructions, the Church History Department hopes that more members will be blessed by being involved in annual histories for wards, branches, stakes, districts, and missions.
In March 2012 a handbook of improved instructions for compiling annual histories will be mailed out to every unit in the Church in 15 languages: Cebuano, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian, Samoan, Spanish, Tagalog, Tahitian, and Tongan.
In addition, an update to the website www.lds.org/annualhistories provides enhanced instructions on preparing an annual history. The effort is to improve the Church’s record keeping and to fulfill the Lord’s mandate to “continue in writing and making a history of all the important things … concerning my church,” (D&C 69:3).
“History is clearly important to the Lord,” said Wayne Crosby, director of the Global Support and Training division of the Church History Department. “There are several scriptures that point to the value of remembering. Remembering creates hope and faith and gives us strength to face our trials. ”
The Church’s annual history program has been in existence for decades, but the changes are meant to improve both the quality and quantity of annual histories.
“We revised the annual history program to align to priesthood purposes and to create a tool to help bring people to Christ,” Brother Crosby said. “The annual history helps members remember the great things of God, assists leaders in reporting on their stewardships, and provides a way to continually document the contemporary history of the Church.”
In each unit of the Church, a clerk or a specialist assigned by the bishop or branch president collects historical information and stories throughout the year. Every ward or branch submits its history for the year to the stake or district by March 1st of the following year. The stake or district then combines the individual units’ contributions with its own history and submits a single report to the Church by March 31st. Histories from around the world are preserved in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, for future generations to enjoy.
But where annual histories in the past have generally focused on events that occurred in a stake or district during the year—dates, statistics, and names—the focus has been expanded to emphasize chronicling faith-building stories that align with topics that local priesthood leaders want to concentrate on.
For example, if a bishop wants to improve temple attendance, missionary work, and tithing worthiness, he would invite his ward council to contribute stories of how each organization has tried to achieve improvement in these areas. A Young Men president might include stories and photographs from a missionary preparation activity and a temple trip. He might also include a story from a young man who overcame obstacles while preparing to serve a mission.
“Through this program, contemporary history flows from every corner of the kingdom in fulfillment of the Lord’s direction to keep the Church record and history continually,” Brother Crosby emphasized. “If a unit doesn’t participate, their history will be lost and perhaps never recorded.”
That is a sentiment shared by Jill Andersen, Asia Area Church history advisor, who pointed out that it is especially important in areas where the Church is young. “We are working to establish the Church in many countries,” she said. “With the writing of more and better annual histories, the stories of our early pioneers in Asia will be preserved and shared, strengthening future generations.”
During his October 2007 general conference address, “O Remember, Remember,” President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency, taught about the importance of remembering and record keeping by relating his personal experience keeping a journal in which he recorded daily how he had seen the hand of God in his life or the life of his family.
“As I would cast my mind over the day, I would see evidence of what God had done for one of us that I had not recognized in the busy moments of the day. As that happened, and it happened often, I realized that trying to remember had allowed God to show me what He had done,” he said. “More than gratitude began to grow in my heart. Testimony grew. I became ever more certain that our Heavenly Father hears and answers prayers. I felt more gratitude for the softening and refining that come because of the Atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ. And I grew more confident that the Holy Ghost can bring all things to our remembrance” (Liahona and Ensign, Nov. 2007, 66–69).
Sister Andersen has experienced the same effect as she has helped oversee Church history efforts in Asia.
“What I have observed is that while serving in our Church history callings, our awareness has been increased,” she said. “As we keep our eyes and ears open and act upon the promptings of the Spirit, we will discover and preserve treasures that will benefit current and future generations.”
Richard Lander served for a time as ward historian in the Raymond Third Ward in Alberta, Canada. After two years of struggling to get ward leaders to submit articles and pictures, he was pondering and praying for help when the Lord gave him an answer.
“I can still hear the voice,” he said. “It was very distinct; it was a command, yet it was very gentle. The voice said, ‘Brother Lander, the ward history is not your ward history; it is the ward’s history, and every member of the ward is your assistant.’”
He developed a communication network for gathering the ward information, creating a ward history report that auxiliaries submitted along with their regular reports to the ward clerk. And he began to add illustrations and graphics to the annual history, as well as special sections such as “Talk and Testimony Treasures.” After sending the annual history to the Church History Department, he would print out a copy for ward members to enjoy while waiting outside the bishop’s office.
“What was once a very frustrating experience became very spiritual and exciting as I produced the annual history,” he said. “As I sat at the computer producing the history, I felt the Spirit guide me in what I should report, write, and edit. Often my vision became blurred, and many a tear trickled down my cheeks as inspiration directed my thoughts. … I have often thought that what I experienced in a small way was something like what those wonderful men experienced who sat and served as recorders for the Prophet Joseph Smith.”