Spirits Rise as Stake in England Focuses on Temple
Contributed By David M. W. Pickup, Church News contributor
- Through goal setting, the Chorley Stake in England now indexes over one million names annually.
- The stake also accomplished a goal resulting in half of the stake’s youth submitting a name to the temple in 2014.
“The time has come for us to capitalize more effectively on the potent combination of the mighty change of heart, made possible primarily by the spiritual power of the Book of Mormon, and the turning of hearts to the fathers, accomplished through the Spirit of Elijah.” —Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve
When called as stake president in 2009, I recalled the talk “Honorably Hold a Name and Standing” by Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. As a newly called stake president, a conversation with a former stake president, then serving as a temple worker, had a profound effect. If he were called as stake president today, said his friend, “I would strive to make temple preparation the center of all that we did.” That helped Elder Bednar to teach the importance of temple work. “The deepest desire of our presidency,” he said, “was for every member of the stake to receive the blessings of the temple, to be worthy of and to use frequently a temple recommend.”
I vowed to follow the same pattern and in doing so, have come to understand how family history and temple work has the spiritual power to hasten the work of salvation for both the living and the dead, by using family history to touch the hearts of family and friends.
Let me share what happened in our stake. In 2011 we challenged members to become temple worthy and, amongst other things, join in a stake-wide indexing effort. Members committed to an ambitious total of 1 million names. By late November we’d indexed 700,000 names, but a million seemed beyond reach. However, in the last week of the year a miracle happened. Answering the rallying call, members, young and old, set busy schedules aside and, home by home, family by family, made a valiant effort, encouraging each other by posting photos of indexing, wherever they were. It was close; only on New Year’s Eve did we reach 1 million names and could declare, “We have done it!”
We learned many lessons from that simple experience, a glimpse of the “one heart and one mind” of a people of Zion (see Moses 7:18). For many, indexing began as dull data entry but ended as something spiritually refining. As they engaged in indexing, members felt prompted to search out their own family history. There was a change in the spirit of the stake. Sacrament meeting attendance increased, lives were put in order to enter the temple, and recommend holders increased. We learned that more members were submitting names to the temple and more were attending the temple. A refining process was at work. As members focused their vision on the temple, somehow everything else just fell into place.
Now we annually index over a million names, but that is not all. Last year and this, each member age 12 and older was encouraged to submit a temple family ordinance request by Christmas. One recent Saturday youth and parents gathered at the stake center to help each youth find an ancestor and print off an ordinance request in their own name. More than half of our youth have now submitted a name in 2014. In the past 12 months, about a third of our active age 12 and older members have submitted a temple name, and half of all adults have four generations in FamilySearch. We now have more temple recommend holders than we have ever had before, close to 90 percent of all eligible.
In 2013 Elder Bednar declared, “The time has come for us to capitalize more effectively on the potent combination of the mighty change of heart, made possible primarily by the spiritual power of the Book of Mormon, and the turning of hearts to the fathers, accomplished through the Spirit of Elijah” (Mission Presidents Training Seminar, July 2013). In 2014 Elder Quentin L. Cook explained the change of heart necessary for baptism was the gateway to the covenant pathway toward temple ordinances. He compared this to the turning of hearts through the spirit of Elijah, pointing out that it is all part of one great work of salvation (Mission Presidents’ Training Seminar, July 2014).
This reminded me of Lehi’s vision. When examining the plates Nephi risked his life to obtain, Lehi found not only the scriptures but also his family history. “Lehi, did discover the genealogy of his fathers” (1 Nephi 5:16). Notice the word ‘discover.’ In Lehi’s vision, after partaking of the precious fruit that filled his soul with joy, the first thing he felt prompted to do was to look around that he might discover his family, that they too might share his joy—the plan of happiness. Lehi did all he could, shouting and waving, to get the attention of his family and draw them toward the tree. He saw the pathway, with its rod of iron—the same covenant pathway that we must pursue to obtain saving ordinances, first for ourselves and then on behalf of ancestors. The gateway to the path is baptism and confirmation, but its continuation lies beyond the temple doors.
Lehi’s vision is as applicable to temple and family history work as it is to missionary work. In the work of salvation, for both the living and the dead, we seek to discover our family members, both the living and the dead, because we want them to have joy.
Missionaries use the Book of Mormon in the work of salvation because it has the power to changes lives. Reading it enables the heart to experience a “mighty change,” through the Spirit. Elder Cook taught that just as missionaries need a testimony of the Book of Mormon, the spirit of Elijah, which is a manifestation of the Holy Ghost, cannot be shared unless it has been first felt, by engaging in family history. Most have never felt what it is to have hearts drawn to their ancestors; in many families only one person is the family history guardian. This is why the My Family booklet is such an inspired tool. In ward conferences in 2014, we gave one to each member, asking them to first record then share their feelings of the lives of their near ancestors. We devised a series of home and visiting teaching lessons to share the booklet with less-active members.
It’s so easy to share family history. I carry my My Family booklet with me wherever I go. I love to share the page featuring my great-grandmother Ruth English in her Salvation Army uniform. I learned that she was an elegant lady of devout faith who loved to sing in the choir. She kept favorite verses of scripture in a little notebook. Although I never knew her, I cannot speak of her without feeling overwhelming love. In sharing this with others the spirit of Elijah turns the heart, preparing the way to learn about the gospel purpose of family history. Just last week, I was outside our stake center when a man drove up in a truck. Was this the place where he could find out about his family ancestors, he inquired. Whilst passing by he suddenly felt prompted to turn in. As the bishop invited him to meet the missionaries, I gave him a My Family booklet!
Whether for the living or the dead, family history and temple work changes lives. Those who have passed on without saving ordinances are helped. But it also has a refining effect on our own hearts as we discover our ancestors. And by creating the right circumstances when sharing our family history, the spirit of Elijah can turn the hearts of others, opening a receptive door to learn more about the gospel, particularly through the Book of Mormon, which members have also been asked to share. This is surely the powerful combination that Elder Bednar spoke of.
Worldwide the work of salvation is hastening in exciting new ways. More members now have access to a temple. The family has become “front and center” the focus of FamilySearch, with the upload of photographs, stories, and audio. The Church’s association with Ancestry, Findmypast, and MyHeritage is an exciting game-changer as millions more records become accessible. Census and other records can be brought up for instant viewing—even on my phone. Through indexing millions of names are made available.
These are exciting times! The Lord has said that in our day there shall be “a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories should take place, and be revealed from the days of Adam even to the present time. And not only this, but those things which have never been revealed from the foundation of the world, but have been kept hid from the wise and the prudent, shall be revealed … in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times” (D&C 128:18). That prophecy is being fulfilled before our eyes.
As Elder Bednar quoted recently, “And righteousness will I send down out of heaven; and truth will I send forth out of the earth, to bear testimony of mine Only Begotten; his resurrection from the dead; yea, and also the resurrection of all men; and righteousness and truth will I cause to sweep the earth as with a flood” (“To Sweep the Earth as with a Flood,” August 2014).
I feel such urgency about this work of salvation that I want to echo the Savior’s words: “Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.”
David M. W. Pickup, the only professional LDS judge in the UK, has served as president of the Chorley England Stake since 2009.