In 1931, when I returned to Mesa, Arizona, following a mission, the population of the city was 70 percent Latter-day Saint. Despite this majority, or perhaps because of it, there were bitter political fights and strong feelings against Church members who served on the city council, school boards, or other community leadership positions. Election time was most unpleasant.
My wife and I started a project of inviting new ministers of other faiths to our home for dinner, making no mention of our religious affiliation. I also invited them to speak to service clubs to which I belonged. As they learned that I was a Latter-day Saint, they expressed surprise and said they “didn’t know Mormons were like that.”
As other stakes were organized, the stake presidents were encouraged to take part in community activities. I was invited to join the Ministers Association and later to serve as president of the Mesa Community Concern group, composed mostly of ministers. It wasn’t long before I was invited to speak at their services. Two years ago they invited me to speak at their Easter sunrise service. Other stake presidents in Mesa were just as active in fellowshipping ministers and religious leaders in the community. I served as a stake president for twenty-two years, having ample opportunity to work with them.
Brother Darl Anderson, a high councilor, was the key figure in promotion of good public relations. When my wife and I left for a mission in 1970, twenty-six of the ministers and their wives held a party for us. Later Brother Anderson organized them for a trip to Salt Lake City where they visited with the First Presidency and toured the Provo Temple before its dedication.
Our minister friends were naturally interested in the family home evening program. They have organized their own material and have appeared before the city council making the request that Monday be a city-wide night for family home evening. We have invited them to visit our new chapels and have also visited theirs.
Today 25 percent of the people in Mesa are Church members. However, the mayor is a Latter-day Saint; the superintendent of schools is a Latter-day Saint; the majority of city councilmen are Latter-day Saints. Two years ago a stake president, Eldon W. Cooley, ran unopposed for mayor. All the stake presidents in our area are very community minded. They are leaders in fund-raising campaigns such as YMCA, United Way, and Boy Scouts.
It is my firm conviction that we should fellowship ministers of other faiths and that it is much better to be friends than enemies. We recognize that while we do not agree on theology, we can work together on many community projects, thereby learning to love each other. I cherish my friendship with them.