What has thousands of legs and is found in climes around the world jogging, clogging, Ping-Ponging, singing, acting, stomping, and serving others?
The answer? Church members participating in Church-sponsored activities—a delightful alternative to undesirable activities often found outside the Church. And these activities also provide a fun way to do missionary work, reactivate Church members, and develop self-esteem and talents at the same time.
“The emphasis now is on regions, wards, stakes, branches, and families determining their own needs, and developing programs to help meet these needs,” said Keith Engar, chairman of the General Church Activities Committee. “Our committee helps set goals and serves as a resource for Church activities, but the local Church unit shapes the program for its area.” The ward activities committee is also a resource to families and individuals.
As a result, imaginative activities have been sprouting in regions, stakes, wards, and branches around the world. And all because of local initiative, good planning, hard work—and an ear to the needs of local Church members.
The need for these activities has never been more important, according to Pat Davis, cultural arts specialist for the General Church Activities Committee.
“Much in the entertainment world is trying to pull people away from the gospel in subtle ways,” said Sister Davis. “Television, movies, music, rock concerts—all are being used as tools for the adversary, to some degree. The freshest faces tell us to be immoral; beautiful people tell us it’s okay to do things we’ve been told all our lives we shouldn’t do. Too often we’ve been so busy watching television in the front room that we haven’t noticed Satan slipping in through the back door.
“This is one major reason that Church activities are so important. We can offer an alternative entertainment to our people. And very often, through the informal door of activities, we bring many people into the front door of the Church and to a testimony of the gospel,” said Sister Davis.
Following is a tiny sampling of activities that are meeting the needs of Church members, old and young alike:
*In Nagoya, Japan, families participated in an all-Church Ping-Pong tournament.
*In Mesa, Arizona, the Mesa Thirty-third Ward held a Western Stomp (that’s cowboy dancing) for the entire ward. Families feasted on tasty barbecued beef, homemade rolls, corn-on-the-cob, and other sumptuous delights, then topped the dancing and eating off with a homemade ice-cream contest. (Judges were plentiful.) Awards were given for the fruitiest, nuttiest, chocolatiest, wildest.
*In Pangai, Samoa, an LDS musical was presented in English. One non-LDS government official who attended was moved to tears and asked for more information about the Church.
*In Los Angeles, the North Hollywood Third Ward members tape-recorded the conversion stories of members in their families who were the first to join the Church. Their stories were compiled into a 166-page book.
*In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the stake activities committee initiated a historical presentation on local Church history. Longtime members from the area were interviewed on tape, historical photos of local Church events were found, and old diaries, letters, and branch records were scoured for information. The results became a slide show, presented, along with original music, for the occasion.
*In Rome, Italy, the Church production Zion was translated into Italian and presented to members and non-members.
*In Goldsboro, North Carolina, the Kingston Stake activities committee became concerned about the needs of three handicapped Church members, and put together a program called “Our Special Group.” Each month the group holds a weekday activity including the handicapped members, such as a luncheon, a dinner, a dance, or games. Members of all ages attend the activities, and are able to show the love and friendship they have for their handicapped brothers and sisters.
*In southern California, stakes have trained members to be sports officials for stake and ward sports programs. These members now donate their time officiating at Church games and are qualified to serve as paid officials in non-Church activities as well. Their services would cost local wards and stakes $100,000 yearly.
*In Hawaii, the “Mormon Marathon” provides a Pioneer Day celebration open to both members and non-members. Participants can run the entire twenty-six-mile course, or opt for shorter race lengths. As part of the activity, the marathon committee, with the local Public Communications Council, proposed declaring a “Family Fitness Week” in Hawaii.
With all these exciting activities taking place, what effect do they have on individual Church members? The answer to that question is as varied as the hundreds of thousands of people who participate.
Brien Smith, who played Joseph Smith in the original production of Zion in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, as well as in several productions on the West Coast of the United States, felt that the impact of playing that role was tremendous. “It was so overwhelming to get a feeling for the Prophet Joseph Smith,” said Brien, “the most incredible experience of my life. If I can keep doing missionary work like that, I’d rather do nothing else.”
Tome Murakami of Fukuoka, Japan, who attended a workshop on family dances, was at first hesitant to join in. But she finally decided to participate, through the kind encouragement of the workshop leader. Not only did she learn a new skill, she developed a higher regard for herself and made friends in the process.
Terry Lamoreaux, who is now music director of the Oakland Regional Symphony Orchestra, credits Church activities with keeping him in the Church as a teen. This involvement led the way to a mission in Norway, and the eventual founding of the regional orchestra made up of musicians from stakes in the San Francisco East Bay. At the dedication of a new stake center in Concord, California, the orchestra and a chorus performed in the chapel. Terry had talked with priesthood leaders during the stake center construction about having movable chairs on the stand so that an eighty-piece orchestra could practice and perform there. The suggestion was accepted after deliberation, and the result was an orchestra with fifty-eight members and twenty-one nonmembers at the stake center dedication, along with a chorus of 100 voices. Mothers and daughters performed together, one stake president dusted off his trumpet and joined, and one nonmember musician is now a member of the Church.
Sometimes cultural activities catch the interest of those who are not particularly talented in other areas such as sports. One such young man growing up in Salt Lake City came from an inactive family and never went to MIA. The one Church basketball game he attended left him even more discouraged. A wise youth leader asked him if he would like to participate in the ward road show, and offered to take him home if he found it intolerable. He attended—and the teen who couldn’t swish the net in basketball revealed that he had a beautiful voice. He became active in the Church, served a mission, married in the temple, was called as a mission president to Samoa, and then as a Regional Representative to that same country. He encouraged his parents to become active, his father eventually became a bishop, and now that young man, Ralph Rodgers, serves as director of the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii.
For reactivating members and doing missionary work, activities provide some great opportunities. “I try to include nonmembers as well as members when I’m casting a play,” said Pat Davis, who helps with the casting at Promised Valley Playhouse. “Some directors of Church productions look specifically for non-members so they can participate with members.”
In one ward production of The Sound of Music, the director really got nonmembers involved by calling Catholic sisters from a nearby hospital to help advise on the twenty-four pages of Latin used in the production. Sister Mary Ida of Holy Cross Hospital in Salt Lake City said she’d be happy to help, so attended Saturday morning rehearsals at 6 A.M. to help with the scenes involving nuns. Opening night an enthusiastic crowd of nuns from Holy Cross Hospital attended.
“We need to find things in common with our non-LDS friends, not point out the differences,” said Sister Davis. “Usually you want to know all about a good friend, and our nonmember friends will feel that way about us, if we’re good friends. Of course, friendship shouldn’t be based on the possibility that a friend might convert to the Church. But sometimes they do,” she added.
One major emphasis in activities Church-wide is family participation. Dance festivals and road shows are now sponsored by the activities committees, which give families a great opportunity to work together in productions. Now when there’s a road show practice, mom and dad may be in the play or working on the scenery, along with the kids. Family Olympics are also popular as family, ward, or stake activities, and family dances are being encouraged throughout the Church.
“When I was a little girl I always went to family dances at the ward,” said one woman who comes from a broken home. “Our entertainment was centered in the ward, which gave me a sense of a ward family. The bishop taught me to dance on Friday nights at the dance. I know it’s important to have dances just for teens, or married couples, but it’s also good to meet with the ward family.” Since Church dances are often the only place in town to find an uplifting atmosphere for dancing, they become an important part of stake or ward activities.
The Church Physical Fitness Awards Program has become a very popular family activity, too. Families can participate in physical fitness or sports activities together and work toward achieving bronze, silver, or gold awards. Elders Bruce R. McConkie and L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve are among the three hundred thousand Church members who have participated in the fitness program.
“I think an effective physical fitness program goes hand in hand with the Word of Wisdom,” said Clark Thorstenson, physical activities specialist for the general Church Activities Committee. “We need to maintain sound bodies and to participate in physical activities that invigorate us and promote health and well-being. I think people who regularly participate in physical activities bring a balance to their lives and are able to relate better to their employment, families, and the gospel.
“There’s an increased need in the Church now for activities, since we’re on consolidated meeting schedules. We don’t have the opportunity for visiting between meetings so much now. We need to be aware of the fellowshipping needs of all our Church members, the older people, the singles, the families, and help meet their needs socially as well as spiritually,” added Brother Thorstenson.
A great variety of physical activities is available to Church members: camping programs, Scouting, basketball, volleyball, softball, golf, tennis, soccer, dance aerobics, marathons and mini-marathons, badminton, swimming, football, rugby, and many other sports events. And once again, the impact on the individual is impressive.
“Last year alone, seven young men were baptized into the Church because of our stake sports program,” said Rulon Cummings, chairman of the Clearfield Utah Stake activities committee. “Eight sisters and seventeen brothers became active because of the mixed volleyball and softball programs.
“At the time I received my calling I asked our Heavenly Father to help me so we could turn the program around and have it serve as a spiritual influence in the lives of those who participated. After a great deal of study, prayer, and looking for the answer, I picked up the Competitive Athletics Guidelines and Rules of Play and the Activities Committee Handbook. I read them in detail, prepared a plan to improve the sports program, and presented it to the stake presidency. The plan was nothing more than following these manuals, plus a commitment of support from the stake presidency. They not only gave their support, but committed a team made up of the stake presidency, executive secretary, stake clerk, and member of the high council for each sport,” said Brother Cummings.
“I have a testimony of the value of following the direction sent to us in our manuals,” he added. “By having the support of our stake presidency, we’ve been able to elevate the sports program to the point where you can feel the spirit of love and brotherly concern for one another rather than the spirit of contention.” The Clearfield Stake holds a stake sports devotional each September where all sport participants, bishoprics, and officials attend, to reinforce those feelings of love.
To provide a resource for local activities, the General Activities Committee has been preparing supplemental manuals in the areas of music; dance; theatre; physical fitness, sports, and recreation; sports officiating; camp; and Young Women Campcrafter certification. Now available is the communications manual (PBAC0067) for activities committees also has been published. The general Church Activities Committee resource library, on the twentieth floor of the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City, is open to visitors and other interested members. Physical fitness and cultural arts workshops are held at Promised Valley Playhouse in Salt Lake City, and materials from these workshops are available from the Activities Committee, Church Office Building, Floor 20, 50 East North Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150. (Workshops have dealt with topics such as writing music for theatre; script writing, costuming, choreography, and makeup for road shows; puppets; directing plays; the musical production Zion; and working with the handicapped.)
Royalty-free Church plays can be obtained for a small charge from the Promised Valley Playhouse, 132 South State Street, Salt Lake City, Utah 84111. Activities committee chairmen will also want to be aware of “The Activities Exchange,” at one time a newsletter available from the General Church Activities Committee, which offers summaries of successful Church activities held worldwide. Also available are performance contract forms for bands or orchestras, dance and music guidelines, and guidelines for submitting music to the Church.
And so the paddling, sailing, singing, surfing, skiing, dancing, serving—and smiling—go on. Activities are an important part of our Church programs, giving us the opportunity to develop skills, get to know other people, fellowship members and nonmembers, develop self-esteem, and just have a foot-stomping good time. These activities touch people’s lives. And that’s a very important part of the gospel program.