The Tithing Overcoat
It was December, 1886. Mary Ann Stokes Rich watched grimly as her tenth child fought to live. Born with rickets because his mother was malnourished during her pregnancy, the infant cried feebly. Mary Ann had already buried four children under similar circumstances; and now her husband had deserted the family, leaving her with six children on an unproductive farm in Cassia County, Idaho.
Grieving, Mary Ann knelt to pray that her son might die quickly, thus sparing him a life of pain and poverty. But instead, she found herself pleading that her son’s “life would be spared, that he would be a comfort and a blessing to her in her old age.”
Her prayer was answered. Edward Stokes Rich grew to manhood, and when Mary Ann became old and feeble, he provided for her.
Shortly after Edward was born, Mary Ann moved with her children to Salt Lake City and took work as a midwife, cook, and cleaning woman. Since her meager income could not support the needs of her family, Edward left school when he was twelve and went to work on the night shift at the Salt Lake Tribune.
A few months later Mary Ann had saved five dollars from Edward’s earnings for tithing. “Eddy,” she told him, “I have not paid your tithing yet. I know that you have no overcoat, and you must walk many miles to and from work each night. With winter coming on, it’s going to be bitter cold when you return home at four or five o’clock in the morning. So I’ll give you this money, and you can either pay your tithing or buy an overcoat. I’ll leave the decision up to you.”
He did exactly what she knew he’d do. Edward later recorded, “I took the money, ran immediately over to the bishop’s home, and paid the tithing.”
A week later his Aunt Mary came to visit, and brought with her an overcoat that one of her sons had outgrown. It fit Edward perfectly and “was a better overcoat than [he] could have purchased for five dollars.” From that day, Edward recorded, he was always generous in paying his tithes and other Church offerings.
When Edward returned from his mission, the country was in a depression and work was hard to find. Almost penniless, he fasted and prayed about the matter and felt impressed to pay his last two dollars as tithing. “Bishop,” he said in late November, “I know that I don’t owe this money yet, but I hope to owe it before the end of the year.”
The next day Edward continued to make his usual round of offices and businesses in Salt Lake City, looking for work. He was leaving the last office when the foreman called him back and told him there was a job in Price, Utah (some 120 miles from Salt Lake City), at the community newspaper.
Edward arrived in Price the next day, the company having furnished his transportation money. By Christmas, with the overtime he had accumulated, Edward had earned $21.50. Fully repaid and with some to spare for having paid tithing, he said, “I could have the Christmas I desired.”
Such faith and obedience, along with hard work, brought Edward considerable success as a businessman. In later years, as a widower and father of ten children, he continued strong in spirit. When the last of his children was in high school, Edward fell in love with Leona Hyde. Because he was fifty-nine years old at the time and she was nineteen years younger, he hesitated to ask her to marry him. He felt concerned about starting another family at his age. But after fasting and praying, he said, “The absolute assurance came to me so that I knew without a doubt it was right.” He also felt impressed that the Lord would spare his life to raise another family.
He did. I am that family.
In his years as a widower my father had suffered financial reverses, so at the time of his marriage to my mother he was virtually penniless. Disabilities from a serious automobile accident made it impossible for him to continue his profession as a printer, so he took a series of less profitable jobs. Yet he never hesitated to pay his tithes and offerings. Sometimes he wore secondhand suits instead of the finely tailored suits of earlier years; but eventually, with careful saving and considerable sacrifice, he and my mother were able to purchase a modest home and begin saving for retirement.
Even during this difficult financial period, whenever the bishop asked for budget or building funds, I noticed that my father would often pay a few dollars more than requested. He had served as a bishop for several years and knew how sorely the funds were needed. “You can never get ahead of the Lord,” he would say with a knowing smile.
Dad continued to work until he was eighty; then he developed leukemia. He received a blessing that he would live as long as life seemed sweet. Dad lived joyfully for one more year, savoring each tulip and crocus of spring. He listened with interest as I told him about the things I was learning in my classes at college. I relished discussing literature and astronomy with him, for they were two of his favorite subjects. But most of all, I enjoyed telling him what I had studied in religion classes. As a bishop, dad had set a goal to study the scriptures daily; for thirty-eight consecutive years he had read the Book of Mormon at least twice and the other standard works at least once each year.
When my father entered the hospital for the second time, the doctors gave him several months to live—so I was surprised when he announced during one of my visits that he was “going home.” He passed away in his sleep a week later. Before he died he recorded this testimony:
“I have found that the Lord has always returned to me anything that I have given him. It has not always been a financial return, but I have found that no one ever gets ahead of the Lord. One can never do anything for him except he returns so much to you that you always feel indebted to him.”
Quoted material in this article is taken from the taped oral history of Edward Stokes Rich, recorded in 1966, one year prior to his death.
Let’s Talk about It
After reading “The Tithing Overcoat,” you may wish to discuss some of the following, questions:
1. Do blessings always come immediately after we pay tithing or fulfill some other commandment? Should we expect such blessings?
2. What constitutes an “offering” to the Church? How many different kinds of offerings can you name?
3. Read and discuss modern-day counsel concerning fasting and the payment of fast offerings. If you are not now full tithe payers, what family or individual goals can you set to assist you in keeping this important commandment?
4. What do you think Brother Rich meant when he said, “You can never get ahead of the Lord”?