The Primary Enriches the Lives of Children

David B. Haight

Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles


David B. Haight
 

The Savior, using every precious opportunity to teach his followers, was asked a provoking question. The disciples were wondering of their place. One asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matt. 18:1.) The Lord probably held out his hand toward one of the little children in the group surrounding the Savior and drew the child to him. “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Then he added, “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:3–4.)

Did not the Savior in this incident require of adults to find their childhood again, to abandon weakness or evil? That childhood faith most loved must be regained.

“And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.” (Matt. 18:5.)

Perhaps still holding the little one close to him, he said, “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matt. 18:6.) A rather terrifying price is attached to the purity of little children; their rights to truth and love are inalienable rights no matter what may happen to them in later years.

Last October the Bountiful Utah Stake Primary encouraged children to earn money to buy copies of the Book of Mormon—but to pay for the book with their own labor—money they would earn.

Each placed his picture and testimony inside the front cover. Six hundred and twenty copies of the Book of Mormon with pictures and testimonies were sent to missions.

A few days ago one of those Primary children, little Sarah Richards, received this letter from Mrs. Earl Mock of Tucson, Arizona:

“Dear Sarah, Thank you so much for sending us the Book of Mormon with your picture on the inside. You are a very pretty girl and a very nice one. I will treasure the book and your picture and testimony always.

“I have just finished reading all of it and I too believe it is true. I enjoyed it very much and will be reading it many more times.

“Thank you again and may God bless you.”

The Primary. How did it come about? Did not the Lord promise the Saints at Kirtland that if they would be patient and faithful, all things would work together for their good, and that as the gospel unfolded, they would be taught line upon line, precept upon precept? (See D&C 98:2, 3, 12.)

The inspiration for a children’s class came to Aurelia Rogers of Farmington, Utah, one hundred years ago. There was a need to teach children the principles of the gospel in children’s language along with good manners and dress.

In 1878 Farmington, Utah, was a cultured community with over 1,200 people and a beautiful stone chapel. They had a Relief Society, Young Men’s Literary Association, and a Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association, along with a brass band.

But with all this spiritual and cultural influence, Farmington, like other communities, had its juvenile problems—little boys out late at night; darkness and mischief made the boys into a challenge.

Bishop John W. Hess, a Mormon Battalion veteran, called a meeting of parents and urged them to look after their children. These conditions also concerned Aurelia Rogers. She pondered and prayed.

In March 1878, Eliza R. Snow and others attended a Relief Society conference in Farmington. Aurelia Rogers later wrote:

“After the meeting, … when on their way to the depot, these sisters … stopped at my home. … The topic of our conversation was the young people, and the rough, careless ways of many of the young men and boys. … I asked the question, “What will our girls do for good husbands, if this state of things continues? … Could there not be an organization for little boys, and have them trained to make better men?” (Aurelia S. Rogers, Life Sketches, Salt Lake City: George Q. Cannon and Sons Co., 1898, pp. 207–8.)

Eliza R. Snow seemed deeply impressed with the question and indicated she would speak to the Brethren.

Brigham Young had died a few months before. The Twelve, with John Taylor as president of the council, presided over the Church.

Shortly, approval was received by Bishop Hess for a new organization of children. Bishop Hess asked Aurelia Rogers if she would be willing to preside over such an organization. She was willing.

Aurelia wrote that in contemplating the possibility of an organization for boys, “A fire seemed to burn within me. … The query then arose in my mind could there not be an organization for little boys wherein they could be taught everything good, and how to behave.” (Rogers, p. 207.)

Up until that time little girls had never been mentioned, but Aurelia felt the class would not be complete without them. The name Primary was suggested as “the first” or “original.”

On August 11, 1878, Aurelia Spencer Rogers was set apart to preside over that first Primary Association by Bishop Hess. At his suggestion, Aurelia Rogers and her new counselors, Louisa Haight and Helen Miller, visited all the homes to secure the names of the children and to see if their parents were willing to send them to Primary. Following this careful preparation, 115 boys and 100 girls came to the stone chapel on August 25, 1878, for the first meeting. Citizens passing the meetinghouse that eventful day heard the children’s voices singing:

In our lovely Deseret,
Where the Saints of God have met
There’s a multitude of children all around;
They are generous and brave,They have precious souls to save,
They must listen and obey the gospel’s sound.
Hark! hark! hark, ’tis children’s music,
Children’s voices, O how sweet,
When in innocence and love
Like the angels up above,
They with happy hearts and cheerful faces meet.

Today the Church honors a faithful and distinguished pioneer woman. Aurelia Spencer Rogers—a child of adversity, testing, determination, and love, who built her faith event by event, challenge by challenge. What of her beginnings?

Orson Spencer and his six motherless children ferried across the Missouri River and hurriedly moved into their unfinished log cabin in Winter Quarters. Their mother had died soon after the family left for Nauvoo. The family had to be settled before their father left for England—he had been called by President Brigham Young to publish a newspaper for the Church.

Orson Spencer had trained Ellen, just fourteen, and Aurelia, only twelve, to be father and mother to the four younger children. He bought eight cows so there would be plenty of milk to drink and enough to sell. There was also a horse to be sold if necessary to buy supplies.

That winter was long, cold, and lonely. Many people at Winter Quarters died. Aurelia wrote in her diary, “We got through the first part of the winter pretty well. … Our horse and all our cows but one had died, therefore we had no milk nor butter; our provisions had also … nearly given out. … We really suffered for something to eat; part of the time having nothing but corn-meal, which was stirred up with water and baked on a griddle. Many a night I have gone to bed without supper having to wait until I was hungry enough to eat our poor fare.” (Rogers, pp. 48, 50–51.)

One day President Brigham Young visited the Spencers’ one-room cabin and found it neat and the children clean. Their father had been gone a year. The Saints were beginning to make preparations to start their move west.

The children informed President Young that their father wrote often, making suggestions as to what they should wear, how to comb their hair, what to do if they became ill, and how to take care of each other. After President Young read their father’s last letter, he told them he had a very important matter for them to think about. He asked, “What would you say if your father stayed in England at least another year? We need him there.”

The children looked at each other and then waited for Ellen to speak since she was the oldest. “If it is thought best,” Ellen said quietly, “we would like it so, for we want to do [what’s] for the best.” (Rogers, p. 87.)

All the other children agreed. They remembered that Father had once written, “Though He slay us we should trust in Him, and all will be right.” (Rogers, p. 62.)

They had faith in their father, in his counsel, and in their Father in Heaven. In the spring of 1848, the Spencer children, with determination and grateful hearts, moved west with the Saints.

During the two-year absence of their father, the six children had experienced many trials—crossed the plains to Salt Lake Valley, lived in the old fort, then moved to a one-room adobe house. Relatives and friends watched over them, but the responsibility had rested on the two eldest girls, Ellen and Aurelia.

At last, Orson Spencer, the former New England Baptist minister, was welcomed home amid a chorus of shouts and hugs and kisses from his heroic family. He was appointed chancellor of the new University of Deseret. Daughter Aurelia was one of his students for only a time, for Aurelia had met and fallen in love with Thomas Rogers, a young teamster, while crossing the plains. They married and set up housekeeping in a log cabin in Farmington. Here in the foothills of the Wasatch, overlooking Great Salt Lake, Aurelia Spencer Rogers spent the rest of her life. Here, she bore twelve children, burying five of them in infancy. As her children grew, she became increasingly concerned about the lack of weekday wholesome activity—the genesis of Primary.

Aurelia Rogers was a daughter of the refiner’s fire. Mosiah’s counsel to “not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked, … transgress the laws of God, … but … teach them to walk in … ways of truth, … love one another, and serve one another” was part of her life. (Mosiah 4:14–15.)

From these humble beginnings in a small Mormon town has emerged a worldwide concern for children. Every phase and aspect of our Primary program is in harmony with Christ’s teachings. Wholesomeness, virtue, culture, service, and love for one another add strength and purpose to the Primary we honor as it closes its first one hundred years.

When Primary first began, there were no lesson books or outlines. Children were taught obedience, faith in God, prayer, punctuality, good manners, and the Word of Wisdom. Aurelia must have gained strength from reading: “Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great.” (D&C 64:33.)

Primary will continue fulfilling its goal of enriching the lives of children—blessing not only their individual lives but the lives of their families and friends. Every child needs to know that he has a Father in Heaven who loves him, to develop a faith in Jesus Christ, and to desire to live his gospel so as to meet the pressures and problems of today’s world. Primary belongs to the children. Aurelia wrote: “Why should anything be allowed to come before the most sacred duty of parentage, that of looking after the spiritual welfare of the children? was the question which burdened my mind.” (Rogers, p. 206.)

Though Primary’s responsibility is awesome, the parent challenge is even greater. In addition to harmful programs on television, there are drugs, child abuse, acceptance of violent acts, and child pornography. Research indicates that American children watch television one-half of their waking hours. By age twelve they will have watched the violent destruction of 18,000 human beings. By age twelve they will have spent 10,720 hours with television and only 352 hours in Primary if they had perfect attendance.

Today we not only honor Aurelia Rogers but all the Primary leaders and teachers who during the first one hundred years have trained us. Her motto was:

“Our children are our jewels.
We have counted well the cost.
May the angels ever guard them,
And not one child be lost.”

May we as parents and spiritual leaders be blessed to understand what the Master meant when he said, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:3.) In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.