Temple Ancestor Day: Three Success Stories

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    When two stakes and one ward emphasized completing more ordinance work for members’ ancestors, the results were astounding.

    Not everyone has the opportunity to attend a temple, but everyone can help do temple work for their ancestors. As the members in this article did, you can research and prepare your family history and submit the names of your kindred dead to the temple. Some members of the Church are able to both do the research and then attend the temple for their ancestors. Here are some examples of Saints who were motivated to “take an ancestor to the temple.”

    There was something different about the group from Las Vegas in the St. George (Utah) Temple. All of them were there to do the ordinance work for their own deceased family members and ancestors. They had participated in a program in which ward members submitted ten times as many names for temple work as they had the year before.

    The same difference was true, too, for the group of approximately 110 teenagers from the Augusta Maine Stake, who were at the Washington (D.C.) Temple. They were there to receive baptism for their kindred dead. The youth themselves had prepared the information for the ordinance work.

    That difference also characterized several hundred members from the Riverton Utah North Stake, who averaged more than fifteen ordinances per family for their ancestors in the Jordan River (Utah) Temple in two days.

    These three trips resulted from leaders promoting ward or stake ancestral temple days. The idea was not only to attend the temple, but also to do work for an ancestor.

    Larry Halsey, bishop of the Las Vegas ward, had been wondering how to help the members of his ward respond more to the spirit of Elijah. Suddenly he realized that, though individuals can accomplish a little by themselves, a ward working together can do a lot more. So in December 1986, he challenged the ward members to each submit the name of one deceased family member or one ancestor for temple ordinance work in 1987. Bishop Halsey then turned to his priesthood executive committee and correlation council for ideas on how to help the members. He says, “I wanted to get rid of the idea that family history research was hard. I thought that few could be intimidated by submitting just one name. And I knew the total results on a ward level could be quite exciting.”

    The bishop assigned the high priests group leader to coordinate efforts. The ward leaders began to make brief presentations before the priesthood quorums, the Relief Society, and the youth. In July, Bishop Halsey reemphasized the challenge through a ward newsletter. Though slowly at first, ward members started to take notice.

    Because the challenge included all ward members, ward leaders also emphasized preparing members to go to the temple. A temple preparation seminar was started. Home teachers, visiting teachers, and friends also helped less-active members to prepare. The Sunday School contributed by beginning a family history class. The Relief Society called a family history consultant who gave two- to three-minute presentations every week to encourage progress.

    By April 1988, enough names had cleared for the ward ancestral temple trip. Eighteen ward members participated that first time—usually only five or six went on the two-hour trip to the St. George Temple.

    As news of the experience spread, interest in the project increased. A program on the stake level was initiated. Meanwhile, ward members who had not made the April trip began asking for help to get their records ready. Later, Brother Howard Weisman participated in more than 182 ordinances for his own family.

    Brother Weisman and his wife, Terri, were called to be family history consultants and they began visiting with ward members, sitting beside them as the families researched family records, guiding them in what to do. Terri Weisman says, “Many have gathered information and just need to know how to submit or fill in unknown information. We look at our work as missionary work. We teach one on one—part-member and less-active families, young singles, widows and their children, ward and stake leaders—and we challenge them to pray about what they’re doing.”

    Bishop Halsey noted that “once the ward members became involved, they learned how simple family history work is and how wonderful the rewards are. The program became self-motivating.”

    By the end of 1988, ward members had submitted 1,018 names for work in the St. George Temple. As Sister Weisman points out, “When people do the work for those who are dear to them, they catch the vision.”

    For the teenagers of the Augusta Maine Stake, temple activity took on an added dimension, too. Every April the youth of that stake usually made a trip to the Washington Temple to perform baptisms for the dead. This time, as leaders formulated plans for the April 1988 trip, they urged the young people, with the help of their families, to obtain the information on one or more of their ancestors and prepare the records for the temple work themselves.

    The response was heartening. Even though many submitted records too late for normal processing, by the time of the trip, the names of about 150 ancestors had been cleared for ordinance work. Virtually every active teenager in the stake—about 110 youngsters—went this time. About sixty-five of them anticipated being baptized for their ancestors.

    The group rode for fourteen hours to reach their destination. They spent the next day performing baptisms for the dead. That evening, in a fireside at the Washington D.C. Stake center, many testified that they finally knew what the Spirit was like because they had felt it in the temple. The trip was especially meaningful for those baptized for deceased family members.

    For the Riverton Utah North Stake, the challenge to take an ancestor to the temple came from the Jordan River Temple presidency. The stake presidency decided to use two days for the work—the youth would come on 29 December 1987 to be baptized for their ancestors, and the adults would come the following day for initiatory work, endowments, and sealings. That way, the temple would not be overly congested. The goal: that every temple recommend holder in the stake would do work for their kindred dead by the end of the year.

    President Duane B. Williams says that they were actually fairly well prepared. “The main reason we were able to undertake this challenge successfully was because the stake and wards were already participating in the Church family history program. A couple were serving as stake family history specialists, and each ward had a couple as ward family history consultants. Furthermore, the ward Sunday Schools offered the family history class.”

    The high priests group leaders and family history consultants attended priesthood quorum, Relief Society, and Young Men and Young Women meetings to discuss the challenge and to describe the program: how to fill out the records, when to submit them, and what the schedule would be on the stake ancestral temple days. The consultants also kept up personal contact with ward members, visiting them in their homes to help with the work.

    The stake also held a family-history clinic one Saturday. The purpose was to provide hands-on experience in finding information and filling out forms.

    The results were astounding. More than 160 families attended the temple on December 29 and 30. Stake members completed over 2,500 ordinances in two days—all for their kindred dead. The outpouring of the Spirit was immeasurable. Many Saints felt their ancestors’ presence during the ordinances. One woman, for example, recounted that she had felt the arm of one of her ancestors encircling her; she was nearly overwhelmed by a great outpouring of love. Many testified that they had never felt such complete peace before.

    Because of the experience, many other members in the stake began to prepare to go to the temple. One bishop reported that at tithing settlement, one day after the temple excursion, two couples who had not had temple recommends for some time paid their tithing in full so they could once again attend the temple. They said they did not want to be excluded from the temple work they had heard so much about.

    These ward and stake members have found that taking their ancestors to the temple leads to unforgettable experiences. As Howard Weisman explains, “It is much like when Joseph met his brothers in Egypt. They thought they were lost, but Joseph revealed himself to them, saying, ‘God did send me before you to preserve life. … God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance’ (Gen. 45:5–7). Then they fell upon each other and wept. I imagine that everyone who finds his ancestors and performs the ordinances of salvation in the temple for them will experience that when he or she meets those ancestors across the veil.”

    Steps for Planning a Temple Ancestor Day

    If it’s possible to attend the temple for your kindred dead, and your ward or stake would like to plan an excursion, the Church Family History Department offers the following guidelines:

    1. 1.

      Allow members at least two months’ research time to obtain and record information about their ancestors. This will help to avoid the errors that usually occur when names are submitted in haste. Have someone other than the submitter proofread submission forms. Corrections cannot be made once a name has entered the processing system, nor can corrections be made by temple personnel at the temple.

    2. 2/

      Ask members to submit only the names they can perform ordinances for on the day of the temple trip. Any other names should be submitted to the family file.

    3. 3.

      Submit groups of records as you complete them rather than holding them for one large submission. Make sure that each group of names is clearly marked with the name of the stake and the date of the planned excursion.

    4. 4.

      Include the name and address of the submitter on each form. Where possible, include a telephone number to help resolve any problems or questions that may arise.

    Attention to these suggestions will help make large group temple visits rewarding and spiritual experiences for all participants.

    [illustrations] Illustrated by Lori Anderson