Elder Allan F. Packer
There is a spiritual passport needed by every person on earth to qualify for exaltation. To enter, all the criteria must be met.
Welcome to those here in the hall and to those around the world listening in. More than 600 stakes have signed up to watch live or use later when holding Family History events. Those attending this session are mainly ward and stake priesthood leaders, family history advisors, Consultants, and Center Directors. I extend a welcome to you and to all others who are also attending.
Hastening the Work of Salvation is the call of the Prophets to leaders and members in our day. To hasten is “to move or act swiftly, to cause to hurry, to speed up; accelerate.”[i] It also means “to cause (something) to happen more quickly.”[ii] The work of Salvation is “to help individuals and families qualify for exaltation”.
There are four divinely appointed responsibilities for us to work out our exaltation as explained in Handbook 2[iii]. One of them is to help “enabl[e] the salvation of the dead by building temples and performing vicarious ordinances.”[iv]
Family history and temple work is one of the greatest evidences of the resurrection and life after the grave. Over the years there has been convincing evidence of communication through the veil to help this work move forward.
I am happy to report we are making progress. In the last year the number of members submitting names for temple ordinances is up 17% over last year. It has gone from 2.4 to 2.7 percent of the members. While normally a 17% improvement is thought of as impressive it also says that there are over 97% of members who are not regularly submitting names for temple ordinances. This is a call for a change.
My purpose today is to speak clearly and candidly to you who can make a difference in the lives of the members of the Church. I’ll talk about what needs to be done and why and then share ideas of how to accomplish a change.
What you learn at this conference will only be valuable if it is acted on, I invite each of you to act on what you learn. Teach what you learn in this session to at least one other person in the next 24 hours. Will you accept my invitation? You may want to take good notes. Notes will help you remember.
Important things to know and do
There are things which are important to know and to act on
One hot summer as a young father I was driving with our first child, a son, who was about one year old. I noticed he was slumped over and I soon discovered he had passed out and stopped breathing as a reaction to a vaccination. You can imagine my anxiety. It was urgent that I give him CPR and a blessing. There was no time to go to my father, scoutmaster or a priesthood leader to learn CPR or how to give a priesthood blessing. Fortunately, my father, scout and priesthood leaders had taught me well. I was able to give him a blessing and to revive him. My son now has a family of his own. My father and these leaders had helped me save his life.
When Sister Packer and I enter a new country we must present a passport to an immigration officer. The passport is the credential for entry. If we are judged as meeting the criteria, the immigration officer will let us enter. If not, we are turned away.
There is a spiritual passport needed by every person on earth to qualify for exaltation after this life. To enter, all the criteria must be met. (A copy of this handout is found in your registration bag or additional copies are available as you leave this session.)
Like CPR which is lifesaving, temple and family history is lifesaving. All must have the stamp in our spiritual passports.
The role of Priesthood leaders and family history workers is to help members have the right credentials in their spiritual passport. Right now, not many members have the passport stamp for family history work. In the United States 75% of the members have their 4 generations in Family Tree. That would mean 25% do not.
Internationally 70 percent of members do not have both parents in the Family Tree. Ninety percent do not have their grandparents recorded in the tree. Ninety-five percent of the international members do not have their great-grandparents in the Tree. Members have responsibility for more than just the first 4 generations. We need to help all members of the Church find their ancestors.
The Church has built and/or announced 171 temples. With the increased capacity and increased attendance, many more names are needed to keep the temples busy. Each temple district should become self-sufficient with names submitted by the members.
Past approaches of teaching and motivating have only resulted in less than 3 % of the membership submitting names. To reach the other 97 % we need to change how we think, how we teach, and what we teach. The 97% are a priority for the department.
We need to focus to help the 97% find and authorize ordinances for their ancestors. It is a call to help the members of your wards and stakes.
The department looked for stakes who were doing above average member name submittals. We found a stake that was submitting five times the Church average. Twelve percent of their members were submitting names on a regular basis.
We discovered a new stake presidency decided they wanted to be a temple stake. They also knew they needed names for the temple. They applied inspiration and leadership with leaders and members. They taught correct principles and had regular, consistent follow up over time.
It was simple. It was easy. It was natural and it was effective. As a result, they are going to the temple regularly under difficult conditions, they are self-sufficient in names at the temple, they have deep testimonies and their members are now submitting names more than five times the Church average.
This stake was in the Ivory Coast where very few individuals or family have a computer. They are 10 to 12 hours from a temple and have to travel through a war zone to get there. Members depend on consultants or computers at the ward buildings to clear names for ordinances. In spite of those conditions, they were going to the temple twice a year taking more family names than they could do.
We also learned that other stakes in the area could reapply the same principles with success.
What inspired leaders have done, you can do. You can get inspiration to know what to do. “…the Holy Ghost, will show unto you all things what ye should do.”[v] You can become missionaries to help those in your care have a change of heart. You can build faith, strengthen testimonies, inspire and motivate. Missionaries create situations where their investigators can have spiritual experiences. We can help members have a spiritual experience. We can help them feel the spirit of Elijah. The Spirit of Elijah is the Holy Ghost bearing witness of the divine nature of the family[vi]. In missionary work we call this change a “change of heart”[vii]. In family history work we call this the “turning of the heart”[viii]. In the end, people are gaining a testimony sufficient to motivate them. People are motivated by their feelings and experiences.
The doctrine of this work is well established in the Old and New Testaments and in modern scripture. The doctrine of families was established in the beginning in the council in heaven. The family is at the center of the Plan of Salvation. Then Adam and Eve were created and commanded to multiply and replenish the earth and to have joy and rejoicing in their posterity. If the family did not exist or was not connected, the purpose of the earth would be destroyed. In Malachi we read, [Malachi 4:6] “And he shall turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”[ix] In another place the scripture is repeated and phrased a little differently. “If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.”[x]
In the New Testament we read that baptisms were performed for the dead. When questioned whether the dead would rise again, the scriptures records [1 Cor. 15:29] “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?”[xi]
These doctrines have been reaffirmed in modern revelation[xii] emphasizing that the ordinances should be done for “our” dead first. Then later the Doctrine and Covenants explains the inter-dependence of the living and the dead. [D&C 128:18] “For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect. Neither can they nor we be made perfect without those who have died in the gospel also.”[xiii]
We know that ordinances performed for the dead are only an offering to the individual. The individual may accept or reject as they choose. These individuals are not counted as members of the Church. We perform the ordinances as a service and an act of love. This act of pure love by members is a witness of the resurrection.
Where can you start and what can you do? Here are a few suggestions of how you can help ignite the ward and stake to increase the number of members submitting names for temple ordinances.
The first suggestion is to help members. Helping members is best done one-on-one or in small groups, especially families. It is better still when it is done in the home. Sister Julene Davidson, a 17year old consultant, met with the family in their home. She started helping the family by having a dress-up with the children re-enacting an event in an ancestor’s life. The dress-up created feelings in both the children and the parents.
Second suggestion is that it is about hearts first and then the charts. Start by touching their hearts with stories and pictures of their ancestors to help members have a spiritual experience where they feel the Spirit of Elijah.
The old approach to help someone new get started in family history was to teach them how to run a computer program. Next we would teach them a long list of rules and methods for doing genealogy. We were not very successful at motivating or inspiring.
When started by asking people to tell a story about an ancestor, the people would share. As people shared their stories they had feelings. They felt the spirit of Elijah which is the Holy Ghost. They learned about themselves and began to love their ancestors. This love motivated them to do something for them.
Take a moment. Think of one of your ancestors who has influenced you. What is it that they did for you? How do you feel about them? Relating stories and showing pictures promote spiritual experiences.
Let me share a personal experience. I grew up in a home where my parents applied this principle. They would tell stories. Many of the stories were about our ancestors. Many of the pictures and stories of these ancestors are now in the Family Tree. One of those stories was about Christina Olsen Wight.
This is a picture of Christina Olsen Wight from FamilyTree. She was born in Denmark in the 1830s. Her family was converted to the gospel. Because of their poverty, they could not come to the Salt Lake Valley as a group. First a brother was sent, later the parents immigrated, and Christina and two sisters were left as older teenagers to earn enough money to eventually come to Salt Lake Valley. Three years later, they had saved enough and were able to join a handcart company.
Christina recorded that, “After 70 days on the trail we wore out our two pairs of shoes. I had carried my third pair of shoes tied around my neck. I saved my third pair of shoes because I wanted to walk into the Salt Lake Valley wearing my shoes.”[xiv]
Later she recorded, “That last day’s journey, as I woke up in the morning there was a little snow on the ground. I sat down on a rock to take my shoes from around my neck … I tried to put on my shoes but my feet were so swollen and cut that my shoes would not go on. I had to walk into Salt Lake Valley still carrying my shoes like I had for so many hundreds of miles. I walked into the Valley barefooted and with each step I took I left bloody footprints in the snow.”
Cristina Olsen Wight has shaped my life. The stories shared by my parents made these people real to me and I developed a love for them. I grew up not wanting to do anything to shame my heritage.
Think of the Christinas in your live. How have they impacted you?
These are real people. They are not just dates on a tombstone. This is the tombstone for Christina and her husband Lyman Wight.
The names and dates on a tombstone are genealogy and that is what most people think of when they hear the words family history. Genealogy is a part of family history, but family history is much more. Family history includes the past histories and stories of our families. Family history also includes the present as we create history by living our lives. Family history also includes the future history of the lives of our descendants. We shape the future just as our ancestors have shaped our lives. We shape the future for our descendants by the lives we live and stories and pictures we share.
You can do the same thing by following a formula to help people have a spiritual experience which leads to a change of heart:
- Tell a short family story of your own
- Invite them to share their family stories
- Invite them to discover more about this ancestor by talking to other relatives
- Record and share the stories by putting them on FamilyTree or recording them in the My Family Booklet
There is another way to create an experience for people to feel the Spirit of Elijah. If you are in an area where there is internet access, an effective way is go online to FamilyTree and lookup pictures and stories the individual. I essentially did this as I shared the store of my ancestor Christina Olsen Wight.
For those that do not have access to the internet, use the My Family booklet. Start adding pictures and stories. A family history consultant can help add the stories to FamilyTree.
Another Suggestion is to encourage participation in family reunions. Family reunions are a great time to ask family members about ancestors. It is also a fun time to share stories you have collected. Families can be encouraged to preserve their stories and pictures in the FamilyTree.
The next idea is to change the order of teaching in family history classes. Again, we need to teach differently. It is about hearts first and then the charts. Start by helping the students learn about themselves thru learning about an ancestor and sharing stories and pictures.
My brother David and his wife Sue teach a family history class. They have found success when they take the first two or three classes to share stories and then let students share their feelings. They ask students to choose someone they want to know about. They begin with a question which help those attending discover their ancestors, “Why did you choose this person?” “Tell us about him.” One brother names Kelly chose his father who died when Kelly was only 8. He had lost contact with that side of the family. He posted a story about his grandfather on FamilyTree and asked if anyone knew anything. Within a few days he had a contact and a CD with pictures and stories. Then he found and met other relatives and discovered more stories and photographs. Kelly was motivated to discover. Kelly describes FamilyTree as “Facebook for the dead”.[xv]
For many years we have first taught about technology and the rules of genealogy. Now, start with stories and pictures. Help people discover themselves. Family history is about the heart, not the charts.
Another suggestion is to put the family back in family history and temple work. Over the years family history and temple work has become a solo experience. It has become something a person does by himself. When someone wants to do family history, they sit down at the computer by themselves or go to the library alone. They would never take small children to the library. The children would not find anything to do or would be invited to leave because of disruptions. When youth go to the temple, how do they go? They go with a class or quorum. Seldom do they go as a family. Even the Sunday school family history class is only for one or two family members.
We need to put the family back into family history and temple work. We can start by having classes in the home with the family. Rather than going to the temple as classes and quorums, promote going as families, doing ordinances for family members. Our family history libraries can become more family friendly. You can come up with your own ideas.
We found a number of proven tips from surveying Bishops. The Family History Department has researched what wards with high family history activity rates are doing. The following is the list of what was found. Where were doing 5 of the 7 of these things the rate of temple activity was about double the average ward.
- The “To Turn the Heart” guidebook is a core in the ward plan. The ward council develops and works their plan.
- Youth are called as family history consultants.
- There are three or more active family history consultants.
- Youth took family names on temple trips. The First Presidency[xvi] have encouraged youth to always take family names or the names of other ward or stake members to the temple.
- Consultants helped members at least monthly.
- Consultants met with priesthood leaders at least monthly.
- Consultants helped new converts at least monthly.
Where 5 of these 7 factors were implemented the number of members submitting names was double. We didn’t find any wards who had implemented all of the factors. Perhaps they were translated.
The new quarterly report can be helpful to you. Beginning this year there is a revised Quarterly Report. For the first time, every ward and stake leader will get feedback on the family history and temple work activity in their unit. I encourage you to look at this information and to use it to help you be more effective as a leader. This information for the Quarterly Report is provided to you by the church and requires no work on your part.
Over the years there have been obstacles to do this work that have kept many from doing family history and temple work. These obstacles have become deeply fixed perceptions in people’s minds. While most if not all of these obstacles have been eliminated, the perceptions remain. It is time to help members change their perceptions. Here are some.
It’s only for old people to do. Some believe they have to wait until they are older and retired. This conference is the best evidence that is a myth. There are approximately 4000 youth who have signed up to come for the family history event.
Others believe the work is all done. A few years ago a relative took several grandchildren to their cabin. On the drive they shared several stories of their ancestors with the kids. After a lot of stories about the ancestors one of the younger kids asked, “What is an ancestor?”
The answer is one many that many apparently do not know because they think they are done or cannot find any more people they can authorize the work for.
People can find and authorize ordinances not only for their direct line ancestors but also the cousins of those ancestors and their descendants. This is called descendancy line research. One study calculated that if we went back 10 generations and did the work for their cousins and the cousin’s descendants, there is the potential for about 8 million people if there were only 4 children per family. Many had much larger families. If you have done 8 million names perhaps you are done and can help other people. But if you haven’t done 8 million names, there are names to find.
Another misperception is they have searched all available records. Lest you think there are not any records available, we are adding 1.7 million names to Family Search every day! We have recently signed partnership agreements with a number of companies including Ancestor, Find My Past, My Heritage and The New England Genealogical Society. We estimate we will add 3 to 4 times the current number of names to search. You might try looking again.
Another obstacle is the belief that you must have a lot of technical knowledge. Some have been afraid of technology or of how technical family history has been in the past. The work has been greatly simplified on the website and the computer takes care of the details.
The last obstacle I will mention is the belief you have to travel to get Access to records. It is no longer necessary for people to travel as much. More and more records are available online. Much can be done using the Internet and working with our consultants from home.
The Church deals with a lot of travelers and passports. Occasionally a traveler will arrive in a country without all the proper credentials to enter. It doesn’t take long for the traveler to call for help. The traveler always calls the people who can help them.
Some day in the future each of us will need to present the spiritual credentials to enter the kingdom of God. Most of our ancestors have passed on. They have already disembarked and are standing at immigration. Many, perhaps most, do not have all the credentials needed to enter. They are missing the ordinances. They are anxious, even desperate, to have their temple work done so they can move on. How would they feel in that situation? Can you feel their anxiety? Like the living caught at immigration, they call to those who can help them the most. The dead call to those who can help them, their descendants who can find and authorize the ordinance work.
Can’t you also imagine that the dead waiting at the spiritual immigration line to reach out to those who can influence, teach and motivate their descendants? You are the ones they reach out to!
How long has it been since you have said to yourself, “I knew I should have done that?” Or, I knew I should not have done that.” Those feelings are promptings of the spirit. Don’t be surprised if you have feelings about an ancestor of your own or about ancestors of someone you know.
Can you feel the dead reaching out? Can you feel their hopes and desires? Can you imagine them calling out? President Eyring said, “Their hope is in your hands.”[xvii]
All of us need our passports stamped. You are in the position to help the 97% get their stamps. You can make a difference. You must make a difference. “Their hope is in your hands.”[xviii]
[i] Online: The Free Dictionary by Farlex.
[ii] Merriam-Webster Dictionary online
[iii] Handbook 2, 2.2
[iv] Church Handbook 2, 2.2
[v] 2 Nephi 32:5
[vi] Elder Russell M. Nelson, General Conference April, 1998
[vii] Alma 5:12
[viii] Malachi 4:5-6, D&C 2
[ix] Malachi 4:6
[x] D&C 2:3
[xi] I Corinthians 15:29.
[xii] D&C 2:1-4
[xiii] Doctrine & Covenants 128:18
[xiv] History of Christina Olsen Wight
[xv] Story related by David Packer
[xvi] First Presidency Letter of October 8, 2012, “Names for Temple Ordinances”
[xvii] President Henry B. Eyring, General Conference talk May 2005
[xviii] President Henry B. Eyring, General Conference talk May 2005