He recalls 39 'unbelieveable' years

For 39 years, Charles E. Mitchener labored in the headquarters of the Church, involved in such things as independent auxiliaries, all-Church dance festivals and general MIA June conferences. He served during the arrival of Priesthood correlation, the consolidated meeting plan and the expansion of the Church throughout the world.

For 22 years he served as assistant general secretary and general secretary to the Young Men Mutual Improvement Association and for another 17 filled the same position in the Sunday School organization.On Sept. 2, he walked out of his office for the last time.

"It's been a great experience, an unbelievable experience," he said during a Church News interview just before he retired. "When I look back, to think that I've been involved on this level of the Church for all these years, it's just unbelievable in my own mind."

He became assistant general secretary to the YMMIA when asked by the organization's superintendent, Eldred R. Curtis, and was set apart on Sept. 1, 1955. Upon the death of general secretary Alta H. Pettigrew in 1965, Brother Mitchener took over that position.

In January, 1977, he moved into a similar post with the Sunday School and remained there until he retired.

He was born in Salt Lake City on Dec. 6, 1923. Prior to his full-time Church service, he was a director with two mining companies.

When he accepted the position in the YMMIA organization, he didn't intend to make it a career. "In my own mind, I thought I would be there about five years," Brother Mitchener recalled.

"After five years, I was so engrossed in this that they couldn't have taken me away if they had tried."

He also served on the general boards of the YMMIA and Sunday School organizations.

His first office was in a building across Main Street east of the Salt Lake Temple that the YMMIA shared with the Sunday School and the Improvement Era magazine. When plans got under way to build the new Church office building on that block, he moved with the YMMIA to a building at 135 South State and then to another at 79 South State. Finally, the YMMIA moved into the new Church Office Building.

The role of auxiliaries on the general level changed dramatically during his tenure, he said.

"The auxiliaries were literally autonomous years ago," he explained, adding that they raised their own funds and operated their own programs completely independent of each other.

But they were guided by the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve. He noted that the MIA had three and sometimes four advisers from the Twelve.

The auxiliaries then were directed by large boards, Brother Mitchener said. The YMMIA board had about 75 members. They met each Wednesday from 5 p.m. until around midnight, sustaining themselves with a sack lunch.

At that time, the board visited every stake in the Church each year for training. "That and June Conference preparation occupied the board all year long," Brother Mitchener said.

The mention of June Conference touched an emotional chord with him.

"The kids in the chorus during the opening session in the Tabernacle would stand and just bawl as they watched the president of the Church enter," he said. "And the youth in the dance festival, the spirit that touched them was magnificent."

He also cherished the stories of activation and conversion that came out of the all-Church athletic tournaments.

"The Church is too big now for a general conference," he said. "So now the youth get those kinds of experiences at region and area conferences. But what that period did for the youth of the Church, no one can count. Thousands who became Church leaders were helped along."

After moving to the Sunday School in 1977, Brother Mitchener developed the same spirit about that organization that he had for YMMIA.

"Sunday School has a great role to fill in the Church," he affirmed. "It's a non-glamorous role, but it is so essential. The Lord said we should teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom. Sunday School is not the only organization that teaches, obviously. But that is its major role."

Looking back, Brother Mitchener said, "You don't get rich working for the Church, but there are many other compensations. I wouldn't change a thing. My only hope is that I have been of some value in the kingdom in my role. I never wanted to be more than what I've been. I've been very happy."

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