Australian pioneer continues to lay foundation, promote growth for Church in country

Tall and slender, with a quiet air of distinction, Stan Gray must have seemed an unlikely prospect for baptism when contacted by the missionaries in 1957.

This was not because he was not open to new ideas or unreceptive to the truth, but because few Australians of his social and educational background had joined the Church, which two years before had only 3,500 members and 10 meetinghouses in the entire country. In 1957, Australian Latter-day Saints with a university degree could literally be counted on one's fingers; of these, he was probably the only one who had been educated at a prestigious private school. As well, he was on the verge of being ordained an elder in a Protestant church.Born in Kew, Victoria, in 1917, Stanley Owen Gray - who is now serving a full-time mission for the Church with his wife - was educated at Melbourne's Scotch College before earning a commerce degree at Melbourne University. He then began a successful career in industrial relations and personnel management with three of Australia's biggest companies. In 1948, while working in Newcastle, north of Sydney, he married Margaret Doreen Cheatle. They became the parents of four children: Janice, Campbell, Ronda and Kara. They now have 19 grandchildren.

In 1950, the Grays moved to Parramatta, a western suburb of Sydney, and life settled into a pleasant routine. Elder Gray divided his time between his growing family, his work and his church.

Once established in their new home in Parramatta, Elder Gray attended his local church regularly. He was also a member of the church's committee of management when LDS missionaries began teaching him the gospel in 1957. Even as he and his wife were receiving the missionary discussions, he was nominated to be ordained an elder in his church. Professional fundraisers were conducting a "stewardship campaign" to encourage church members to give more generously to the church. Stan Gray learned about tithing from the Mormon elders, and suggested this principle in the stewardship meetings; he was not too surprised when he was not elected an elder. Shortly afterwards, he left his church "in good spirits, with no antagonism."

Elder and Sister Gray experienced something of a culture shock when they began to meet with the small group of Latter-day Saints, who rented a hall in the adjoining suburb of Harris Park; like modern LDS pioneers in many parts of the world, they found themselves clearing out beer bottles and cigarette butts before Sunday School could begin. "Nevertheless, those were precious days, and we look back on them with a lot of satisfaction," said Elder Gray, "because the Spirit was there and it meant so much to us."

Within weeks, it was proposed that the branch build a big, modern chapel in North Parramatta. Margaret Gray, then an investigator, raised her hand to sustain the proposal, to the surprise of the missionaries. Elder Gray was not present on that occasion, but he and his wife were soon baptized and busily involved in fund-raising activities that continued long after the new chapel opened in September 1958. "We were a small, close-knit branch," Elder Gray recalled. "We really rattled around in that huge building."

Then, few branch members had cars, and the car-park was usually three-quarters empty. But before too many years passed, both the chapel and parking lot had to be extended.

The branch was united and innovative in their approach to raising their share of construction costs. Repairing and detailing second-hand cars, running a second-hand clothing shop in Parramatta and a second-hand shoe stall at Paddy's Markets in Sydney kept branch members busy. Then they began catering weddings and balls. Elder Gray recalls that this was profitable but exhausting. Weddings were more popular with the catering team than balls. "They ended earlier," he said, "and we could get the dishes washed and get home."

Visiting teaching was a real pioneer effort. "Only one sister had a car available in the daytime," Elder Gray remembered. "Margaret used to push the stroller to the station and travel by train, changing lines at the junction and then alighting at four separate suburban stations to walk to the homes of different sisters. Then she caught two trains back to Parramatta and walked home, still pushing the stroller."

Home teaching was easier, Elder Gray explained, as more cars were available at night; but it was still difficult to cover the large territory the branch embraced. Elder Gray's first calling was that of home teaching secretary. "Perhaps that is why I still have a feeling for the great importance of home teaching," he said.

Soon, Elder Gray was serving in the Sunday School superintendency, and before long, as a counselor to branch president Kenneth G. Hale. They were still serving together when on March 27, 1960, Elders Delbert L. Stapley and Marion G. Romney of the Quorum of the Twelve organized the Sydney Stake, the first stake of the Church in Australia. "We were hoping Parramatta Branch would become a ward," Elder Gray said, "but it just wasn't big enough. However, while Pres. Hale was being set apart, Elder Romney told him that the Parramatta Branch would become the fastest-growing area of the Church in Australia."

Sure enough, Parramatta soon became a ward. From the bishopric, Elder Gray moved to the high council and was then called as a counselor in the Sydney Stake presidency. By the time the stake was divided in 1967, there were 17 units, covering the greater Sydney metropolitan area and stretching 100 miles north to Newcastle, 50 miles south to Wollongong and 50 miles west to the Blue Mountains.

Elder Gray has vivid recollections of driving to a ward conference in Newcastle with John Parker, the other counselor in the stake presidency, and stake clerk Ian Mackie. The car suddenly skidded and spun out of control several times, but, miraculously, did not overturn. All three still feel that their preservation was significant; within a few years, each of the men in the car was presiding over a different stake in the Sydney region.

In 1969, Elder Gray was sustained as first president of the Parramatta Stake. "Our stake boundaries were almost identical with the boundaries of the original Parramatta Branch," marveled Elder Gray, recalling Elder Romney's prophecy. Today, two more stakes have been carved out of the Parramatta Stake and further divisions are imminent. A highlight of Elder Gray's eight-year calling as stake president was the stake's purchase of an orange orchard, one of the first welfare farms in Australia.

After his release in December 1977, Elder Gray served as ward high priests group leader and institute instructor before being called to the high council again. From 1982 to 1984, he was secretary of the Sydney Australia Temple Committee; when the temple was dedicated in 1984, he was set apart as a counselor to the first temple president, Milton J. Hess. Then, when Pres. Hess's three-year term ended in September 1987, Stanley Owen Gray became the first Australian temple president. He always stressed the importance of temple attendance, telling Australian members, "Our lives, wherever we are, should be focused on the temple of the Lord."

Pres. and Sister Gray served as temple president and matron until August 1990; after their release, they "retired" to a new home at Terrigal on the central coast of New South Wales. Here, as members of the Gosford Ward, Newcastle Stake, they served as stake missionaries. Soon history was repeating itself, and Elder Gray served as a counselor in the bishopric until 1995, when he and his wife were called as full-time missionaries in the Adelaide Australia Mission in the state of South Australia.

Within weeks, Elder Gray was assigned to serve as president of the Broken Hill Branch. "This mission district has five branches," said Elder Gray, "spread over three states," As South Australia is five times larger than Utah, and New South Wales four times larger, the distances involved in traveling to zone and district meetings make the first Sydney Stake seem compact by comparison.

But few things daunt Stan Gray. Whether presiding over the Sydney Australia Temple or a small branch in outback Auatralia, he truly exemplifies the pioneering spirit of Australian Latter-day Saints. "Pioneering isn't just about `firsts,' " said Elder Gray, who has a few "firsts" behind him. "It's about laying a foundation. All Australian Church members are doing this today, and we must do it well. The future depends on us."

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