What a century

In a few days we'll turn the calendar over and that will be the end of the 1900s — and what a century it has been for the Church.

In the one hundred years just concluding the Church emerged from its relative isolation in a mountain retreat to become a worldwide organization. It's been a time of both enormous change and of constant fidelity to its roots.

The statistics are familiar: membership grew from just over 270,000 to nearly 11 million; missionaries from 796 to 60,000; stakes from 40 to more than 2,500. More of its members live outside the United States than within it.

A yearlong series of Church News articles that concludes this month reviewed that growth. Historians will analyze those events in the next century in great detail. While it's risky to isolate single events from over 100 years, our perspective now allows us to see how the Lord guided the Church through the complexities of the 20th Century.

When the century began the Church was struggling for acceptance. Elder Brigham H. Roberts was denied his Congressional seat, but Elder Reed Smoot gained his after nearly three years of extraordinary hearings. And because of the renewed emphasis on the blessing of tithing, the Church became free of debt entirely in 1907 and would remain so.

In those early years several decisions would have profound implications for its youth. Ages were standardized for ordination into offices of the Aaronic Priesthood and to elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood. The Boy Scout program was adopted and seminary instruction began. In effect, adolescents were given important assignments and formalized guidance to prepare them for maturity.

The Church adopted the century's new technology enthusiastically. The Deseret News began Utah's first radio station, and soon the Tabernacle Choir and conference sessions were reaching millions of people. Television increased the audience. Throughout the century the Church sought innovative ways to carry the message of the Restoration.

The Great Depression of the '30s was difficult for many Church members. The Church was inspired to begin a Welfare Program that has since become a model. At the end of World War II, which devastated much of Europe, Elder Ezra Taft Benson traveled throughout the continent distributing relief supplies and reopening missions. The concept of self-help was institutionalized.

The Church was also inspired in the '30s and '40s to microfilm important documents for genealogical research, expanding the quest to Europe after the war. From these beginnings came one of the world's largest genealogical libraries, a vast and priceless resource known throughout the world.

The '60s are known for their raucous counterculture movement, but the stability and never-wavering stands of the Church provided a refuge for many. The first non-English speaking stakes were formed in this decade, in Europe and South America.

In what the Church News lists as the top story of the century, the priesthood was extended to all worthy male members in the 1970s. The revelation was greeted enthusiastically throughout the Church and helped open many new areas to missionary and temple work. To help manage the growth during the decade, the First Quorum of the Seventy was established, and in the '80s the Second Quorum was formed.

As the century progressed and the rate of growth, social and technological change increased, pressures on members of the Church also increased. Change came here, too, with a combined Sunday schedule of three hours. Members received help on the financial front in the 1980s when meetinghouse construction costs were absorbed entirely by the Church, welfare assessments and ward and stake assessments were eliminated. The Church's Proclamation on the Family emphasized its concern over the essential role the family plays in society.

Throughout the century the Church emphasized the importance of temples, building them where possible. The pace increased steadily as the century advanced, and reached its peak during the '90s. Sixty-six temples are now operating and another 49 are under construction or in planning. One of those temples is in Nauvoo, Ill., where Church members abandoned a temple while under mob attacks 153 years ago.

Another symbolic event happened in the final year of the '90s. The Church held the last General Conference in the revered Tabernacle on Temple Square. The next conference will be in the new Conference Center — faced with granite from the same quarry used for the Salt Lake Temple.

Those who built both of these early temples would be pleased.

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