The third volume of “Saints” — the narrative history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — was released April 22, 2022. Titled “Boldly, Nobly, and Independent,” the narrative book chronicles the spread of the Church worldwide from 1893 to 1955. This episode of the Church News podcast features “Saints” general editor and lead historian Jed Woodworth, and general editor and lead writer Scott Hales.
They dive into the compelling accounts of Church members and communities during a period of social change, global pandemic and two world wars. They explain how faith in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ can help Latter-day Saints overcome trials — including the trials Church members face today.
Scott Hales: I was recently listening to the audiobook of “Saints, Vol. 3,” and I remember during the writing process, becoming emotional, and I still got emotional as I heard those stories because I love and admire these people. You develop a deep relationship with them. I remember talking with Linda Bang Ludlow who is the daughter of Paul Bang. And she said to me one day: “Scott, my dad loved being a Latter-day Saint. He loved being a Latter-day Saint.” And I had to ask myself, “Do I love being a Latter-day Saint? And if I don’t, why not?” And that has really caused me to think about my relationship to the Church, and today I can say I love being a Latter-day Saint.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The third volume of “Saints: The Story of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” was published April 22 in 14 languages. The newest book, “Boldly, Nobly and Independent,” tells the story of the Latter-day Saints from 1893 to 1955. This was a time of unprecedented change and international growth in the Church. Today on the Church News podcast, we welcome Jed Woodworth, managing historian for “Saints” and Scott Hales, also a “Saints” editor. Welcome, gentlemen, to the Church News podcast.
Scott Hales: Thanks.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I want to just start and talk about this new volume of “Saints.” All of us have read the first two volumes, we’re so excited to continue this important history of the Church. Jed, why don’t we just start today and have you give us a background on everything that is “Saints, Vol. 3.”
Read more: 3rd ‘Saints’ volume shares global stories of hope, faith through pandemic, wars and challenges
Jed Woodworth: So the third volume of “Saints” covers a period of great growth in the Church. It begins in 1893 with the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple, which is an event covered in Vol. 2, and we pick up the action that same year. The volume ends in 1955, with the dedication of the Swiss Temple. And so this naturally raises a question, “Well, how did we get from a predominantly Utah-based church, where most Saints are living in Utah or adjacent states, to a Church where we now have a temple in Europe?” And so the question that the volume raises is, “Can the Saints, when they move outside of the Great Basin or when they convert in countries outside of the United States and found congregations, branches, wards, missions and so on — How do they live as a minority people?” In this period, we see the Saints increasingly becoming minorities, even extreme minorities, and so what is the passport for becoming a Saint as an extreme minority?
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, that is so interesting. Before we started this podcast, Jed was saying he focused as an editor on this project on the history side; and Scott, you focused on the writing side.
Scott Hales: That’s right.
Sarah Jane Weaver: How did you identify themes or things that would come up that you wanted to focus on?
Scott Hales: Well, it’s really a group effort. It’s not necessarily that I’m the one choosing the themes or deciding on which stories we featured. And I think this is one of the things that makes “Saints” unique, is that it’s really a marriage between history and literature. We have historians in the room, and we have creative writers in the room, and what we do is we sit down together, and we talk about, “What are the best stories to tell that will represent this era adequately?” So we identify key events, and key characters, and then we — as a creative writer, it’s then my job and the job of the other writers to figure out how to tell these stories, or how to tell stories about these events, or about these characters in a way that engages audiences.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And as a church, we care a lot about history. Joseph Smith commissioned and oversaw the writing of the first Church history. Many of us are familiar with B.H. Roberts’ history that came in the 1930s, but why does history matter to us? And Jed, let’s have you answer that.
Jed Woodworth: I think history matters for us as a people, because we understand that our Church was founded on a historical question, namely, “Which church is right, which church should I join, where do I find salvation?” And that brings us to the very core of what it means to be a Latter-day Saint. “Where do I find the restored gospel of Jesus Christ?” And so, history goes back to the very beginning in 1820, when Joseph Smith was embedded in a religious fervor, a debate in his hometown, and he was confused, didn’t know where to turn for salvation. And then, as we know, every Latter-day Saint child knows and is taught, that he went into the grove and knelt down and prayed in faith to know where he should go. And so that is an archetypal message, that we all have questions. We have concerns, we have issues or problems that we can’t solve ourselves, and we need heaven’s help to answer those questions.
So it goes back to that beginning, but then I think when the Church was organized in 1830, the Lord said in a revelation, “Behold, there shall be a record kept among you” (see Doctrine and Covenants 21:1). So it’s not just the searching of a young boy now. This is a divine command to a covenant body of believers that they should keep a record.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, you know, at the Church News, we care so much about this. Just a few years ago, we added a tagline to our product. It says: “Church News: A Living Record of the Restoration.” We want to keep a record, we want to make sure that someone records and amplifies the words of leaders and members of the Church.
Jed Woodworth: We know over the course of time, the historian’s office was created. Brigham Young felt that that office was so important that he put an apostle in charge, and the daily work of the historian’s office was to keep a record of the Church, to also keep a manuscript history of Brigham Young’s workings, and that record has been continued over time. So I think that’s the beginning of it.
Scott Hales: I think another thing that’s important to remember is, especially for younger readers of “Saints” and just younger Latter-day Saints in general, there could be a tendency to think that really what you’re experiencing in the present is unprecedented. And the more I study Church history, the more I learn that whatever we’re experiencing today, the Saints in the past have experienced something similar. And I think we see that especially with this volume, when we started this volume, we didn’t realize how relevant it would be on the day it was published. When we started writing this volume, there was not a global pandemic, there was not conflict in Europe; and by the time the book was published, we had gone through or we are still in the midst of a global pandemic. In the book, we talk about the 1918 influenza pandemic, and how the Saints coped with that. We see Europe at war here in the book, and that’s something that we’re experiencing now. So this is an incredibly relevant book for our readers today. And I think younger readers, or really, any readers can look at this book and if they have questions about how to cope with the challenges of today, they can look to the past and find answers to that.
Jed Woodworth: I think one of the things that makes “Saints” so engaging is that it’s written in a style that is unusual for historical writing. So in past attempts to write Church history, you have a historian who is writing the first draft of the history, and if you want to have it dolled up, so to speak, you might have a creative writer come at the end and make it more engaging. And I think the genius of “Saints” was we inverted that process, and we allowed the creative writer to write the first draft. This architecture was the genius of [Richard E.] Turley. Rick Turley was the assistant Church historian at the time that “Saints” was approved, and it was his advocacy that brought “Saints” into being. And Rick said, “Let’s hire creative writers, and historians and bring them together on the same team. Let’s have the historian conceptualize what the history is that we need to tell, and perhaps provide the creative writer with documents, beats or major milestones to cover, and then let’s let the creative writer write the first draft, then have the historian come and critique that draft.” And so when people talk about “Saints” and what they like about “Saint,s” often they’ll say, “The writing is fresh. These are events I know, but I haven’t heard them written in these terms.” And I say, “Well, that’s because a creative writer who may not know LDS history as well as a historian might is writing in a way that makes sense to them.” And so it really has been a wonderful process to see these disparate people on the team who come from different backgrounds and educational training working together to write the Church’s history.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I know from previous volumes that the Church History Department has emphasized that “Saints” is both transparent and very factual. How important are those things as you try to determine what to leave in and leave out of the volumes?
Scott Hales: I would say it’s extremely important. I think one of the most challenging things for me on the creative writing side of the project, is that as a creative writer, I want to be able to tell the most engaging story possible. And to do that, you want to appeal to all five senses, and really pull the reader in and help them feel as if they are there. As the events unfold, unfortunately — maybe I should say, fortunately here too, at the same time — since this is a work of history, this is a work of nonfiction, and it’s work coming from the Church, we’re trying to be transparent, we have to sacrifice some of that engagement in order to make sure that the history is sound. So if we do not have a source that tells us what it was like to be there, what something looked like, what something sounded like or what something felt like, that we can’t make that detail up. We have to restrict our creativity in order to make sure that the history is reliable, that it can be sourced to specific documents which we make available to the reader. So it’s a challenge for a creative writer, because you really want to be able to dive in with all your creative powers, but we have that check. We have to make sure that this is a reliable history as we’re doing it.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and this history is specifically written with a young adult audience in mind. How does that impact how that process unfolds?
Jed Woodworth: Well, I think the target audience of a young adult readership, first of all, directs the sorts of stories we select. We are more attuned to finding young women, young men as characters. For example, we have a character in this volume from Germany, Helga Meiszus, and Helga, she enters the volume as a girl. She’s a 9-year-old girl, and we see her attending Sunday School in East Prussia, but we develop her over time in the 1930s. She’s dealing with the problem of National Socialism and Hitler’s Youth Movement, which is prompting girls around her in her school to join this Hitler Youth Movement. And she then has a struggle, because she’s a Bee-Hive Girl at the time, and the struggle is, “Do I gravitate towards the Bee-Hive program? Or do I go into Hitler Youth?” So Helga and her mother have a conversation in the volume where Helga decides, “I’m going to choose the Bee-Hive Girls.” This is, again, an archetypal type of dilemma where a young person is trying to decide, “Do I choose the Church or the kingdom, or do I choose the world?” And she chooses the kingdom. This is something that we were very much aware of that young people face this dilemma perpetually, every generation has to face it, and so we selected stories that we felt would resonate with younger audiences.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I love that the first two volumes detail the Restoration, they detail Latter-day Saints building temples in Nauvoo and in Salt Lake; and now suddenly, you have a whole generation of the Church moving outside of that Intermountain West pioneer corridor. Was it hard to get information when you’re talking about records that were found in multiple languages across different countries?
Jed Woodworth: When we first started to build this volume in 2015, I was the lead historian in charge of outlining the volume, and one of the challenges that we had was that the first half of the 20th century is under-documented in our archives, and there are several obvious reasons why that would be at this time. We had no professional staff in the Church historian’s office, we had no one conducting archival interviews, oral histories with people. The larger problem was that the Saints who lived in this period in other countries never immigrated to the United States. And so I came to develop this hypothesis that the records we needed were actually in Europe somewhere, they were in private hands, and they were inaccessible to us. How would you find the stories? We knew the stories were out there. The question is how to find them. And so one of the characters that we wanted to feature was a German character. Why Germany? Germany was actually the most developed Church land in Europe at this time. It had more members than Great Britain, and so, of course, Germany is involved in two world wars. The Great Depression affected Germany in profound ways, and so we wanted to find a character who could take us from the 1920s to the 1950s in Germany. But we couldn’t find one in the archives. And so when that happens, when you’ve exhausted all of your resources, all of your ingenuity, you turn to prayer. Like President [Gordon B.] Hinckley has always said, “You pray and then you get to work.” Well, in our case, we prayed, but we worked, and then prayer becomes more important at the tail end when you can’t find the character.
As a consequence of our work and our absence of being able to find the right person, we ended up going to BYU to look for someone on the biography shelves; they have an extensive LDS collection of biographies. And we were able to find a memoir on the shelves by a woman named Helga Meiszus Meyer, and it’s called “Under a Leafless Tree.” I had never seen this book. I pulled it off the shelves and I started reading and within 30 minutes, I knew this was the person. She had written this memoir, under the influence of a woman who she visit taught. And so, what I haven’t told you is that Helga Meyer lived the first 40 years of her life in Germany, then she emigrates shortly before the Berlin Wall goes up, settles in Salt Lake City, learns English, and as a consequence of this, she came under the influence of this younger woman who she visit taught. Her name is Lark Evans Galli. And Lark said to Helga, “You really need to get your story down.” And Helga said, “Oh, I can never do that. My English isn’t good enough, and I’m too busy, I’m quilting,” etc. She had many excuses, and all of them understandable. Most people do not sit down and write their life story in a second language. And Lark said, under the inspiration of heaven, I believe, “I will help you. I will bring a recorder to you. All you have to do is talk, tell your story. I’ll record it. I’ll transcribe it. I’ll bring it back to you. You can review the transcript, and then we’ll refine it from there.” And so Lark and Helga did this when Helga was in her 80s and Lark was half her age. They worked together on this memoir. Lark published it, self-published, and that’s what we found in the BYU library. When I found the book, it was 2016. Helga was born in 1920. So I assumed, “Oh, this woman died a long time ago.” I contacted Lark, I showed up at her doorstep, and I said who I was, and I said, “I have many questions. Would you answer them?” And she said, “Well, why don’t you ask them of Helga? She lives around the corner. She’d be happy to talk to you.” Helga was 96, and that began a two year friendship with her where we spent many hours together, she gave us more information, and she was very bright and witty, and I get emotional thinking of her because she was like a grandmother to me, and I feel very, very grateful that I was able to meet her. She ended up passing away at 98, but she was really a joy to be able to introduce her story to this readership.
In this book, Heber J. Grant commands 15 scenes. Helga Meiszus Meyer has 12 scenes, she’s the second most common character, and yet she’s an everyday Saint that no one knows anything about. But I tell the story because our finding her came out of struggle, and I think this is one of the lessons of this book, is that faith and power often come out of struggle. We go back to Joseph Smith, again, came out of struggle that he had his first vision, and certainly the writing of this book, more than 60% of it was written during the pandemic, it was a struggle to write when we were all in different locations, and we were disconnected from our documentary base. But with the Lord’s help, we were able to get it done.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and Scott, you obviously also would have experienced some challenges in what you had to accomplish. What did that look like for you?
Scott Hales: Now, this has been a challenge that we’ve been dealing with since the second volume. In the second volume, we really wanted to tell the story of a woman named Anna Widtsoe, who was the mother of Apostle John A. Widtsoe. And one of the challenges that we encountered was that we had a wealth of documents from her that she had kept that her family had preserved, but they were all in another language. And it was a dialect of Norwegian that was, it was a bit—
Jed Woodworth: Dano-Norwegian.
Scott Hales: Yeah, it was it was kind of an old,
Jed Woodworth: An old script.
Scott Hales: Yeah. And so it was it was difficult — I mean, we had no way to read it, and we tried to recruit others who knew Norwegian to read it, and they were struggling with it. But I happen to have a friend at BYU, who was able to read it, and so we recruited her. She was a historian with a specialty in Scandinavian languages, and she said, “Well, send me the letters, let me see if I can, if I could read them,” and she could, and so she began to translate for us. And then we encountered a graduate student who also could read the letters, and it actually turned out that he was a descendant of the Widtsoes. So here we had two people who could read for us, and so we were able to unlock these documents. And that was really our first encounter with this challenge, and with Vol. 3, we kept encountering that, and that’s a challenge, because you want to be able to tell the stories, you want to be able to use every possible resource to do these stories justice. And when there’s a language barrier, you struggle. Fortunately, we have access to some translation services here in the Church, which have helped us, and one of the neat experiences for me — so I served my mission in Brazil, and I really haven’t used Portuguese for about 20 years, but I’ve kind of maintained the ability to read it pretty well, and so I was very excited to write the beginnings of the Church in Brazil, this was very personal and meaningful for me. And so as I began to read about the early history of the Church, I discovered that a lot of the documents were in Portuguese, and they were not translated. And so I was able to use some of the language skills that I learned on my mission to kind of decipher these documents and be able to write these stories. So that was what was nice about this experience, is that I was able to work freely without having to recruit translators, and that’s a very rare experience for us here. Usually, we have to find the document, we have to transcribe the document, then we need to find somebody who can read it, and that slows things down and that can be challenging. Fortunately, we have access to technology now that will allow us to, if we have a transcription of the document, there’s a lot of technology now that will help us do a rough translation so we’re able to identify what’s in the text, so that we can kind of get a sense of what’s there, and then kind of come up with our story, and then recruit a professional translator to give us the final product. But it’s, long story short, it’s a challenge.
Sarah Jane Weaver: No easy days. So, I love the story of Helga, and so much of this history, when we think about, we think of Europe, but obviously the Church is growing, during this same time, in Central and South America and Asia. How much of the book includes this history and other areas?
Scott Hales: We tell stories about the beginnings of the Church in Argentina, we tell the story about the beginnings of the Church in Brazil, we have stories about Japanese characters, the early Church in Japan, we tell stories about Saints in South Africa. We tell stories about Saints in New Zealand, Maori Saints in New Zealand, and we tell the story of an American man who marries a Guatemalan woman, and they’re really the beginnings of the Church there in Guatemala. They’re the ones who help establish it there.
Jed Woodworth: This book is unprecedented in its cast of characters, especially the international voices. When B.H. Roberts wrote in 1930, the last time to write a comprehensive history of the Church, there were very few international voices in the book, there were a few British voices. So at that time, the Church had barely gone into Argentina. It had only been in Brazil for a couple of years, and so the South American voices were not on Elder Roberts’ radar. Today in 2022, we know that the history needs to reflect the demography of the Church. And so part of what we’re doing in the book is we’re showing the origins, the beginnings of various regions, and how the restored gospel went to those regions. So we show that in South America, we devote quite a bit of time to the Church going in that area, and also in the Far East.
Scott Hales: We also cover quite a bit the history of the Church in Mexico during this volume. And what’s neat about that, and what’s neat about the stories we tell about Hawaii in this book, is that they are building on stories that we begin in Vol. 2. And so, as Jed mentioned, quite a bit of this book addresses the origins of the Church and various lands, but there are some places like Mexico or Hawaii, where the Church has been there for a long time, and so we begin to see how the Church grows and evolves in these countries. We can see some of the growing pains and some of the challenges that the Saints there in those countries or lands face. And I think that really sets it apart from previous volumes, in that when we would go to foreign lands in earlier volumes, it’s really just to tell the beginnings of the Church in these places, but here we begin to see the Church taking root as well.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And I was in South America with President Russell M. Nelson on his first South American global ministry tour, and had sort of an aha moment, because he was talking about the dedication of South America for the preaching of the gospel, and of Melvin J. Ballard visiting Argentina. And doing that, I’m assuming that story is included in the volume. And then he made note that this all happened just as he’s being born. And I realized, “Wow, the history of the church in Central and South America has transpired in the lifetime of our Prophet.” Now, just a few weeks ago, he did become the oldest living prophet that we’ve ever had. But still, 97 years is not a long time, when we think of history.
Jed Woodworth: In 1930, when B.H. Roberts wrote, 90% of all Church members lived in the U.S. or Canada. And so now, of course, we have over 50% Spanish-speaking members, and so once again, this history is relatively recent, and we’re seeing the inception, the beginning, really, of the gospel taking root in countries other than North American countries.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I’ve worked at the Church News since 1995. I remember writing about the Church hitting the 10 million mark, and the 12 million mark, and I’m sure it’s not too far away that we’ll be writing about 17 million. And, you know, when we think about this growing diversified body of Latter-day Saints across the globe, so many of their stories are represented in this volume. I’d love to have each of you kind of delve down and talk about some of the specific anecdotal information that touched you.
Scott Hales: One of the things that I value in this volume is our attention to Latter-day Saint life in the United States outside of Utah. You know, I am not a Utah native. I was born here, but my family moved to Ohio pretty soon after I was born, and so my experience in the Church has always been outside of Utah, and I’ve only recently become a Utah transplant. So I’m very interested in telling the story of what it’s like to be a Latter-day Saint when you’re outside of this Latter-day Saint corridor here. And so we, in this book, tell many, many stories about life outside of Utah, but specifically, we tell the story of the Cincinnati branch during the 1920s and 30s, the Cincinnati Ohio Branch, and it just happens that I’m from Cincinnati, Ohio, so this is very personal to me.
And I love how this shows the beginnings of how the Church programs here in Utah are adapted to meet the needs of Saints all throughout the world. One of the things that we show in this volume is the challenge that comes when you try to take a program that works really well here in Utah, and implement it somewhere else. A lot of times it doesn’t work well, and so adaptation needs to take place, so we see that happening. I love to see ways that Church members adapt, and one of the things that we show in this book, for example, is, what do you do for Saints who have no access to a church patriarch, because they don’t live in a stake? And so in Cincinnati, they did not have a stake at the time, they had districts and branches, and so they had no access to a patriarch. So the Church implemented a program where they sent a traveling patriarch around, and he would give patriarchal blessings to Church members who did not live in stakes. And so one of the stories that we tell is, it’s about a young woman, 14, 15 years old named Connie Taylor, who, she receives her patriarchal blessing and receives some very, very special promises from the patriarch. And, through the story we tell about her life, we show how some of these blessings came to pass. And so that’s just really, to me, that’s really interesting and shows how Church leaders here in Salt Lake City were concerned about members receiving all the blessings available to Church members here. And so we see ways that they figured out how to make these blessings available to those who beforehand did not have access to them.
Jed Woodworth: Lest anyone suppose that Scott Hales wrote Cincinnati into this book because he’s from Cincinnati, I think I need to explain how we came to be there. It actually began with the death of Jane Manning James. Many listeners will know that name as an African-American pioneer who lived in Salt Lake City for many years, and we feature her story in Vol. 2. We felt that we needed to complete her arc in this volume. She dies in 1908, and so we did include a funeral scene of Jane. But that raised a question: “Do we need another African-American character to take us through 1955?” And we decided the answer was yes, of course. And so the question was, “How do we locate this person?” I’ve already mentioned that the documentary base of the first half of the 20th century is thin, and we weren’t sure exactly where to find the person. Well, it just so happened that, at the time we were looking into this question of another African-American character, the University of Utah released a database called “Century of Black Mormons.” In this database was the brainchild of Paul Reeve who’s a professor of history at the university, and Paul wanted to document every LDS black member between 1830 and 1930. That was his aim. And many of these people, he knew the name, but he hadn’t really gone and found where they were or what could be known about them, and so he had a small team of researchers that he enlisted to help him in this project. Well, at the time we were looking for this character, the database had been up a year, year and a half, and they had a small aggregate of bio sketches. We asked our research assistant on “Saints” at that time, a woman named Sheridan Sylvester, if she would go and look at these bio sketches and come back with some possible characters. She came back to us a few weeks later, and she said, “There are really only a couple of characters who would work for us. We had asked her to locate a first person voice, that was a requirement, that the character have quotations in the first person, and we wanted the person to be active in the Church in the 1920s and 30s. She said, “Unfortunately, we don’t have many first person voices.” But she mentioned a couple, Len and Mary Hope from Alabama, who, she said, “There’s a conversion account in their biosketch and we have a first person voice.” She also told us that they encountered resistance, persecution, discrimination along the way in their church journey, but they remained active in the Church. We thought that this would be an interesting story to tell. Well, Scott then investigated what happens to Len and Mary Hope, and he found that they moved from Alabama to Cincinnati, Ohio, in the 1920s. And at that point, Scott suggested that we follow the Hopes to Cincinnati, and then the question became, “Well, what else could we do in Cincinnati?” And since we were looking for an out migration story, a story of Saints who left the Great Basin to go out into the larger world or never came to the Great Basin, in the case of Connie Taylor and Paul Bang, we started to investigate an out migration story in Cincinnati. And lo and behold, we discovered that the Bangs and the Hopes interacted, that the Bangs would come to the Hopes and hold sacrament meeting in their home because there was a faction of the branch in Cincinnati, that did not want Black members to join them in the congregation, and so the Hopes were not allowed to attend. But there was another faction that said, “We don’t like what is happening here, and we’ll come to you, we’ll bring the sacrament to you. We will have fast and testimony meeting with you.” And that included the Bangs.
Scott Hales: And this is a neat story too — so when we decided that we wanted to develop the Cincinnati branch and use the branch to show what it was like to be a Latter-day Saint outside of Utah, I began to think about my childhood and who some of the older members were that I knew or that my family knew, and Paul Bang was the state patriarch when I was a boy, and I have one memory of him, where he introduced himself to me in between sessions of general conference, and so I went to FamilySearch Memories to look him up to see if there was anything there about him, did he leave an autobiography or any sort of documentation, and came to find out that his daughter Linda had just uploaded all sorts of documents, family documents about him and his wife, Connie Taylor, who I just spoke about — spoilers — anyway, the first document I clicked open was a page from his journal from the 1936, and the first thing I read was, “Brother and Sister Hope came by today.” And right there, I knew we’ve got a story here. We’ve got a relationship and when you have a relationship, you’ve got a story.
Jed Woodworth: And this is Paul Bang at age 16 keeping a journal. This does not happen. Not at all. Teenagers do not write journals. And moreover, the journals are not posted on FamilySearch of 16 year old boys. So Paul Bang became the face of priesthood reform for us. We wanted to show readers how Aaronic Priesthood changes during this time really began with Joseph F. Smith. President Smith implemented the lockstep function that we know today of deacon to teacher to priests for young men really came about in his administration. But we show Paul Bang going through this process as a young man, and being an Aaronic Priesthood holder and what that looks like outside of Utah. But in the process, we were able to bring in Len and Mary Hope, and this question of how African Americans were accepted or not accepted in the Church at the time. So the dovetailing of an African-American character with a priesthood reform character with an out migration family was beautiful, and we’re excited for people to discover these families.
Sarah Jane Weaver: You know, this also is an interesting time where we see so much change, so much modernization. You go from horses and buggies to air travel, and to where people are so isolated in the Western United States or wherever they are, and missionaries take so long to get to the places they’re going to preach, to where we have telephones. So how does modernization play into this period in history?
Scott Hales: I think one of the things that we see in this book is how eager and willing the Church leaders, our Church presidents, are to embrace technology. So we see Heber J. Grant, for example, embracing the technology of radio, and how that is able to spread the gospel message around the world. Or we see at the very end, David O. McKay really embracing air travel, which allows him to move around the world and visit with Saints in an unprecedented way.
Jed Woodworth: I think one of the ways that the Church changes in this period is its embrace of communication technology. So at the time that the volume begins, if you’re going to enjoy general conference, you are sitting in the Tabernacle in 1893. And if you’re not in the Tabernacle, you’re not listening to general conference. In 1922, Heber J. Grant gives his first talk, it’s a very short speech over radio, and at that point, the Church turns a corner. It decides, “Hey, let’s get our message out through any means that we can, let’s utilize the marvelous inventions available to us.” And so within just a couple of years, general conference is broadcast over radio. And initially, it goes out only to western states, but after the Church is able to connect with a national radio program with the Music and the Spoken Word, they’re able to get general conference out across North America rather quickly. This is truly remarkable.
One of the changes that we see in this period is the quality of meetinghouses. It goes up dramatically, and by quality, I mean not that the pioneer craftsmanship of a meeting house is lost. These meetinghouses in this era, there are plans that the Church architect develops, but these plans involve modern conveniences. So for the first time, you have something like benches that have cushions on them, something very simple. You have microphones that are introduced into meetinghouses. We have modern heating. So instead of a central stove, or a stove on the side that would be found in a chapel, you have central heating, you have air conditioning by the end of the volume, the early 1950s, meetinghouses become equipped with air conditioning. And what does this do? Well, I think about this, sometimes I think, “If you don’t have to worry about your comfort, you can direct your attention to the message at hand.” So it really is an agent of salvation in a way. Depending on the person, it could be a very large agent of salvation to be able to concentrate, and meditate and really get into what is being spoken. Imagine the sacrament being different because you can focus on the elements of the Lord’s Supper and you don’t have to worry about your own bodily comfort.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, that’s really, really interesting. So much of this history is written from first person accounts. Do you have any advice for people trying to write their own history?
Jed Woodworth: I have two recommendations for people who are looking to write their own histories. Number one, you need to remove all of the impediments that would get in the way, which is to say, make it as simple as possible. So if it means taking your phone out, pressing record and just talking, that’s what you should do. If it means writing one paragraph a day or one sentence a day, that’s what you should do. So you should not make it feel like, “This is an overwhelming task, and I just can’t do it.” If you break it into something that is digestible, something easily accomplished, then you’ll get it done.
I remember talking with Laurel Thatcher Ulrich at one time about her writing. So she’s maybe our Church’s most decorated historian, winner of a Pulitzer Prize, and I asked her about her method. And she said it’s about all she can do to write one page a day. One page. But over the course of time, these pages accumulate. People make the mistake of not telling stories. So they often think, “My life is this move to that move, or this event to that event,” and they think in terms of number, like this year, this happened to me this year. They’re not thinking, “OK, what are the main stories of my life, the main pivots of my life?” So it may be a conversion experience. How many people write down various conversion experiences that they’ve had, or spiritual experiences? So we often focus on sort of the insignificant stuff, but we don’t tell the stories that are truly crucial to understanding who we are. So my second piece of advice would be to write stories or tell stories, not events.
Scott Hales: One of the things that I like to say is something is better than nothing. In our experience, writing “Saints Vol. 3,” we drew on traditional family histories that somebody had written down. But we also drew on audio recordings. You know, I think even we relied there at the end on some video recordings or film recordings. There are many different ways to document your personal history. Find what works for you, and use it, just get something down. Something is definitely better than nothing.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I was covering an event where Elder Quentin L. Cook was speaking, and he actually spoke about the assignment to review and read every word of “Saints,” and in this talk, he was bearing testimony of Joseph Smith, and he said, “The more you read, the more you see, the more you understand what the Prophet Joseph Smith did, the more you admire him.” And this idea that the deeper we delve into our history, the more our testimony grows, kind of sunk deep down into my heart. It made me want to study our history more. How has what you have done with “Saints” strengthened each of your testimonies?
Scott Hales: I think for me, one of the joys of this project is being able to spend time with the prophets. You mentioned Joseph Smith, and one of the things I miss most about working on Vol. 1 is being able to go into the office every day and just hang out with Joseph Smith, read his writings, study his words, learn about his life, tell his story. It was just an incredible experience that strengthened my testimony in his mission, something that I hope people have as well. I strongly encourage people to study his life, and to get close to his story and his teachings. And that has continued on. I was recently listening to the audiobook of “Saints, Vol. 3,” and I remember during the writing process, becoming emotional when we wrote about the death of Wilford Woodruff, who I’d also spent quite a bit of time with, and Joseph F. Smith, who also was a constant companion. And I remember — I’m not much of a crier — but I choked up as I was working on both of those scenes. And again, as I listened to them in the audiobook months later, it’s probably been more than a year later, I still got emotional as I heard those stories, because I love and admire these people. And it’s true for so many characters, you develop a deep relationship with them. And as I read and learn about the story of Helga Meyer, and I think about all the challenges that she faced, and how she was able to endure what she endured with her faith. That makes me want to be a better Latter-day Saint. I remember talking with Linda Bang Ludlow who is the daughter of Paul Bang, and she said to me one day, “Scott, my dad loved being a Latter-day Saint. He loved being a Latter-day Saint.” And I had to ask myself, “Do I love being a Latter-day Saint, and if I don’t, why not?” And that has really caused me to think about my relationship to the Church. And today, I can say I love being a Latter-day Saint, and I love the example of Paul Bang, and what he taught me as I learned about his life.
Jed Woodworth: When I think about how my faith has grown over the course of this book, and writing the book, I think of core gospel concepts like redemption. And for me, I have seen how our team has been pulled out of the morass of ignorance, the pandemic, not having resources that we need to write the book, and I’ve seen this over and over again, and that strengthens my faith to be rescued, to be able to pray to find what we need, and to know that it will be there, eventually. It doesn’t always come when we want it to come. I would love to have the whole architecture of the book from the very beginning, but I think we would not have learned dependence or reliance on God if we had that, and so I said earlier that stories of faith come out of struggle, and that has certainly been true of our experience in writing this book. But in the end, we look back on it now, and we’re better able to see that the manna comes. Our prayers have been answered, and we’ve been able to find the stories that we needed, ultimately, when we needed to find them.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Great. Well, I think that leads right into the question that we ask everyone who comes on the Church News podcast. we always end the Church News podcast the same, and we always give our guests the last word. The question is, “What do you know now?” So after the work that you have done on “Saints Vol. 3,” what do you know now? And Scott, let’s start with you, and we’ll finish up today with Jed.
Scott Hales: The sentence that came to my mind when you said that is that God cares. God cares. Sometimes I joke that it’s easier for me sometimes just to imagine that God doesn’t care because it’s easier to deal with hardship. Now I’m getting emotional. Thanks. Thanks, Jed. You know, it’s easier sometimes when hardship comes to think it’s easy to keep faith by saying, “You know what? God just, you know, He’s there but He doesn’t care. He just lets these things happen. It’s for our best.” But time and time again working on the project, I see that God cares and I see that in the lives of the people we feature and I see it in our efforts to write the book. There are times when we were struggling to get it done. We were struggling to find the right stories, we were struggling to know if this is the direction that we need to take this book, we were struggling to know if this is really the book the Saints need. And there come moments where God intervenes and says, “I care about you and I care about this book. I care about the Saints. I need them to hear this story.” And He puts the story in our way and we’re able to tell it. So the thing that I’ve learned that I know now is that God cares. He cares.
Jed Woodworth: The thing that I know now that I didn’t know before is how important our own behavior is in the process of becoming a Church. What it meant to be a Latter-day Saints in the 19th century was more or less dependent on whether you had the faith to gather, to physically come out of the world and gather to the Great Basin. In this volume, what we see when the Saints go back out, is they are, now, being tested not to physically gather, but rather, can they persist in their Latter-day Saint identity? And so what we see in the volume is there are certain markers of identity formation that become absolutely crucial. For example, the Word of Wisdom becomes crucial to identifying who is a Latter-day Saint and who is not. And so, what does the prophet do in this era? President Heber J. Grant, he defines the Word of Wisdom as exact obedience to certain strictures. This is what the Church needed. Tithing becomes much more important. It becomes a requirement for a temple recommend: “Are you a full tithe payer in this era?” And involvement in the Church, building the kingdom, serving in the Church becomes very, very important, and I think that that creates a template for us going forward. I think we always have to ask, what is the prophet raised up to do in this period of time? For Heber J. Grant, it was to help define the identity of a Latter-day Saint. For Joseph F. Smith, perhaps it was giving us a mandate to do temple work and do it in a big way, and also creating that reform structure for young men and young women.
Every prophet is raised up to do a work. Is it any coincidence that the prophet who was preserved for the Great Depression was a banker and an insurance man? I think not. Was it any coincidence that in the greatest era of educational expansion, the Lord preserved an educator in David O. McKay? No. And so what I’ve learned is that if we keep our eye on the Lord’s message in any given era, and that prophet and his mandate, that we’ll be safe, and that all will go well. If we disregard the words of the prophets — I think this is the message of the Old Testament in particular — things don’t go well for us. So we keep our eye on the main message, and all will be fine. And I think we see many characters in this era who are doing that: they’re maintaining their LDS identity despite great opposition, and they’re keeping their eye on the main message.
Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News Editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer, KellieAnn Halvorsen, and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on TheChurchNews.com.