Menu
In the News

Episode 92: Church historian and recorder, Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr., on the vital role of Church history


There has always been a declared need for recording keeping in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith, as documented in Doctrine and Covenants 21, affirms: “Behold, there shall be a record kept among you.”

Historical records continue to bless Latter-day Saints, helping members to understand the robust history of the Church and the challenges their forefathers overcame. The modern explosion of technology has made it possible for members to share the Church’s history and Christ’s doctrine with the world at large.

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr., a General Authority Seventy serving as Church historian and recorder and executive director of the Church History Department, joins this episode of the Church News podcast to share what he has learned about the importance of these records and how understanding the past can define the future.

Subscribe to the Church News podcast on Apple Podcasts, Amazon, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, bookshelf PLUS or wherever you get podcasts.

Transcript

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr.: When I was set apart as Church historian, President Russell M. Nelson, in his blessing to me, said, “The history of this Church is sacred. It is precious.” It’s one thing to keep records of wars and, and elections. That kind of history is important, but when you start talking about revelations that come from God, about visits of angels, about sacred translations, there is a holiness to it that by writing it down, we can then have the spiritual benefit of those sacred experiences as the Church moves forward.

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.

From the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 6, 1830, there has been a declared need for record keeping the revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith, as documented in Doctrine and Covenants 21, “Behold, there shall be a record kept among you,” and these records kept bless us to this very day. This episode of the Church News podcast, we are joined by Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr., a General Authority Seventy, serving as Church historian and recorder and executive director of the Church History Department. He shares with us what he has learned about the importance of these records and how understanding our past can strengthen us today. Elder Curtis, welcome to the Church News podcast.

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr.: Thank you. I’m honored to be here.

2:01

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, we’re so grateful you would come. Why don’t we just start and have you tell us, what is the role of Church historian and recorder? What do you do in that job?

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis: Well, as you mentioned, the records of the Church are very important, and Joseph Smith wasn’t a great record keeper before he got this commandment that they should keep a record of the proceedings of the Church. And so, Oliver Cowdery got the assignment to be the first historian of the Church. They didn’t have a lot of people to choose from, frankly, because the Church was so small in those days. And then later, a year later, John Whitmer was assigned to be the Church historian because the Lord said in revelation that there was other work for Oliver Cowdery to do. And so, the Church historian’s role has changed over the years as the Church has grown. To begin with, he was the record keeper. Now, we’ve got around 200 employees and missionaries that help us, and, of course, members of the Church and clerks and secretaries all around the Church that helped keep a record of what happens. My responsibility, primarily, now, is to preside over the Church History Department, its various divisions, like the museum and the library and the historic sites and publications, and that I, in that capacity, make sure that we keep the record, we preserve the record, and we share the record with the members of the Church.

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr., of the Seventy, and President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, look at a typewriter while touring Joseph F. Smith’s private office in the Beehive House in Salt Lake City on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021.

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr., of the Seventy, and President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, look at a typewriter while touring Joseph F. Smith’s private office in the Beehive House in Salt Lake City on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Sarah Jane Weaver: We’ve talked about there being a spiritual component to record keeping. Certainly, we’ve been commanded to do it. There’s also a practical side to this. Why do you think that the Lord wanted us to keep such important records?

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr.: By having the records, we can learn better from our past. You can then go back and study what was done for good and for finding the mistakes that were made. And we can, from that, be wiser as we move forward. I think there’s another component to it. When I was set apart as Church historian, President Russell M. Nelson, in his blessing to me, said, “The history of this Church is sacred. It is precious.” It’s one thing to keep records of wars and elections. That kind of history is important, but when you start talking about revelations that come from God, about visits of angels, about sacred translations, there is a holiness to it that by writing it down, we can then have the spiritual benefit of those sacred experiences as the Church moves forward.

5:02

Sarah Jane Weaver: And during your time as Church historian and recorder, the Church has been involved in many, many projects. I think two that our members are most familiar with, is the Joseph Smith Papers project and, of course, the release of “Saints.” Can we talk about each of those and start with the Joseph Smith Papers project? Can you tell us what’s happened with that in recent years and why it matters so much to the Church?

The original Book of Commandments and Revelations, the new facsimile edition of the Joseph Smith Papers, the first edition of the Joseph Smith Papers and a triple combination Friday, Sept. 11, 2009.

The original Book of Commandments and Revelations, the new facsimile edition of the Joseph Smith Papers, the first edition of the Joseph Smith Papers and a triple combination Friday, Sept. 11, 2009.

Jason Olson, Deseret News

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr.: The Joseph Smith Papers project has now been going for several years, and we’ve been going at a pace of releasing a couple of volumes every year. So, we’re at the point where we only have two more volumes that are going to be released. It is such a treasure trove of information about the Prophet Joseph Smith. Now, just kind of as a basic matter, it’s not unusual to take historical figures and have a papers project. There’s a George Washington papers project. There’s a Ben Franklin papers project, and what they basically are the collection of the writings of those individuals and writings that those individuals received. So, what we’ve been attempting to do with the Joseph Smith Papers is to collect everything he ever wrote and, because so many of his sermons were never written down by him, the notes that people took as the Prophet Joseph spoke.

It is just so important for us to have a source that now scholars and members can go to where they don’t have to be searching for a few papers here and a few papers here. So, as you know, we’ve got these sets of his journals that he kept. We’ve got volumes of revelations and translations that he did. The largest set is the document set, the very last volume, which will be coming out in a year — we’ve scheduled it to release it next year on the anniversary of Joseph Smith’s martyrdom — are all the documents from the last six weeks of his life. It is a remarkable thing to be able to have compiled in one place these different documents, and we’re already seen that scholars in the Church and out of the Church are using this treasure trove to analyze and write about the history of the early days of the Church.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I heard Elder Quentin L. Cook speak recently. As a member of the Quorum of the Twelve [Apostles], he had responsibility for a time for Church history and said that he had read every word that he could on the Joseph Smith Papers projects and he said, everything he learned about Joseph Smith, everything he read, only strengthened his testimony. He said, “The more you know, the better he looks.” Has that been your experience as you’ve studied and learned about the Prophet?

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr.: That has absolutely been my experience. I smiled. I know people, we probably all know people, who have left the Church, and they blame it on something that they learned about in Church history. I love the way that Richard Turley, who used to be the assistant Church historian, said it, that the problem isn’t knowing Church history, it’s knowing too little Church history. If you have the chance to really get into the history of the Church, just event after event, document after document, you can see the hand of Lord, guiding the Prophet Joseph and guiding this work forward. My testimony has been deeply, greatly enhanced by being able to be in the middle of the Joseph Smith Papers project.

Now, we collect the documents themselves, but we also have an introduction to each volume, and then introductions to the sections within the volumes, and then footnotes about different aspects. So, it’s scholarly, but frankly, one of the really good things is somebody who isn’t steeped in scholarship can read those introductions and get a great view of the history of the Church through a particular period of time. And as I have been involved in reviewing in many of the volumes over the last four years that I’ve been in the Church History Department, it has been just a glorious thing that just add layer after layer to my testimony.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And that’s exactly what “Saints” was intended to do, right, was to give young adults a broad, very transparent history of the Church at a time when there’s so much out there on the internet.

9:57

“Saints, Volume 2, No Unhallowed Hand, 1846-1893,” was released on Feb. 12, 2020. More than 500,000 copies have been sold of “Saints, Volume 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815-1846” published in 2018.

“Saints, Volume 2, No Unhallowed Hand, 1846-1893,” was released on Feb. 12, 2020. More than 500,000 copies have been sold of “Saints, Volume 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815-1846” published in 2018.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr: I am very grateful that I got to come along and be part of the project of writing “Saints.” The first volume was completed when I came to the department four years ago. We had a little bit more to do before we could release it, but as it was released, and then being involved in volumes two and three and a little bit, so far, on volume four, we don’t shy away from challenging, difficult issues in our history, but the really nice thing is, we can tell it honestly, openly, in context. I think with history, context is everything, being able to understand the forces that were at work, so you’re not just taking a statement or a story out of context, but that you can look at the whole flow of events. That’s what we’ve done with “Saints.”

Church News podcast, episode 80: ‘Saints, Vol. 3’ editors detail documenting a history that highlights globalization of the Church and overcoming trials

There are a couple of other factors that I think really help it. One is it’s written so that it’s at a high school level of education and vocabulary, because we really do want it to be for everyday members of the Church, including the young people. You mentioned young adults. I’d include the youth, and I would include, also, other people. I mean, I don’t think people will feel like, “Well, this is written below my level.”

The other thing that we’ve done is it’s written in what is known in writing circles as a narrative style. So that we’re telling stories that can capture people’s interest. And we focus on, as the title suggests, “Saints.” We’re talking about people. Yes, leaders of the Church, but ordinary, everyday members of the Church. And there, once again, in a somewhat different way, people’s testimonies can be enhanced as they read about the events in the Church. Now, in those later volumes, volume three, for example, most of it takes place outside of the United States. And so, you’re seeing these wonderful, everyday members of the Church in England, in Germany, and in South America, on the islands, in Asia. And you get this feeling of being part of a wonderful movement where God’s Spirit is animating and enlivening the whole business of this dispensation, of the gospel rolling forth.

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr., Church historian and recorder, talks with the daughters of Helga Meyer, who is featured in the third volume of “Saints.” A launch event was held at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Thursday, April 21, 2022. Pictured are Nia Maksymiw, Heidy Couch and Chris Farnsworth. Helga passed away several years ago in Utah at the age of 98.

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr., Church historian and recorder, talks with the daughters of Helga Meyer, who is featured in the third volume of “Saints.” A launch event was held at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Thursday, April 21, 2022. Pictured are Nia Maksymiw, Heidy Couch and Chris Farnsworth. Helga passed away several years ago in Utah at the age of 98.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Sarah Jane Weaver: I am so glad that we have this record that shows the growth of the Church, the internationalization of the Church. I want to jump back to something you said when we were talking about the Joseph Smith Papers projects, and that is our history. I think we all know people who have had questions with history, who have said this is why they’ve left the Church. What is your message to anyone who has ever been troubled by any aspect of our history?

13:00

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr.: I think that what I would say is don’t give up on it. Keep learning, keep investigating, ask questions. There are some incidents in our Church that from our 21st century eyes look kind of unusual. Frankly, there’s a lot about life, generally, if you’re talking about the 19th century, that seems unusual to us in the times that we live.

I mean, one example, women got married a lot younger in the 19th century. We might be shocked by a 16-year-old getting married or a 15-year-old. That was not a shocking thing in the 19th century. There are things that happened on the American frontier that were pretty unusual — the attraction to folk magic, for example. But that was the environment in which Joseph Smith, at times, found himself in. Some basic kinds of things, like learning how to read and write well, well, in those days, they got what education they could. Now, there were some very educated people, but you’ll find some spelling issues and somebody might be troubled by that, that one of the early leaders couldn’t spell or couldn’t spell well. By the way, norms for spelling were just still developing and what we might consider a mistake, it would be just the way people would go about trying to sound out words that they would write.

I think that if somebody is troubled, don’t give up on it, and one of the things that we’ve tried to do as a department is be available to, on a personal basis and on a more larger basis, help people talk about the issues that troubled them.

We’ve done this series of Church history conversations where, as we’re invited by different places around the world, we will do a virtual event, in some instances, and in-person event, where we welcome questions that people have about Church history. We have teams of our historians that take the questions and give the best information that we have, as well as their own personal conviction that having seen so much of the history, they are still devout believers. I hear people say, “Well, if you’d read what I’d read, then you’d be troubled, too.” I just don’t believe that, because we’ve read those things, we’ve wrestled with the issues. And we’ve also felt the wonderful, powerful influence of the Spirit confirming the truthfulness of this magnificent work.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I love that and I have to say, for the record, as someone who started life is not a stellar speller, that, you know, Church News would be in bad shape if everyone judged it by spelling and we have a lot of tools to help us today. There are some things that maybe we need to give people the benefit of the doubt as we look back on them and their own time and their own education level, correct?

16:15

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr.: That is absolutely correct. And that reminds me of one of the magnificent things about the history: You can just see the hand of the Lord involved. When Joseph Smith needed a scribe who was more educated and could write things a little better, Oliver Cowdery comes along, a believing young man, armed with the Spirit, and a little more education than Joseph had. When we needed money to publish the Book of Mormon, along comes Martin Harris. Now, both of them had their failings and their challenges, but that’s another part of the magnificent story of this Church, is God’s working through imperfect people, including me, including all of us. As we try to do our best, the Lord, somehow, has brought about this magnificent work.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Which leads us right to the past four years that you have served as Church historian and recorder. Tell us some of the highlights of that time for you.

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr.: Well, first of all, I spent my first year assisting Elder Steven E. Snow, who was the Church historian and recorder, and then for the last three years, I’ve been the Church historian and recorder. Those have been just magnificent experiences to work under the direction of the wonderful apostolic advisors we’ve had, Elder Quentin L. Cook, [Elder] Dale G. Renlund, for most of the time. It was just magnificent to be able to discuss with them issues with respect to one of the volumes of “Saints,” or issues with respect to the Joseph Smith Papers, or historic sites or other issues that we’ve had. It’s just been marvelous.

Now, we’ve got the blessing of being with and learning from Elder Neil L. Andersen and Elder Gerrit W. Gong, who are our current advisors from the [Quorum of the] Twelve [Apostles] — [that] has been just a magnificent experience. And as an added treat, the First Presidency blesses us with the opportunity to meet with them on a regular basis and learn from them. They all have a keen interest in our history and have been very supportive of the efforts that we have been doing.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Yeah, I remember an incident when we started construction on the Salt Lake Temple during that renovation project, and the crews pulled down the Angel Moroni, and there was a time capsule inside of that. And I was so touched that the whole First Presidency showed up to watch that be opened.

Emiline Twitchell, conservator at the Church History Library, removes items from the Salt Lake Temple capstone time capsule in Salt Lake City on Wednesday May 20, 2020.

Emiline Twitchell, conservator at the Church History Library, removes items from the Salt Lake Temple capstone time capsule in Salt Lake City on Wednesday May 20, 2020.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr.: As part of our ongoing reporting to them, they supervise the Church History Department, we have these advisors from the Twelve that help us, but the First Presidency supervises our work. And as we talked to them about, that we had this coming and this time capsule was in the capstone. That’s the ball on which Moroni stands. And we were really interested to look at it because of the records that had been kept when that capstone was put there, we had a list of the things that were supposed to be in there, and we were really quite excited about the possibilities. For one thing, it said there was a photograph of Joseph Smith. Well, there are no known photographs of Joseph Smith. So, if there really was a photograph in there, that would be a real find.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And my understanding is that if you want to preserve something for history, maybe don’t put it in a time capsule on top of a temple, because the elements did had to impact everything in that time capsule, correct?

20:03

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr.: That is absolutely correct it. Water can seep through the rock, and did. So, the books that were in there, whatever photographs were in there, did not come through in very good shape. And we could not find any photograph. And we, frankly, don’t know if there really was a photograph or if it was a photograph of one of the paintings of Joseph Smith. We know of several of those.

President Russell M. Nelson, center, and his counselors, President Dallin H. Oaks and President Henry B. Eyring, look over items removed from the Salt Lake Temple capstone time capsule in Salt Lake City on Wednesday May 20, 2020.

President Russell M. Nelson, center, and his counselors, President Dallin H. Oaks and President Henry B. Eyring, look over items removed from the Salt Lake Temple capstone time capsule in Salt Lake City on Wednesday May 20, 2020.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

So, the First Presidency wanted to be there when we opened the time capsule. They have an eye for history. I felt a little bad. We got them assembled, we opened the time capsule, and there was a lot of mush in there, a lot of, just things that were weathered. The curious thing, what did come through well, were the coins that workers threw into that time capsule. So, it’s kind of funny, the official things that were put in there didn’t come out very well, but we do have some interesting pieces of history, with the coins that were put in there, including some that were specifically, specially engraved to be thrown in.

Read more: What’s inside the Salt Lake Temple time capsule?

Emiline Twitchell, conservator at the Church History Library, looks over coins found in the Salt Lake Temple capstone and time capsule at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, July 14, 2020.

Emiline Twitchell, conservator at the Church History Library, looks over coins found in the Salt Lake Temple capstone and time capsule at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, July 14, 2020.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Sarah Jane Weaver: And that leads us right into the next part. We have to take specific measures to preserve our history and both the history of the individual members, who care about something and want to throw a coin into a time capsule, and the official history. What are some of the ways we’re doing that today?

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr.: One of the things that we do, is we have the Church History Library. It’s the name of the building. Most of it are storage vaults that we have, 10 of them that are kept at the ideal temperature for preserving paper records and so, we keep the records in there. Two of the vaults are kept below zero, because there are certain types of records like films and tape recordings, early newspapers with a high acidic content, that do better if you, in essence, freeze them, if you keep them at a very low temperature. The humidity is controlled within all of those vaults.

The Church History Library in Salt Lake City on Monday, Oct. 18, 2021.

The Church History Library in Salt Lake City on Monday, Oct. 18, 2021.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

I think more importantly, is we migrate the records to the latest technology so that we digitize the paper records; we migrate recordings to more current kinds of technology. It would be hard if we just left everything on reel-to-reel tapes. Yes, there still are some tape recorders, but it’s a lot better if you can migrate them to a more available way that you can record those things. I think that there’s also a clue for members of the Church in that. We don’t need to have that kind of extreme control over the conditions, but we do need to be conscious of where we happen to put our records. Sometimes a really hot attic may not be the best place to store something or a basement that floods from time to time, and so it is a really good thing for us to keep our records in a way that they’re going to last for a long time.

23:29

Sarah Jane Weaver: And some of us may need to back up our computer or digital photographs every once in a while, too.

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr: Absolutely, and to think about the best way to store them long-term, whether, you know, it’s unfortunate that sometimes people are taking photographs, they change their phones and they lose their photographs.

Sarah Jane Weaver: We had that issue with one of our daughters. She wrote from her mission and said, “Please send me a picture of me on my baptism day.” And we kept going through all the phone downloads, all the phone downloads, and I’m sure that picture exists somewhere, and I’m going to find it someday. But we did not find it for her, because it wasn’t organized in a way that she could access something that was important to her.

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr.: One of the other things that happens with photographs is people will take a picture at an important event, years go by and you look at it and you say, “Well, I recognize Aunt Maude, but who are these other people?” So, a few notes about who it is in the photograph, or a little more detail. It’s amazing how things that you think you will never forget, you get a little hazy about some of the outer edges, some of the surrounding circumstances.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Yeah, I’ve experienced that, too. Every mother is sure that she will always recognize her babies, but when you see a picture and all three children wore the same outfit and they all have blond hair, you’re just not quite as sure as you might have been 20 years earlier.

25:07

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr.: That’s right.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Anyway, is there some recommendations or something that can help families just, sort of, preserve their own history?

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr.: I think that one of the things that is very helpful is to find a way that you can regularly keep records going. What I mean by that is we have some great journalists in the Church. Wilford Woodruff had an entry for every day from about the time he joined the Church until shortly before his death. That is a terrific resource for us. But some people just find they can’t write everyday. So, for some people, it’s a Sunday activity to go back over the week and make a note of the things that happened.

I think one of the other things is to be cognizant of other key ways of keeping a record. We mentioned photographs, home movies, videos that are kept, being able to have them in a way that are accessible to the person and then to future generations. I think, being wise about the records that you keep and by that I mean, certificates of baptism, or ordination, or graduation from seminary, graduation from high school, key letters that we receive, having a way that we can, in essence, keep some preservation.

Now, the modern age gives us all kinds of challenges, because we used to get all our communications either just from talking to somebody or on a piece of paper. Now, they’re electronic in email systems where they get deleted after a while. And if we’re not careful, we will lose some treasures that will be meaningful to us in later in our lives and to generations to come.

Sarah Jane Weaver: You know, President M. Russell Ballard was raised in a home where his parents weren’t active in the Church. His grandfather was an Apostle, Elder Melvin J. Ballard, and President Ballard has spoken in a recent Church News interview, about how he wished his grandfather had kept records and shared with him the spiritual things about his apostolic calling, because, you know, years later, President Ballard comes along, has the same calling, yet doesn’t really know all the thoughts and feelings of his grandfather. He died when President Ballard was still a teenager. There is something important about a spiritual history as well.

27:53

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr.: You know, that is a great point. I think about when I was released as a bishop, I happened to be at a sports practice for one of my kids and needed to be there. I didn’t need to watch every moment of it, and so I pulled out a little book that I had with me and made some end-of-my-term-of-service entries, like, key people that I had been involved with, great events that had happened, and it’s funny looking back.

Those kind of summary kinds of entries about a particular time of service, I’ll try to do that at the end of a year, look back and say, “OK, these were some of the great events” that otherwise get lost to the mists of memory that you think, “Well, how did that really happen?” and, “Well, how did I feel at the time?” I think capturing those kinds of experiences proved to make a real difference.

You know, one of the things we do in Church History is we collect records from various members of the Church. And I will have people contact, they find out I’m Church historian or they have some connection, they’ll contact me and say, “I was going through my father’s journal, and I came across the notes that he made when President [Spencer W.] Kimball was talking to a group. Is this something that the Church would be interested in?” Well, from that, we got some insights into President Kimball’s thinking and feelings about all worthy men receiving the priesthood four years before it actually happened and, and we’ve got hidden in all sorts of places information, because people bothered to take a note or note to a spiritual event in their life.

Now, some things obviously are so sacred that you hesitate to put it on paper, but there are lots of things in the experience of being Latter-day Saints that will encourage and bless future generations.

I had the wonderful experience of reading my grandfather’s journal from his mission in the 1890s in the South Pacific and to watch the transition in his time of service from being a young, homesick missionary, more worried about what he was going to eat next, to a powerful servant of the Lord, bringing people into the Church, solidifying branches, having spiritual experiences. I got to know my grandfather in a way that I never would have if he hadn’t kept that record.

30:58

Sarah Jane Weaver: And you came to your calling as a General Authority, having had a father who also served in the Second Quorum of the Seventy. Were you able to look at some of his experiences or learn something from his time in general Church leadership?

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr.: It is a blessing that I got to watch my good dad in that calling. And many a time, as I’ve approached something, I thought, “I wish I were as good as my dad at dealing with these kinds of situations. He just had such a glorious way with people.” And so, yes, from things he said, but frankly, more from, and things he wrote, but more from people who he impacted that would, you know, would say, “I’m an active member of the Church, because your father” or “The impact that your dad had on my dad has influenced me.”

I can remember one instance of giving a presentation on going to the rescue back when President [Thomas S.] Monson was making that call for us to go out and to help bring people in and using various examples and then having a man come up after and say, “Well, what you just described is what your dad did for my dad, and now we’re active members of the Church.” To tell you the truth, I, particularly early in my time as a Seventy, I had the experience of going to speak to a group and having them look at me and say, “You’re not who we were expecting.”

Sarah Jane Weaver: You do have the same name as your father.

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr.: That’s right and they, I was sorry to disappoint them, but this, I said, “This is the junior variety and not up to the standard of what you were expecting.”

32:47

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I’ve totally enjoyed this, this conversation. At Church News we have a tagline on everything we do — it’s “A Living Record of the Restoration.” We say that when we record the words of the Brethren or the experiences of the members, we’re creating a living record of the Restoration. You’ve had the opportunity to speak in general conference several times. That also forms a record of the Restoration that becomes fairly permanent. What were those experiences like?

LeGrand R. Curtis Jr. speaks during the afternoon session of general conference at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011.

LeGrand R. Curtis Jr. speaks during the afternoon session of general conference at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr.: I’ve done it twice, and both were remarkable in somewhat different ways. The first time that I spoke, I was serving in the area presidency in West Africa. And those moments seated at the dining room table in Accra, Ghana, thinking about the topic, receiving the promptings of the Spirit, trying to put into words what I was feeling, that’s a sacred time to me, that’s a sacred place, just thinking about that experience. But preparing that talk was a wonderful thing for me.

And I survived presenting the talk. I was really worried that I’d be so nervous that my voice would go way high and, and the Lord blessed me. The Lord was really kind. He gave me some ideas, put into my mind a way that I could be calm as I presented the talk. He drew upon my love for basketball. He put in my mind this experience of having played basketball and the idea of having played and have the first half go extremely well, so that I was calm and could perform very well in the second half. Well, He put that feeling into my heart, so that when I stood up to give that talk, I was confident and felt just very good at kind of a nerve-wracking experience of delivering a talk in general conference.

I had the sweet, sweet experience of somebody who is very important to me, writing me later and telling me that my experience of testifying about redemption and God’s power of redemption, the Savior’s redeeming us, gave her hope that she could have her own story of redemption. Now, there were lots of people involved in that story, but I smiled that the Lord in His kindness inspired me to talk about something that touched one of my relatives that is really dear to me and helped her come back into the Church.

The funny thing is, then, kind of where I am in, in the order of things, it’d be about five years between talks in general conference. Snd I spent four and a half years working on a particular subject. And then about six months before I started getting this other idea, thinking, “You know, I could put together a fairly good talk about the Book of Mormon and the power of the Book of Mormon based on these experiences that I’m having, and that I’m, people’s stories that I’m hearing.” So, I changed course and I ended up speaking about the power of the Book of Mormon. One of the funny things about that is, after I gave that talk, other people sent me stories of the impact of the Book of Mormon their life. I could give a better talk now, because of the stories I now have about the impact of the Book of Mormon. The whole process of being guided by the Spirit, to put together a talk and deliver the talk, was a choice experience that I am very grateful that the Lord let me have.

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr., a General Authority Seventy, speaks to media as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ production of the fourth season of Book of Mormon Videos is filmed near Springville, Utah, on Monday, July 26, 2021.

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr., a General Authority Seventy, speaks to media as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ production of the fourth season of Book of Mormon Videos is filmed near Springville, Utah, on Monday, July 26, 2021.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

36:37

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, you have just confirmed, last year, we did a podcast with Elder Brook Hales, who, as secretary to the First Presidency, is sort of the executive producer of general conference, but he says the whole thing is correlated by the Lord. It’s all worked out at a level so much different than anyone here can imagine, because talks are not assigned and they seem to work together. And it seems to have, if you, if you look through history, it seems to have been that way all along.

This is a year that we get to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the pioneers entering the Salt Lake Valley. Certainly everyone will be turning their thoughts to them and to all that they accomplished. Do you have feelings and thoughts about the pioneers right now?

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr.: I think it is hard to understate, the impact that the pioneers, who crossed the plains to come here, have on the Church and on us, today. We take it a little bit for granted that yes, they got in their wagons and sang “Come, Come, Ye Saints” and came across the plains, but think for a minute, “We’re being attacked in the Midwest. We’re poor. We don’t have money.” And yet, somehow, the Lord, using the Prophet Brigham Young and those wonderful women and men of that generation, was able to set forth across the wilderness and bring the thousands of people here, joined by those who joined the Church in different places around the world, principally in Europe.

It is just a magnificent story that started in 1846 when they had to escape out of Nauvoo and continued for decades of good, faithful people. And then once they got here it’s not like they found a readily, already fixed up place to live. They had to carve out of the wilderness a place to live. I think it’s a magnificent story that we should celebrate and whether we’ve got our own ancestors whose stories we cling to or if we just have as part of our heritage that whole, general movement, I think it’s just a terrific thing for us to remember and to celebrate.

Read more: See the Church News’ coverage of the 175th anniversary of the pioneers first entering the Salt Lake Valley

39:07

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and as we think about those early days of the Church and all that’s happened since then, that kind of brings us full circle. We end every Church News podcast with the same question and, and we always give our guests the last word. So, we’ll just turn the microphone over to you and, and let you answer the question, “What do you know now?” So, Elder Curtis, what do you know now after studying and leading the Church history efforts?

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr.: I have learned a lot. I’ve always been a student of Church history, but to have this experience to spend the hours and days and years, now, deep into our history, I think the thing that more than anything that I know now, is that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that he was led by God to do the things that needed to be done to restore the Church and not just him, but the women and men that were part of this magnificent history were guided by God and have laid the foundation for this part of the dispensation in which we now live. I know more than I ever have, that this is God’s work on Earth, led by apostles and prophets, blessed by the good, saintly women and men of this Church.

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 guest, 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.

Newsletters
Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed