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Festival celebrates Welsh heritage

A two-day celebration of Welsh pioneer heritage was capped Saturday, March 6, in the BYU Marriott Center with a program featuring the Tabernacle Choir and an address by President Gordon B. Hinckley of the First Presidency.

Sponsored by the Sons of Utah Pioneers, the Welsh Festival on March 5-6 focused on the contributions of early Welsh converts to the spiritual and cultural fabric of the Church. (See accompanying box for events.) In particular, the celebration recalled the notable missionary efforts of Captain Dan Jones, commemorated in a painting commissioned by the SUP and donated to the Church in a brief service at the Missionary Training Center as part of the festival.Painted by LDS artist Clark Kelly Price of Thayne, Wyo., the striking depiction of Elder Jones preaching in a rugged Welsh village was accepted by President Hinckley on March 6. It will hang in the Missionary Training Center lobby as an inspiration to missionaries regarding the powerful impact that faithful, courageous teaching can have on listeners.

Elder Jones was a short, sturdy, fiery Welshman who was with the Prophet Joseph Smith in Carthage Jail the night before the martyrdom. After the others incarcerated had fallen asleep, Joseph asked Elder Jones: "Are you afraid to die?"

The Welshman responded: "Has that time come, think you? Engaged in such a cause, I do not think that death would have many terrors."

The Prophet then spoke his last words of prophecy in mortality. "You will yet see Wales and fulfill the mission appointed you before you die."

Elder Jones left Carthage the next day to deliver a letter from Joseph to Orvil H. Browning, asking Mr. Browning to represent the Prophet and Hyrum in their forthcoming trial. Elder Jones rode off through the mob amid gunshots and threats on his life, arriving in Quincy, Ill., to learn of the shooting of Joseph and Hyrum that afternoon.

He was called several months later to go to Wales with his wife, Jane. There he preached and presided over the mission for several years in the 1840s and 1850s. He issued numerous publications amidst a spirit of intense persecution against the Church. The pamphlets were printed by his minister brother, John Jones, who would print the "Mormon materials" during the week and preach against the Saints on Sundays.

From 1845 to 1848, approximately 3,600 people were baptized. Some 2,000 more joined the Church in the 1850s during Elder Jones' second mission. Throughout this period of gathering, most of the converts made the trek to Utah.

Dan Jones returned from his first mission in early 1849 with a group of Welsh converts, settling in Salt Lake City and then going to Manti 150 miles south at the call of Brigham Young. There, he served as the city's first mayor.

After two years of farming in Manti, Elder Jones returned to Wales. He was instrumental in the conversion and emigration of several thousand Welsh Latter-day Saints, returning to Utah in 1856. He died in 1862, and he and his wife, Jane, are buried in the Provo Cemetery.

Speaking of the Welsh missionary at both the Missionary Training Center and Marriott Center, President Hinckley, first counselor in the First Presidency, said, "The entire Church needs to be told of this stocky little Welshman who, in terms of the number of converts, must certainly be included in the half dozen or so most productive missionaries in the history of the Church.

"When Brother Angus Belliston (Sons of Utah Pioneers president-elect) invited me to speak on this occasion, I knew in a general way something of Dan Jones. That rather superficial knowledge has deepened into a tremendous appreciation for this remarkable man."

Discussing in detail Elder Jones' life and missionary exploits and reflecting further on his contributions, President Hinckley added: "As friends to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, he had walked with prophets. He was unflinching in his loyalty to the cause they preached. His dedication was unquestioned. His zeal in teaching the gospel was seldom equaled. In 1844 he had looked into the eyes of those who killed the Prophet and Hyrum. In his native language he published an account of that tragic event. He was persuasive and powerful, whether speaking in English or the Cambrian tongue, in bearing witness of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

"He knew something of the cost of faith in moving forward this cause. He would have given his life for it. The fact is that he did so. His tremendous exertions, his unflagging zeal in speaking and writing, the long and tedious journeys back and forth across the sea and the plains - all took their toll. He never spared himself in the cause to which he dedicated his life.

"The saints of Wales loved Captain Jones, as they affectionately called him. They listened to him. They leaned on him. They followed his counsel. They accepted his testimony and used it as the foundation for their own.

"Tens of thousands in this Church today, now residing across the land and bearing great responsibilities, are descended from those whom he and his associates taught and baptized. . . .

"As a shepherd, he brought his people from the valleys of Wales to the valleys of Utah, from the hills of Cambria to the mountains of the West. I add my testimony of the greatness of his contribution and of its everlasting consequences in the lives of generations of our people."

After the unveiling of the Dan Jones painting at the Missionary Training Center, President Hinckley stepped back and scrutinized it for several moments. He smiled and shook his head in the affirmative.

"It's a tremendous representation; it's beautifully done; it looks like Wales, with its coal pits, smoking chimneys, stone walls, green hills and slate roofs. . . ."

President Hinckley then complimented the artist, Brother Price, "on the tremendous job you've done in capturing the essence" of Dan Jones and his work. "It will be an inspiration to thousands who pass through these halls in the years to come. On behalf of the Church, I accept this very generous gift from the Sons of Utah Pioneers and thank each one of you for this tremendous contribution."

Brother Price grew emotional while describing to the Church News his experience of doing the painting.

"I've never been to Wales, but in a way I felt like I had a special experience in Wales without going there. I read a lot about the country and did a lot of research about it, which all helped me. While doing the painting, I had a special feeling and affinity for the Welsh people and for the whole experience of Wales and what Dan Jones went through.

"I tried to portray the spirit of Dan Jones, which was the spirit of fearlessness in the face of opposition in trying to do the work he was asked to do. I was motivated and touched while painting this painting by the experience that he had with the Prophet Joseph the night before the Prophet's martyrdom. That kind of kept ringing in my ears all the way through doing the painting. It's been quite an experience."

Charles M. Grant, president of the Missionary Training Center, conducted the ceremony at the center. He said the painting "will help missionaries understand that it takes courage to be a missionary. . . . I think when missionaries understand the story of what's portrayed by the painting, it will give them an opportunity to grasp the idea that they can go forth and be strong and powerful in the message they carry to the world."

As the festival concluded at the Marriott Center, the thousands in attendance enjoyed several selections sung by the Tabernacle Choir. A few solos and verses were rendered in Welsh, to the delight of the audience and special guest Lord Ellis Thomas, a Welshman who is a member of the British House of Lords.

The Welsh are known for their love of music and expertise as musicians. In the early days of migration to Utah, they were noted for their collective singing on land and sea. John Parry, a leader of about 85 Welsh immigrants who reached the Salt Lake Valley around 1850, was asked by Brigham Young to organize a choir to sing at a conference of the Church on Temple Square. The choir was the nucleus of what became the Tabernacle Choir.

Speaking to the Marriott Center audience, Lord Thomas said, "I never dreamed that I would be in a basketball stadium in Utah looking at a video that mentioned one of my closest Episcopalian friends in Wales and my home town, where I was brought up."

He described the beauty and culture of Wales, and recounted the blessings of diversity that come with the sharing of cultures and languages.

"Different languages and cultures are all part of this wonderful creation in which we live. But there is one language, of course, that brings us all together, and that's the language of music. I'm particularly proud of the contribution that Welsh people throughout the world have made to the world of music. . . .

"There's no greater contribution, of course, than when the art of music is used in the purpose of the Spirit. I'm well aware, as we have heard already, of the great contribution of the Welsh singers in the founding of this marvelous Tabernacle Choir. I was very moved when I heard that verse of "Guide Us, O Thou Great Jehovah" sung in perfect Welsh by that beautiful tenor voice (Kenneth Evans). I shall take that back with me as a particular spiritual memory of my visit here."

Welsh Festival events

  • Musical drama: "The Call to Zion."
  • Tours of early Welsh homes in Utah Valley.
  • Welsh choral and poetry fest.
  • Unveiling of "Dan Jones Awakens Wales" painting by artist Clark Kelly Price at Missionary Training Center; presentation of the work to the Church.
  • Welsh Festival Finale at Marriott Center, including a video documentary of Welsh landmarks featuring Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Seventy, Europe North Area president; Tabernacle Choir performing Welsh anthems and hymns; remarks by Welshman Lord Ellis Thomas of the British House of Lords; presentation of Price painting; and address by President Gordon B. Hinckley, first counselor in the First Presidency.

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