Eureka members rely on one another: like mighty redwoods, saints stand together

For members of the Eureka California Stake, these words that Primary Gen. Pres. Patricia P. Pinegar spoke during the October 1994 general conference are more than just an analogy.

"She was thinking of us," said stake Pres. Edward C. Cannon as he told of the faith and fortitude of the somewhat isolated Latter-day Saints living here against a backdrop of the mighty redwoods. With towering forests to the east of this coastal city, the Pacific Ocean to the west, and twisting, winding mountain roads as the only land routes in and out of the area, these members have learned to rely on one another, both spiritually and temporally."Our members are the leaven in the loaf," Pres. Cannon said. "They are very resourceful. A lot of our people have gardens. They fish. They are very humble people. Driving a Mercedes is not a top priority. It's a simple life - a slower pace."

In speaking of the people living in this area, Pres. Cannon's second counselor, Douglas L. Baker, added, "They're all pretty much down-to-earth type of people."

Some 3,500 members - comprising seven wards and four branches - live in the stake, which encompasses several small communities. The stake's northern boundary extends to the Oregon border, about 90 miles north of Eureka, with the southern boundary reaching to Garberville, some 60 miles to the south. The eastern boundary of the stake is about 70 miles inland.

The industry in the area is as diverse as the geography. Many living in communities on the coast rely financially on oyster seeding or fishing of salmon, crab and tuna. Several lumber mills dot the area, as do dairy and flower bulb farms.

Even the climate here is diverse. The coastal communities have fog most of the year, which ripples through the tops of the redwoods. Spring brings constant rain showers and rolling seas. However, during the winter, communities only a few miles inland have low temperatures and snow.

The environment is that of small towns - friendly and quaint. Homes a century old sit among modern buildings. Residents, including members of the Church, come from widely varying backgrounds. In 1989, an Asian branch was created for Hmong and Laotian members. (Please see related article on page 7.) The stake's student population comes from Humboldt State University in Arcata or the College of the Redwoods in Eureka.

The Church News recently visited Eureka and met with Pres. Cannon; his counselors, Walter S. Fife and Pres. Baker; and several others. They spoke of the unity they strive for in the stake and efforts to strengthen one another.

In speaking of the young people, Pres. Fife discussed the institute of religion program and a recently organized single adult branch, to which many students living away from home attend. "There have been a lot of people over the years who have been on the outskirts of the Church with no plans for a mission or anything of that nature. Then they start coming to institute and their plans change. They prepare for missions and temple marriages."

The first Sunday the single adult branch was created, stake leaders were hoping for at least 40 in attendance. Some 70 showed up, and today 85-90 attend regularly.

Strong youth programs are also important to the stake and ward leaders. Sherrie Childers, stake Young Women president, noted: "The young women gain strength from each other because we're so few in number. It's really neat to see them associate with each other at youth activities, even though it's quite a distance for some to travel."

"When youth go to the temple for baptisms for the dead, they have to leave Friday after school; they drive six hours to Oakland (the stake is in the Oakland Temple District). They stay the night, spend part of the day in doing baptisms and then return home before midnight Saturday."

One activity the youth look forward to each spring is "Super Saturday." This year's "Super Saturday" consisted of games; service projects; and testimony-building activities, such as inscribing their testimonies on gold foil made to look like gold plates.

In speaking of the importance of strengthening the youth, Sister Childer's husband, Chuck, formerly a Scoutmaster who is now stake director of public affairs, said: "Whether or not youth are in Church depends on where their hearts are. If you can cement them to the gospel through Scouting and activities, then that's where they're going to stay."

To help local leaders have more time to focus on youth, the stake presidency has recently been encouraging Melchizedek Priesthood quorum leaders to carry more responsibilities - except for issues of worthiness - thus giving bishops more time to mingle with and counsel young people.

"What we're trying to do is have Melchizedek Priesthood presidencies work closer with individual members, hopefully alleviating some of the burdens that are currently on the bishops," Pres. Cannon explained.

Stake leaders also seek to strengthen their community by directing relief efforts during disasters and working with other churches.

For example, during the fall of 1994, members of the Jewish community did not have a building large enough to host High Holy Days services. Local LDS leaders offered the use of the stake center, with the condition of no wine. Jewish leaders accepted, Pres. Cannon related.

To thank the Church, Rabbi Lester G. Scharnberg recently presented to stake members a copy of the Torah (containing the Pentateuch) for the Eureka stake library and a gift certificate from a local nursery. With the certificate, stake young women bought a tree that they planted - under direction of Physical Maintenance representatives - in front of the stake center in commemoration of the 1995 Young Women worldwide celebration: "Experiment upon the Word."

The stake presidency told the Church News that the tree is not only symbolic of growing testimonies, but also growing relations within the community.

It seems that for members of the Church in this picturesque region of the country, "growing" means more than just landscape.

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