Filling McNichols Arena to overflowing, nearly 22,000 people on Sept. 13 celebrated 100 years since the establishment of the first permanent branch of the Church in Denver.
President Gordon B. Hinckley, who made the city his home while working for the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad in 1944-45, was the featured speaker at the celebration, which was also held in observance of this year's Church Pioneer Sesquicentennial. His wife, Marjorie Hinckley, and their daughter, Virginia H. Pearce, who was born while the family was living in Denver, attended with him."This is, in a sense, a capstone celebration of the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley," President Hinckley noted.
In fact, Colorado figures prominently in the Church's pioneer history of a century and a half ago. During the winter of 1846-47, 43 converts to the Church from Mississippi settled temporarily at Fort Pueblo and awaited Brigham Young and the main body of Saints. (Please see related article discussing the history of the Church along the Colorado Front Range on page 11.)
Elder Hugh W. Pinnock of the Seventy, accompanied by his wife, Anne Pinnock, attended and addressed the gathering as president of the North America Central Area. As a missionary in the Western States Mission, 1954-56, he served in Denver.
Elder Robert K. Bills, Area Authority Seventy, conducted the meeting.
What once was a single stake headquartered in Denver is now covered by 22 stakes extending south from Cheyenne and Laramie, Wyo., to Pueblo, Colo. Members of those stakes flocked to the arena for the celebration, lining up at the doors as long as five hours in advance. (Members from the two Wyoming Stakes were welcomed but not formally invited, due to a conflicting event at home.)
Overflow seating was provided outdoors, with proceedings shown on television monitors.
A 400-voice adult choir and a smaller children's choir were featured in a program of music, dance and dramatic vignettes presented on four stages. With historical photos and live scenes in the arena shown on huge television screens, the program traced the history of the Church in the area.
Highlighted were the establishment of the Church in the West, with pioneer square dancing and an instrumental ensemble; and the organization of the mission, with early Denver missionaries and townspeople depicted. The program also featured the organization of the Denver Stake in the war years, with a depiction of World War II GI's and their sweethearts; and years of growth, featuring youth in a scaled-down dance festival. It climaxed with a celebration of the coming of the Denver Colorado Temple, featuring the combined choirs and touching family vignettes.
Two Colorado blue spruce trees were presented to President and Sister Hinckley by the centennial committee. Responding, President Hinckley said he loves Colorado blue spruce but didn't know how he could get the trees home. He gave them to Denver Temple Pres. Russell C. Taylor to plant on the temple grounds, adding, "If you want to call them the Hinckley trees, it's all right with me."
Setting aside his prepared text, the prophet spoke extemporaneously.
"This is scarcely the Denver that I know," he said, adding that he came with his family about 50 years ago, after being declined for military service because of his asthma. He went to work for the railroad in Salt Lake, then was promoted to a position at the company headquarters in Denver.
"I fell in love with this place," he said. "This is a great city; this is a great state.
" . . . What a wonderful people you are! You're good people. You ought to be the best people in the world. If you live the gospel of Jesus Christ as you have been taught to live it, you ought to be the very best people in the world. You ought to be the best neighbors, kindly and tolerant and helpful and good, friendly in every respect, without any attitude of self-righteousness, but with love and appreciation and respect in your hearts for those among whom you live."
He told the listeners they should look after the less fortunate in their communities. "You ought to be good husbands and good fathers, kind and respectful and considerate. You ought to be good mothers who love your children and look after them and take great pride in them. And you ought to be faithful and wonderful young people."
He counseled them to pray regularly, saying there are not many people who do that and decrying a secularization that is taking place in society. "Thank you for your faith and your diligence. You're building on the foundation of those who have gone before you."
President Hinckley spoke of the Pioneers who came west, the Pueblo Saints, the settlement of the San Luis Valley in Colorado, the coming of John W. Taylor to organize the mission in 1896, and the establishment and growth of Denver.
"The Church has become a worldwide church," he said. "We have two great problems that come with this growth. One: leadership training. Two: buildings in which to [accommodate] the people. We're trying to meet those problems and I think we're doing so very well. . . . Thanks to you, my beloved brethren and sisters for the spirit of consecration which dwells in your hearts and expresses itself in the payment of your tithes and offerings and makes this growth possible."
He retold an incident that happened when he was employed by the railroad in Denver. On that occasion he received a call from his counterpart in Newark, N.J. A passenger train had arrived there without its baggage car.
"We set about to trace it. We discovered that it was properly loaded in Oakland and delivered by the Western Pacific to the D&RG and carried to Denver, where it was delivered to the Rock Island and was carried to St. Louis. A switchman in the St. Louis yard moved a little piece of steel just 3 inches, and we discovered that a car that should have been in Newark was 1,400 miles away in New Orleans, La. Now that's the way it is with our lives. . . . We've got to watch the switches in our lives. We've got to be alert and follow the right track."
Elder and Sister Pinnock were presented with a reproduction of a Minerva Teichert painting of "Christ in Red Robes" that hung in the Denver 1st Ward when he was a missionary there.
Elder Pinnock reflected on his experience as a missionary in Colorado, where he edited the mission newsletter and served in the mission presidency. He noted there are now nearly 50 stakes where there were three in the former Western States Mission territory, which comprised Colorado, and parts of New Mexico and Wyoming.
"In the middle 1950s, while sitting around the table in the mission home, we would often talk, saying, `Do you think someday there will be a temple here?' And we all said of course there will be . . . . That dream is now a reality."
He added, however, "We cannot rely nor rest upon our historic past, no matter how glorious it might be. There are still large neighborhoods where wards and meetinghouses are not yet found . . . . Let us rededicate ourselves, brothers and sisters, to be part of that glorious future."
At a reception prior to the meeting, President Hinckley, Elder Pinnock and their wives greeted government officials and clergy. Among them were U.S. Rep. Bob Schaffer from Fort Collins; Colorado State Treasurer William F. Owens; Dep. Mayor Butch Montoya of Denver; Aurora Mayor Paul Tauer; Lakewood Mayor Linda Morton; Rep. Chuck E. Berry, house speaker in the Colorado General Assembly; Sen. Jeff Wells, majority leader of the assembly; the Rev. Lucia Guzman, executive director of the Colorado Council of Churches; Col. Charles Gillman, head chaplain at the U.S. Air Force Academy; the Rev. Henry Jesse of St. John's Episcopal Diocese in Denver; Joyce Bignell, director of the National Conference of Christians and Jews in Denver; and Julie Liggett, regional director for Church World Services affiliated with the Church of the Brethren.
Typical of comments was this from Col. Gillman: "President Hinckley is just the way a prophet should be. He makes everyone feel welcome, just as the Lord would do if He were here. He didn't speak down to the people, he was simply just with the people."