Church services from 1 to 4 p.m. in the ward located at 721 South and 1200 East in Salt Lake City, are not performed in English or Spanish. To greet the members, understand the speakers and participate in class, it helps to speak German. The German Speaking Ward, Salt Lake Central Stake, is a fixture in Salt Lake. On Sept. 21., the ward celebrated its 50th anniversary with a variety of activities, including a visit from President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, and his wife, Sister Harriet Uchtdorf.
The German Speaking Ward was first organized in 1878 and discontinued some time later. On Feb. 4, 1963, then Elder Spencer W. Kimball and Elder LeGrand Richards organized the German Speaking Branch. It became a ward after just two years. Current Bishop Volker Hagen and his wife, Gisa, have been members of the ward for many years. Bishop Hagen said, "President Kimball wanted every non-English speaking German member to have the opportunity to have the gospel in their language. He said they should have the opportunity to make progress in the gospel and serve the Lord."
In the beginning, more than 450 members joined the branch. Today there are about 65 ward members. The goals for the ward have been to teach the gospel through missionary work and provide an environment for the Saints to worship in harmony and love. When stake leaders and members who don't speak or understand German attend the ward, a translator is provided.
Most bishops serve around five years, but Bishop Hagen has been serving since September 19, 1993. Sister Hagen said, "He was called by inspiration. He is very humble, loving and kind. He loves the members and especially the Lord with all his heart."
On Sept. 21, ward members and neighbors came together to celebrate 50 years of memories. About 175 members and former members of the ward were in attendance. There was a buffet of cold sandwiches, potato salads, fresh fruit and vegetables and more. A pair of sisters sang a duet and Bishop Hagen read a poem written by a sister of the ward in honor of the 50-year milestone.
The highlight of the evening was hearing from President Uchtdorf, who shares a rich heritage with German-speaking Latter-day Saints. He and his wife visited for a while and greeted members, a number of whom they have known for many years. President Uchtdorf said, "Most of these members came to the U.S. to be able to attend the temple and be close to the prophet of God. They left their country and their home behind but brought with them wholesome traditions and the beauty of their language. They integrated into the new culture and language exceptionally fast and well, but kept their accent in language and in culture. They are blessed to be able to ride into the sunset of their lives together and united as a German ward. May God bless and keep them."
Sister Hagen commented on President Uchtdorf's visit. She said, "He brought greetings from President Thomas S. Monson and thanked us for our faithfulness, endurance and loyalty. He also thanked us for keeping the ward active through the years. He expressed good wishes for the ward into the future and thanked Bishop Hagen for his many years of faithful service."
Douglas Juras, a member of the German Speaking Ward said, "Having an Apostle of the Lord attend the 50th anniversary was very special. President Uchtdorf is one of my favorite speakers at general conference. For him to take time out of his busy schedule to visit, celebrate and speak to us was very inspirational."
Through the years the ward has been true to its goals to teach the gospel. From the ward have come 14 Eagle Scouts, four young sister missionaries, 24 elders, 14 couples and eight senior sister missionaries. For the future, the ward will continue to carry on just as it always has. Currently the ward has a young elder serving a mission in Mexico and an adult couple serving in Spain. A standing tradition, which occurs the Thursday before each general conference, is for endowed members of the ward to attend a German-language temple session together at the Jordan River Temple.