The opening hymn “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come” with its harvest imagery set a symbolic tone for the Family History Leadership Session in connection with RootsTech Feb. 9, as talks focused on reaping a harvest of souls by doing family history and temple ordinances for family members on the other side of the veil.
Stake presidents and other local, area and general leaders along with their wives attended the session in the Conference Center Theater in Salt Lake City, which featured addresses from five General Authorities. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles presided at the session.
Conducting the meeting, Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles began by announcing a name change, approved by the First Presidency, for family history consultants, who will now be called temple and family history consultants (please see separate article about the name change and whom it will affect).
“The doctrines of temple work and family history are easy to understand,” Elder Cook said in his talk. “The gathering of Israel is for the living and the dead. The work of salvation is for the living and the dead.”
Elder Cook said that since the leadership of President Wilford Woodruff, family history and temple work in the Church have been united, noting that President Woodruff offered dedicatory prayers for the Nauvoo, St. George, Manti and Salt Lake temples. “Wilford Woodruff’s example is remarkable,” Elder Cook said. “By the time he was 78 years old, 3,188 of his deceased relatives had been baptized vicariously and 2,518 had been endowed.”
He recalled that in October 2014, Church leaders prayerfully requested that in the near future, Church members would provide all the names for temple work across the world. “We are pleased to report that in 2016 this request was achieved,” Elder Cook said. “We do not need to rely on extracted names for temple work.”
He said the combination of more temples and advanced technology for family history work “make this the most blessed time in all history.”
“One of our major, if not our principal emphasis this evening, is to have leaders not only teach what needs to be done (the doctrine is relatively simple), but also if we are to be successful, we need to teach the promised blessings that flow as a result of uniting eternal families by doing family history and temple ordinances for those on the other side of the veil,” Elder Cook said.
Other speakers at the session were Elder M. Russell Ballard and Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; and Elder Bradley D. Foster and Elder Steven E. Snow, General Authority Seventies.
Citing the words of a Primary song, “Far and wide we tell the Father’s story,” Elder Foster said the Father’s story is “all about His children returning home to be with Him — families gathering families, healed by the Atonement of Jesus Christ and sealed through temple ordinances.”
“As a father myself, in a much smaller way, I want my children to do the same, to have them safely gathered back home,” he said, displaying a family picture with his children and grandchildren tightly gathered around. “As members of the Church we are the seed of Abraham, and as such we are the gatherers.”
Referring to the opening hymn, Elder Foster said that in 1844, English clergyman Henry Alford had written the words to it, including “come to God’s own temple, come,” even though he had no knowledge God’s temple had been restored to the earth. “As gatherers, we invite all of God’s children to come to his temple, His holy house here upon the earth,” Elder Foster said.
He emphasized that every person can help gather his or her family. “The first and best opportunity is in the first few generations of each member’s family, which is called family living memory. The second is an ongoing family effort to find other ancestors and cousins throughout your entire family.”
For the first step, there is no need for research or technology, he noted, just have simple but powerful conversations with family members. “Did you know that only 25 percent of members of the Church worldwide have the names of all of their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents in the Family Tree [of FamilySearch.org]? Did you know that only 2 percent of recent converts worldwide have the names of these same family members in the Family Tree?”
That means more than 100 million four-generation ancestors of Church members have not yet been gathered in the Family Tree, he said, equating to more than a half-billion ordinances waiting to be performed. “The time is here to rescue our family and help others in our wards and stakes in the rescue of their families,” he said. “We are asking all of you to begin to shepherd this rescue now.”
Elder Snow, the Church historian and recorder, shared how some early pioneer families in the Church felt and responded as the doctrine of baptism for the dead and eternal families was first revealed.
“I saw the elders baptizing for the dead in the Mississippi River,” Robert Horne recorded. “Brother Joseph stood on the banks holding a child in his arms.”
Sariah Robbins Pulsipher wrote, “All of the inhabitants of Nauvoo met on the banks of the Mississippi River just behind the Smith house for the purpose of baptizing for the dead.”
Wilford Woodruff exclaimed that the moment he heard of the doctrine, “my soul leapt for joy.”
Vilate Kimball, writing to her husband Heber C. Kimball, who was serving a mission to England in 1840, said, “Some have already been baptized a number of times over. Those that have no friends on the earth to be baptized for them can send ministering spirits to whomsoever they will and make known their request. Thus you see there is a chance for all. Is this not a glorious doctrine?”
Elder Renlund enlisted his wife, Sister Ruth Renlund, to help him with an illustration using chopsticks to demonstrate why members and missionaries must work together to bring souls unto the Lord.
One chopstick, he said, represented missionaries and the other members. From gumdrops spread on a table, he asked her to use only one chopstick to pick up a gumdrop and put it in a jar. She was unable to lift a gumdrop.
“Ruth, set higher goals,” he encouraged. She exerted more energy but only succeeded in flipping gumdrops off the table. “Ruth, exercise more faith,” he said. “Ruth, try this chopstick and focus more.” But with each instruction, she failed to accomplish the task. Only after he said, “Ruth, please use both chopsticks to move the gumdrops to the jar,” could she easily accomplish his directive.
“Clearly, two chopsticks can get gumdrops into a jar, into a safe jar, a gumdrop ‘garner’ when one chopstick alone cannot,” he remarked. “Using both together, with the right tools, Ruth can focus. As a result of that, she can increase her faith and set and achieve high goals.”
He said one way members and missionaries come together in the work of salvation is in temple and family history work. “Whether living or dead, individuals who do not harden their hearts will be saved in the kingdom of God. Members and missionaries work together, like the chopsticks to accomplish this work. If they don’t we lose more than gumdrops.”
Elder Renlund explained that stake and ward councils work with missionaries to help new converts learn the doctrine of turning their hearts to their fathers and the blessings of temple attendance. “New converts begin their lifelong pursuit of family history the same way that multigenerational families have always started family history work, by talking to living family members and recording what they remember.”
Elder Ballard spoke of his grandfather, Elder Melvin J. Ballard, who was also a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and “a great advocate of the family history work in his day.”
He read an account from his grandfather who recalled that when he was 11, the Logan Temple was under construction and, in the meantime, his father and mother made every effort to obtain all the information they could concerning their kindred dead. They prayed that the Lord would open the way for them to get such information.
Elder Melvin J. Ballard recounted that while his father, a bishop, was signing recommends for members to attend the dedication two elderly men walked down the streets of Logan, approached his two younger sisters and placed in the hands of the eldest a newspaper and said, “Take this to your father. Give it to no one else. Go quickly with it. Don’t lose it.”
The child complied. The father looked for the travelers but could not find them. Then he turned to the newspaper, the Newbury Weekly News. It had been printed in the father’s old English hometown on Thursday, May 15, 1884, “and reached our hands in Logan on May 18, three days later, in 1884. We were astonished, for by no earthly means could it have reached us.”
The family discovered a page devoted to the writings of a reporter at the newspaper who, while on vacation, visited an old cemetery where the Ballard family had been buried for generations. He wrote what he found on the tombstones, including the names, dates, births, deaths, filling nearly an entire page. Many of the father’s immediate relatives and other intimate friends were mentioned in the article.
When the matter was presented to the president of the Logan Temple, he authorized the Ballard family to do the temple work for those listed “because you received it through messengers of the Lord.”
Elder M. Russell Ballard then said to the congregation at the leadership meeting that 65 years ago, while on his mission to England, he visited Ashley Turner, the publisher of the Newbury Weekly News. “The effort to convince Mr. Turner that I needed to see the May 15, 1884, edition took all of my missionary skills,” he said. “I’m grateful I had served for 20 months and was able to overcome all of his objections.”
He told Mr. Turner the story. The publisher then took Elder Ballard back to the newspaper “morgue,” an archive of past editions, and there allowed him to take a picture of that issue of the newspaper. The picture Elder Ballard took 65 years ago of that newspaper was displayed on a large screen in the theater as he recounted the incident.
Elder Ballard then bore testimony of all that had been said in the meeting about the work of salvation for the dead being operative on both sides of the veil.
“For the Ballard family, this story I’ve shared with you and my personal experience of seeing the newspaper in the Newbury Weekly News offices convinces me without reservation or question along with many other experiences that it is true those on the other side of the veil are very much interested in what we are doing and can do as we carry on this glorious and wonderful work.”