Expressing his "great love and appreciation for the sons and daughters of Lehi," President Gordon B. Hinckley rededicated the Papago Ward building, the oldest Indian ward in the Church, on Sunday, Sept. 14.
The chapel, located on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community near Phoenix and part of the Mesa Arizona Lehi Stake, had been extensively renovated. Nearly 1,000 ward members and visitors were present for the rededication."You have a `new' building – this beautiful structure," President Hinckley said to the congregation. "Renew your lives. Let this be a time to clean up your lives and make resolution in your hearts to do the right things at all times and under all circumstances and if you do, the Lord will bless you."
In his first-ever visit to the ward, President Hinckley urged the members to return to Church every week and to be more committed to living the gospel.
He challenged them to fill the building each Sunday so as to make the ward so large that it would have to be divided to create two wards.
"Our responsibility and challenge is to bring joy to father Lehi through blessing his generations with the great gifts and blessings of the gospel," he said. "My brothers and sisters of that blood, I want to say to you today that you have a great and sacred responsibility. It isn't enough that you just go along from day to day living the way you would like to live. You are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This marvelous gospel, the Book of Mormon, has come forth in large measure for your blessing. It contains the promises of the Lord to you, primarily.
"You can live up to it," he continued in remarks made before the dedicatory prayer. "You can do that which the Lord expects you to do and in the process of doing that, you will grow and grow and grow and become a wonderful and a delightsome people in every respect."
President Hinckley related that the ward was created in 1884 and at that time his great-uncle, Arza E. Hinckley, who was on a mission in the area, was called to be the ward's first bishop.
He noted the fact of the ward's longevity in the dedicatory prayer, citing it as the "oldest, continuous Indian ward in the entire world" and that it is "unusual in this respect and in very deed remarkable." He also expressed gratitude for the "faith of all who have gone before."
The ward was established in the early years of the Church in Arizona.
Brigham Young had sent Church members to the Salt River Valley. There they founded the communities of Lehi and Mesa and began preaching the gospel to neighboring tribes of Indians, particularly the Pima, Maricopa, and Gila people.
History relates that communication was a great obstacle between the pioneers and the Indians until they were helped in great measure by a part-Papago, part-Spanish man named Incarnacion Valenzuela. He was fluent in Spanish as well as the Pima and Papago languages. He served as interpreter for the missionaries and was instrumental in the conversion of hundreds of members of these neighboring tribes. He was baptized and became a faithful member of the Church.
When the Indian ward was created, it was named Papago Ward, although there were few Papagos in the area. History of this ward records that the name was chosen to honor Brother Valenzuela, whom they referred to as the Papago.
"There is a great legacy of faith in the Papago Ward," said Alvin Fulkerson, president of the Mesa Arizona Lehi Stake. "I think it is significant and fitting that we are doing this in the sesquicentennial year and honor the legacy of the early Indian pioneers."
For more than a century many faithful men and women have lived and served in the Papago Ward. (An article will be published on the ward's family history efforts in the Sept. 27 Church News.) Bishop Delbert W. Tiffany, who served as bishop in the 1960s, attended the rededication. He was the third generation of Tiffanys who served as bishop of Papago Ward. His grandfather, George W. Tiffany, was the ward's third bishop and his father, Asa Y. Tiffany, served in the early 1930s.
The latest renovation of the building was the dream of Rollo Baptisto, who, after serving 31/2 years as bishop, died a year ago. Bishop Baptisto was a descendent of one of the earliest members of the ward and a well-respected and beloved member of the Church as well as the community.